Tuesday 17 January 2012

Port Vale - Vale Park

Port Vale FC
Vale Park
Hamil Road
Stoke On Trent

Ground Number: 52
Saturday 30th September 2000
Port Vale 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers
Nationwide League Division 2


1:  Port Vale FC were formed in 1876 and are one of the few clubs not to be named after their geographical location. Instead, their name comes from a reference to the valley of ports on the Trent & Mersey Canals.

2:  Based in Burslem, one of the six towns that make up Stoke-On-Trent, they've played at Vale Park since 1950. Originally intended to be an ambitious 80,000 capacity stadium, dubbed 'The Wembley Of The North' plans were scaled back and the ground was opened as a 40,000 capacity ground, with just 360 seats. Originally costing just £50,000, the record attendance of 49,768 for an FA Cup game against Aston Villa after the capacity was increased.

3: The club has never played top-flight football and hold the record for the most number of seasons in the football league without reaching the top league. Their best times came in the 1920's and 30's when they spent 16 out of 17 seasons in the second tier. Their best ever finish came in 1931 when they finished 5th in Division 2.

4:  Their best run in the FA Cup came in 1954 when they reached the semi-final before losing to West Brom in a game played at Aston Villa. In recent years, 1996 saw a good run to the 5th Round, with them holding the then Premiership side Leeds United to a draw at Elland Road, before losing the home replay 2-1.

5:  Port Vale have been ever present in the League Cup since its inception in 1960. Their best run came when they reached the 4th Round, losing 3-1to Tottenham Hotspur in 2006.

6:  Other cup successes include winning the Football League Trophy in 1993, beating Stockport County 2-1 at the Old Wembley. They repeated the trick in 2001 with a 2-1 victory over Brentford at Cardiff's Millenium Stadium. They were also runners-up in the Anglo Italian Cup in 1996, losing 5-2 to Genoa at Webley Stadium. 

7:  Current Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth is both Port Vale's record purchase and sale. He arrived in September 1997 for a £500,000 fee and made 54 appearances, scoring 10 goals during his time at Vale Park. He moved to Wimbledon in October 1998 for £2,000,000.

8:  The Valiants record win came in September 1932 with a 9-1 win over Chesterfield. The record defeat came in 1892 with a 10-0 defeat to Sheffield United. 

9:  The club's most capped player is Chris Birchall. Nicknamed 'The White Feather' he recieved 24 caps for Trinidad & Tobago during his time at Vale Park

10: Vale's most famous fan is the singer Robbie Williams. Born in Stoke-On-Trent, he bought £240.000 worth of shares in 2006 and has a restaurant at the ground named after him. Other famous fans include darts player Phil 'The Power' Taylor and TV celebrity Jonathan Wilkes.


To date, my initial visit to Port Vale represents Wycombe's only victory at the venue as far as I can remember and owing to the enjoyable day out, I've made pretty much every game that Wycombe have played down the years and it's all been downhill since Andy Rammell's goal gave Wycombe victory back on a sunny day in September 2000. A series of four draws and too defeats offer few memories for me in terms of the football, I remember the 2009 visit for an aggressive bunch of Port Vale fans as we walked past The Vine pub, the only hint of trouble there has been, and even then it was all mouth. That day, a mass of fans were protesting against the then manager Dean Glover, throwing their season tickets onto the pitch in protest during the first half. The latest visit saw a heavy 4-1 defeat, as the gulf in class summed up that season perfectly. 

VISIT 8: PORT VALE 2-3 WYCOMBE (L2, 12/8/17)

As part of my mission to cut down on mileage and revisit some old grounds, I was keen to visit a number of Wycombe's League 2 rivals in an attempt to update my blog. The first away game of the season of the season bought up one of my favourites - Port Vale's Vale Park. Though we didn't win there often, I had good memories of trying the local delicacy, oatcakes, which were delicious. There was also a great pub, The Bulls Head, where you could always get a pint of something nice. Added to that, there was also a decent fanzine called 'Derek, I'm Gutted' which was always a good read.  Ironically, I'd not be able to enjoy as much of those on my latest visit, as they stopped at a pub on the way and arrived shortly before kick off. Their initial pick, a place owned by actor Neil Morrissey had no real cider and an expensive menu. For a lot of the previous week I wasn't really looking forward to it, however, a late change saw us go to a much better looking place which had me actually looking forward to the away day again.

