This exclusive OVF interview, conducted thirteen years ago, has been missing from our website for a number of years.
We believe it was never copied across after one of our (numerous) software changes, so it gives us great pleasure to publish it for a second time.
This interview was originally published in 2000.
Many Vale fans hear you speak favourably of the club through the media – do you still keep an eye out for our results and do you watch the club often?
When you spend nine years at a club it always holds a special place in your heart. My years spent at Vale under John Rudge have stood me in good stead for whatever I have gone on to achieve.
What was your favourite (or best) goal you scored for Vale?
The header vs Bristol Rovers in the then 3rd Division playoff.
It was the last of the old two-leg playoff finals and we were playing Gerry Francis’ Bristol Rovers, who were quite a decent little team. We drew down there and needed any victory at Vale Park to get us up.
It was the old set-piece routine – Mills, Beckford, Earle – the MBE as it was known! Mills was unbelievable on the corners, Beckford was there at the near post and Earle came in at the back with the header – just for a change!
The emotions during and after that game were incredible. Vale had always been the poor relations in the Potteries and when I joined the club we were in the old Fourth Division. In that six or seven years, I had seen so much change and so much improve, making that night against Bristol Rovers very emotional.
It was like a culmination of all the hard work that had gone in. All of a sudden we were into the First Division, which was a massive step for Vale at the time because there were some big clubs in that league. It was nice to prove those people wrong who said Vale would never be good enough to play at that level.”
Many more Vale fans wanted to know about that historic derby game against Stoke City…
One of the goals I did score with my feet was against Stoke in the first derby game of season 1989-90. I can’t remember the build-up but the ball came out to me and I hit it. The ball rebounded off a defender and came back to me. I just saw that Stoke keeper Peter Fox had left a gap on his near post and I remember slamming it as hard as I could. It was one of those when you hit it and you’re not sure where it’s gone until the reaction of the crowd let me know it was in.
That first derby in Division One was brilliant because there hadn’t been a Potteries derby for such a long time. Chris Kamara was captain of Stoke and I was captain of Vale. There was a big hair convention going on in the centre circle when we met to shake hands and toss up. I think the ref tossed the coin and must have lost it in our hair!”
Vale fans on local radio and through the official Port Vale website voted you the best Vale player of all time – any thoughts or reaction to this?
It’s an honour – when you think of some of the talent that has been seen at Vale Park.
What influence did John Rudge have upon your career? Were you sad to hear that he had finally left the Vale?
John Rudge without doubt has had the biggest influence that anyone has had on my career. To see him ousted, like he was, was nothing short of disgusting.
Some Vale fans still rave about your midfield partnership with Ray Walker. Even John Rudge claims that it was one of the best-ever midfield partnerships at Vale. What are your feelings on this?
Ray and myself complemented each other well. Whilst he had passing skills and silky skills, I was more energetic and powerful – with a more keen eye for goals. I have always felt that Ray could have performed at the highest level.
I think a lot of Vale fans will remember that emotional play-off victory against Bristol Rovers. Is that your favourite Vale memory or do any others live longer in your memory?
Yes, as I answered in the second question it was my favourite goal too! Also, that great victory over Spurs in the FA Cup, for me, that was the result that posted Port Vale on the footballing map.
Did your years at Port Vale help or hinder you when you moved to Wimbledon?
My football grounding at Port Vale stood me in good stead for whatever I decided to do next. Under John Rudge, I learnt discipline, respect, honesty and loyalty. Virtues that carry on whatever vocation you choose.
You were once linked with a return to the club, would you ever consider coming back to Vale as player-coach or even Manager?
The fantasy sounds great – and maybe working under John Rudge it would have been a possibility – but Mr Bell was never my favourite person. I also believe it is better not to go backwards!
Are there any people at Port Vale who helped you and who you admired whilst there (players or staff)?
In my early years, Russell Bromage was a great help as was Phil Sproson, who also told me I could play at at the top if I worked hard. As for coaches, apart from John Rudge, Mick Pejic and Alan Oakes were both magnificent tutors for me to learn my trade.
Do you have any message for the Vale fans out there on the Internet?
It’s nice to know Vale fans from all over the country (and world) appreciate what you did. It’s now time to get behind the present team and make sure we stay in Division One – and eventually the Premiership! If Wimbledon can do it, the Vale certainly can.
Tell us about the big hair you had at Vale…
At the time it was a case of the bigger the hair, the bigger the profile! I was quite literally reaching new heights at the time. For a couple of seasons I must have been listed in the record books as being 6ft 4in. It was only when I got it all cut off that people realised I was only 5ft 10in!
How much of your successful career was due to the coaching skills of John Rudge?
I’d say probably about 75 or 80 per cent was down to him. When I was discarded from Stoke as a junior he was the one who took me in and spent 18 months working with me every day on understanding the game, my touch and appreciation. Without him I would never have got to where I did.
Tim asks: Can you assure Vale fans that you’ll never work for Stoke?
It’s only the Rudgey link that keeps the talk of me ever working at Stoke. I can’t see it ever happening though so rest assured Vale fans, I’m not going to risk my relationship with you by joining Stoke, it would be a no-win situation for me!
How important has your relationship with the Vale fans been throughout your career?
I’ve had a great relationship with Vale fans. When I was in hospital I received loads of letters from Vale fans, as I did when I was called up for the England squad and went to the World Cup with Jamaica. It means a lot to me that Vale fans still count me as one of their own. Once you’ve played for Vale – and I was there for eight or nine years – the fans stick with you.
What was the highest point of your career?
I’d have to say Lens in the 1998 World Cup. Scoring the equaliser against Croatia is what people will probably remember me for. If someone had said to me when I was a 16 year old training in the gym with Rudgey, that I’d play in the World Cup finals and score a goal. I’d have taken that there and then. It was a very special moment because of the stage it was on, the time in my career and where I’d been before, I suppose.
Was announcing your retirement a very sad moment?
In some ways it’s a relief because the injury situation has dragged on and people have been asking me what to do. It’s nice that people know now. I’m in a nice position in that I have other things on the horizon with all the TV work and working with the reserves at Wimbledon. I’m 35 years old and I’ve had 20 good years in the game.
Do you have a message to the fans who’ve supported you throughout?
I hope I’ve given the supporters a bit of enjoyment and I thank them for the support they gave me during my career. All that’s left to say is ‘Watch this space’
Finally, Rob Fielding, the site editor want to know, what are your thoughts on www.onevalefan.co.uk?
I’m always looking at the site because I’m interested in how the club are doing. I look at the site on a regular basis to keep up with everything that’s going on at Vale Park and to see what the Vale fans are saying. It’s a great innovation – keep up the good work.
Robbie Earle’s Vale career:
Time at club: 1982 to 1991
Achievements: Won three promotions with the Valiants
Trivia: Made 142 consecutive appearances between September 1984 and January 1987.
Sold: to Wimbledon for £775,000 (and 30% of any future transfer fee above that figure) in 1991
Many thanks to Robbie Earle for taking the time to reply to our questions