Yes, midfield journeyman Tony Kelly did have a brief spell with Port Vale FC, so he’s not technically a “nearlyman” but arguably it could have lasted much longer and influential…
About Nearly Men
This is an occasional OVF series about transfer moves that failed to materialise. In other words, players who perhaps in a parallel universe would have been playing for the Valiants… It covers failed Vale bids for (among others) the likes of Steve Bull, Keith Gillespie and Tom Finney
So, why feature a player who had a spell with the Valiants in a series about players who didn’t play? Well, it’s more to do with who came into the club after Kelly left, so let’s explain…
At the start of 1994, Ray Walker was the undisputed midfield playmaker. There was just two problems… firstly, Walker was now 31 years of age and secondly he was recovering from a serious injury. This prompted the ever canny John Rudge to start thinking of competition for Walker’s place. Burly journeyman Tony Kelly was well-known to Vale fans after a popular spell at Stoke City. However, at the start of the 1994-95 season he found himself out of favour at Bolton Wanderers. Released on a free transfer, he joined Port Vale in September 1994.
You could see Rudge’s reasoning behind the move. As a manager who had proven ability of getting the best out of rough diamonds and other club’s cast-offs, Kelly could have been transformed with a touch of the Rudge magic. After all, this was a player who could produce a killer pass and whose free-kick ability was well-known. It could and perhaps should have been the start of a significant spell at Vale Park, but instead Kelly departed the club after just five appearances.
Now here’s the twist.
Deprived of Kelly, who had moved to Millwall, John Rudge ironically turned to his new club for his replacement. That player was Ian Bogie, signed for a knock-down £50,000 from the Lions. Bogie was a player who would go on to be Walker’s rival and replacement and turned out to be a key Rudge signing.
The similarities between the two players are obvious – like Kelly, Bogie had ability but needed some fine tuning and confidence as he hadn’t been rated by his previous club.
In an alternative universe, it could so easily have been Kelly, rather than Bogie who found success and cult status at Vale Park. However, while Bogie’s goals against Everton and Stoke City are still remembered today, Kelly’s sole contribution was a solitary goal in a nondescript 2-2 draw against Notts County. After leaving Vale Park, he played just eighteen more games for three more clubs before retiring from League football.