We take a trip back in time to honour some free-scoring Port Vale forwards from the club’s early years…
The Valiants have been lucky to see some of the club’s finest strikers in the post-war era. In this era, the likes of Martin Foyle (0.30 goals per game), Darren Beckford (0.37 goals per game) and Tom Pope (0.33 goals per game) all achieved roughly the same goals per game ratio. All three were tremendous forwards and the intention of this article isn’t to do a disservice to their achievements as we acknowledge that we are about to write about about a different period in the game’s history. However, looking further back in the club’s history there were some even more prolific strikers. We highlight our five favourites…
Top image: striker Bob Blood
Bobby Blood 0.80 goals per game
The locally born striker was a one-off and a force of nature. Like several of the others on this list, his story is incredible. He suffered injuries to his legs while serving in World War One but despite doctors warning he would never play the game, he spent hours strengthening them in a bid to make it as a footballer. He impressed playing for Leek on his return from the front and Port Vale snapped him up for £50 in 1919.
He was an instant hit. In his first season, the newcomer to League football finished top-scorer with 26 goals in 32 games. He hit a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest and four against Rotherham Utd. The next season he continued in the same vein with twenty goals in twenty six starts including four braces and four goals against Stockport County. He also gave a gruesome demonstration of the shooting power which his leg strengthening exercises had given him. He took a penalty against Bristol City and hit it so hard it broke the goalkeeper’s wrist as he tried to save it. In the Stockport game, a defender had to be carried off with concussion as he tried to head a Blood shot off the line.
In 1921, Blood was transferred to West Bromwich Albion for a club record £4,750 fee (not bad for a player who had cost just £50 two years earlier). He had rattled in 45 goals in 54 games for the Valiants.
Frank McGinnes 0.77 goals per game
Some of you may disagree with this selection as the player never played League football, but we tend to think Frank McGinnes’ exploits highlight a tragic tale of what could have been.
The Scottish striker followed a well trodden path in the late 19th century of leaving his homeland to ply his trade in England. A player who was renowned to shoot on sight and from distance, he was a sensation when signed by the Valiants in 1889. In his first season, McGinnes netted 33 times in 43 starts, in his second he netted 41 times in 47 games and in his third season he scored 35 times in 46. Yes, these were all in non-league but his achievements, which included eleven hat-tricks, played a key role in earning Port Vale Football League membership.
The scene was set for 22 year-old McGinnes to dazzle and show the football world why the media had labelled him ‘the best centre-forward that ever left Scotland”. However, tragedy was to strike. It was a huge shock to all when McGinnes suddenly died of kidney failure on the eve of the season. He was just 22 years of age and had hit 109 goals in 140 games for the club. We’ll never know what heights he may have achieved.
Sam Jennings 0.68 goals per game
Another player with a fascinating life, Jennings was a 31 year-old veteran when he joined the Valiants. Brought in 1929 to replace Wilf Kirkham, who had been sold to Stoke City, Jennings was paired with fellow veteran Alfred Pynegar. It was the start of a barely believable spell. First, the two forwards hated each other and wouldn’t speak off the pitch. Next, experienced manager Joe Schofield shockingly died midway through the season.
You’d think that a side with two forwards in a spat , with no manager and having to replace their club record goalscorer would settle for consolidation? Not a chance. The side surged to the club’s first-ever promotion with Jennings hitting 27 goals in just 33 games. The striker, who reportedly trained by racing his greyhound to the ball stayed one more season to end with the impressive stats of 45 goals in 66 games.
Jack Roberts 0.61 goals per game
Jack Roberts was an extraordinary character off the pitch but his exploits on it were not too shabby either. Signed by Port Vale from the then non-league side Wigan Athletic, “Nipper” rattled in sixty goals in ninety eight appearances, finishing top-scorer on two occasions.
In 1939, he left the club to serve in World War Two where he managed the incredible task of escaping from a prisoner of war camp in Tunisia. Despite a broken bone in his neck, Roberts managed to walk 400 miles to freedom. Just to add to a memorable life, Roberts also took up baseball and ended up as captain of the England side.
Wilf Kikham 0.60 goals per game
Undisputedly the club’s greatest goalscorer, it’s also a case of “what could have been” for Kirkham as he retired while still in his prime to take up a career as a teacher. Over two spells with the Valiants, he wrote the record books with his goalscoring exploits. In his first spell, he netted an incredible 145 times in 225 games and while his second spell wasn’t as prolific it still brought 19 goals in 51 games.
However, despite finishing as the top scorer for a sixth time in 1933, he decided to retire. He was still 31 at the time so who knows how many more goals Kirkham could have added to his tally.
The local hit thirteen hat-tricks during his time with the club. Even though others on this list have a better goals per game ratio, none of them did it over more than 150 games. Kirkham maintained his record for almost three hundred appearances, making him undoubtedly the most potent Port Vale scorer of all-time.