Port Vale fans have been on a rollercoaster ride ever since the club was founded in 1876. There have been promotions and relegations, giant killings and harrowing defeats, wondergoals and howlers, and everything in between.
The supporters have endured their fair share of heartache, but every now and then a joyous moment arrives that makes it all worthwhile. Here are five memorable moments in the Valiants’ long and storied history:
Leake Fires Vale into the Semi-Finals
The 1953-54 season has to go down as the finest in history for Port Vale. Freddie Steele’s men were magnificent throughout the campaign, winning the Third Division North at a canter. They were unbeaten at Vale Park, where they banged in 48 goals and conceded just five times in 23 matches.
The Valiants also had the best away record in the division, and they finished 11th points clear of closest rivals Barnsley to seal the title. Basil Hayward was the star striker, as he scored 23 goals, but a defence led by captain Tommy Cheadle and Albert Leake was the real story of the season.
Despite their fantastic exploits in the league, the highlight came in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. The Valiants had Leake to thank for their place in the last eight of the famous tournament. He opened the scoring in a 3-1 win over Darlington in the first round, he scored the only goal in a third-round victory away at QPR, he was on target in a 2-0 win against Cardiff in the following round and he grabbed a brace to lead Vale to a 2-0 win over Blackpool in the fifth round.
That landed Port Vale a tricky quarter-final showdown with in-form Leyton Orient. Eight thousand Vale fans made the trip to east London for the game, and they were rewarded when Hayward nodded a corner into Leake’s path, allowing the classy half-back to control the ball and fire it past the despairing Leyton Orient goalkeeper.
Vale’s heroes were mobbed by the fans in a pitch invasion after the game. It teed up a semi-final clash with First Division leaders West Brom. The Valiants were huge underdogs, but they took a 1-0 lead courtesy of that man Leake, who extended his tally to seven for the tournament.
Sadly, they conceded two dodgy goals in the second half – one of them a disputed penalty – and ended u losing 2-1 after Leake’s late equaliser was ruled out for offside, and the cup run ended in heartbreak. But the fans would always remember those glorious scenes in east London, when they dared to dream of glory.
The Giant Killers
Vale have made a habit of pulling off impressive giant killings. One such example was the 2-1 victory over Tottenham in 1988. Spurs boasted the likes of Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle in their ranks, and Jimmy Greaves said on TV the only problem they would have was “finding the place”, but they were ultimately no match for Ray Waker and Phil Sproson.
However, the greatest of all came in 1996, when the club landed an exciting fourth round draw against defending champions Everton. Vale were expected to be ripped apart at Goodison Park, and the hosts duly took a 1-0 lead through Daniel Amokachi, but Martin Foyle equalised with a diving header, making amends for a first half miss.
Goodison Park erupted when big Duncan Ferguson put the Toffees 2-1 up in the 88th minute, but the Valiants refused to admit defeat and Ian Bogie crashed in a deflected shot from the edge of the area.
Back at Vale Park for the replay, Ian Bogie tormented the Toffees again. His deft footwork saw him evade his man, and he then banged in a screamer from 25 yards to open the scoring. Graham Stuart equalised for Everton, but Jon McCarthy was on hand to turn in a fantastic cross at the back post and hand his team a stunning 2-1 win.
They drew 0-0 away at Elland Road in the fifth round, but ended up losing 2-1 to Leeds at Vale Park. Yet it was a heroic cup run, and John Rudge’s side were handed the FA’s “Giantkillers” award for the season, presented by sponsor Littlewoods.
Port Vale’s relegation battle went right down to the wire in the 1997-98 campaign. Reading were doomed to finish bottom of the First Division, but the other two places in the drop zone were undecided. Five teams went into the final day knowing they could be relegated: Vale, Portsmouth, QPR, Man City and Stoke.
The Valiants were away at Huddersfield and they knew that a draw probably would not be good enough to beat the drop. Foyle sparked pandemonium in the away fans’ stand when he slotted in the opener and then Jan Jansson volleyed in at the far post to make it 2-0.
The Swedish international then curled in a brilliant free-kick to put Vale 3-0 up after the break, and Lee Mills completed the rout with a header on 80 minutes. It was enough to see the Valiants beat the drop by a single point, as Man City and Stoke both joined Reading in dropping down to the Second Division.
That season was also notable for an FA Cup clash with eventual double winners Arsenal. Vale held their own against Arsene Wenger’s side an only lost via a penalty shootout.
Battering the Brewers
Several teams have faced an absolute drubbing at the hands of Port Vale over the years. The club’s record victory came in 1932, when Stewart Littlewood scored six times in a 9-1 triumph against Chesterfield.
They also beat Stockport 7-0 in that legendary 1953-54 season, with Hayward hitting a hat-trick. Gateshead suffered an 8-0 defeat to Vale in 1958, and Norwich lost 6-1 at Vale Park in 1996.
However, current fans are much more likely to remember the 7-1 pasting of Burton Albion in April 2013. Lee Hughes headed in Daniel Jones’ cross to open the scoring, and the veteran striker then added a second from the penalty spot. Chris Burton made it 3-0 with a long-range effort, and Hughes completed his hat-trick with another unstoppable penalty.
Port Vale’s fifth came from Tom Pope, the division’s top scorer, and a late brace from Ben Williamson made it 7-0 before Matthew Paterson netted a consolation. It was an astonishing result, as Burton were fifth in the table at the time. Port Vale drew their next four games and finished third in the table, securing automatic promotion to League One at Burton’s expense.
Pope Banters with John Stones
Pope was distinctly underwhelmed by John Stones’ performance when he watched England’s 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League last summer. The Man City centre-back committed a string of howlers, prompting Pope to Tweet: “I know I’m a League 2 player, I know he plays for England, I know he’s on £150k a week, I know he’s a million times better player than me but I’d love to play against John Stones every week! I’d get 40 a season!”
Six months later, the FA Cup third round draw pitted Port Vale against Man City, and supporters of the Premier League champions were keen to remind Pope of his Tweet.
Everyone expected Vale to be obliterated. Man City are arguably the best team in the world and the exciting football odds make them favourites to win the Champions League, but nothing would stop Pope enjoying his time in the limelight.
Oleksandr Zinchenko put City 1-0 up, only for Pope to grab an equaliser, with Stones powerless to prevent it. Man City would go on to wrap up a 4-1 victory, but Pope was ecstatic.
“I’d just like to say I was completely wrong and bang out of order to say I’d score 40 a season … it’s more like 50,” he said after the game.
Man City players responded by bringing him into the dressing room for a round of handshakes after the game. “The highlight of my day wasn’t the goal it was Benjamin Mendy waiting outside our dressing room waiting for a selfie with me to put in their group chat,” added the Sneyd Green native. “Mendy has bants.”
Pope’s strike at The Etihad was his 109th for the club and it catapulted him to international attention. He also declared that Stones “is a world class centre-half”, admitted it was only friendly banter and praised Man City’s peerless quality.