Phil Sproson and Ray Walker goals stun Terry Venables’ cup holders at a soggy Vale Park.
Match details: Port Vale 2-1 Spurs, FA Cup 4th Round, January 30th, 1988
A review of one of the famous cup upsets of all-time. This feature includes a Radio Five programme transcript, reports from the national newspapers and a personal view from Rob Fielding, who was on the terraces that day.
Radio Five transcript
Peter Slater: Tonight, memories of 1988 and happy days in the Potteries, as Port Vale knocked Tottenham out of the FA Cup…
Phil Sproson: Port Vale – people think it’s on the coast and things like that…they don’t know we’re in the middle of the country in Stoke-On-Trent so… It does put us on the map…Prior to that game there was a lot of pressure on the players and the Manager…We were going through a pretty sticky patch so…when we got through the previous round and we got Tottenham here, it gave everybody a lift and it was a great day.
Chris Harper: I still maintain Spurs was a launch pad for them because at the time they were very uncomfortable in the 3rd division and there was an all amounts of speculation even about the Manager’s position…and really no-one could ever have imagined that they would be staging a game of this nature…I mean all ticket games had hardly been heard of…Vale hadn’t had a big game since about 1973 when they played West Ham and got twenty odd thousand…
Peter Slater: This is the story of those famous non-seasiders, Port Vale who inflicted one of the FA Cup’s more surprising results in 1998 when they knocked Terry Venable’s Tottenham Hotspur out in the 4th round. Spurs had been to Wembley the previous season, they were handily placed in Division 3, whilst Vale were struggling in Division 3 and had only just managed to beat non-league Macclesfield in the round three. Manager John Rudge was feeling the pressure…
John Rudge: Things were a bit sticky for us in the league at that time…and like everyone else, people say to me, ‘You’ve been here 13 years as a Manager, 17 years at the club’ …I’ve still have sticky times when we all say – I’ve been a match away from the sack…maybe that may have been a time but you survive and get on with it…I can remember Kevin Finney now just heading that ball in for us and it was a great relief…as I think Sproson who was our big centre half at the time, I don’t think he was going to be able to play in the replay I think he was going to be suspended… so it was a great relief to actually get through that…
Peter Slater: Not to put too fine a point on it, if Port Vale hadn’t beaten Macclesfield, John Rudge could have lost his job. Chris Harper of the Stoke Evening Sentinel…
Chris Harper: Who knows what might have happened had they not got through that game?…In fact the Chairman said to me that he would not have looked forward to the following Monday if they hadn’t got through against Macclesfield… and of course, the following Monday came and with it came the draw for the fourth round.
Peter Slater: It went even deeper then that. As John Rudge was preparing for Macclesfield, the Directors were looking for a possible successor. Vale captain, Phil Sproson.
Phil Sproson: I certainly do remember conversations I had with at least a couple of directors before that Macclesfield game, bearing in mind I was the club captain at the time…and there was one, I shan’t mention his name, that pulled me aside and said that if that if we don’t beat Macclesfield then certainly there are going to be movements in the Managerial position and would I be looking at possibly taking care of the side on a very short term basis, possibly as a caretaker for possibly one or two games until they get somebody in… Now someone who was a 26/27 year old I was flabbergasted by that, and didn’t know what to do and virtually just kept my mouth shut …Never told anyone that and that’s the first time it’s ever come out.
Phil Sproson: Stoke have always been a First Division club and Port Vale have always been a 2nd or 3rd or even 4th Division club. So, there is a divide between the city about who’s best and who’s now. but in recent years since the last season that I played for Port Vale and certainly now, the gap is narrowed considerably and I think there’s not much between the two sides.
John Rudge: It’s always been very difficult and we’ve probably always probably been known as the poor relations. I mean when I came here with John McGrath, we were in the bottom four of the Fourth Division and Stoke were riding pretty high in the First Division, gates of 25,000, our gates were 2000… Well in the 1987/8 season, in the 3rd Division, being drawn against Tottenham was a significant game for us… In the early part of the season we did have a coup in the sense that I’d bought Andy Jones, who was a lad I bought for £3000, from Rhyl, who’d done exceptionally well for us and then in the early part of the season he’d played for Wales and Lennie Lawrence came in and offered £350,000 for him…. Which is obviously a lot of money for Port Vale Football Club. Obviously when we’d only paid £3,000, a great bonus… So, up to then, really we hadn’t really been able to afford any what you might call “pricey players”, in fact the highest purchase I’d ever made was Darren Beckford for £15,000… and £7,500 came from the supporters when we were chucking buckets round the ground and they were putting coins in for us, £7500 came from the Directors and we were able to buy Beckford from Manchester City, who eventually I sold for £975,000!
