We managed to catch up with fans favourite Andy Hill to chat about his time at Port Vale. He chats about how he signed for Vale, the impact of John Rudge and recalls some of his favourite matches.
Interview by Rob Fielding
Andy Hill at Vale Park
Signed: August 1995
Left: May 1998 (retired)
Honours: Anglo-Italian Cup runner-up
I caught up with former Port Vale defender Andy Hill after he posted on the OVF forum recently. Hill was replying to fans remembering his performances and by their responses it was clear to see that the 55 year-old is still held in high regard by Valiant supporters.
Prior to his spell in Burslem, Hill had played for the Manchester United youth side, Bury and was on Manchester City’s books when John Rudge snapped him up.
Hill on his final days at Manchester City – there was no turning back
The defender had joined Manchester City in 1991. He was a regular pick in the 1991-92 and 1992-93 season before injuries struck. As Andy explained his career had reached a crossroads: “Manager Brian Horton had left City at the end of the 1994-95 season and my own contract was up. After I tore both my groin muscles I had only played a few games towards the end of that season.”
Despite his injuries, Hill was willing to do a job for the team adding: “One of the games was away to Spurs at White Hart Lane when the squad was down to its bare bones. Brian asked me if I would do a job for him in midfield which I did and I got man of the match. Before he left Brian thanked me for not putting my own interest first that night and said that he had recommended that the club offer me a new deal.”
However, due to Hill’s injury record, the offer was not as lucrative as previous seasons. He told us: “I sat down with chairman Francis Lee and the secretary Bernard Halford and they offered me a new two-year deal. However, the way the deal had been drawn up meant that I would have to play in every game to earn the same amount as my previous deal. Given my injury record in a way, I could understand their offer but it was impossible for me to stay on those terms and I turned the offer down.”
“In the meantime, the squad were due to go to Ireland on a pre-season tour and I was put in the squad to travel. This alarmed me because the games would be competitive and I would run the risk of getting seriously injured and being out of contract that would not be a good place to be. I took advice from the PFA. The PFA explained to me that because of my contract situation I had the right to withdraw from any games where there would be paying public, but that I still had to report and train wherever the club asked me to.
“I explained this to Alan Ball and it was mutually agreed that I stay behind and continue training with the reserves and youth team. That evening I got a call from Paul Hince of the Manchester Evening News telling me he had just spoken to the chairman and that he had been told that I had refused to go on the tour to Ireland.
After those headlines there was obviously no turning back for me or the Club for that matter and my City days were numbered…
“I explained that this wasn’t the case and relayed to him what the PFA had said and what had been mutually agreed between myself and the manager. The next day, I drove to the newsagents and all over the back page in bold headlines it read ‘CITY STAR GOES ON STRIKE’. I don’t know who was responsible for the headlines – Paul Hince or Francis Lee – but they were grossly unfair and not true. I have my own view on that. After those headlines there was obviously no turning back for me or the club for that matter and my City days were numbered.”
Signing for Port Vale – a car seals the deal
Hill found him ostracised at the start of the 1995-96 season. He told us: “The season started and I was out in the cold. I had been linked to Middlesbrough and Sunderland during the summer but nothing had happened.”
Then a phone call from Port Vale manager John Rudge turned his career around. Hill takes up the tale: “It was a good two weeks into the season and I was sat at home on a Wednesday afternoon when I received a phone call from John Rudge. John asked me if I would consider signing for Port Vale and if I was would I meet him at Vale Park at 8:30 AM Thursday morning? I told him I was not dismissing it and that I would come and have a chat with him.”
“On the Thursday morning I set off from my Bury home and met my agent Neil Rioch on the car park outside the ground. We had a quick chat about what I wanted out of any possible deal, we then went into the main entrance and we were shown to a lounge by the secretary Bill Lodey.
“After a few minutes John appeared introduced himself and said that he had been keeping tabs on my career since my Bury days but had never had the opportunity to sign me until now. He then asked me if he could have a chat with Neil on his own, I agreed and they both disappeared into John’s office.”
However, things did not appear promising at that stage. As Andy explained: “A few minutes later Neil came back out of the office on his own and sat back down next to me. He said ‘Right, before we go any further John has just shown me the contracts of the club’s highest paid players and your expectations are way above what anyone else gets here.’ ‘Stop there’,’ I said ‘Before we go any further if I am going to drop down a level in terms of league and no disrespect, several levels regarding the stature of club, then there is no compromise on salary.'”
So with things clear, negotiations began again: “Neil then went back into John’s office for a few moments and then came out and asked me to come in too. Now sat in front of John he said he was desperate to get the deal done and if he could get the Chairman Bill Bell to sanction the deal he was willing to meet my demands but he did not want to greatly increase the clubs basic wage structure so would I be willing to accept a basic wage nearer to the one already in place with the remainder of the monies payable by way of a signing on fee to be paid twice a year over the term of the contract?”
It seemed Rudge’s ploy had worked. Hill added: “I told John I would think about it overnight and to let me know if and when the Chairman sanctions the deal. I then left and went back up the M6 to Bury. It was early evening when Neil rang me to let me know the deal had been sanctioned by the Chairman and John wanted us back at the ground at 8.30 AM Friday morning if I was agreeable to signing.
