Port Vale Best and Worst – Scott Challinor.
Lower league football is a crazy scene as clubs try to navigate themselves through narrow finances, a constant change of playing and coaching staff and fans can often find themselves travelling the length of the country to watch players that may be similar to Sunday League standard. Thus, ahead of the Port Vale v Tranmere game at Vale Park I spoke to Scott Challinor who told me his worst and best of a range of subjects during his time supporting the Vale.
Mark Goodlad, Matt Carragher, George Pilkington, John “Boom Boom” McCombe, Lee Collins, Jennison Myrie-Williams, Anthony Griffith, Doug Loft, Ashley Vincent, Marc Richards, Tom Pope.
Dimitar Evtimov, Lawrie Wilson, Chris Slater, Calvin Mac-Intosch, Colin Miles, Chris Mbamba, Exodus Geohaghon, Craig Rocastle, Kaid Mohamed, Kyle Perry, Danny Glover.
Best Player: In the history of the club, probably Robbie Earle. And I’ll have him in my list because I’ve seen enough clips! Ever since he made his debut aged 17 and scored his first goal in his next game at Aldershot, he showed commitment in every single game and he played in three promotion sides. He scored a famous winner in the 1988/89 playoff final to take us back into the Second Division for the first time in 32 years. He also scored in the first local derby for some time against Stoke City the following season.
Although a midfielder by trade, Earle spent two seasons as a striker and scored 36 goals.
It was no surprise that, after he left for Wimbledon (then in the top tier) for £775,000 in 1991 where he excelled and became a fans’ favourite, Vale were relegated the following season.
Worst Player: Exodus Geohaghon. Awful footballer, slow and brought nothing to the table other than a long throw that found nobody. Being dragged away from an altercation with travelling Vale supporters as he walked off the pitch after a 3-0 loss at Accrington Stanley summed up his time here.
Best Moment: In my time as a fan, probably when we effectively secured promotion in 2012/13 with the draw against Northampton. Full time that day was wrought with emotion. Running onto that pitch and mobbing the players was unforgettable and there were a few tears to boot! To have done it from the start of the season in administration was simply amazing. Honourable mention most of course go to Tom Pope’s equaliser at the Etihad in the Third Round of the FA Cup in 2020. Being among 8,000 Vale fans going berserk is something else I’ll never forget.
Worst Moment: The day we found out the club was going into administration for the second time in its history in 2012. We had a night game at Vale Park in League 2 with Burton Albion and I walked the two miles to the ground in tears. Sadness turned to pride when we won the game 3-0. The two relegations I’ve experienced following the club tugged at the heartstrings but neither came close to that night.
Best Game: In my time watching the club, probably the 3-2 win at home to Cheltenham in the 2012/13 League 2 promotion season. We’d halted a dour winless run the week before against struggling York but came into this game against a direct promotion rival needing to prove a point and tighten our grip on a top three spot. We dominated the first half, went ahead with a vintage Tom Pope header but were unable to build on that dominance. Cheltenham came out revitalised in the second half, stuck two quick-fire goals in and a horrible feeling of deja-vu from previous weeks set in.
Step up leading League 2 goal scorer Tom Pope to equalise with a superb cushioned side foot volley, before completing his hattrick with a fine finish to win the game 3-2: a ball came in over the top which he latched onto and nodded down into his feet to bring it under control, before bearing down on the keeper, feinting as if he were to go around him, and he then dinked it over the top of him and into the net. For what the game meant, the end to end action and the drama, this one is up there. Pope capped off the winner with an all-time famous Vale goal celebration by ripping his shirt off and belly sliding in the snow at the side of the pitch. You couldn’t have written a better script.
Worst Game: A few contenders here, but probably that awful night at Chasetown in a second round FA Cup replay in 2007/08. Having managed to draw 1-1 at Vale Park to the eighth tier outfit (then five leagues below us) in the initial tie, we made the short trip down to Chasetown’s Scholars Ground where we conspired to miss two penalties in normal time before conceding a stoppage time winner scored by a 19-year-old university student.