Phil Sproson: We’d gone up from the Fourth to the Third and come back down and gone back up again, but we were never going to do anything special until obviously, John Rudge could have some more money to invest in better and better players… At that time Bob Hazel had come on loan and then signed for Port Vale from Reading which was a significant advantage to me having someone alongside me who could share the weight… and of course we’d also got Robbie Earle in the side then and Darren Beckford who went on to better things… and Ray Walker as well in midfield so we’d got the nucleus of a good side.
Peter Baxter: Port Vale were very much at the crossroads, that Saturday of the Macclesfield game. When Kevin Finney scored five minutes from time it was to change a lot of people’s lives. It also meant that Vale were in the bag for Monday’s 4th round draw. Chris Harper again:
Chris Harper: I think probably lots of people may remember even now, where they were when that draw was made. I remember sitting on a car park in Hanley… The first relief of course was that Vale came out first..They think ‘Great it’s a home draw’ but even though it was what, the fourth round stage there were still lots of teams involved… so you never quite knew when you got a plum or not…And of course number so and so will play Tottenham… I remember actually driving up to the ground just as quick as I could just to catch the reaction and the lads were there in the dressing room of course listening to the radio also as it came out and I would have thought that they would have heard the roar from White Hart Lane to be honest…
John Rudge: Well it was a magnificent draw for us, especially at home… Obviously the financial rewards would just add that little bit more to Andy Jones’ money and for us to draw at Tottenham in the next round, it was an absolutely fantastic draw for us. Tottenham then at that time, they’d got Terry Venables as the Manager, some fantastic players and they were coming to Vale Park!
Peter Slater: Port Vale didn’t really see this as much more than a financial windfall at first. Midfielder Ray Walker:
Ray Walker: I don’t think we could have beat them but giant killing is what it is. We just looked forward to the game mainly because it was money for the club really and the lads obviously hadn’t played a first division club at that time. Everybody was looking forward to it but we thought we didn’t have a real chance…
Peter Slater: If Port Vale didn’t think they could win then the rest of the football world tended to agree, but if you pardon the pun, that only acted as a Spur. Chris Harper…
Chris Harper: I remember Jimmy Greaves making the classic quote that “the only problem Spurs will have is finding the place”. I mean they’ve never been to Port Vale and I thought well, Jimmy Greaves… that little bit of complacency in the Tottenham camp and Vale would respond to that… The weather on the day was absolutely appalling I think it had rained all through the night and it rained all Saturday morning. I do remember The Television cameras being there and they did a bit of a preview on Grandstand at 1 o’clock… and I think it was Tony Gubba had John Rudge on the pitch with him and his heels sunk into the turf …and John looked at the sky and more or less prayed for it to carry on raining.
Phil Sproson: John had really got us fired up that day. ..’cause if we knew that if we didn’t perform at all, if we continued our League form then we were in for a drubbing that afternoon…and the cameras had come to Vale Park and this is the big time for us, we’d got to do it… and the rain came down that week and it poured down in training and Bob Hazel a wily old player, said it’s tailor made for us, they’re coming to the altar…
Ray Walker: It was very muddy, you put your foot on the pitch and it went to your ankles, so it was giant killing weather shall we say and a big factor was when he dropped Ardiles, that give us another lift before the game… I remember the gaffer coming over and says “Ardiles isn’t playing”. He looked at the pitch obviously, Venables, and thought well we’ll have some stronger lads in there, he put Fenwick in there I think and, errr, it was a lift when Ardiles wasn’t playing.
John Rudge: So, we set about our task about trying to see whether or not we could create one of the biggest upsets I feel in the FA Cup history. You see lots of the games when Hereford beat Newcastle… I don’t think our game is shown as much as that game, but I feel it was as significant a result as that. Full house here, two cracking goals by Walker and Sproson and hanging on at the death, it was a great day for us.
