OVF takes a look at an astonishing turnaround in form for the Port Vale team of the 1920’s.
Let’s step back to the 1925-26 season. Vale’s season had started strongly with five wins in their opening seven games, including a 3-0 win over local rivals Stoke City. During that spell, star striker Wilf Kirkham had netted twelve times including a hat-trick against Stoke and four goals against Darlington. However, after that bright start Vale’s form started to tail off.
By the beginning of 1926, Port Vale were coming off a run of three straight defeats during the festive period. Cold weather had produced low crowds while Kirkham appeared to have lost form and was without a goal in his last five games.
It’s therefore fair to say that hopes were not too high for Vale to address the situation in the new year. Even though Vale started January with a thumping 4-2 home win the team also suffered two heavy away losses, including a 4-0 loss to Darlington.
However, after that defeat Vale managed to turn around that lacklustre form in such style that they went on an epic run that lasted through March and into April. During that time the club were unbeaten, winning seven out of eight games and scoring 28 goals including ten for Kirkham. Here’s how those results stacked up…
The Wednesday (A)
Strange (4) Page
Page Stange Kirkham
Kirkham (2) Page
Page Stange Kirkham
- 23 goals scored, four goals conceded
- Seven wins, one draw, no defeats
- Scorers: Kirkham 10, Strange 7, Page 5, Lowe 1
How did it happen?
So what caused this turn-around? There could be a number of reasons…
- Earlier in the season, Vale had refused offers for its star names, keeping its best players such as Tom Cooper in the team.
- Changes to the offside law saw Vale adopt a more attacking and direct style which created more chances.
- Vale had three players simultaneously in top form in Kirkham, Strange and Page.
- The club were celebrating their golden jubilee which possibly added to the feelgood factor.
What happened during the rest of the season?
- Rising star Tom Cooper was sold to Derby County in March. The club undoubtedly felt the loss of a player who would go on to play for England.
- However, Vale were still on course for promotion to the top-flight with seven games to go only for the team to have a dreadful end to the season.
- Vale picked up just two points from their last seven games as they finished in eighth place.
- However, their poor form would have dire consequences for neighbours Stoke City. Vale’s loss to Fulham relegated their neighbours into the Third Division (North).
- However, the season ended on a sour note with chairman Sampson Walker declaring that the low attendances meant Vale had “reached their zenith” and he proposed a merger with Stoke.
- Luckily Vale fans did not share Walker’s point of view and arranged protests. Walker resigned to be replaced by Frank Huntbach who vowed to keep the club alive.
Selected player bios
- Wilf Kirkham: the club’s all-time top scorer with 134 goals enjoyed a productive season with 35 goals including three hat-tricks and one four goal game. However, he was to do even better in the next season netting 41 times.
- Tom Page: a veteran aged 38, Page had been at the club for six years. He was to play another two seasons before retiring at the grand old age of 40.
- Alf Strange: a rising star, Strange was the second-highest scorer that season with 17 goals including one hat-trick and one four goal haul. Just one year later he was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for a “substantial” fee and he went on to win 20 caps for England.
- Tom Cooper: another rising star, defender Cooper was sold to Derby for a hefty £2,500 fee. He went on to win 15 England caps but was tragically killed during WW2.
- Jimmy Oakes: another defender who was on the rise, youngster Oakes was renowned for his fair play. He would be sold to Charlton Athletic for £3,000 where he helped the side finish second in the First Division.
- Tom Fern: the veteran keeper was playing his final season for the club at the grand old age of 40. Fern was particularly impressive at home where just eighteen goals were conceded.