The Liverpudlian striker (pictured far right) is one of the most fascinating Vale characters that most fans have never heard of and a definite entry into our OVF Port Vale cult hall of fame.
Name: Jack Roberts
Cult credentials: Talented and prolific forward, unusual hobbies, extremely brave
Time at Port Vale: 1935 to 1939
Jack ‘Nipper’ Roberts’ time at Vale Park probably predates most supporters’ connections with the club but although you may never have heard of him before, there is no doubt Roberts was an extraordinary man.
He was born in 1910 in Anfield, Liverpool and his first sides were Mersey-based – Marine, Orrell and Southport amongst them. After a solitary game for Liverpool (against Stoke City), he signed for non-league Wigan and after a prolific spell, the 25 year-old arrived at Vale for a “sizeable fee” in 1935.
Striker Roberts is in twelth place in the club’s all-time scorers list with 56 league goals. In 1937-1938 he finished joint-highest scorer in the Football League alongside Tommy Lawton with a tally of 28 goals.
He proved a valuable and prolific signing: Roberts was top scorer for three of the four seasons he played for Vale and averaged a goal every one and a half games. That feat alone was impressive but like many players of that era Roberts had another sporting string to his bow.
But rather than taking up cricket like many of his colleagues, Roberts opted for a more unusual sport: baseball. He became so good; he was named England captain and is noted as one of English baseball’s top ten most influential players.
Why baseball, you may ask? Well, baseball’s roots originate from the British sport of rounders and there was a small following in Britain until the 1930’s when interest rapidly increased thanks to the foundation of the National Baseball Federation in 1933. Roberts, as captain, was at the forefront as attendances in the sport rocketed.
But the story doesn’t end there. In 1939, Roberts’ football career was put on hold as he joined the Irish Guards and was called up to fight in the war effort. He was captured in North Africa while bravely trying to find an injured colleague and placed in a prisoner of war camp. Roberts, despite having a broken bone in his neck, managed to escape, walking four hundred miles through heat and unfamiliar territory to freedom. The feat received widespread (and deserved) attention at the time.
Roberts died in 1985 but his legacy as one of the club’s truly remarkable characters remains.
Jack Roberts: 1910 to 1985. RIP forever Valiant