Port Vale supporters were heading for Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on April 1, 1987, even though their team wasn’t actually playing.
Instead, they were lending their support to Wales, more specifically to Andy Jones, hero of Vale Park, who was making his international debut.
‘Jones the goal’ had been a phenomenon since he was snapped up by John Rudge for £3,000 in 1985 after the manager saw him playing for Rhyl in a Multipart League match against Matlock.
Such was his popularity that Vale fans headed in droves to cheer him on, including one group who brought along a banner saying ‘Port Vale’s Andy Jones Skins the Finns’.
Jones had the honour of partnering a fella called Ian Rush up front and, if that wasn’t enough, the game had extra special meaning to him because it was at Wrexham, the club that had released him as a 17 year old.
He did himself, the Vale and his country proud, scoring the final goal in a 4-0 victory.
The performance continued quite a week for the Vale centre forward who had produced a barnstorming performance four days earlier down by the Thames.
The Vale were heading clear of the relegation zone by the time they took on Fulham on Boat Race day, but even so the poor old Cottagers couldn’t have known what was in store for them.
Jones found the net after just 13 minutes when he converted Paul Maguire’s low cross. He claimed his second on 34 minutes when Phil Sproson’s long free-kick was headed on by Paul Smith to Jones who took the ball on his chest before hooking it past the keeper.
Vale’s third arrived six minutes into the second half when a corner was punched clear only as far as Smith, whose return volley flew into the net. Goal number four took only until the 72nd minute as Gary Hamson played a superb ball for Russell Bromage to collect and race to the byline before cutting the ball back for Ray Walker to score.
Even better was to come on 84 minutes when Maguire’s cross from the left was helped on by Sproson to Jones, who quickly brought the ball under control and rolled home a left-footed shot to complete his hat-trick. Shell-shocked Fulham conceded the sixth a minute later when Walker drove in a free-kick and Maguire glanced the ball home with a deft back header.
The treble took Jones to 28 goals for the season – and he would go on to score 37 that campaign.
Not only did Jones get the match ball for his efforts at Fulham, he was also handed a letter by Rudge confirming his call up for Wales.
Jones would eventually finish with 64 goals in 129 games in a Vale shirt, and bring in a huge profit for the club when he was sold to Charlton for £350,000 in September 1987.
He would return on loan during the club’s 1988/89 promotion campaign from the third tier. He had further spells at Bristol City, Bournemouth and Leyton Orient, but has remained grateful to the Vale for giving him his chance in the Football League.
That was made obvious last year when he returned to Vale Park for the ‘Evening with John Rudge dinner’ organised by the Super Vale Abroad group.
Jones told The Sentinel: “I was never the most gifted footballer but I gave 100 per cent. That’s all I could do. I scored goals, which excites fans and wins matches, so I got them on my side. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, whether I played poorly or scored, they were right behind me and I really appreciated that.
“The people of Port Vale just want to see a good game of football. If their team wins it’s great, if they give 100 per cent and lose then it’s not great, but they have still had a good day.”
As for Rudge, Jones added: “John was a fantastic manager. I owe him my career in football really. Maybe I would have signed for somebody else but who knows? John took a gamble and gave me the opportunity to play professional football.
“I was very fortunate to play in a very good team.
“I was fortunate to score the goals which gave me that publicity but it is a team game, that’s not just the 11 players on the pitch, it is the manager, the coach and everybody connected with it. It is the whole club.”
Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, April 1, 1987.
Wales: Neville Southall, Clayton Blackmore, Kenny Jackett, Kevin Ratcliffe, Pat van den Hauwe, Robbie James, Peter Nicholas, Glyn Hodges, David Phillips, Andy Jones, Ian Rush.
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