Magic moment for Pope echoes Eighties Vale legend

Vale legend Andy Jones with his gaffer John Rudge.

Vale legend Andy Jones with his gaffer John Rudge.

Believe it or not 30-goal strikers are a rare breed in these parts.

That is why the achievement yesterday of Sneyd Green’s finest – Tom Pope – is worthy of such high praise.

As I write this the Pontiff, as he is affectionately known, has scored thirty goals and – with six games remaining – has every chance of setting a new post-war record.

Since 1980 only two players – one for Port Vale and one for Stoke City – have reached the heady heights of 30-plus goals.

Before that you have to delve deep into the history books for names like Wilf Kirkham (three times for Vale between 1924 and 1927) and, for Stoke, Charlie Wilson (1927/28) or the great Freddie Steele (1936/37 and 1946/47).

Since 1980 the only Stoke City player to score more than 30 goals in a season (in all competitions) was Mark Stein.

The pint-sized marksman hit 33 goals, including 26 in the league, to fire the Potters to promotion during the 1992/93 season.

I was a cub reporter at the time and was covering all Stoke and Vale home games and even I, as a Vale fan, had to acknowledge I was witnessing something special at the Victoria Ground.

Stoke went on a 25-game unbeaten run that season and Stein’s partnership with Wayne ‘Bertie’ Biggins was prolific.

At Vale Park it was a unheralded Welshman who was to set a new post-war goal-scoring record in the mid-Eighties.

Andy Jones joined the Vale from non-league Rhyl in May 1985 – manager John Rudge having paid the princely sum of £3,000 for the man who had failed to make an impact at Wrexham.

He was only at Vale Park for two and a bit seasons but his impact during that time was astonishing.

He was Vale’s top scorer in his first season with 18 goals and his strike partnership with Robbie Earle, which fired Vale to promotion from the old Third Division, was unforgettable.

But it was the following season when Jones really hit the heights. He scored 37 goals and 27 of those came in the league – making him the top striker outside the top flight.

As Vale’s penalty-taker, he scored 12 of his goals from the spot.

But he also scored twice in eight games, scored a hat-trick against Fulham at Craven Cottage, and managed to score five against Newport County.

Andy Jones had scored six goals in eight games at the start of the 1987/88 season when he was transferred to First Division Charlton Athletic.

Ironically, his time with the club wasn’t a success and he probably looks back ruefully at the fact that Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson just missed out on signing him.

Tom Pope may not be on Sir Alex’s radar just yet. Perhaps it’s because he isn’t taking Vale’s penalties at the moment.

However, having just been named the League Two Player of the Year, the lad who was born just a few months after Andy Jones signed for the Vale and grew up supporting the Valiants has emulated a club legend made in the Eighties.

Whatever happens between now and April 27, our Popey has had a terrific season and deserves all the plaudits he’s received thus far.

But I am sure all football fans can see the romance in him scoring a few more goals this season and firing his boyhood club to promotion after the most turbulent of periods.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

Proud To Be Vale Thanks To ‘He Of The Flat Cap’

It is sad but true to say that there is a generation of Port Vale supporters who have grown up without experiencing any real success.
It’s 11 long years since the club’s day in the sun at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the LDV Vans Trophy Final win over Brentford.
Before that you have to go back to the mid-Nineties when the team was managed by ‘He Of The Flat Cap’ – otherwise known as ‘The Bald Eagle’ or plain old ‘J.R’.
John Rudge may hail from Wolverhampton but he is a genuine Potteries legend and, unless you come from these parts, it is difficult to appreciate just how much a part of local footballing folklore he is.
He is one of only a handful of men who have crossed the great divide between Port Vale and Stoke City and somehow managed to retain the respect and admiration of both sets of fans.
As comfortable as a public speaker at a fund-raising dinner in aid of Vale’s youth team as he is talking tactics with Tony Pulis at the Britannia Stadium, Rudgie is a special bloke.
To fully appreciate the reverence with which he is held by Vale fans like myself, you have to journey back to December 1983 when he took over the reins after manager John McGrath was sacked.
Under McGrath, Vale had lost 13 of the opening 17 games that season and J.R. was unable to prevent relegation to the old Division Four.
What followed was a season of consolidation during which Vale finished twelfth before Rudgie took fans on a dream journey which included promotions, a number of genuinely jaw-dropping giant-killings, several trips to Wembley and some cherished silverware.
J.R formed an unlikely alliance colourful former chairman Bill Bell and together they oversaw the most successful period in the club’s history.
As marriages go, it was a fiery affair.
One afternoon, as a cub reporter, I was camped outside the old main entrance awaiting confirmation that Rudgie had signed an extension to his contract.
He swept past me, refusing to speak, jumped in his car and sped away from the ground – only to return a few minutes later.
“What’s going on, gaffer?” I asked.
He told me that the chairman had annoyed him so much by quibbling over money that he had decided not to sign a new deal.
However, as he drove away from Vale Park, Rudgie had spotted a small group of fans at the gates holding up a banner pleading for him to stay. Thankfully, that persuaded him to turn his car around and sign on the dotted line for another eight years.
Rudgie was manager at Vale for 16 years and during that time generated almost £10 million in transfer income for the club.
He nurtured the likes of Robbie Earle and Mark Bright and had a wonderful eye for talent – bringing a raft of quality players to the club whose names trip off the tongue of any Vale fan worth his or her salt.
These included Andy Jones, Mark Grew, Ray Walker, Bob Hazell, Darren Beckford, Simon Mills, Neil Aspin, Dean Glover, Martin Foyle, Gareth Ainsworth, John Jeffers, Robin van der Laan, Ian Taylor, Nicky Cross, Keith Houchen, Andy Porter, Paul Musselwhite, Steve Guppy, Jon McCarthy, Bernie Slaven and Marcus Bent, among others.
They were Vale’s golden generation – delivering FA Cup victories over Spurs (1988), our neighbours down the A500 (1994) and cup holders Everton (1996).
I was in the Press Box for the Stoke and Everton games and I am ashamed to say I was as un-impartial as you can get.
I remember the action from the Everton game like it was yesterday and recall beforehand having every confidence that our wingers would cause havoc for the top-flight team. Which they did.
Damn we had a good side. I reckon we’d have beaten anyone that night.
Rudgie was the mastermind behind it all and led us to Autoglass Trophy Final victory in 1993, the Anglo-Italian Cup Final against Genoa in 1996 and no less than three promotions to the dizzy heights of the old Division Two (now The Championship).
The only shame is that when J.R. did leave Vale Park after 19 years and 834 games in charge, it was after being sacked by Bill Bell.
Cue an outpouring of grief among Vale fans which included noisy demonstrations and the infamous ‘flat cap’ protest march.
You see, we knew what we had lost – even if the chairman didn’t quite appreciate J.R. who went on to take the club to an industrial tribunal and win a £300,000 pay-out.
I’ve heard the odd Vale fan label Rudgie a traitor for joining Stoke City.
It’s nonsense, of course. The truth is most of us just wish he was still ours.
Following his dismissal in 1999, no-less than Sir Alex Ferguson is reported to have said: “Every Port Vale supporter should get down on their knees and thank The Lord for John Rudge.”
To be honest, I think many of us were too busy praying he’d come back.