Wednesday, 12 Jun 2024

Port Vale F.C. History – All About the Club

In this article, we will delve into the rich history of Port Vale F.C. and explore the significant milestones the club has achieved throughout its lifespan. From its humble beginnings to its current position in the EFL League One, we will take a comprehensive look at the club’s journey, its achievements, its passionate fan base, and more.

Introduction

Port Vale Football Club is a professional football team based in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since its establishment, the club has left an indelible mark on English football, despite never having played in the top-flight league. With a record-breaking 112 seasons in the English Football League, Port Vale holds a prominent place in football history.

Diving into Port Vale F.C. History

Let’s explore the club’s fascinating history in more detail. Here are some key facts and highlights:

  • Full Name: Port Vale Football Club
  • Nicknames: The Valiants
  • Year of Formation: 1876 or 1879
  • Place of Origin: Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, England
  • Home Stadium: Vale Park
  • Owner: Synsol Holdings Limited
  • Chairlady: Carol Shanahan
  • Manager: Andy Crosby
  • League: EFL League One
  • Market Value: €6.38m

When was the Club Founded?

The exact details surrounding the establishment of Port Vale Football Club remain uncertain. While there were previous beliefs regarding an 1876 meeting at Port Vale House, where the club was thought to derive its name, no evidence supporting the existence of such a named public house has been found.

However, extensive research by historian Jeff Kent suggests an alternative origin. According to Kent, the club likely formed in 1879 as an offshoot of the Porthill Victoria football club, taking its name from the location in the valley of canal ports. Supporting evidence includes Vale chairman Robert Audley’s statement in 1907 claiming the club had “an organization of twenty-eight years standing.”

The 1879 theory proposes that players from Porthill Victoria broke away to establish Port Vale due to the inconvenience of traveling uphill to Wolstanton for their football matches. Before 1926, occasional mentions in print had indicated the club’s founding year as 1879.

Adding to the confusion, The Sentinel, a local newspaper, continued to print 1879 as the club’s founding date in March 1928 and August 1931, despite reporting on the jubilee celebrations earlier that year.

Their First-ever Games

Another theory suggests that Port Vale may have initially been a brickworks team, based on bricks marked with “Burslem Port Vale” and “Port Vale.” However, these markings seem more indicative of their place of manufacture in the Valley of Ports and provide no solid evidence linking them to the football club.

The unique name of Port Vale has sparked interest and debate, with players residing near places like Port Vale Wharf, Port Vale Street, Port Vale Corn Mills, and Port Vale House. The name “Port Vale” was considered a natural choice due to the team playing in the valley below, especially considering the hill-based play of nearby Porthill Victoria.

The team initially played their matches at Limekiln Lane, Longport, and from 1880 at Westport, where they paid £1 for the use of Westport Meadows. Founded by Enoch Hood, the club quickly surpassed numerous local Burslem clubs, becoming the strongest team in the town within a few years. By 1880, the club had a reserve team and successfully attracted the best players from local rivals, charging admission to their games.

They joined the Staffordshire Football Association on September 6, 1882. The first recorded line-up occurred on December 9, 1882, in a Staffordshire Senior Cup second-round replay at Stoke, where the match concluded with a 5-1 victory for Stoke, and Enoch Hood scored Vale’s goal.

In the same month, Billy Poulson and Charlie Simpson represented Staffordshire, leading The Sentinel to write of “our two local champions – Stoke and Port Vale.” From that point on, these two clubs defined football in the Potteries.

Burslem Port Vale

The club relocated to Burslem in 1884, playing at a newly constructed ground at Moorland Road. The first game at the new ground resulted in a 6-0 victory over Everton. Shortly after, the club changed its name to Burslem Port Vale.

In the summer of 1885, they moved to the Athletic Ground and started paying their players regular wages. In 1888, despite rivals Stoke being among the twelve founders, Port Vale failed to gain inclusion in the founding of the English Football League. Instead, they joined The Second Combination, a league lasting only one season. Despite their poor performance, they were not invited to join the new, short-lived Football Alliance.

