Port Vale is rolling out the red carpet for two servicemen who recently returned from war-torn Afghanistan.
Corporal Steve Buffey and his pal Senior Aircraftman (SAC) Pete Blakeman will have the honour of leading out the teams before tomorrow night’s home game against Dagenham and Redbridge.
Together with their families, the two die-hard Vale supporters will then be treated to a VIP match experience.
The friends are part of the close-knit team in the RAF Tactical Supply Wing which is based at Stafford.
While in Afghanistan, the unit was stationed at Camp Bastion, and was responsible for refuelling battlefield helicopters and Harrier jump jets.
They kept their morale up with regular updates from home on the fortunes of their team and through banter with another member of the team – 22-year-old SAC Alex Haycock, from Sandyford, who is an ardent Stoke City fan.
Father-of-two Cpl Buffey, aged 36, grew up in Kidsgrove but now lives in Stafford.
He is a former Clough Hall High School pupil who joined the RAF 13 years ago after working in the pottery industry.
SAC Blakeman, aged 29, who lives in Cheadle, signed up four years and is due to marry his fiancée Natalie Holdcroft in May of next year.
The idea to treat the RAF personnel to a special night at Vale Park came from users of internet fans’ forum Onevalefan (OVF).
Founder and Editor Rob Fielding explained: “Steve and Pete are users of OVF who had been corresponding with me during their recent tour of Afghanistan.
“The OVF community felt it would be really nice to honour them on their return to the UK and the club have been brilliant about it and really made an effort.
“Fingers crossed the lads can get three points for Steve and Pete.
“We are also going to use the match as an opportunity to raise funds for forces charity Help For Heroes.”
Club Secretary Bill Lodey said: “We were only too happy to help in these circumstances and pay our own special tribute to lads who are risking their lives out in the Middle East.
“We want to give them a night to remember and have other surprises planned too.
“Rob Fielding has volunteered to collect for Help For Heroes from fans in the away end and family members and friends of Cpl Buffey and SAC Blakeman will have collection tins around the other stands.
“It is a very worthy cause and we know that Vale fans will respond with their usual generosity.”