Tuesday 19th August 2014 marks twenty five years since a 24 year-old defender with receding hair played his first game for the club.
Neil Aspin made his Vale debut in a 2-2 draw with Bradford City on August 19th 1989 and he went on to make more than 400 appearances, to be voted Player of the Year twice and to help the club to two promotions plus the Autoglass Trophy final win.
Here is a tribute we wrote to Aspin when he left the Valiants in 1999:
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A tribute to Captain Marvel…
It’s taken 405 games, 3 goals, gallons of sweat, blood and tears but the unthinkable has happened – Captain Marvel has left.
Neil Aspin has been a magnificent servant for Port Vale football club.
Fearless in the tackle, putting 100% effort into his game, loyal to the extreme and appreciative of the fans, he will be sadly missed.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet Neil on a couple of occasions and I have found him to be as charming off the pitch as he is dedicated on it. A hard working but modest man, when I asked him how the team would miss his presence through injury during the last Potteries Derby, he replied “I’m sure they’ll do better without me”. Unfortunately, such self-depreciation has now become reality.
Alongside Dean Glover and Ray Walker, Neil will be associated with the John Rudge glory years at Port Vale.
Let us look back on his career and remember some of his finest moments for Vale.
Aspin came to Vale with the club entering new heights. Vale were entering Division One for the first time when he arrived as a 24 year old veteran of 250 games for Leeds United.
His task with Dean Glover was to steady Vale’s defence. They did so well that the partnership remained unchanged and virtually unchallenged for 800 games and nine years…
His task with Dean Glover was to steady Vale’s defence. They did so well that the partnership remained unchanged and virtually unchallenged for 800 games and nine years. The combined £340,000 transfer fee that the pair cost has been repaid many times!
Under John Rudge, Neil’s more aggressive persuasions were tamed and he found himself more suited to central defence than his original right-back position.
Neil’s greatest achievements came in quick succession. Victory in the club’s first ever Wembley appearance was followed by promotion the next season.
However, Neil’s time at Vale was also marked with a succession of serious injuries. He escaped unscathed from a scything tackle by Steve Foley (which was described by commentator Andy Gray as “the worst tackle I’ve ever seen”) but ‘Aspo’ has been dogged by other injuries.
Perhaps, this and his advancing years have finally lead to his release?
Neil’s greatest assets were in defence, but despite his record as an extremely rare goalscorer (just three goals in over 400 games) his scoring efforts were memorable, especially one strike, which has often been described as “Vale Park’s greatest goal.”
In an nondescript match at home to Grimsby in 1995, Neil Aspin charged up the field, on and on, through a maze of Grimsby defenders (I counted five tackles) and clinically drove the ball past the despairing keeper into the net.
This goal was just his third and final goal for Vale. After that match whenever Aspo moved out of defensive duties, a murmuring in the crowd would start up – perhaps it was an unconscious desire among supporters to relive that epic goal again?
Those murmurings will cease now Neil has gone, but Port Vale will be all the poorer for his going.
Mr 101%, Captain Marvel, Aspo, thanks for the memories…
Rob Fielding, 1999