Progress was made as the club hired their first professional trainer, Joey Law, from West Bromwich Albion. In 1890, Port Vale became one of the founding members of the Midland League, playing two seasons of football. A third-place finish in 1891-92 secured their election to the new Football League Second Division in 1892.

The club faced challenges following the death of star striker Frank McGinnes. On December 10, 1892, they played in a snowstorm and suffered a 10-0 home loss to Sheffield United, a record in Football League history. Despite finishing eleventh out of twelve, they won re-election to the league. Over the next three seasons, they struggled in the league and failed to win re-election at the end of 1895-96, resulting in two seasons in the Midland League.

The Complete Dissolution of Burslem Port Vale?

Financial difficulties persisted despite Port Vale’s FA Cup victory over eventual First Division champions Sheffield United, leading to survival measures such as selling top players and cutting costs. The club resigned from the league on June 14, 1907, after an unsuccessful appeal for supporter donations, with the directors considering the club not viable “in any shape or form.” Stoke and Oldham Athletic absorbed most of the now-unemployed players.

Burslem Port Vale faced imminent liquidation and ceased operations in 1909. However, an unexpected turn of events saved the club from extinction. The North Staffordshire Church League champions, Cobridge Church, entered the North Staffordshire Federation League, a minor league. Joint secretaries Millward and E.C. Brundrett sought permission from the Football Association in 1907 to change the club’s name to Port Vale. They purchased the old club’s Athletic Ground and renamed their reserve side to Cobridge Church, playing against teams like Leek United, Newchapel United, and Ashwood Villa.

Despite financial challenges, a buy-out consortium led by former Vale player Sam Bennion revived the club in December 1908, re-signing former players Adrian Copes, Bert Eardley, and Harry Croxton. In the 1909-10 season, Port Vale clinched the North Staffordshire & District League title but lost key players like Joe Brough (to Liverpool), Billy Cavenor (to Blackpool), and Bert Eardley (to Glossop). The club was reorganized on July 21, 1911, with J.H. Edwards elected chairman. Transitioning to the Central League and facing financial crises coupled with issues at their Cobridge Ground, Port Vale moved to The Old Recreation Ground in Hanley in 1912. This relocation allowed the club to host over 10,000 spectators regularly.

Struggling with Money

At the end of the 1913-14 season, Port Vale agreed to stand down for re-election to the Football League, favoring stronger rivals Stoke’s chances of re-election, with an understanding that this favor would be repaid. The club took shape during this period, and around November 1920, chairman Frank Huntbach coined the nickname “the Valiants.” In 1921, the club adopted their familiar white and black strip after experimenting with various colors.

Financial challenges resurfaced in the early 1920s, leading to the sale of top striker Bobby Blood to West Bromwich Albion for £4,000 in February 1921. Despite a financial crisis, Port Vale signed Wales international goalkeeper Teddy Peers in January 1922. However, the club faced trouble again in June 1923 when former trainer Billy Barr reported illegal payments to players, resulting in fines and punishments. On November 11, 1923, Tom Butler’s death prompted a benefit fund, raising £700 from Stoke and other clubs for his widow. Wilf Kirkham became the top scorer in 1924-25, maintaining this position for the next three seasons.

In April 1926, the club’s directors tentatively agreed to an amalgamation with rivals Stoke City, citing financial difficulties and decreasing attendance. However, Vale’s supporters opposed the proposal and threatened to start their own club. Stoke’s relegation in 1925-26 left Vale in the Second Division and Stoke in the Third Division (North). Stoke ultimately rejected the proposal in May 1926, leading to the resignation of four Vale directors, including the chairman.

A Brilliant Defense

Despite considering a move back to Cobridge in the summer of 1927, financial constraints and the city council’s option to repurchase The Old Recreation Ground thwarted the plan. At the end of the 1928-29 season, the club was relegated to the Third Division North for the first time, and top scorer Kirkham was sold to rivals Stoke for £2,800.

