Exiled Valiant Barry Edge lives in Perth, Western Australia and is a regular columnist for onevalefan. The recent Port Vale Open Day, plus guided tours, reminded Barry of the time he was given a personal bo-peep in and around the ‘Wembley of the North’. Shall we just say that this is a story with a very different twist.
The year was nineteen fifty-six and I was in the last term of my last year of secondary education at the previously known Cellarhead Secondary Modern School – now called Moorside. And for those of us who would not be going onto higher education, which meant most students on the School’s roll, we were to be given an opportunity to participate in a Careers Day. Nothing flash mind. Well, basic would be the word for it. It consisted of a fifteen-minute talk with one of a number of Career Counsellors designed to focus our attention on the transition from school to the workplace.
In hindsight it became abundantly clear that the ‘Counsellors’ were representatives of local industries on the lookout for school leavers becoming potential employees.
The ‘Careers’ man was dressed in a suit and tie, and in the top pocket of his jacket were two fountain pens, noticeable because kept fiddling with them. His face was red and wrinkled from life lessons he had learnt, and when shaking hands it was obvious he had worked hard in the ‘pots and pits’ of Stoke on Trent. I remember too how he spoke softly in the broad Potteries accent, and that his gentle smile beguiled and put you at ease.
The small room used to conduct the interviews was called a Common Room – for the want of a better name. In truth it was used for anything but its intended purpose and resembled more of a junk area for out of date and damaged school technology. The entrance to the Common Room was from a small grassed courtyard, and the desk and chairs we used had been carved with a range of graffiti by ex students.
After the usual introduction the gentleman explained he worked for the Michelin, that in his spare time he offered his services to help school leavers make informed decisions as to what vocation they wished to pursue. After my family background had been shared with him he said he thought he knew my dad – who also worked for the Michelin. When I said mum was a Smallthorne girl, dad a Hanley boy, he shared with yours truly that he too was from Smallthone, and that he knew the McMahon family.
Did I play sport? Well yes, if you consider athletics as sport. Why didn’t I play football? Hmm, good question. He seemed bemused when I told him of a game against the Ebenezer in a church league competition where we went down 24-0 resulting in yours truly hanging up his boots. Do I go the football? ‘You bet I do!’ was my quick response, and before he could ask which team I followed I had launched into a rapid summary of all things Port Vale that left him in no doubt that yours truly was a true blue Valiant.
The next question brought us back to the reason for our chat when he asked me what I wanted to do for a living. I told him that ultimately I would love to do sign-writing. But first of all I wanted to be a painter and decorator. Well, it seemed I was in luck because he knew of a small family company in Smallthorne who were looking to take on an apprentice.
Was there anything else he could do for me? “Well yes, there was’ I said, then asked him if he could arrange for me to have a bo-peep in and around the hallowed ground of Port Vale FC. ‘No problems at all’ came back his reply. With that we shook hands once more – with a promise that he’d get back to let me know when and where for both the job interview and guided tour of Vale Park.
True to his word he contacted me several days later via the Head Master asking me to attend an interview with the Smallthorne painter and decorators, that when the interview was over I was to proceed to Vale Park for my ‘guided tour’. Both had been scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon in late November. Further, that permission had been arranged for me to leave school after lunch.
Boy, was I excited at the double prospect.
I can still remember it as though it was yesterday. There I was heading for the bus opposite Cellarhead Secondary Modern School to make my way to Smallthorne. A job interview and a bo-peep around ‘The Wembley of the North’. How posh was that?
Never having had a job interview before I was not quite sure what to expect. At least I don’t remember conjuring up any preconceived ideas as to what I would encounter. In truth, my excitement of visiting Vale Park preoccupied my mind almost to the exclusion of meeting a potential employer. But from the time I met the owner, and throughout the job interview, a different reality temporarily checked such excitement.
There were small math problems to solve, several language teasers to check my spelling and such like, and many questions about my family, my personal likes and dislikes, and whether I would be against attending ‘Night School’ as part of being an apprentice. All up it took no more than one hour and several cups of tea to complete what was, compared to modern day interview practices, a very informal and most enjoyable pre vocational interlude. We shook hands and he promised to be in touch with my mum and dad as to whether, or not I would be taken on come January.
How fortunate it was that the place of my interview was at the top of High Lane, near the junction of Hamil Road – virtually a hop, step and jump away from Vale Park.
After making my way to the ‘Office I was introduced to a member of the training staff who, so I thought, was to be my guide. In my mind’s eye I can still see his furrowed brow as he slowly shook his head and muttered something along the lines of ‘they’t never do lad, best go ‘wom now’. My silence seemed to worry him somewhat. Then, in a rather gruff manner, told me to follow him.
Finally my bo-peep was about to begin. Or so I thought.
I was ushered into a kind of general-purpose room with an overpowering smell of dubbin. In one corner were several spent football casings, plus bladders and boots in varying stages of disrepair. Stan Turner was present and was talking to the ‘Boots’ man. He gave me a generous greeting and asked after my family. Not surprising really given Stan lived just down the road from us in Bucknall, and had gone to the same schools as my eldest brother. Stan’s greeting seemed to disharm my ‘guide’ resulting in his humour changing for the better.
Next I found myself following the gentleman down the raceway and onto the cinder track that surrounded the hallowed turf. But this was where it got very confusing. Another member of the ‘Vale staff instructed me to run half way around the pitch, walk the remainder, then make my way back down the raceway to the office – and to be quick as possible because he was in a hurry. Well, what did I do? I did exactly what I was told.
As I was running past the Lorne Street, Bycars & Railway sides of the ground I was struggling to come to terms with what this had to do with having a bo-peep around Vale Park. Walking past the Railway Stand, Hamil End and back towards the Lorne Street side again my train of thought was broken by yet another man who instructed me to report to the under-croft area of the Hamil End.
At last, I thought, my ‘tour’ was really about to begin.
When I arrived in the under-croft several members of the Port Vale ‘B’ team were knocking a ball around. As I approached one of them pointed for me to take up a place in the makeshift goal near the turn-styles. Now I’ve got to tell you folks, I was simply nonplused. What the heck was going on! But before I had the chance to say anything footballs were flying at speed towards me. Of course, my natural reaction was to fend off those ‘balls that threatened my physical wellbeing – and sanity.
This craziness went on for about five minutes when the first man, the one who had met me in the ‘Office on my arrival, came by to ask how I was ‘holding up’. The others just stood and shook theirs heads. With that his grumpy disposition returned and in a very, very stern voice said ‘What the blazes are you up to?’ And although I was still feeling the lingering pain of those footballs having hit my face and body I somehow managed to tell him that all I wanted was to have a bo-peep, a look around, a guided tour of Vale Park.
The following silence was excruciating. Then, after what seemed an eternity, he starting laughing. Putting his arm around my shoulder he told me it finally made sense to him because his understanding was that I wanted to goal-keep at Port Vale.
After a cup of tea, and a quick ‘bo-peep of the Wembley of the North’ I made my home to Bucknall. Embarrassed yes. But happy.
Like I said earlier. My dad thought it very funny. My mum? Well that’s another story to be told sometime down the track.
See you later…
July 23, 2003