Have Port Vale stars ever played other sports? With stars of baseball, Test cricketers and more besides, this feature may surprise you…
An interesting Guardian article on the apparent end to multi-discipline athletes (cricketers who played football like Ian Botham and Phil Neale or footballers who played cricket like Steve Ogrizovic etc) made me think – which Vale stars have played other sports? Here’s the answer…
Test cricket stars
Ken Higgs made 15 England appearances
Henry (Harry) Howell was born in 1890 and guested for Port Vale during World War One. However, it was his cricket which was to bring him to wider attention. Playing for Warwickshire, Howell was called up for the first Test series to follow World War One – a 1920 tour of Australia and he proceeded to make a total of five appearances for his country taking seven Test wickets.
He took seven for thirty six on his first-class debut and by 1966 he had established himself as England’s opening bowler..
Ken Higgs was born in Kidsgrove and played for the Vale’s junior sides. However, he never made a senior appearance. During that time, he played cricket for Staffordshire where he came to the attention of Lancashire. He took seven for thirty six on his first-class debut and by 1966 he had established himself as England’s opening bowler. He ended up with 15 Test appearances, taking 71 wickets at an impressive average of 20.71.
Bob Taylor is well-known as an England wicket-keeper of the 1970’s, who often battled Alan Knott for a place in the England side. However, one lesser-known fact about Stoke-born Taylor is that he spent his early years in the Vale youth ranks.
A Wimbledon regular…
Born in Stone, Jack Moore played for Stafford Rangers before joining the Vale in 1939. He made a solitary appearance for the club. However, Moore was more famous for regular appearances at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships.
Like most of his fellow players, Moore was an amateur and appeared at Wimbledon from 1938 to 1950. In 1948, he reached the second round and faced Henry Billington, a professional and a Davis Cup player. Moore lost in four sets to Billington (Tim Henman’s grandfather) but his performance was widely praised.
If you were selecting second sports for Port Vale players, baseball probably wouldn’t be one of them. However, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, baseball was extremely popular in the UK with crowds often exceeding 10,000.
One of those international games took place at the Old Recreation Ground, Vale’s then home ground…
George Whitcombe was a Welsh footballer who played 55 times for the Vale including the 1930 promotion year. He was also an international – at baseball. Whitcombe was his country’s captain and he played five international baseball games for Wales all of them against England. To add a further twist, one of those international games took place at the Old Recreation Ground, Vale’s then home ground on 17th May 1930.
Jack Roberts was a character, that’s for sure. A Scouser, Roberts scored 74 goals in just 118 games for the Valiants. But he was also a baseball convert and captained the England team. His influence was such he was named as one of English baseball’s top ten most influential players.
He served with the Irish Guards during World War Two and was captured in North Africa while bravely trying to find an injured colleague. He was placed in a prisoner of war camp but Roberts, despite having a broken bone in his neck, managed to escape, walking four hundred miles through heat and unfamiliar territory to freedom. The feat received widespread (and deserved) attention at the time.
Another Valiant also played baseball, although it was before he joined the club. Harry Griffiths had began his career at Everton but while unable to make the first-team, he played for England at baseball. He joined the Valiants in 1935 and played over a hundred times for the club. After retiring from football, Griffiths added yet another string to his bow by becoming wicketkeeper for Meir Heath cricket club.
There are several Vale players who have also had respectable careers for first-class counties.
Ian Buxton (above) had a prolific cricketing career. He helped Vale to promotion in 1969-1970 but received greater fame as a long-serving Derbyshire cricketer, playing for over twenty years and captaining his county from 1970 to 1972.
Louis Bookman is one of the more fascinating Vale characters. The son of a Rabbi, his family emigrated from Lithuania to Ireland in the 1895 to escape antisemitism, and subsequently changed their name from Buchalter to Bookman.
He was picked for the Irish football team while playing for Belfast Celtic in 1911. He also played for Ireland at cricket…
Arthur Jepson played as a goalkeeper for Vale either side of World War Two. But as a pace bowler for Nottinghamshire, he took over 1,000 wickets – a feat that puts in the all-time top ten Nottinghamshire bowlers. After retiring he also enjoyed a 26 year spell as a Test match umpire.
Manager Gordon Hodgson was born in South Africa. A popular figure, he is tragically the only Port Vale manager to die while employed in the role. He took charge in 1950 but sadly died of cancer in 1951. Vale legend Roy Sproson said: “Everybody liked him and his loss was so sad.” A highly talented sportsman, earlier in his career Hodgson had scored over 300 goals in just over 500 games for the likes of Liverpool, Aston Villa and Leeds. But he also excelled at cricket, playing regularly for Lancashire.
Other multi-discipline stars
The Vale boast an impressive list of players who also turned out for Staffordshire in the cricket minor county leagues. The list includes: Billy Fitchford, Adrian Capes, Billy Briscoe (pictured right), Aaron Lockett, Albert Leake, Tom Lyons and Basil Hayward.
Former Valiant defender Gareth Owen played cricket for Stafforshire as a youngster while fellow defender Chris Banks captained hometown Stoke to the North Staffs and South Cheshire League Premier Division title in 2006.
Jack Maddock joined the Valiants in unorthodox fashion. The right-back was spotted playing cricket by club secretary Joe Schofield and invited to a trial.
Finally, a nod to former striker Steve Davis whose son Marcus Holden plays International rugby for Cyprus.