We take a look at our thirtieth cult Vale figure – midfielder Gary Roberts – who had a controversy-packed two year spell at Vale Park.
Name: Gary Roberts
Cult credentials: Talented but sadly hampered by off-pitch problems
Time at Port Vale: 2010-2012
Unfortunately, there are probably more bad than good memories of Roberts’ spell at Vale Park…
Now, before we begin, it’s probably time for another reminder of the definition of “cult” we are working under for this series.
“Cult” means players who may not have been consistently excellent but nevertheless stood out and are still remembered – for good or bad reasons or perhaps for both.
Unfortunately, there are probably more bad than good memories of Roberts’ spell at Vale Park but it was memorable.
Roberts, who had already suffered well-documented drink and gambling problems, was sacked by Rotherham United in April 2010. Roberts had also left under similar clouds at previous clubs Yeovil Town and Crewe Alexandra.
In the summer he had a trial at Vale Park and impressed enough to be offered a six-month contract. At first, it all seemed to be going well. Roberts had come through the trip to Ireland (manager Micky Adams publicly admitted Roberts had been taken along to see how he coped with his off-pitch demons), boosted his fitness through Vale’s rigourous pre-season training and looked to be the answer to Vale’s midfield problems.
For several years, Vale’s midfield had lacked vision and class and Roberts’ impressive start quickly endeared him to the fans. Forging a chalk and cheese partnership with the more industrious but less gifted Anthony Griffith, Roberts was a key figure as the club surged to the top of the league.
But then Micky Adams left for Sheffield United and it promptly all fell apart for Roberts…
But then Micky Adams left for Sheffield United and it promptly all fell apart for Roberts.
Roberts quickly fell out with new manager Jim Gannon and his cause wasn’t helped when he was sent-off in a reserve match in February.
Roberts failed to get back into the side but such was his popularlty that the other players in the squad showed their disdain for Gannon’s tactics by adopting Roberts’ celebration. Both Louis Dodds and Marc Richards used “The Swan” celebration in tribute to their missing teammate.
Roberts was typically forthright about Gannon’s regime, telling the Sentinel: “My relationship with the manager is not positive. I don’t think the manager likes me and, to be honest, I don’t like him.”
Roberts made just four starts during Gannon’s 15-game reign and once the vastly unpopular manager was sacked, it looked like the midfielder would come into the fold once again.
He signed a new one-year deal following the return of Micky Adams but despite Roberts’ ringing endorsement of the manager ( “He [Adams] is the only manager that can control me so I think he gets the best out of me.”) it wasn’t long before Roberts was involved in controversy.
In September 2011 he was given a fourteen day suspension by the club for “a serious breach of club discipline”, after he missed a day of training without any warning and then “reported in unfit to carry out his duties” the following day.
It’s like me catching my wife having an affair, isn’t it? I might forgive her, but it will still be in the back of my mind. And if she does it again, then that’s the end because we’re getting divorced…
In his typical no-nonsense style Adams told the media: “It is something we’ll have a look at … but the slate can never be wiped clean. It’s like me catching my wife having an affair, isn’t it? I might forgive her, but it will still be in the back of my mind. And if she does it again, then that’s the end because we’re getting divorced. Gary’s in the same situation in that if he commits one more misdemeanor we’ll sack him.”
And it wasn’t that long before that moment arrived.
In December the club confirmed that Roberts was under investigation for what it described as a “serious breach of club discipline”. Earlier in the day he had turned up to training again “in an unfit state to train”, in what Micky Adams hinted was an attempt to force through a move to Blue Square Premier side Mansfield Town. Two days later his contract was terminated with immediate effect and on the same day he agreed to sign for Mansfield on an eighteen month contract.
And that was the end of Roberts’ incident-packed career at Vale. Who knows what impact Roberts could have made without his off-field baggage? Perhaps instead of a “cult hero” we could have been talking about an all-time great?
Undoubtedly hugely talented, but ultimately and sadly flawed, Roberts is still just 26 years old and at time of writing he is plying his trade in Malta.
It may now be too late for Roberts to reignite his football career unless he conquers his demons. We hope he manages it.