Cult hero Anthony Griffith: if you weren’t too worried about flair and creativity but wanted energy, commitment and sheer hard work in your midfield engineroom, then Anthony Griffith was the man.
However, it’s fair to say that the merits of Anthony Griffith still divide opinion after three spells at the club – and it’s perhaps that divisive quality that makes him a prime candidate to be labelled a “cult” figure.
After all, our cult heroes are not heroes in the obvious sense. We are not talking about the club’s top talent here (and if we were that would surely exclude Griff) but we’re talking about players who left a mark, who sparked debate on the terraces and who were committed to the club. And on those three criteria, Griffith certainly fits the bill as a cult figure.
The Yorkshireman was signed by Lee Sinnott in 2008, alongside another player who divided opinion, Rob Taylor. But Sinnott only lasted until September before he was axed. Griffith even spoke out against the decision saying “It’s unfair for him to go after seven games of the season. He deserves a better chance than that.” It was to no avail and Griffith found himself sidelined (literally) as he was shunted to right-back under caretaker Dean Glover.
That could have been it for Griffith, but when Micky Adams took over from the hapless Glover, things changed. Adams praised Griffith commenting “We know he’s going to give us 100 per cent effort, he’s going to win his tackles and get around the pitch – I like that” and Griffith was promptly reinstalled in his favoured central midfield role. In season 2009- Griff impressed (Adams called one Griffith performance against Crewe “awesome”) as he made forty appearances and he was duly named the player of the year.
For the following season, Griffith made half of perhaps one of the most extreme pairing of opposites seen at Vale Park. Griffith was limited technically, but a consummate professional and a hard-worker. Alongside him was Gary Roberts, technically gifted but deeply troubled by off-pitch demons. It was a real “chalk and cheese” partnership – Griff making short work of his limitations through hard work, Roberts squandering his gifts but occasionally showing glimpses of his quality
The pairing of opposites worked and by November Vale were top of the table. Then the wheels came off… Adams departed for Sheffield United, replacement Jim Gannon (who quickly dropped Roberts) was a disaster and an unhappy fanbase protested against the unpopular board. Despite it all, Griff carried on regardless, making another 40 consistent league appearances.
It was a similar tale of consistency in 2010-11 as Griffith notched up 43 league appearances and even scored a rare goal. And there was one other incident of note that can only help cement Griffith’s cult credentials. He became one of Vale’s rare full Internationals – in perhaps the most unusual of circumstances. Despite being born in Huddersfield, Griffith was called up for the Montserrat national team (through his late father who was born there) and promptly installed as captain. He made two appearances for his country in a two-legged game against Belize (Montserrat lost 8-3 on aggregate).
Despite all the International excitement, at the end of the season, Griffith opted for new pastures and left Vale to join Leyton Orient.
The following season, Vale were handily placed for promotion when the side suffered a series of New Year blips. Manager Micky Adams clearly felt that a steadying force was needed in midfield and Griffith was snapped up for a second Vale spell – this time on loan. The closing stages of the season, the win over Burton aside, were largely businesslike affairs – in other words games that suited Griffith down to the ground – and he played his part making ten appearances as the club secured promotion.
In the summer of 2013, Griffith rejoined the Vale on a permanent basis, but this time with the club a division higher. The increase in class seemed to lesson Griff’s effect on the game and his contribution was also compromised by a niggling injury that (typically for him) he played through. Partner Chris Lines was certainly impressed with Griffith as he commented: “Griff is a pleasure to play with. He is a top lad and I think we are working really well together.”
It’s true that Griff was a “top lad.” I had the pleasure to meet him a couple of times and he was always polite, accommodating and professional. Off the pitch, he was clearly a credit to the club.
Nevertheless, at the end of the season, Vale decided that they needed more than sheer graft on the pitch and Griffith was released. He had made 237 appearances and remarkably (as anyone who’d ever witnessed his shooting will attest) had managed to score two goals.
Griff was never the most gifted player and that undoubtedly caused the endless debate about his worth to the side. But one thing is for certain – if starting elevens were decided according to effort and commitment, Griffith’s name would be the first on the teamsheet.
Cult hero Anthony Griffith
Cult credentials: Hard work, tenacity, divided opinion, thoroughly nice chap, three spells at Vale, International caps
Honours: Player of the Year 2010, Promotion 2013