Peter Slater: For 25 minutes Port Vale did what all good giant killers should do, they took advantage of the conditions, scored a couple of goals and ran Spurs ragged. Chris Harper of the Stoke Evening Sentinel again:
Chris Harper: I can still picture the first goal, Ray Walker’s goal, I can remember the ball being played down to the right to Gary Ford, Gary Ford tucked it ,inside, square , and Walker just strode onto it and let fly and I can see it now dipping over the keeper’s head into the far corner. The second one, I remember the ball bobbling around in the box, I think Walker was involved in that one as well and Phil Sproson just… just lashed it with his left foot and it bulged the net …Not too clear about the Tottenham goal but I do remember having got back to 2-1 that those last quarter of hour, twenty minutes were a little bit hairy as you would expect …I think Waddle started to weave a bit of his magic, he seemed to get the pace of the pitch and all that sort of business and he started to pull a few strings and of course the euphoria at the final whistle with everyone leaping out of the dugout and hugging each other and all that sort of business. It was a wonderful day.
John Rudge: Ray Walker got a ball, which on the Television, they said that he chipped it, but it was a really great strike which is from the outside of his right foot which swerved and dipped and it was in the top corner it obviously set everybody alight.
Radio Stoke commentary: Sproson through-ball to be chased there by Riley, picked up by Ford, Ford in-field to Walker, Walker on the edge on the penalty area (voice almost drowned out by roar from crowd) and he’s put the ball into the back of the net. Port Vale are in the lead, Walker from twenty yards puts the ball over goalkeeper Parks into the corner of the net… Port Vale one Tottenham Hotspur nil, the goal coming in the 14th minute of this first half.
Ray Walker: It’s a long ball from the back and in our Division at that time it’s all about getting bits in the game where it comes off the centre half or whatever and you’re there getting the bits in midfield so I just followed the long ball in and Dave Riley I remember had a challenge and it just broke free and I tried to get it out of my feet ‘cos it was that muddy and just decided to hit it and luckily it went in the top corner… It’s called power-shooting that it believe it or not (laughs) I remember going back to my England Youth days with Begara who’s now manager at Rotherham, he taught us how to power-shoot where you hit it off the laces and come off the pitch sort of thing, jump as you hit the ball. I’ve always had a decent shot on me in the past and err… that’s all I did really I didn’t mean it to go in the top corner or anywhere, just managed to hit it properly…
Peter Slater: Ray Walker describing one of the FA Cup’s more memorable goals. A few minutes later Vale were two-nil up…
Radio Stoke commentary: Over it goes, to the far side, the left side of the penalty area, (crowd noise)THE BALL’S LOOSE!, an opportunity for the Vale (massive roar) to score, and they have… the second goal is in and it’s Phil Sproson. The ball came off the chest of Darren Beckford, dropped down and there was Phil Sproson with the Tottenham defence standing around like dummies, and he hammered the ball into the roof of the net. Phil Sproson scoring the second Vale goal…
Phil Sproson: We knew the keeper Parks wasn’t particularly strong in the air at that time… Good shot stopper but not particularly the biggest to come and claim crosses. So the tactic was to put the ball between the space so he would have to come and make the play for it. I remember the cross coming over and I had a real good leap over Thomas I got over the top of him, Parks came out to try and parry it and we collided, he hit my shoulder and fell and the next thing I know the ball has just bounced down, I’ve looked up and suddenly the ball is looming in front of me with the whole of the Bycars End net in front so it was just a clean strike with my left foot and hit the back of the net and after that it was just mayhem. I was off (laughs).
Ray Walker: You think, well, they’ve got to come at us and things like that but, I sensed in their play they weren’t playing that well either. They didn’t like the pitch, they didn’t like the weather, and you could sense that they didn’t really want to battle and they weren’t really up for it I don’t think and… I thought then we had a chance when we went two-nil up.
