The powerful forward arrived without fanfare but soon proved his worth to become a popular terrace hero and a deserved entrant in our hall of cult fame.
Name: Akpo Sodje
Cult credentials: Arrived unknown but departed a hero, never-say-die attitude, fans’ favourite, brief stay
Time at Vale: 2006-2007
When Akpo Sodje arrived at Vale Park, hopes were not high. Manager Martin Foyle had a good reputation for sniffing out strikers (Steve Brooker and Leon Constantine had both been scouted by Foyle) but Sodje had been roundly castigated by Darlington fans and his arrival on a free transfer was not widely acclaimed.
Once Sodje got the chance to pound across every blade of Vale Park grass, he rapidly became a fans’ favourite…
However, once Sodje got the chance to pound across every blade of Vale Park grass, he rapidly became a fans’ favourite. He enjoyed the perfect start with a goal on his debut – a 3-0 win over Leyton Orient and followed that up with the winner against Oldham three days later.
However, goalscoring was not the key attribute Sodje brought. Akpo possessed something the side had been missing for some years – strength, aggression and a never-say-die attitude. In essence, Sodje’s position wasn’t a striker (the goal poacher type, quick off the mark) he was an archetypal centre-forward (the type who would terrorise defenders, shield the ball and use their strength).
In that season, strike partner Leon Constantine topped the goalscoring charts with 26 goals, but his phlegmatic and often lackadaisical style alienated some fans. Sodje’s appeal was far more obvious as his direct running, determination and energetic displays earned him the player of the season award ahead of his more prolific strike partner.
And it was Sodje, despite his inferior scoring record, who provided the standout goalscoring achievement of the season. On the 10th March, he became the first Vale player since 1893 to hit four in an away game as Vale thrashed Rotherham 5-1.
Sodje’s reaction to the feat was typical of his 100% approach to the game as he told the BBC: “I’ve been putting the work in [and] the harder you work the more chances you get… on Saturday the goals were exactly what I’d been doing in training and everything just came.”
Sodje only hit three more Vale goals after that feat as financially challenged Vale cashed in to sell him to Sheffield Wednesday for an undisclosed fee (believed to be around £200,000) but he’d done more than enough in his 53 games to earn a deserved spot in our OVF hall of fame.