Many younger fans never saw the legendary 1953-54 Port Vale side. Geoff Ainsworth did. He watched from the sidelines and here’s his review of the squad from that incredible season.
Top image: The Port Vale supporters at the 1954 FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park
Geoff was first taken to see the Valiants by his father in 1946 as the game resumed after the war. His dad and his uncles had become regular fans in 1922. Geoff’s first match was a reserve game as his dad was worried he’d be scared of the crowds. He remembers sitting on the wooden advertising boards at the Old Recreation Ground with other youngsters. Coincidentally, he lived near to Port Vale striker Ronnie Allen’s mother and spent hours trying to catch a sight of the Vale star visiting but to no avail. As a sixteen year-old, Geoff watched the 1953-54 season and was present at the FA Cup semi-final tie pictured above.
About the legendary 1953-54 Iron Curtain side
Known as the “Iron Curtain” for their tremendous defensive qualities, the Port Vale side of 1953-54 set numerous club records and are regarded as probably the greatest Port Vale side of all-time. Managed by Freddie Steele, the side won promotion and also reached the FA Cup semi-final where they unluckily lost to West Brom. Their success was based on a squad of nineteen players, many of whom were locally born. The side set three Football League records including the least number of goals conceded in a season, a club record eleven successive home wins and they were undefeated at home all season. Read more about them in our dedicated section
Geoff’s player profiles
Ray King (goalkeeper) Ray King (pictured) was a big lad, six foot plus, but he was very good at getting down to shots. It was a pity he couldn’t play in the 1960 cup match at Burslem against Aston Villa due to injury. John Poole had to deputise and he wasn’t 6 foot although he was still a good keeper.
Stan Turner (right-back) Stan wasn’t that tall but he was quite quick for a full-back. His forte was his anticipation in cutting out the pass from the winger he was marking. Not only did he try to get to the ball first but he would try to connect and turn his foot square to the ball. He’d then hit it before it touched the ground and immediately sending it parallel with the touchline straight up to Colin Askey. In one moment, defence was turned into attack before the opposition realised what was happening.
Reg Potts (left-back) Reg was a big barrel chested bloke and very difficult to get round. He was quite safe at left-back.
Albert Mullard (wing-half) Brought from Stoke City, Mullard (pictured) came to us in his thirties in exchange for Alan Martin who they wanted. The price for Martin was too good for us to refuse. Mullard’s forte was his link-up play with Ken Griffiths (our playmaker) although he would do his fair share of defending and would also pop up with a goal or two at times.
Tom Cheadle (centre-half) The great Tom Cheadle, although not quite six foot tall, could quite easily keep all/most opposition centre-forwards bottled up.
Roy Sproson (centre-half) Roy Sproson was brilliant. There are just not enough superlatives to describe what a great player Roy was for the Vale. Lots of people described him as the best uncapped player in the land, whether he was playing alongside Tom Cheadle or as in his later years at left back. He was truly brilliant in everything he did. Many a time the opposition right winger would fancy his chances of beating Roy down the wing and would take him on. Roy would run along side him towards his own goal then suddenly Roy’s left foot would shoot out and he would come away with the ball: the winger would carry on running for a few yards without realising that he had been robbed.
Colin Askey (right winger) An extremely good winger in the Stanley Matthews’ mould. Colin would take on the opposition left backs and nearly always beating them or make enough room for himself to centre a cross to our six foot strikers. After the fifth round FA Cup match when Colin had mesmerised the Cardiff City defence and turned their left-back inside out (we won 2-0 of course) their management came with an blank cheque to the Vale Park with the full intention of taking Colin back to Cardiff. Vale rejected the offer and we had quite a few more good years out of him. A brilliant winger.
Albert Leake (inside right) The silent killer. As has been said many times, nobody knew he was on the pitch until they were picking the ball out of their net. He had the uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time and going about his work mainly unnoticed until it was too late but to do this he was greatly helped by Basil Hayward who I will describe now.
Basil Hayward (centre-forward) Basil (pictured) had come to the Vale as a centre-half but had been converted into a centre-forward by the manager Freddie Steele, himself a renowned forward. This move turned out to be successful because although Basil was not a natural goal scorer, he would cause that much panic and upset in the opposition penalty area with his all action play (arms and legs all over the place ) that one of our other forwards would have a chance to score. To explain further Basil was also a good cricketer playing as a fast bowler for Leek and Staffordshire in the summer and it seemed somehow he had to keep his arms and elbows moving all the time . Many a time the opposition centre-half would come off the pitch at half-time or full-time with his nose bleeding. I can’t think why. A friend who I would go to the matches with would often say “I wonder if Basil has sharpened his elbows up for todays match?”
Ken Griffiths (inside left) A link-up player, combining mainly with Albert Mullard to keep the forwards supplied. A quite intelligent player who would spot very quickly which of the Vale forwards was best placed to receive one of his defence-splitting passes. He would also pop up with one or two goals himself. One of the regrets of that season was that Ken got injured just before the 1954 FA Cup semi-final, so we were not at our best in that match.
Dickie Cunliffe (left winger) Dickie was an out and out straight-forward, dashing winger with a thunderous left foot. He would take the opposition right-back on and beat them for speed or look to see if any team mate was in a better position to receive his cross. Quite often when he did get past the opposition right-back he was cutting in with the sole intention of having a crack at goal.
Our dedicated “Legends of 1954” section
In our special section, we have press clippings, player profiles, interviews and videos of this special Port Vale season.