Port Vale history 1913 to 1949

The move to the Old Recreation Ground, jumping in and out of the league and the emergence of Wilf Kirkham.

The Old Rec


In 1913, Port Vale gained permission from Stoke-on-Trent council to develop the Kent Street Recreation ground in Hanley. The new ground was re-named the Old Recreation Ground and had room for 30,000 fans.

In 1915, Vale were granted temporary re-election to the Football League as World War One continued to reek havoc on the footballing world.

One of Vale’s guest players during the war period was legendary Billy Meredith of Manchester City. Vale also signed several Wolves players during the war as the West Midlands side stopped playing during the wartime period.

Back in the league


Vale players in the 1920’s

After the war, Vale returned to the Central League. But in 1919, league side Leeds City were thrown out due to illegal payments and Port Vale were dramatically re-elected back into the Football League to take over their fixtures.

Ironically, Vale themselves were then found guilty of illegal payments in 1921 but it was on a much smaller scale and the club escaped with a £100 fine.

On the 27th October 1923, a locally-born 20 year old reserve striker called Wilf Kirkham made his debut. He was to become the club’s all-time record scorer during a nine year stay with the Vale.

In October 1925, the now free-scoring Wilf Kirkham was chosen to represent the Football League in an exhibition match. But in April 1926 there was an announcement that was to rock the club to the very foundations.

Merger threats


First-team regular Bob Connolly

It was announced that Club Directors had agreed in principle to a proposal from their local rivals. Vale were to merge with Stoke City.

However, Vale fans vowed to fight any merger with their rivals. Supporters’ groups indicated that even if such a merger took place, a new Port Vale football club would remain, independent of their local rivals. This dramatic action was not needed as Stoke Directors eventually decided against the scheme.

In 1927, Vale were concerned with the Old Rec’s lack of space and a move back to a re-vamped 50,000 capacity Cobridge Stadium was suggested. However, the council still held first refusal on the stadium’s lease and refused to offer a reasonable price for the Old Rec.

The plan collapsed.

In 1927, highly rated fullback Jimmy Oakes had a trial with England but in May 1929 there was another body blow for Vale’s patient supporters when Wilf Kirkham was controversially sold to Stoke City. He had been top scorer for five consecutive seasons.

First promotion

However, the loss of Kirkham didn’t stop the club celebrating in 1930 as the Vale claimed their first-ever promotion, finishing as champions of the Third Division North. 103 goals had been scored with Strikers Sam Jennings and Albert Pyengar scoring 47 goals between them.

Two thousand fans appeared at the Town Hall to begin the celebrations and were greeted by former player Wilf Kirkham who could not resist attending.

In 1930-1 Vale went on to reach their highest-ever placing of fifth in Division Two. The gates reached an average of 10,870 and Vale celebrated by taking a brief tour of Holland.

A new concrete stand was build on Bryan Street during the summer that could hold 4,800 supporters. It was announced that it was “as big as any stand in the football world.”

Kirkham returns

In 1932 Wilf Kirkham returned from his spell at Stoke City and fellow striker Stewart Littlewood was selected for the FA representative team.

Kirkham’s return did not last long as he retired from the game in 1933 to take up a full-time teaching position and following his departure, Vale were promptly relegated back to Division 3 in 1936 after the side shipped 106 goals that season.

In 1939, fixtures were abandoned for the Second World War while arrangements were being formulated to build a new Port Vale ground in Burslem.

In 1945, 16 year old striker Ronnie Allen made his debut. He was to later become an England International.

The Old Rec – a source of fond memories for many older supporters was eventually redeveloped as a shopping centre.

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