I'd enjoyed a few drinks on the night before the game without going too mad, but even so, it was around midnight when I got to sleep. It was therefore annoying that I woke up naturally at 5 am and couldn't get back to sleep. I killed time by watching Youtube videos before getting up at 6.30 After some breakfast and a freshen up, I walked down the local shop to get a newspaper and some biscuits. The coach arrived promptly at 8.30 and we were soon on our way. We did our usual couple of pick ups in the town before having to get on the M40 at Stokenchurch due to an accident further down. It was at this point that I realised I'd left my iPad at home, which was a tad annoying, but no big issue as my phone could do everything I needed and I had my power bank which was always an essential part of any long trip by public transport. We had the customary stop at services on the way but looked well on course to arrive at our usual time of midday. I tuned into the 'Back Of The Net' podcast on my phone which was a good listen. I then hit upon the idea of checking how far Audley FC was away and happily it was in the same village as our pub. It's always a pain to get served at the bar when there are 25 thirsty travellers to compete with so going there and waiting for the queues to die down would be a good idea. Typically, there were delays on the M6 near Stoke, as one of the UK's most pathetic stretches of road, it's virtually impossible to navigate without some kind of delay.

We got to our pre match pub, The Plough in Bignall End at 12.15. I jogged the half mile to Audley FC with me noticing that I wasn't as fit as I used to be. On the way, I passed a pub called The Swan which advertised traditional ciders, which I noted for later reference. The ground was nice and traditional, with a decent sized stand and it would only be the lack of floodlights which was preventing them aiming for promotion to step 6. I got back to our pub at 12.35 and was disappointed there was only Strongbow on offer for cider drinkers on tap. They had the Watford v Liverpool game on TV though and although I'd have preferred the Maidenhead v Hartlepool game, it was a nice bonus. The dinner was terrific too and it was a shame that the cider choice was poor. I enjoyed my chilli hot dog with chips for £5.50 with portions of a decent size too.  As I had around 50 minutes till we left for the game, I made my way to the earlier spotted pub, The Swan. This turned out to be a cracker with a load of real ciders and some good opportunities for new tries. First up was a pint of Clutton Cloudy before a pint of St Ives Cornish. Both were terrific and it was a shame that football was getting in the way. There was also a terrifically friendly dog in the pub who lapped up the attention from enthusiastic drinkers. At 1.50 I made my way back to our coach, spending 10 minutes watching the football before our coach left at 2.05 i was hoping to get a fanzine and an oatcake but the fanzine seller had gone by the time I'd got there and the oatcake shop near the ground had changed hands. So I went to the old haunt, The Bulls Head. They turned out to be terrific and I had a pint for the price of a half as I finished up with a Kentish Pip cider as it was the last in the barrel. The pub that I consider a jewel in the crown had got even better and it was a shame that football was incoming so soon.

I walked up to the game with a Vale fan who was a great guy and we chatted about our past meetings. Of course, Wycombe ripped up the form book, lobbing it in the Vale fans faces as we took an astonishing 3-0 lead. It was not undeserved but it was totally alien to me and I was loving it at half time. Vale pulled a couple back in the second half but it couldn't take away from Wycombe's great result. A brief match report is above. On the way home I had a nice sleep, thanks to my earlier drinking. Like Wycombe, Burnley had amazingly led 3-0, only to concede a couple. There were plenty of Chelsea fans on the radio too, whining about the result, but the Five Live phone in was still a decent listen. The coach made good time and I was back home before 8. I had a few cans before watching some of Match Of The Day and falling asleep just after 11.


VALE PARK is a modern all-seater stadium where 3 of the sides are very similar in size. Away fans are allocated the Hamil Road stand, located behind one goal which offers good views and a decent atmosphere can be built up under here. The Railway Stand is to the left, whilst the Bycars Road stand is directly opposite. The one remaining stand is an interesting one. My visits spanned 12 years and from my memory and photographic evidence was under construction the whole time, owing to various financial issues. Called the Lorne Street Stand, it has currently been 'under progress' for 18 years. All pictures are my own, bar the one of the away end that I obtained elsewhere.

The area around the ground is pretty decent. There are plenty of places selling the local delicacies, oatcakes, which are savoury pancake things with all sorts of tasty fillings such as bacon, sausage, egg and cheese. There are a few decent pubs too, by far the best of which is The Bulls Head. This offers a great range of real ales and ciders and also has a BBQ. You'll be guaranteed a nice welcome here. One to avoid is The Vine, which contains some of the Vale's more unsavoury supporters, swigging back their mass produced pints. Generally, though, a visit to Port Vale is a friendly day out, there's also an excellent fanzine called 'Derek, I'm Gutted' which is a good read, home fan or not. 

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