The Hoddle of the lower leagues

The Hoddle of the lower leagues

Known as the “Hoddle of the lower leagues” Ray was one of the most gifted players to grace the Vale Park pitch.

Walker initially joined the club on loan but a permanent deal was made for a fee of just £12,000. It was long rumoured that the deal included a massive sell-on fee should Walker ever be sold-on and this was the apparent reason, despite top flight interest, Walker remained at Vale for the rest of his career.

What made Ray so special?

With a elegant style, a fantastic passing range and a fearsome dead ball ability, Ray came to notice when he was paired with Robbie Earle in perhaps the club’s greatest midfield pairing.

The hard-running Earle provided a goal threat and the legs to complement Ray’s all-round passing game.

Walker shot to fame in 1987 with a stunning televised goal versus Tottenham. From my regular spot on the Lorne Street terraces, I saw him curl a beautifully flighted chip over stranded keeper Tony Parkes. It remains to this day, one of my all-time top Vale moments.

By now, many fans were saying – “if Walker plays well then Vale play well” and rumours of big money offers abounded.

But just as he was coming to nationwide attention, Ray began to become blighted with a succession of injuries. It was almost certainly the reason why he never got the chance to parade his skills at the very highest level.

However, he bounced back – by now a veteran – to notch up some noticeable cameo performances. Perhaps the best was a last-minute goal in a 4-3 FA Cup defeat of Crystal Palace.

When the end finally came in 1997, Ray had ammassed 441 appearances for Vale – putting him in the top ten of Vale’s all-time appearance records.

He had been awarded the Player of the Year twice in 1987-8 and 1990-1 and voted in the PFA Divisional Teams in 1987-8, 1988-9 and 1992-3.

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