In the 1929-30 season, only the champions of the Third Divisions (North and South) were eligible for promotion. The sale of Kirkham enabled the team to strengthen in other positions, although they keenly felt the absence of their talisman. Unfortunately, on September 29, 1929, manager Joe Schofield passed away, leaving the team at the top of the league. Reserve team coach Tom Morgan assumed responsibility for the first team. The team’s exceptional form persisted, and they clinched the championship with 67 points, boasting the strongest defensive record in all four divisions, having conceded only 37 goals. The 1930-31 season marked one of the club’s strongest performances, securing a fifth-place finish in the second tier primarily due to a solid defense. Post-season, the club benefited financially from a mini-tour of the Netherlands, recording two victories. However, they incurred a loss of £800 for the season. Top-scorer Sam Jennings, having held the position for two consecutive seasons, was transferred to Stockport County.

Selling More and More Players

Port Vale experienced financial difficulties in the mid-1930s, resulting in the sale of several key players, including Bert Cope to Everton for £6,000. The club struggled on the pitch as well, prompting mid-season discussions about changing the club’s name. Despite suggestions like ‘Stoke Central’ and ‘Stoke United,’ the settled name was ‘Hanley Port Vale.’ Calls for a name change persisted for a few years before fading away.

Port Vale faced relegation in the 1935-36 season, preceded by selling top striker Tom Nolan to Bradford Park Avenue. Manager Holford advocated a ‘young players policy.’ The season concluded with a second-from-bottom finish and an appeal for donations to survive financially. Warney Cresswell took over as manager for the 1936-37 campaign, aiming for promotion. Tom Nolan returned from Bradford, but after a mid-table finish, Creswell left the club. Notable player transfers occurred, including Eric Hayward to Blackpool, Ken Gunn to Northampton Town, and Allan Todd to Nottingham Forest. In December 1937, Tom Morgan resumed the role of manager.

The 1937-38 season saw mid-table mediocrity, with Jack Roberts’s impressive tally of 28 goals being the only bright spot. Port Vale F.C. history states that approximately half the team was either transferred or released at the end of the season. New faces for the 1938-39 campaign included goalkeeper Arthur Jepson, defender George Collin, and right-half George Hannah. The club moved to the Third Division South, hoping for higher gate receipts.

Forced to Sell Their Home Ground

Despite fighting to avoid relegation and injuries hitting the squad, the club failed to make an impact in the division. With the outbreak of war in Europe and Vale at the bottom of the Third Division South after two games, the 1939-40 season was canceled as Britain and its allies fought against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. Stoke-on-Trent was designated a ‘neutral and reception area,’ permitting football throughout the war. However, financial limitations and player enlistments prevented the club from competing in the war leagues. A youth team achieved local success, but the death of Major W.M. Huntbach, the club’s chairman, left them in significant debt.

Forced to sell The Old Recreation Ground to the city council for £13,500, the club became homeless in October 1940. Initially denied permission to rent the ground, the council later allowed it until a few seasons after the war, extending the deal to June 20, 1950. By the summer of 1944, the club revived its first team, secured a location for a new stadium on Hamil Road, Burslem, and initiated a fund to raise £30,000. Jack Diffin was appointed team manager for the 1944-45 season. Peace was restored after Germany and Japan’s defeat, and the 1946-47 season commenced. Morris Jones scored 26 goals, leading the club to a respectable tenth-place finish. It was also the most financially successful year up to that point, with a net profit of over £4,000.

Finding A Permanent Home

However, Jones’s loss of form in 1947-48 led to his sale to Swindon Town for £2,500 in November 1947. The club finished eighth but incurred losses in the transfer market and over the season as a whole. Despite finishing mid-table, the forgettable 1948-49 season saw record profits of just over £7,000, with the significant contribution of Bill Pointon’s transfer sum. The 1949-50 season began with 86 players, of which only 27 were full-time professionals. The pre-season acquisition of a young Ray King from Ashington proved significant, while the signing of defender Lol Hamlett had greater short-term importance.

Despite another mid-table finish, much talk centered on the upcoming stadium in Burslem. A substantial £20,000 was raised from the sale of Ronnie Allen to West Brom. A setback occurred when the government refused permission to transfer a stand from the old stadium to the new, despite local MP Albert Davies’s protests.

