When Port Vale were almost masters of Europe

In a season where competitions like the League Cup are getting less attention and the EFL Trophy is drawing more mirth from fans like ever before, it is nice to look back on some of the quirkier competitions of the previous century.

Top image by Gerard Austin

Back in 1969, the Anglo Italian cup was born. It was the brainchild of a Calabrian man who, as a football agent, did a lot of business between Italian and English clubs and he thought the tournament would be a good idea to showcase the talent on offer. His name was Gigi Peronace and he is considered to be the first real football agent in Britain.

He facilitated a number of high profile transfers during his time in the game including the deal that saw John Charles move from Leeds United to Juventus and the one that saw Denis Law join Torino. But for many fans of clubs in the lower leagues, Peronace’s Anglo-Italian cup would be forever remembered as the competition that saw their side take on sides from across the continent. It was a surreal and yet delightful experience especially given the glamour of Italian football during the last edition of the competition in the early to mid-90s.

Port Vale were one of the sides that entered the final ever season of the Anglo-Italian cup in the 1995-96 campaign and they were one of eight English teams. The others were Ipswich, Southend, West Brom, Stoke, Oldham, Luton and Birmingham.

The tournament worked by pitting the English sides against their Italian counterparts while the league tables were split according to country in groups of four. Vale were managed by the legendary John Rudge who had built the club into a side that punched well above their weight. A lot of this was due to his eye for a good player and he would, throughout his time in Burslem, purchase players only to sell them on for a profit.

His side would face one of Italian football’s historically most successful sides in the final when they met Genoa. The Rossoblu are still plying their trade at the top level in Italy today, though are not as strong as they were in their glory days. If you were to bet on Italian Serie A with Paddy Power you could currently get odds of 6/1 on Genoa to go down.

Vale themselves are now in the fourth tier and have a long way to go to return to the second tier they competed in during the 1995-96 season. Rudge led the team to a comfortable finish in mid-table but in the Anglo-Italian Cup, his Valiants burned brightly.

They beat Ancona and Perugia in the group stage while drawing with both Cesena and Genoa. Vale would then beat Ipswich in the regional semi-final and West Brom in the regional final.
This set up a game at Wembley against a Genoa side containing a young Vincenzo Montella and Fabio Galante. Despite Martin Foyle bagging a brace, Vale would be comfortably beaten by a scoreline of 5-2 yet the memories of this unique competition would last a lifetime.

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