Mark Chamberlain is one of the finest players to have pulled on a Port Vale shirt.
The England international came through the ranks at the Vale – and on April 14, 1979 made his full debut for the club in Division Four.
He was only 17 but first team boss Denis Butler had seen enough to call him up to play in the same starting line up as his older brother Neville.
Mark had only come on as a sub for a couple of games but Butler said: “He beats a man as easily as anyone I have seen and he has come on a bomb in his first season at Vale Park.”
So, Mark went into a team looking to bounce back quickly from an astonishing defeat at Wigan the previous day. Leading 3-0 with 25 minutes to go, the Vale had managed to lose 5-3.
That followed what the Sentinel concluded was an ‘abysmal performance’ in a 0-0 draw at home to York City a week earlier.
So, changes were needed for the home game with promotion-chasing Barnsley on this day 41 years ago.
Mark Chamberlain and Bill Bentley came in for Felix Healy who was suspended, and Kenny Beech, who was relegated to the bench.
Vale fell behind when Tommy Graham headed past Trevor Dance, but levelled two minutes before the break when Bernie Wright ran on to Bentley’s pass and, when the defence failed to clear the striker’s shot, Neville Chamberlain turned smartly to convert the loose ball.
More good work from Neville Chamberlain resulted in Vale taking the lead eight minutes after the break as he won possession before squaring to Wright who took his time in lining up a right-footed shot which he blasted into the roof of the net.
The visitors levelled 13 minutes from time through a Gerry Keenan own goal, but Vale clinched the points on 83 minutes when Ken Todd smashed home Neil Griffiths’ cross to win it 3-2.
Mark Chamberlain would keep his place for the game at Huddersfield two days later and, although Vale lost that one 3-2, he showed his potential with a brilliant goal, easing past two challenges before scoring with a swerving effort from the edge of the area.
Reflecting on those Easter games at the time, the youngster said: “I was nervous before the Barnsley game and found it hard going. I was tired at the finish and, while I felt fairly pleased with my contribution, I felt I could have done better.
“But I gained the benefit two days later and the team seemed to accept me more.
“It was a bonus too, to find the net. Neil Griffiths encouraged me to ‘hit it’, after I had nipped in before the full back, and the ball flew in.
“I like to drift wide although crossing is not one of my strengths. I was criticised for not providing Bernie Wright with more of a service from the wing, but I like to be on the ball.
“Sometimes I tend to overdo it, but this is through habit, which I still have to get out of. It was so easy for me to go past players at school that I did it all the time.
“It was my games master who was responsible for me eventually playing wide. I used to operate either up front or in midfield, but he encouraged me to get out of the mud and go on the wings to use my pace.
“I always wanted to play professional football and the fact that I did not fancy travelling too far from home led me to Vale Park when clubs like Nottingham Forest and a few others were interested.
“My brother Neville was also at the club so I was happy to go to Vale.”
The Vale would finish 16th in the old Fourth Division and struggle until John McGrath and John Rudge began to turn the club around when they formed a management team mid-way through the 1979/80 campaign.
As for Mark Chamberlain, he regularly terrified defences, was named in the PFA team of the season for 1981/82 and was snapped up by Stoke City in August 1982 with keeper Mark Harrison in a £180,000 double deal.
Four months after that move, he was playing for England, in a 9-0 win against Luxembourg in which he scored.
His former Vale team mate Phil Sproson would recall: “When Mark moved to Stoke we used to go to watch him. In fact I remember him torturing Arsenal’s England left-back Kenny Sansom, but having seen him at Vale we knew he could do that.”
Chamberlain went on to win eight full England caps between 1982 and 1984.
He is a player celebrated on both sides of the Potteries because Stoke City fans also rate him as one of their finest players of the 1980s.
Stoke City fan and author Simon Lowe would reflect: “For two years, Chamberlain was only rivalled as the country’s best winger by Watford’s John Barnes.
“His slim, athletic build made him seem taller than his modest 5ft 9in height. But his dribbling style was upright, chest puffed out, with the ball in front being almost toe-ended on by his right foot, while his arms worked like pistons.
“A favourite trick saw Chamberlain wave his left foot over the ball and wiggle his hips before jagging it past the defender with the outside of the right foot.
“A natural sprinter, Chamberlain could outpace most rivals he faced … even the best in the world.
“He starred in England’s first ever win in Brazil in the summer of 1984, although his thunder was stolen by Barnes’s wonder goal in the Maracanã.
“But Chamberlain’s sensational form was halted by a series of hamstring injuries which ultimately reduced his speed.”
After Stoke were relegated in 1985, Chamberlain was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for £300,000 and would go on to play for Portsmouth, Brighton and Exeter.”
He is remembered at Vale Park is as a superb player. In fact Vale author Phil Sherwin picked him his best Vale XI of the last 50 years.
Phil said: “Mark was simply sensational. He had been an England schoolboy international and was pulling up trees for the youth team before transferring his skills to the first team.
“He was the shining light with his dazzling ball skills on the wing as the team struggled but in 1981/82 he helped them to rise to seventh as his reputation grew.
“He was an ever present that season and was chosen in the PFA team of the season as well as winning the Daily Star’s Fourth Division player of the season.
“He only made 110 appearances for the Vale but nowadays that would be zero because the big clubs watch all games from nine years old upwards and would have spirited him away long before he reached our first team.”
PORT VALE 3
April 14, 1979, Division Four.
Port Vale: Dance, Keenan, Griffiths, Bentley, Delgado, Hawkins, N Chamberlain, Farrell, Wright, Todd, M Chamberlain.
Barnsley: Springett, Collins, Chambers, Pugh, Saunders, McCarthy, Little, Riley, Graham, Millar, Bell.