1953-54 Port Vale player profiles: images and contemporary text from the ‘Pride of Port Vale’ booklet.
The book was published to celebrate the achievements of the legendary 1954 ‘Iron Curtain’ side and included these fascinating 1953-54 Port Vale player profiles. They have been reproduced using the original text and cartoons as they appear in the 1954 booklet.
1953-54 Port Vale player profiles
TOM CHEADLE – centre-half and captain
“It was Matt Busby and a faulty no. 69 grenade that made Tommy Cheadle into Port Vale’s centre-half and captain. Matt Busby, then captain of Liverpool, was Cheadle’s PTI. Matt was the Unit centre-half. Playing behind the cultured Scot, Tommy studied the art of centre-half and finally moved into the position himself. Move now to 1944, a battlefield in Holland. The Monmouths are attacking. Private Cheadle throws a grenade. It goes off almost in his hand and Tommy wakes up in Hospital. Enter now another PTI – Ken Fish, trainer of Port Vale. Demob…a social call on Ken Fish…a trial…the immediate signing of professional forms. Thus began at 26 a career that might have won national fame had his rich gifts of speed, strength and courage been recognised earlier.”
ROY SPROSON – left half
“Roy Sproson is 6 feet tall. But when he was a boy he was such a tiny tot they played him at outside-left in the Boys’ Brigade team.In many opinions, Sproson has it in him to become a top flight centre-half. In the meantime he polishes up his football at left-half. For a long time Sproson waited in the wings as understudy to Bill McGarry who was transferred to Huddersfield Town. When the chance came he seized it in a vice-like grip and in no time at all the big offers were coming in for Sproson. But he’s not moving. He married last June, has bought his own house in the Potteries. He’s staying.”
RAY KING – goalkeeper
“Ray King’s story is the “Bruce and the spider” story of modern soccer. He has been down three times with cruel injuries – but never quite out. He was just a boy goalkeeper with Newcastle United when he saved a piledriver penalty from Tommy Lawton at Goodison Park and paid the terrible price of two broken wrists. Back he went to his home in Amble, Northumberland to play centre-half and centre-forward in the village team. Two years later the comeback with Leyton Orient and another broken wrist in the first game. Back to Amble, a second comeback and a broken jaw in the first game. “Then my brother George persuaded me to come to Port Vale to give the luck another chance. How glad I am now. These have been the happiest days of my life. To his indomitable spirit Ray King brings to goalkeeping the great assets of giant stature and a pair of hands that seem to shrink a football down to orange-size.”
COLIN ASKEY – outside right
“When Colin Askey came to Port Vale at 15 he was, in the words of trainer Ken Fish, “just two bricks high”. Just a wisp of a winger. But one on whom the mark of coming football grace was indelibly printed. The greatest compliment to Askey’s ability was not in a League or Cup game, but in a series of practices before the Blackpool sensation. Manager Steele then asked Askey to impersonate the inimitable Stanley Matthews so that Reg Potts and Roy Sproson could practice their drill for holding Matthews in the Cup tie.Said Potts and Sproson gratefully, after they had held up Blackpool’s all-England right wing: “Colin and Matthews have something in common.”
DICKIE CUNLIFFE – outside left
“Well, Dickie is small. He is 5 ft 5 ins when he is wearing his long studs and he weighs 10st 6 lbs. But what little there is of Cunliffe is nearly all heart. He is one of the biggest little men in Soccer business. He is the nearest approach to perpetual motion amongst modern wingers – a non stop worker from one corner flag to another, harrying the opposing winger but always in the forefront of Vale’s own attacks. He is now a full-timer and is engaged to marry Miss Elsie Eardley, a Port Vale fan, in June.”
KEN GRIFFITHS – inside-left
“Ken Griffiths was a big boy at school so they played him in goal. But then he stopped growing and has now established himself as inside-left by way of the right-wing. It was at outside-right that Ken linked up with Basil Hayward in the Northwood Mission local side. He became an amateur player at Vale but he did not impress on the wing and it was one of those post-war shortages that gave him a second chance to make good. His RAF unit were short of an inside-left. They asked him to have a go and that was the start of a career that will get better and better as Port Vale climb into better and better football.He plays snooker, dart and cricket .. and keeps one hundred head of poultry.”
BASIL HAYWARD – centre-forward
“Basil Hayward is the centre-forward who was so raw that manager Steele had to hide him from Port Vale fans. He played Hayward only in away games and played in the home matches himself whilst Basil was going through the painful conversion from centre-half to centre-forward. He came to Vale Park from Northwood Mission – the local club that produced Ronnie Allen, Ken Griffiths and Bill McGarry. He plays for Staffordshire at cricket on the strength of his left-arm medium pace bowling.”
ALBERT LEAKE – inside right
“The strange thing about Albert Leake, whose goals have been the golden stepping stones to Vale’s Cup fame, is that he is primarily a defensive inside-forward.He still plays a semi-wing-half role in Vale’s deep-defence system but when he visits the other team’s penalty area let the goalkeeper beware. His goal sense is highly developed. One of the sad things about Leake from a Stoke City point of view is that he spent two seasons at the Victoria Ground as an amateur. He is wicket-keeper batsman for Norton, a local club in which centre-forward Basil Hayward has bowled himself into the Staffordshire county side.”
ALBERT MULLARD – inside right
“When ex-Marine Mullard, after four years as a prisoner of war in Germany, signed for Walsall, he was a centre-forward or inside-right. They gave him the bird at Walsall so he moved to Crewe. It was better there – so much better that Stoke City paid around £10,000 for Mullard. But he still hadn’t found his real position. And suddenly the Vale realised that the makeweight forward was a fine wing half too. When Mullard – then playing at inside-right, changed places with Albert Leake – then playing right half, it was one of the inspired switches that have marked manager Steele’s regrouping of his team.”
REG POTTS – left back and vice captain
“Reg Potts is the longest-serving player on Port Vale’s books. He became a professional in 1945 but it was not until February 20th this year that he became a household name in the Potteries. That was the day that Port Vale beat Blackpool and Potts joined the little gallery of full-backs that have managed to exercise the magic of Matthews. Reg is a former bricklayer, ex-Navy sick-berth attendant and – like several of his colleagues – a former amateur with Stoke City.”
STAN TURNER – right back
“The war gave Stan Turner to Port Vale – just as it did Tommy Cheadle. From 14-18 there was no football for this former schoolboy centre-forward. Then out he went to India with the North Staffords and the end of Saturday afternoons in a butcher’s shop. Now Stan became a centre-half and perfected his Staffordshire terrior type of tackling. The news of Turner’s prowess filtered back to the Potteries. As soon as he got home, the late Mr Gordon Hodgson signed him for Port Vale. They tried to turn him into a centre-forward for a time. But it was not until they put him into a No.2 shirt that Port Vale saw the best of Turner – one of the strongest full-backs in the business.”
The 1953-54 Port Vale player profiles appear in this booklet:
About the 1953-54 Port Vale Iron Curtain side
Known as the “Iron Curtain” for their tremendous defensive qualities, the Port Vale FC side of 1953-54 set numerous club records and are regarded as probably the greatest Port Vale side of all-time.
Managed by Freddie Steele, the side were crowned Third Division North Champions and also reached the FA Cup semi-final where they unluckily lost to West Brom.
Their success was based on a squad of nineteen players, many of whom were locally born. Players included Ray King, Roy Sproson, Tommy Cheadle, Colin Askey, Dickie Cunliffe, Albert Leake and Basil Hayward.
The side set three Football League records including the least number of goals conceded in a season, a club record eleven successive home wins and they were undefeated at home all season.
Read more about them in our dedicated section