The Valiants stay up in style on the same day that neighbours Stoke City are relegated.
Match details: Huddersfield Town 0-4 Port, May 3rd, 1998
Before kick-off, it was all straightforward for Port Vale: win and they stayed in the Nationwide League first division. Draw or lose and the calculators came out, which was much too complicated. Better just win, eh?
And they made it look that simple, taking the lead early on and stifling any threats of a Huddersfield comeback with further strikes at important moments. The fall of Stoke City, their local rivals, further contributed to a perfect day for their supporters. “Magnificent, a tremendous end to the season for us,” John Rudge the Port Vale manager said.
As it turned out, the comments of Peter Jackson, in the programme were prophetic. “No doubt John Rudge’s team will make it very difficult for us,” he wrote. They did, scoring in only the second minute. Jansson’s corner was cleared, Bogie returned it to him and his cross was headed back by Barnett for Martin Foyle to slip the ball into the corner of the net. Three sides of the ground, including the end where the goal had gone in, were silent; there was pandemonium in the fourth.
Huddersfield dozed in the sunshine until the 23rd minute when Richardson’s run and hot demanded an elastic save from Musselwhite; Vale roused, went straight upfield and doubled their lead. Foyle heading on Ainsworth’s cross for Jansson to volley in at the far post.
The home side came out in more determined mood after the break, but to no avail. After Facey’s header was disallowed for offside on the hour, Vale made it 3-0. Ignoring a knot of players at the far post, Jansson bent his free kick wickedly under Harper’s crossbar and in.
This time, Vale were able to celebrate in front of their delirious supporters, for whom it could hardly get any better – although it did, Lee Mills heading in from close range after a corner with ten minutes left.
Huddersfield (4-3-3) S Harper, T Heary, J Dyson (sub D Edmondson 71), S Collins, D Phillips, B Horne, L Richardson, G Johnson (sub A Morrison 46), M Stewart, I Lawson, P Barnes (sub D Facey 46)
Port Vale (4-4-2) P Musselwhite, M Carragher, D Glover, D Barnett, A Tankard, G Ainsworth, S Talbot (sub A Porter 82), I Bogie, J Jansson, L Mills, M Foyle
Fan View – Tom Miller
If Vale won, we would be safe; a defeat would almost certainly send us down to Division Two; whilst a draw would leave everything to the results of other matches taking place that day, most notably up the road in Bradford, where the Bantams were entertaining Portsmouth, who were level with us, and back in the Potteries, where the two teams in the greatest danger, Stoke City and Manchester City, were preparing to do battle.
My Story: The alarm clock went off. Some ungodly hour early on a warm Sunday morning in Sheffield. I looked over to my brother slumped on my floor, and thought “What’s he doing here?” Then it dawned. It was the day, the day where Vale would save themselves with a dramatic win, so sending the other half of the Potteries back to where they belong (or so I hoped)…..
One frantic train journey later and there was the McAlpine Stadium, tucked in at the bottom of a hill. It was 10am. Kick-off wasn’t until 1. What could we do? Well, there were two very welcoming pubs just opening, so we popped in to chat to the locals. The Terriers’ fans proved to be very generous, the consensus being they wouldn’t mind losing to the Vale if it meant consigning Stoke and Man City to the second division. “We always beat you here, you’ll see”, was the response. The Sky TV coverage of the relegation battle started. A tingle went through my spine as the picture showed the McAlpine, where our fate was to be decided within the next few hours. After a fair few beers, we ambled over to the stadium, and took our seats (which were right at the back of the stand, right behind the goal).
The match kicked off. Vale attacking the end furthest away from us. I fumbled with my radio, trying to get live commentary of the Stoke – Man City game. Suddenly, barely a minute in, a shot from Martin Foyle found the Huddersfield net. A couple of seconds of stunned silence reverberated around the ground. The next thing I can remember was lying at the bottom of a flight of stairs with piles of people on top of me. Who cares? We’re winning 1-0. We’re staying up! Please, Mr. Referee, blow the final whistle now! There were still about 89 minutes on the clock.
The radio then brought us news of a Man City goal at the Britannia. This was greeted with a loud cheer, but ever the pessimist, I worried that, if we were to draw, this would be very bad as it would keep Man City up instead of us. I needn’t have worried long. In a blur of yellow, Gareth Ainsworth got free on the right flank, and put in a beautiful cross towards the poised left foot of Jan Jansson. “HIT IT, HIT IT” I was screaming, before the cross had even reached him. In painfully slow motion, Jansson blasted the ball towards the Huddersfield goalposts. Time almost stood still as it evaded the goalkeeper’s despairing dive before forming a nice ripple in the back of the net. “YEEEEEESSSSSSS!”. The celebrations died down, and I caught a gem of a report on the radio….. “We’re going across to the McAlpine Stadium now, and for all those making a noise at the Britannia Stadium, QUIET!….. Yes, it’s now Huddersfield Town nil, Port Vale 2…..”
In the second half, news emerged of Portsmouth’s lead at Valley Parade, and (many) further goals for Man City at Stoke. Jansson made it 3-0 with an outrageous direct free kick, and I can even remember a policeman joining in the celebrations: “This is ****ing brilliant, Vale are staying up and Stoke and Man City are going down!” Lee Mills made it 4-0 later on with a trademark header (which later proved to be his last goal for the Valiants in his final game). “Easy, Easy!”
Following the final whistle and the magnificent scenes which followed, we walked out of the ground into the hot sun. What a perfect day! YES! We celebrated in a local pub next to the station until it was time for our train back to Sheffield. I discovered I had lost my ticket and the matchday programme sometime during the match (the celebrations were rather wild). No-one, not even the ticket inspector, cared in the slightest. When I got back, it was confirmed that Arsenal had won the title, taking it away from Manchester United. More superb news! I crashed out on my bed not much later, absolutely shattered (well I had been up with worry for all but 2 hours of the previous night), but very, very happy!
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the story of one of the best and most memorable days of my life.