Looking at Port Vale F.C. history, we can see that in 1950, they relocated to their new home, Vale Park, and within a year, Freddie Steele assumed the role of the club’s manager. Steele quickly made a significant impact, overseeing the creation of the renowned ‘Iron Curtain’ defense. During the 1953-54 season, Vale secured the Third Division North title and reached the FA Cup semi-finals, where they controversially lost to eventual winners West Bromwich Albion due to an offside disallowed goal by Albert Leake. Three years later, the club faced relegation once again, becoming founder members of the newly established Football League Fourth Division. Under the management of Norman Low, an attacking philosophy led Vale to the Fourth Division title in the 1958-59 season with a record-breaking 110 goals. The six-season tenure in the Third Division ended with relegation at the conclusion of the 1964-65 campaign. In 1967, former Ballon d’Or winner Stanley Matthews succeeded Jackie Mudie as manager.

Will They Ever Get back to the Second Division?

However, he resigned a year later after Vale faced expulsion from the Football League for allegedly making illegal payments to players, a punishment later reduced to a re-election vote, which the club won. Gordon Lee took charge after this incident and guided the club to promotion at the end of the 1969-70 campaign. Despite these achievements, the 1970s were not prosperous for the Valiants, as the club remained in the bottom half of the Third Division for much of the decade. After Lee’s departure in 1974, a series of managers couldn’t prevent relegation in 1977-1978. The 1979-80 season in Port Vale F.C. history witnessed Port Vale finishing 20th in the Fourth Division, marking the club’s worst-ever finish. Despite this, in John McGrath’s first season, they achieved their first success in thirteen years by winning promotion out of the Fourth Division in the third position during the 1982-83 season. Following McGrath’s dismissal, his assistant John Rudge took over as manager in December 1983. Although unable to prevent Vale’s immediate return to the bottom tier of the Football League, Rudge successfully stabilized the team. Aided by the prolific Welshman Andy Jones, Vale earned promotion back to the third tier in 1985-86 after losing just once at Vale Park in the league all season. A notable cup upset occurred on January 30, 1988, when Vale defeated First Division side Tottenham Hotspur 2-1, courtesy of a superb strike from Ray Walker. After three seasons in the third tier, Rudge’s Vale secured another promotion in 1988-89 after Robbie Earle scored the winning goal at Vale Park, completing a 2-1 aggregate play-off final victory over Bristol Rovers and marking the club’s return to the Second Division after a 33-year absence.

John Rudge Leading the Squad

In the 1991-92 league campaign, Port Vale experienced relegation on the final day. Despite a strong rebound in the 1992-93 season, they narrowly missed promotion as runners-up to local rivals Stoke City, overtaken by Bolton Wanderers on the final day. However, Vale had notable appearances at Wembley, winning 2-1 against Stockport County in the Football League Trophy final but losing 3-0 in the play-off final to West Bromwich Albion. The club successfully secured promotion as runners-up on the final day of the 1993-94 season. Noteworthy achievements in the 1995-96 season included a significant FA Cup giant-killing by defeating holders Everton 2-1 and reaching the Anglo-Italian Cup final at Wembley, where they lost 5-2 to Serie B side Genoa. The 1996-97 campaign began slowly for Vale, marked by protests against chairman Bill Bell and the £800,000 sale of Steve Guppy to Leicester City. Despite this, John Rudge orchestrated an eighth-place finish, the club’s highest since 1931. Relegation was narrowly avoided in the 1997-98 season with a 4-0 win over Huddersfield Town on the final day. The following season proved challenging, leading to the controversial sacking of John Rudge in January 1999. Former player Brian Horton took over, spending significantly to secure the club’s second consecutive final-day escape from relegation. Relegation became inevitable in the 1999-2000 season, with Vale falling thirteen points short of safety.