Phil Sproson: They did put us under a little bit of pressure that was to be expected but we weathered the storm quite well. I think it was the interval that obviously Venables got at them and for the first 15 minutes we were encamped in our own goalmouth, but is was from really good defending from everyone on our side…I remember two great saves that Barney made that kept it at 2-0. I think we were pleased that we went 15-20 minutes without them scoring until Neil Ruddock had a good header and that was the only time then, that we felt threatened… I do remember somebody making a good run down our left beating our fullback Kevin Steggles and hit a good cross in and Clive Allen and myself went threw ourselves near-post and I beat him to the ball and slid it out for a corner… When we were defending the corner, I distinctly remember saying to myself that ‘I’ve never been to White Hart Lane before (laughs) and I guess I would love to go and play there but not under these circumstances!’ so it was nice to keep them out and certainly the last 15 minutes, I think, watching the footage of the game we could have actually increased our lead…It was superb and I think it really set the scene for Port Vale to do well from there on in. The atmosphere was great, you couldn’t get out of the ground after the game, the supporters didn’t want to go home and it was a big party atmosphere.
Ray Walker: A friend of mine is a bodyguard in London, he bodyguards for the Arabs and people like that, and Swedish television were over that day and next thing I know he’s stood right next to me, shaking my hand and I couldn’t believe it was him and he had a Swedish Television sort of badge on, as he gets in anywhere, he’s got the gift of the gab and apparently he’s talked Swedish on the door and he’s in the dressing room next to me, shaking my hand I couldn’t believe it and he’s just a mate from London, you know what I mean!
Chris Harper: Having got rid of Spurs, the next thing was who would we get next time round? Will we be fortunate enough to get another big tie, would it be away? So again they were cluttered around the radio when the draw came out..and it was a little bit of an anti-climax because although they were at home, it was Watford… although I say anti-climax the actual crowd was bigger than it was for the Spurs game….so I think from Vale’s point of view it was a little bit of the boot being on the other foot because people then, having beaten Spurs, expected them – “Oh! Watford, they’ll beat Watford” but of course it was a 0-0 draw and they lost the replay… and Watford then had the privilege of playing Wimbledon. So I think Vale were quite happy with what they’d done, they’d got two games out of Watford got to the 5th round and for a struggling 3rd Division side I think they thought, we’ll settle for that…
Peter Baxter: The final word of this decisive chapter of Port Vale’s history must be about the Manager who was five minutes away from the sack in January 1988 – John Rudge is still at Port Vale, still defying logic, still keeping the club in the public eye, even if some of the public still don’t know where it is – It’s in Burslem by the way…
Phil Sproson: Without John Rudge I think Port Vale would still be in the Third Division, if not dropped back down to the Fourth, his contribution has been fantastic and it was just unfortunate that at that time he was having a run of bad luck and the Directors were getting ready to chop his head off, so to speak, when the team turned in possibly the performance it needed, against Macclesfield, and the possibly the performance of its life against Spurs.
Chris Harper: Even now, when they look at Vale what they’ve done, I think most people will remember that Spurs match, it really was a lift-off time for them… it transformed the club in many ways for them when you look at what they’ve achieved since, and I was think that was lighting the touchpaper to be honest…
The Daily Telegraph
Proud Port Vale capped Tottenham’s miserable season with the first major FA Cup upset, producing a memorable 2-1 fourth round victory that was surprisingly easier than the score line would suggest.
Everything went wrong for Spurs on an occasion Port Vale will never forget as they took full advantage of the Londoner’s apathy. Ray Walker, a £12,000 buy from Aston Villa, sparked off Vale’s win with a superbly hit 25-yard drive in the 13th minute from Sproson’s defence-splitting pass, and 12 minutes later he returned the compliment for Sproson to add a second.
As might be expected, Vale went onto the defensive in the second half, and Spurs pulled one back in the 64th minute when Neil Ruddock went up into the attack and atoned for earlier defensive gaffes by heading in from Waddle’s free-kick but it was to no avail.
Fan view – Rob Fielding
What a game! I can still see Walker’s shot arrowing into the net to this day but I won’t bore you with the technicalities. Here, in list form, are my memories of that day:
The TV cameras, the Spurs stars, losing the contents of my pockets when Walker scored, losing my footing on the terracing when Sproson made it two, losing my voice, losing my temper at the ref as injury time dragged, losing all sense of reality when the whistle went, even letting lose a few tears of joy as the gravity of it all sank in… and then just for good measure (and a real novelty for Vale fans at the time) being able to relive it all again through the TV highlights.
It was a day when you could sense history being made and when I was proud to be wearing my Port Vale scarf.
I can still recall that Vale team line-up off by heart and I can still recall most of Tony Gubba’s commentary on Match of Day. So, all together now “It’s Walker coming forward…”