An honourable mention should also go to our 2000/01 FA Cup humiliation to another non-league side in the shape of Canvey Island. We managed to blow a 4-2 lead away from home (in a game interrupted by two pitch invasions: one by a streaker and one by a bloke dressed as Superman) to draw 4-4 in the initial tie before being embarrassed at Vale Park in a 2-1 defeat in the replay.
Best Signing: In the history of the club probably Ray Walker. Ray was an immediate breath of fresh air when he arrived on loan from Aston Villa with his classy midfield play in 1984. He made the move a permanent one two years later for £12,000 and proved to be the bargain of the century.
He went on to make a whopping 440 appearances for the club and stamped his mark in midfield helping the club to two promotions. He also scored a famous screamer in an FA Cup victory against Spurs in the 1980s that helped put the club on the football map.
Walker’s talent didn’t go unnoticed by his fellow pros either, as he scooped the player of the year award at Vale twice and was selected in the PFA Divisional team three times. I’m mentioning him just because I’ve seen all the clips.
Worst Signing: There are a few contenders for this one, but purely for how much he flopped probably Lawrie Wilson. He was an established and supposedly very good fullback by the time he came to Port Vale in 2017 having played for Stevenage, Charlton and Bolton and featured in promotion winning sides. He looked like he couldn’t kick a ball in a Vale shirt and made seven appearances before leaving for non-league Ebbsfleet.
Best Goal: Tom Conlon vs Barrow in 2020/21. A volley from inside the centre circle takes some beating. Should be a contender for the 2021 FIFA Puskas Award.
Worst Goal: Off the top of my head, our equaliser in a 1-1 League 2 draw with Torquay in 2012/13. I remember a cross came in from the left flank with no Vale players in the box, and visiting defender Brian Saah had nobody near him and seemingly all the time in the world to control the ball and clear his lines. Instead, he attempted to clear it for the first time and inexplicably sliced it into his own net under no pressure whatsoever. No complaints from me though!
Best Kit: I really love the 2020/21 away kit. It’s plain black but so simple and so effective. Smart and well received by the fans, as demonstrated by record sales.
Worst Kit: The 1898-1902 kit. Some raving lunatic at the time decided to put us in red and white stripes (the colours of near rivals Stoke City). Shocking call and I hope they got a life ban.
Best Chant: There’s a few absolutely brilliant contenders for this but so many of them are in bad taste! On that note,
I’ll go with the “Super Vale Away” chant we always sing at away games. It’s simple but when there’s a couple of thousand or more belting it out it’s just beautiful.
Worst Chant: The song we for some reason still sing about Mark Stein, an old Stoke striker from the 1990s who famously dived to win a penalty against us. Great chants and great lyrics back in the day but we aren’t in that era anymore!
Best Season: I’m going to say 2012/13. To start the season in administration and without a permanent kit and then go on to win promotion was special. Boyhood Vale fan Tom Pope scoring 33 goals in all competitions to help make it happen was the stuff of dreams. Certainly the best season I’ve witnessed as a Vale fan. The other good stuff was a bit before my time sadly.
Worst Season: 2007/08. No question. We got relegated, lost in the FA Cup to non-league opposition, near neighbours Crewe stayed up at our expense and our biggest rivals Stoke City hit the big time. Hell on earth.
Best Manager: John Rudge. Managed the club during its heyday in the 80s and 90s. In 16 years with the club he won three promotions and one trophy, keeping the club in the second tier for nine seasons and enjoying one or two memorable cup runs along the way.
Worst manager: Couple of contenders here but I’ll go for Michael Brown. He stepped in as caretaker manager with the Vale six points above the drop zone in League 1 exactly halfway through the season. Five wins in 23 games later, we were duly relegated and yet he still managed to bag the job full-time to try to build his own side and take the club back up at the first attempt. Oh dear. After a summer of signing a load of dross, eight games into the new season we’d hit the foot of the EFL which proved enough of a prompt for Norman Smurthwaite to finally swing the axe. Brown hasn’t been back in management since and can regularly be seen groundhopping on Gillette Soccer Saturday.
