Away days…

Here’s Barry Edge with his memories of his solitary trip on the road with his beloved Port Vale FC.

Barry Edge writes…

Every time we play Shrewsbury Town I’m transported back in time to the one and only ‘Away Game’ I ever attended.

Away Games

Port Vale followers outnumbered Stoke City followers at the dairy and the former would organise special coach trips to take them to see the ‘Lads play away…

My last year in secondary modern school, 1956, is memorable for several reasons including some success in school athletics and for not having to be around the many Stoke followers who would take particular time out to question one’s sanity for being a ‘Valiant. In 1957 I would be in the workforce and far away from Cellarhead – later renamed Moorside – at which time dad said it would be okay for me to go to away games.

So there I was in 1957 working for the Co-Op Dairy in Sneyd Green – just a hop, step and jump from Vale Park. In my schooldays I had passed this Holden Bridge landmark many times when going to see my heroes.

In 1956/57 we were still in the 2nd Division and throughout the season our league position was perilous to say the least. In fact, by January 1957 we were second from bottom. Our recent signings of Stan Steele and Harry Poole must have wondering what sort of a team they had joined. They were local lads and history tells us that both served us well with Stan making over 350 and Harry nearly 500 appearances.

It was also a time in the ‘Club’s history where money was being raised to complete the Bycars end of the ground through a ‘join the Supporters’ Club’ initiative.

The official Co-op Dairy working day for me was 5am to 1pm with one-week annual leave for £3.7s.6d a week. Also, I was required to work seven days before proceeding to one day off. Over a seven week period I would get Monday off the first week, Tuesday the second, Wednesday the third, and so on. Then in the sixth week I would get Saturday for the week just passed and Sunday for the week ahead. In short, one weekend off in seven. Add to that the fact that we rarely ever finished our milk round before 1pm – particularly when it was raining or snowing – our average working day was closer to 10, rather than 8 hours. But I loved the work.

Compare this with my mum’s first pay packet of 4s 6d for a five and half day week back in 1914. In 43 years wages had moved upwards at a very slow rate. Still, the cost of living had moved upwards at a similar rate. For instance, my mum said in 1914 it cost one penny to travel on the tram from Smallthorne to Burslem. By 1957 the cost of a bus ride for the same journey was two pence.

Where was I? Oh yes, ‘Away Games’.

Port Vale followers outnumbered Stoke City followers at the dairy and the former would organise special coach trips to take them to see the ‘Lads play away. Depending on the distance to travel the cost ranged from 7s 6d to 12s 6d – and that included ground entrance fees.

However, and because I could not guarantee an early finish off the milk run, I figured that my best option would be to book only for the games against teams within a thirty or so mile radius
of Burslem. In fact, I was pushing it sometimes to get to Vale Park by the start of the second half.

To my disappointment the 1956/57 season left me with two possibilities – namely Stoke and Liverpool, and even though you wouldn’t find me going to the Victoria Ground it was academic anyway, plus there was no chance of going to Liverpool either because Port Vale had played both teams in the 1956 half of the season.

By 1957/58 we were back down in Division 3 (South) and the number of possibilities had increased to three teams: namely Shrewsbury, Coventry and Walsall. Yes sir, it was the year I was going to go everywhere – well, football grounds not too far away like Gay Meadow.

Ah! Gay Meadow – named after a man called Gay who once owned and grazed his livestock in a meadow later converted to a football ground.

We were in Division 3 (South). Gosh, how times had change. Why not Division 3 (North)? According to my dad the ‘North/South’ concept was designed to reduce travel costs for the lower league clubs in the post WW2 years. Back then business sponsorship was provided mainly at a local level, such as advertising in football programmes to help cover printing costs. For those clubs that were in the 1st and 2nd divisions it was assumed their gates were big enough to absorb such travel costs.

Our first away game was in August at Aldershot, but this coincided with the last few days of my one-week annual leave in which I had planned, then went hiking and camping.

Our second away game was against Shrewsbury Town. The coach was scheduled to leave the dairy at 12.30pm, and on the off chance I would finish early for once I booked and paid my money. My intentions were relayed to my milk-round driver and he agreed to do whatever he could to get us back to the dairy in time to make the connection. We did, just. The Bassets coach was being gunned into life as I ran across the loading yard. One or two of my work mates grumbled because, according to them, as a result of my lateness there would be less time to spend at the first port of call – a pub of course. The majority were more forgiving toward me by telling me to ‘take no notice’. They knew that this was my first away game. Yes sir, it was posh to be in such champagne company.

Back then my drink was a cup of tea, so I’m unable to share with you the details of the ‘watering holes’ visited, or the number of crates of beer carried on the bus. I can tell you that by the time we reached Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury the vocal chords of several Valiants were well and truly oiled.

Gay Meadow, nestled next to the River Severn, was bathed in sun and the pitch looked great. On the back of our first win at Aldershot two days earlier a number of Valiants, anticipating another victory, were lustily singing different songs, with the exiled boys’ from Wales amongst us being particularly prominent. I somehow remember thinking to myself that one song sounded the much the same as another. Still, what the heck, we were having a great day out – so far.

In my mind’s eye I can see the stand on the eastern side of the ground, its members with rolled up sleeves assembled for the entertainment of the day. To my right, just outside of the ground, I vaguely remember seeing what appeared to be a public school style building – a Preparatory perhaps – of the Ivy League with a history to match.

The game itself was over and done with without any great excitement with the exceptions that the game ball was lost when it went over fence into the River Severn and we lost 1-0.  Still, the enthusiasm of the travelling Valiants remained high. But by the time we’d arrived back at the dairy the beer had long been consumed and the demeanour of those who had heartily imbibed was subdued.

It is sometimes said that first images are sometimes the most indelible. Well, the saying is certainly true for my first and only ‘away game’ to Shrewsbury Town Football Club.

There was never any chance that I would make the away game to Coventry because it was played over the Christmas period and I was working – Both Christmas and Boxing Day.

So this left the 1957 match against Walsall. With every intention of going I paid and reserved my coach seat.

Did I get there?  Did I heck!  What a day for mechanical failure. We were probably still in the back-blocks of Chapel Chorlton when the coach left Sneyd Green for Walsall. And no, there were refunds.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
July 29, 2018

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