“I slept on it, awoke early, rang Neil and told him to meet me at the ground. On my way down to Burslem I realised the commute was a bit of a pain and I started to have doubts if I was doing the right thing. When I met Neil I told him my thoughts and he suggested that we ask for a car to be added into the deal and if John agreed to put this addition forward to the club and if the club agreed, then he thought that it would be only right for me to sign given the way John had shown how much he wanted to sign me.
He thought that it would be only right for me to sign given the way John had shown how much he wanted to sign me…
“‘Okay, I agree,’ I said and we went in put it to John.He was straight on the phone to the chairman, unfortunately he couldn’t get hold of him and Neil and myself had to wait in the lounge while John went out training with the players. They were training on Vale Park and we watched the session. The chairman was contacted just before lunch, he agreed the addition of the car and I signed that day.”
A Port Vale debut – quicker than expected
The defender was to enjoy a whirlwind start to his Vale career – and some of it was unexpected. Andy takes up the tale: “John grabbed the registration papers, called Bill Lodey into his office and told him to get these off to the FA immediately. ‘What’s the rush?’ I asked. Rudge replied ‘We have the local Derby on Sunday versus Stoke and if we get the registration done in time, you’re playing.’ ‘What?’ I replied ‘You do know I missed most of last season through injury, I have played no games during pre-season and you want me to make my debut in the Potteries Derby?’ ‘You will be fine,’ John reassured me, although he quipped if we had got the signing done first thing Thursday or Friday morning at least I could have trained with the players beforehand.
That was my debut. I had never met the players until the morning of the match…
“I got a call Saturday morning and I was asked to just report to the Victoria Ground Sunday Morning at 9.30 AM for an 11 AM kick off.
That was my debut. I had never met the players until the morning of the match. Somehow, I did OK and we won one-nil.”
On John Rudge – a shrewd operator
Like many players of that era, Andy is full of praise for legendary Port Vale manager John Rudge, who brought him to the club. Andy told us that Rudge was “a very shrewd manager. He had a knowledge of players who were not happy at their present club and a way of persuading them to join the Vale. He also had a great scouting ethos and network watching many games in the lower leagues and non-league and picking up the odd ‘diamond’ to polish and selling them on for big profits. He didn’t do much coaching during my time at the Vale, but he had experienced players and good pros that helped the rough diamonds improve.”
The return to Man City – Vale had a much better team
Unfortunately, Hill was injured for Vale’s trip to his former club Manchester City. Despite his loss, Vale recorded a memorable 1-0 win against their illustrious opponents. For the injured defender, it was an awkward occasion.
He commented: “I was injured for the game but I was at Maine Road and watched from the stands, City were in free fall at the time which wasn’t nice to witness and we had a much better team than them which reinforced to me that my decision to leave them and join the Valiants was the correct one.”
Vale highlights – help from the police against Everton
Andy is pleased to talk about his many memorable moments in a Port Vale shirt. He starts by mentioning that Potteries Derby saying his highlights include: “My debut versus Stoke and the way it came about.” He also mentions several cup games namely “taking Arsenal to the wire in the replay at Vale Park, taking Leeds United to the wire in a replay again at Vale Park, the Anglo Italian Cup Final at Wembley (even though we lost) and yes, knocking out Everton in the replay at Vale Park.”
So what about that game against Everton? Surprisingly for Hill, it wasn’t so much the match itself but getting to the ground that sticks in the memory. He tells us: “That night I got stuck in a traffic jam on the A500 behind the Everton supporters’ coaches. It was crawling at a snail’s pace and I was struggling for time so I phoned the office at the ground to tell them I might be late.
“A few minutes later I approached a police officer on his motor bike and told him that I was a Vale player and needed to get through he immediately said right follow me and he took me down the hard shoulder and tagged me onto a convoy of Everton coaches being escorted to the ground via an alternative route and due to the police escort I just made it into the dressing room on time.
You obviously don’t have the same status as Hilly around these parts, he got a Police escort to the ground!
“Billy Dearden came into the dressing room just after I arrived saw me and said ‘Great, you made it; we just need Steve Guppy now.’ I was just having a laugh with the lads about how I had managed to get there on time when Stevie almost fell through the door looking all sweaty and dishevelled he then went on to explain how he was stuck on the A500 in a big traffic jam. He had had to park up on the hard shoulder and run the remaining five miles to the ground. To the great amusement of the whole dressing room one of the guys quipped ‘You obviously don’t have the same status as Hilly around these parts, he got a Police escort to the ground!’
Hill’s pride at praise from Rudge
The defender eventually retired from football in 1998 ending his Port Vale career with 121 appearances. He told me he was pleased to make an impact commenting: “I was very proud to hear from BBC Radio Stoke’s Graham McGarry that John Rudge had included me in his all-time eleven. Given the teams John put together and his status at the club as probably the greatest manager Port Vale have ever had it’s an honour to be thought of so highly.”
His message to fans – Port Vale can push on
The former player also had a message for the fans who had supported him all those years ago.
He concluded our interview by saying: “Thank you very much to all the fans. I enjoyed my time at Vale which coincided with what is arguably the best period the club has had. It has been sad to see the demise of the club after the memorable achievements of my era. I do think the club have made many a bad mistake in trying to replace John Rudge ever since his departure. Hopefully with John now back at the club with his knowledge and advice Port Vale can now push on forward and bring the good times back.”
Rob Fielding would like to thank Andy Hill for taking the time to speak to him. As a thank you for this interview, OVF will be making a donation to the NHS Christie Foundation Trust – https://www.christie.nhs.uk/the-christie-charity