The Welsh wizard

The Welsh wizard

The story of Port Vale’s Welsh striker Andy Jones rivals anything that “Roy of the Rovers” has ever produced. From non-league player to full International in just two seasons, here is his remarkable story.

Jones was THE reason I stayed, the reason I never left the Valiants’ side and never took the “glory boy” trail. Andy gave me pride in my club…

To the Vale fan of recent years, supporting the Vale in the mid-1980s may seem like a different world.

Port Vale, a struggling lower division team, had finished mid-table in the 4th Division, with no special players and with no real stars. In August, they played Stoke City, at the time, the Vale’s larger and more glamorous neighbours in the traditional pre-season friendly….

After 90 minutes, Vale succumbed to the greater skill of their neighbours in the same way it had been for the last ten or even twenty years. However, amidst the gloom and mediocrity, there was one bright spark of talent.

Andy Jones, a 21 year-old striker signed from Rhyl for a mere £3000, scored against the old enemy and became an instant hero to the Vale fans. It was only the start of an all too brief love affair with Vale fans and the first step of Vale’s rise from the Ashes…

I watched that game from the gloomy depths of the Butler Street terraces and had my first signing of the striker that was to become my first real Vale hero. His story is one that would rival anything that Roy of the Rovers comics could create.

Andy-Jones-Sketch-T-Shirt

Why many years on, do I have still have this affection for “Jonah”? Why pick him out of the hundreds of players I have seen?

To answer these questions, one only has to step back to those grim times.

I’d first been taken by my Dad to Vale Park in 1979 and in five years, I had seen one single promotion followed like a hammer blow by instant relegation. Vale, despite their promising new Manager, were still looking and playing like the mediocre Division 4 team I’d first seen in my first game.

There was little to be optimistic about, little reason for a lad of 14 (my age at the time) to watch this, to run the gauntlet of taunts by the hordes of Stoke, Everton and Liverpool fans at school.

But Jones was THE reason I stayed, the reason I never left the Valiants’ side and never took the “glory boy” trail. Andy gave me pride in my club. Here was a name I could hurl back at the Stoke and Liverpool fans. Here was a star, someone as newsworthy as their players. Something I’d never seen at Vale Park before.

The importance of Jones for Vale runs far deeper than mere schoolboy pride. The record sale of Jones for £375,000 was the catalyst for much of Vale’s success. John Rudge, rewarded for the massive £372,000 made on the deal was able to spend proper money. Gone were the days of passing buckets around to raise money for Darren Beckford.

Following the sale, an unprecedented £35,000 was soon spent on David Riley, quickly followed by £40,000 on Gary Ford and £35,000 on Simon Mills. The arrival of these quality, experienced, lower-league players coupled with the unexpected FA Cup defeat of Spurs, the sheer managerial expertise of John Rudge and the youthful promise of Darren Beckford and Robbie Earle promised great times ahead. Vale fans were not to be disappointed.

jones

Glory days followed Jones’ transfer to the First Division, but he also brought many of his own to Vale’s loyal supporters. In his first season, he scored an impressive 18 goals to be the club’s leading scorer ahead of his experienced striker partner and mentor Ally Brown. But this was merely the precursor to a very special 9 months indeed.

In the 1985-6 season, Jones was unstoppable, literally turning the post-war Vale scoring charts upside down. He celebrated a call-up to the Wales squad with a hat-trick in a 6-1 victory away to Fulham on the 28th March. The video remains in my collection to this day.

The Welsh international versus Finland at Wrexham soon followed on the 1st April. By this time, Jones had already featured in the football magazine “Match Weekly” and was becoming a national figure.

I was amongst thousands of Vale Fans who travelled to that match. Partnering a world-wide legend, Ian Rush and in front of a banner proclaiming “Jones skins the Finns,” Jonesy duly obliged with a superb debut volley into the net. Wales won 4-1 and on the TV highlights, George Best, no less, declared Jones to be a “fine talent”. New chapters in Vale’s history were being written and more were to follow.

I was lucky to be at Vale Park on the final home match of that season. In perhaps his greatest performance that season, Jones smashed five against poor Newport County. At half-time it was Jones 5 Newport 0. He could have scored 15, he was that good. To see a display of that finishing from the terraces was to understand the sheer star-quality of Jones.

andy_jones

He was now, not so much centre-stage in the team but floating miles above it. Just for good measure, and to prove the last season was no fluke, Jones started the next season off with four goals against Aldershot.

The fairy tale had to end, and it did so in September 1986, with Charlton prising Jones away to London with a record £375,000 bid. It was anticipated by the fans that Jones was to make a farewell appearance in a game versus Fulham at Vale Park but Charlton forbade it. Nevertheless, Jones, sparkling like a film star in a silver suit took to the pitch at half-time. The Railway Terrace fans spilled over the terraces to hail their hero one final time. It seemed like the fairy tale had drawn to a close.

But there was still one final brief hurrah to come.

jones_bigJones never had a settled run in the First Division, his time cruelly disrupted by injury. In 1989, Vale’s team, partly-built with Jones’ transfer fee, were fulfilling their potential. Unprecedented promotion to the First Division was close at hand. A boost to keep the team up at the top was needed.

On the 2nd February a crunch match versus Wolves, fellow promotion candidates loomed. Vale were beset with problems, centre-halves Phil Sproson and Bob Hazel were facing career-threatening injuries, on-loan John Jeffers was recalled by Liverpool and striker Darren Beckford was injured. John Rudge’s reaction…?

He broke the transfer record 5 times to buy the classy defender Dean Glover and brought back the now recovering from injury Jones on loan from Charlton. Glover’s transfer would be appreciated in years to come, but to me, that match will always be the “Jones Returns Match.” And so it was.

The clearly not match-fit Jones still had enough tricks to offer fans a cameo glimpse of his talents.

A few weeks later, he scored within 2 minutes of the kick-off against his favourite opposition, Aldershot, then in a rare repeat of his Vale glory days, he came off the bench to clinch the winner in a narrow 3-2 defeat of Brentford. After he scored, Jones ran on to the Railway Terrace/Bycars End corner as fans jumped hoardings to embrace him. It must have seemed like the good old days to Andy.

But it all had to end.

Jones missed a penalty against Bristol City on the 21st April and returned to Charlton following the 0-0 draw with Swansea on 29th April. He finished his football league career and moved on to playing non-league football.

Jones’ Vale career had finished with 61 goals in 115 appearances and a place in Vale’s Heroes’ Gallery. To those who witnessed him, “Jonah” really was a Welsh Wizard and a Vale legend.

Andy, thanks for the memories…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

thirty ÷ = six