The striker’s remarkable spell came despite Port Vale conceding 12 goals in two games and amid mounting financial worries.
Rob Fielding writes…
I reckon that if you’d have asked any Port Vale supporter at the time, they would not have had high hopes for the club in early 1936.
On the 1st February, Vale had lost 5-1 at home to Tottenham Hotspur and seven days later the Valiants were thumped 7-2 by Manchester United at Old Trafford. The club directors were starting to feel uneasy about securing the club’s mounting debts and things were starting to look grim.
Step forward striker Jack Roberts…
Roberts was an extraordinary personality. He’s one of my personal favourites due to his many heroic exploits (including a remarkable story of an escape from a POW camp in World War Two) and there’s a link at the bottom of this article to a cult hero feature I wrote about Roberts.
The Valiants had dropped to the bottom of the table by early December 1935 and responded by making a “sizeable” bid for Roberts – then playing for non-league Wigan Athletic and one of the hottest non-league properties. “Nipper” (as he was known) took his time to find his feet (with just three goals in his opening nine games) but in mid-February he sprung into goalscoring form.
Vale responded to the Man Utd thrashing by beating Norwich City 3-1 and Roberts hit unstoppable form, scoring eight goals in five games including a hat-trick against Hull City. Here’s his goalscoring record over that period:
The striker ended the season with twelve goals from 21 games but sadly it was not enough to avoid relegation to the Third Division. One consolation was that the club managed to overcome its financial problems as a share issue and a benefit game raised enough money to enable the club to continue.
In 1937-38, Roberts was to do even better with an astonishing 30 goals from 40 games – the best total of any forward in the Football League that season. “Nipper” was to finish his Vale career with the hugely impressive tally of 74 goals from just 118 games.
A cult hero
A hero both on the pitch, the story of Jack Roberts is one of the most interesting in the long history of the club