It all connects for Barry; the 27th March, those thirty-one days, the twelve games played and Easter.
By the 10th April 1954 we were still coming to terms with the events leading up to the 27th March. So near, yet so far. But the 10th April was just another day at the ‘office’ – so to speak, another day to step out and do the things we’d been doing all season long, another day in a tight match schedule leading up to the end of a season that would create ‘Club history like never before.
In fact, the last thirty-one days of the 1953/4 season were very busy indeed for the ‘Lads with twelve games left to play before being crowned ‘Champions of Division 3 – North. But unlike today’s situation we weren’t chasing the pack at the top because we were on top and had been for most of the season. We were so far in front it didn’t matter.
At the risk of repeating myself 1953/4 was the season that Port Vale enjoyed its most successful campaign in its history achieving 69 ‘League points and reaching the Semi-Final of the F.A. Cup via Darlington, Southport, QPR, Cardiff, Blackpool (the ‘Cup holders) and Leyton Orient. Only at the penultimate hurdle would we be denied the chance to play at Wembley. Ah, it seems like only yesterday. What a great team it was too – a team that rarely changed from week to week.
In my minds eye I’m there right now in the Hamil Road End watching the ‘Lads ply their trade and depending on which way we were kicking I would always stand in and around the same two spots game after game: when attacking the Hamil End I would stand slightly to the right of goal so as to watch my all time hero Dickie Cunliffe weave his magic on opposition defenders; when attacking the Bycars I would stand behind the goal to watch Ray King frustrate opposition forwards whilst keeping numerous ‘clean sheets’. On rare occasions, and in what seemed to be brave moments for me, I would shout encouragement to Ray. But due to his total commitment and concentration on the game he probably didn’t hear me. In any case, being only twelve at the time my voice more than likely didn’t carry above the noisy, but well-behaved crowds.
Did I say well-behaved crowds? Look folks, we would even give polite applause when the opposition scored. What’s more, when our near First Division neighbours came by to play a friendly against us our appreciation to Stoke City was on show for all to see. I can even remember a young Charlie Williams playing for Bradford – or was that Bradford Park Avenue? Anyway, he was given every encouragement by many Valiants. You know the sort of stuff: ‘Keep at it youth’, ‘well done’ – that sort of thing. Nothing unusual for the times you might say. Except that Charlie was black and it was his football skills that were drawing praise from the Vale Park faithful.
In later years Charlie’s public profile was further enhanced with appearances in the series called ‘The Comedians’. Yes, Charlie was successful both as a footballer and a stand-up comic.
Where was I? Oh yes. Port Vale was a team of eight locally born players, plus Ray King from Northumberland, Albert Mullard from Walsall and, as previously stated, my all time favourite Dickie Cunliffe from Wigan. Now these eleven ‘Lads gave their all and more no matter what. They wore the black and white with pride and became household names across the land. They were called ‘The Pride of the Potteries’. Dizzy stuff indeed. I can still see that line-up: it was:
Mullard, Cheadle, Sproson,
Askey, Leake, Hayward, Griffiths, Cunliffe.
Thirty-one days, twelve games & Easter.
I don’t think the ‘Lads had much time to do anything other than to get home, organise to wash their strip and get a decent night’s sleep before they were back on the ‘Park to do it all over again. If they had any niggling injuries we didn’t know much about them. In fact, to a much younger Aussie Rules it seemed that any one of the ‘Lads would have to be dead or buried not to turn out. Our elders would tell us they were made out of anthracite coal – and not a mard amongst them.
On two occasions the ‘Lads were required to back-up from the day before. But off those twelve games one stands out – played on the 10th April 1954.
When standing in the Hamil End with my mates it was not by chance nor coincidence that some of our dads were also standing nearby and even though there was no requirement for us to stand with them it was not an opportunity for us to ‘act daft’. Our behaviour was always on show – even though our dads pretended otherwise – with misdemeanours being dealt with at home.
The game in question witnessed several ‘Vale followers getting verbally carried away resulting in our dads calling for us to stand with them and away from the ‘silly sods’ – as it was put. So there I was, standing with my dad when the last three goals went past Stockport County – a game we won 7-0.
By month’s end it was all done and dusted for another season: the halcyon clime of the Potteries was slowly returning to normal after that fantastic F.A. Cup experience; we were Champions of Division 3 – North; almost everyone in Great Britain knew that Port Vale and Burslem were one and the same; and for the first time in many moons we could stand shoulder to shoulder with our ‘City neighbours.
We were and still are ‘The Pride of the Potteries’.
See you later…
April 10, 2004