Nearly men 7-12: the rocky transfer route to Ron Futcher…

Nearly men 7-12: the rocky transfer route to Ron Futcher…

Port Vale tried five other strikers before opting to sign Ron Futcher. This is the story of those failed transfer deals…

About Nearly Men

This is an occasional OVF series about transfer moves that failed to materialise. In other words, players who perhaps in a parallel universe would have been playing for the Valiants…

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In 1988, John Rudge was unusually flush with cash (from the sale of Andy Jones and the Spurs cup run) and looking to build a strong squad. He had pinpointed two areas of improvement and both required several bids before they would be rectified.

One was the left-flank. Rudge put in bids for Marc North, Nigel Gleghorn and had a £40,000 offer for Bristol City’s Alan Walsh rejected. Finally, he landed Sunderland’s Paul Atkinson for £20,000 but it would only be a brief fix as Atkinson soon succumbed to injury. Arguably the left-wing issue was only finally resolved when loanee John Jeffers signed for £30,000 in March.

Similarly, Rudge’s search for an experienced partner for the promising Darren Beckford hit some snags along the way.


Bid one…

The Valiants had a comparatively large (it would have been a club record) £70,000 bid for Hull City striker Andy Saville rejected. The 24 year-old Saville had been Hull’s top scorer in 1986 and would hit thirty goals for Preston in 1995. Arguably, he would have been a great addition to the Vale side.

Saville is pictured second from left in our top image


Bid two…

Next up was Imre Varadi at Sheffield Wednesday, by then an experienced 31 year-old striker. Vale’s approach was again rejected. In retrospect this may not have been a great signing. Varadi managed just three goals that season and becoming something of a “journeyman” pro in the following seasons.

Varadi is pictured third from left in our top image


Bid three…

The third bid was for future Stoke City striker Wayne Biggins, then at Norwich City. But Biggins had bigger fish to consider. He turned down Vale’s approach to seal a big money £150,000 move to Manchester City. Biggins undoubtedly had a distinguished career upfront and like Saville could have been an asset to the Valiants.

Varadi is pictured fourth from left in our top image


Bid four…

Then Rudge turned to Leeds United and a move for beanpole striker John Pearson. The striker’s main asset was his height but arguably he would have been a poor signing. In 99 games for Leeds he managed just 12 goals.

Pearson is pictured fifth from left in our top image


Bid five…

Rudge now clearly started to think outside the box. Former star striker Andy Jones had not been a success at Charlton Athletic and the club were open to offers. Vale’s £175,000 offer (smashing the club record fee) was accepted but the striker himself turned down the move, as he still wanted to prove himself at the top level. Ironically, Jones was to return to Vale – in a loan move in the New Year, but he was not the solution Vale sought in the summer.

Jones is pictured far left in our top image


Trialist…

By now, Rudge was no doubt pulling what little hair he had out. He brought in former Stoke veteran Ian Moores to train with the squad. But the 34 year-old was not the answer and was released.


Futcher signs…

Finally, in August 1988 with the new season rapidly approaching, Rudge landed his man. Veteran striker Ron Futcher had left Bradford in the summer and was all set to join Mansfield Town. The Stags set up a press conference to announce their new signing only for… Futcher not to turn up. Unknown to Mansfield, Rudge had approached the player and the 32 year-old had opted for Vale Park instead. At the time, Futcher told the media “I could have done better for myself elsewhere, but Vale have a lot more potential.”

At the time, the signing of a veteran 32 year-old striker (especially considering the other, big money, more exciting approaches that had taken place in the summer) seemed to be one of desperation. However, it turned out to be a masterstroke. Futcher’s quality was quickly apparent and his skills and experience rubbed off on his “apprentice” Beckford. The pair found the net 42 times as Vale were promoted.

Sometimes, persistence does pay off…

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