Best Hard man: Captain of the 1953/54 old Division Three promotion winning Vale team (which also got to the FA Cup semi-finals) Tommy Cheadle. Vale’s record appearance holder Roy Sproson said of him “Pound for pound, in fact, I would say Tom is the hardest man I have ever met.” Cheadle was a soldier in World War Two and was injured by a grenade, as well as picking up 22 stitches in his head during his playing career from various footballing clashes. If that ain’t hard I don’t know what is!
Worst Hard man: There are a couple of contenders for this one but probably winger Ben Whitfield. I love the lad forever and a day for scoring some crucial goals to help keep us in the league in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, but he’s a classic pretty boy footballer. I remember him being tackled in one game by big Exeter fullback Dean Moxey and he looked like he wanted to throw up!
Best Haircut: This is a tough one off the top of my head, but Shaun Brisley always seems to have had a smart lid whenever he played for the club prior to his move to Wrexham this summer, so I’ll go with him!
Worst Haircut: Luke Joyce’s Lockdown Three barnet. Imagine receding hairline, whatever hair is left is curly, and then he tries to grow out what remains. Absolutely dreadful! Ran close of course by Martin Foyle’s iconic horseshoe hairstyle in the 1990s.
Best Away Day: There are several contenders for this, but in my recent memory I’ve got to pick a game we’ve won and meant a lot, so I’m going to go with our 2013/14 League 1 away win at local rivals Crewe. It was a key game for both sides at opposite ends of the table with Crewe struggling in and around the bottom four and Vale hovering around the playoff places. A sellout away crowd of 2,300 saw the Vale come from behind to win 2-1 with a late goal and go within a point of the playoffs.
Worst Away Day: Purely because I’ve not mentioned it yet, our 3-0 League 2 defeat away at Southend United in January 2012. I went with a close friend on the official club coach for this one, so alcohol was banned and it was a 12-hour round trip to and from Essex. Vale were around 11th at the time but in touch of the playoffs spots, yet on the way down, we discovered that injuries and illness had ravaged the squad and seven first-team regulars would be missing, so already we knew we’d be up against it against a Southend side that was in the automatic promotion places.
After arriving at a freezing cold Roots Hall and finding we were part of a meagre 137-strong away following of diehard Valiants, a depleted Vale side were 2-0 down after just 20 minutes following two defensive errors. We stayed for the duration, seeing us finish with ten men, score an own goal in the second half and get beat 3-0 in an abject overall performance. We then had the pleasure of six more hours on the coach home without any booze to numb the pain. To rub the salt in, we went into administration two months later.
Never again, please.
Best Cult hero: I’ve really had to look through the history books here but probably Ron Futcher, because the striker was an explosive mix of mood swings, supreme skill and bad haircuts. He came to the Vale for a fee of £35,000 as a 32-year old journeyman striker and the signing was said to be a panic buy at best. 52 appearances, 20 goals and one promotion later, he was sold to Burnley for £65,000, a profit of £30,000.
Worst Cult Hero: Rigino Cicilia. The gangly 6ft 5 Curaçaoan striker christened “Reggie” by the Vale faithful managed to score four goals in 29 league appearances for the club…somehow! His height was deceiving as he was neither strong nor won anything in the air, and although some of his goals earned us some key points, several more missed sitters ultimately helped us on our way to losing our League 1 status. He’s since gone on to play in the Europa League with Lithuanian champions Suduva and spent a spell in the Dutch second tier. As of 2020/21, he plies his trade in the Czech top flight. Again, I’m not sure how.
Worst player? ‘Exodus Geohaghon. Awful footballer, slow and brought nothing to the table other than a long throw that found nobody’.