Recent Times and Constant Struggles

Under fan ownership in 2003-04, the club emerged from administration led by Bill Bratt’s Valiant 2001 consortium. However, financial cutbacks led to Brian Horton’s departure in February 2004, and Martin Foyle replaced him. Foyle’s tenure ended in November 2007, with Lee Sinnott taking charge, overseeing relegation to League Two and a defeat to Chasetown in the FA Cup.

Sinnott was sacked in September 2008, and after an unsuccessful stint by Dean Glover, Micky Adams became the manager in June 2009. Adams left in December 2010, with Jim Gannon briefly taking over. Adams returned at the end of the 2010-11 campaign, but fans demanded a change in the boardroom due to unfulfilled investment promises. Hopes of promotion in 2011-12 were dashed when the club faced a winding-up petition from HM Revenue and Customs, leading to administration on March 9, 2012. The club exited administration on November 20, 2012, and Tom Pope’s 33 goals secured promotion back to League One with a third-place finish. Under new boss Rob Page, stability was achieved in the division until chairman Norman Smurthwaite arranged the departure of Page and his squad for the club’s first foreign manager, Bruno Ribeiro, resulting in relegation back to League Two in the 2016-17 season. Smurthwaite resigned as chairman, returned the following season, and threatened administration if a buyer was not found by May 2019. The Shanahan family’s takeover averted this fate. In the 2021-22 season, manager Darrell Clarke secured promotion through the League Two play-offs with a 3-0 victory over Mansfield Town in the final. Clarke was dismissed in April 2023 after a prolonged period of unsatisfactory outcomes throughout the calendar year.

Andy Crosby, the New Manager

Crosby assumed the role of interim manager after Clarke’s termination, a decision prompted by a series of two victories in eighteen League One matches. During the final four games of the 2022-23 season, he secured one win but suffered three losses, expressing his readiness to take on the position permanently. The confirmation of his permanent appointment as the club’s manager occurred on May 12.

In his new role, Crosby named Nathan Smith, a 27-year-old stalwart, as the club captain, with Funso Ojo serving as vice-captain.

The commencement of the 2023-24 season for Vale was marked by a significant 7-0 defeat at the hands of Barnsley, constituting the most substantial opening-day loss for any team in the EFL since the 1962-63 season, over 60 years ago.

Despite this setback, Crosby’s team rebounded with ten points from the remaining twelve available in August, earning him a nomination for the EFL League One Manager of the Month award.

Under his leadership, Vale reached the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup for the first time in Port Vale F.C. history, securing victories over Fleetwood Town, Crewe Alexandra, Sutton United, and Mansfield Town.

Regarding Port Vale F.C. Champions League history, they have never competed in a European competition before.

Port Vale F.C. Kit History

Port Vale’s kit has undergone various changes throughout the years. The club’s traditional colors are white and black, which they adopted in 1921 after experimenting with different color combinations. The choice of white and black stripes has become synonymous with Port Vale’s identity.

Port Vale F.C. Badge History

The club’s badge has also evolved over time, reflecting different aspects of its history and local heritage. From the club’s early years to the current emblem introduced in 2013, the badge has incorporated symbols representing the club’s identity and connection to the local area.

Port Vale F.C. Stadiums

Port Vale has called several grounds home throughout its history. From its initial venues in Limekiln Lane and Westport Meadows to the iconic Vale Park, the club’s journey has been marked by changes in locations and facilities.

Port Vale F.C. Rivalries History

Port Vale shares a fierce rivalry with Stoke City, given their proximity in Stoke-on-Trent. The matches between these two clubs, known as the “Potteries derby,” are highly anticipated by fans and have been fiercely contested over the years. Port Vale also shares rivalries with Crewe Alexandra, Shrewsbury Town, and Walsall, adding further excitement to the club’s fixtures.

Fan Base & Media

Port Vale has a passionate and dedicated fan base. The club’s official matchday program has received acclaim, and fans also contribute to several unofficial fanzines and fansites, further enhancing the fan community. Notable celebrities, including Robbie Williams, Jonathan Wilkes, Phil Taylor, and Simon Webbe, have shown their support for the club.

Records

Port Vale holds several records in its storied history.