Mark Chamberlain has never forgotten his roots.
Chamberlain grew up in Longport opposite the Trubshaw Cross pitches and played ladsandads with brother Neville before starring for Port Vale and Stoke City.
Starring is an understatement. In his last season at Vale and his first two with Stoke, he was lightning, frightening and, at his very best, up there with the most exciting wingers in the world.
He might be 58 now and have spent a good chunk of his life on the south coast but he’ll always be a Stokie.
That’s been seen – and heard, he hasn’t lost any of his accent – by the millions tuning in for ITV’s hit show Harry’s Heroes, watching Harry Redknapp take a squad of ex-England players around Europe before a match against a team of Germany legends.
In last night’s episode they were in Italy and John Barnes led the group to a viewpoint overlooking Florence.
“Boys, have a look at this view,” said Barnes. “It can’t get better than that. All we need is a bit of sunshine.”
Chamberlain told him: “It looks like Stoke-on-Trent, Barnsey.”
Yes, put a few shops on a bridge over the A500 and it could look like the Ponte Vecchio from a certain angle – and plenty of sunshine too at the moment.
Either way, supporters of Stoke and Vale will all be pleased to see Chamberlain temporarily step out of the shadow of his superstar son Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who plays for Liverpool and England, and remember what a fantastic player they saw in the 1980s.
Who is Mark Chamberlain?
Chamberlain was born to Jamaican-born parents Banny and Anastasia, who had arrived in England in the 1960s, and if the world seems a very different place looking back – he has always been the same, difficult-to-rattle character.
Alex recalled in an interview with the Independent: “My dad is one of those who doesn’t care. I remember him telling me a story about someone throwing a banana at him during a game. He picked it up, peeled it and said thanks – then just carried on playing.
“He used to tell me that he’d walk home from school with his sisters, they used to get stones thrown at them. They had to fight and protect themselves but you have to get on with it.
“That’s what he did. He used to go to England trials on his own, not knowing anyone. The other boys were at Aston Villa, Arsenal and Everton. He was at Port Vale.
“He had to overcome loads of stuff like that. That’s the sort of character he is. He just gets on with what he’s got to do and doesn’t worry too much about what everyone thinks.”
Chamberlain had been a precocious talent but he shunned interest from clubs including Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, then one of the best in Europe, to make his breakthrough in Burslem, having also picked up a Sentinel Cup winner’s medal.
He made his full debut for Vale at the age of just 17 in April 1979, against Barnsley.
And he scored a brilliant goal in defeat against Huddersfield two days later, easing past two challenges before scoring with a swerving effort from the edge of the area.
“Sometimes I tend to overdo it, but this is through habit, which I still have to get out of,” he told The Sentinel at the time.
“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.”
There is a story that Mark and Neville used to change shirts at half-time to confuse opponents who had been scared stiff in the first period.
Whatever, he was named in the PFA Division Four team of the season for 1981/82, the Daily Star Division Four player of the year – and signed for Stoke on the eve of the next campaign.
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Scintillating at Stoke City and England honours
The state of Vale’s finances forced them to reluctantly accept a £150,000 joint offer for the winger and keeper Mark Harrison, with boss John McGrath suggesting he was probably worth more like £500,000 on his own.
Rarely has a player made such an immediate impact on the Boothen End than when Chamberlain was handed his debut on the opening day against Arsenal.
His pace immediately got England left-back Kenny Sansom into an under panic and that won a corner for George Berry to give Stoke an early lead.
The thrills continued and Stoke fans were in raptures in the 50th minute when he ran at Sansom in the box and sent a ball over for Brendan O’Callaghan to make it 2-0. “Brendan has waited four years for a cross like that,” said Barker.
The fun continued and in Chamberlain’s third game, away at Birmingham, he gave left-back Phil Hawker a roasting.
It was that match when Stoke were 4-0 up at half-time with some of the best play the club had ever produced – and he had scored one of the best goals.
He picked the ball up on the halfway line when a corner was cleared, beat Pat van den Hauwe and Geoff Scott and set off for goal. Hawker came across and was skinned and everyone else was left for dead
He scored with a header too, forced Hawker into an own goal and smashed a volley against the bar for Peter Griffiths to knock in from close range.
“Richie Barker was at a loss for words at half-time,” he said. “I don’t think he’d ever seen anything like the football we were playing.
“My first goal was a special, special goal and I still remember it vividly. It actually hurts that there were no TV cameras.”
Mark’s brother Neville followed in his footsteps from Vale the following month but it was the impact of another new boy, Mickey Thomas, together with a central midfield of Paul Bracewell and Sammy McIlroy that really got things motoring.
By mid-October, Stoke were seventh and Chamberlain was in the England squad. Two months later he was handed his international debut and netting from the bench in a 9-0 rout of Luxembourg.
It was such electric form that Chamberlain was becoming a household name. He even guest starred on The Sooty Show.
By April, Stoke were fifth and looking up but Chamberlain’s breakthrough season at the top was interrupted by injury and his side tumbled out of contention for a UEFA cup spot.
That disappointment paled in significance next to Barker’s decision to go on a close-season coaching course run by FA experts at Lilleshall and come back fully converted to the long ball game.
Chamberlain said: “We had really good players like McIlroy, O‘Callaghan and Dave Watson. Barker tried to coach us into the long-ball game after going on courses with the likes of Howard Wilkinson, but it just didn’t suit us.
“We had a good nucleus of old pros and youngsters like myself, Paul Bracewell and Steve Bould. The older players left when they saw what was happening.”
Two disastrous seasons followed although they stayed up first time around thanks to a major upturn in form after Barker was replaced by Bill Asprey.
Chamberlain made another seven appearances for England, including in a 2-0 win over Brazil in the Maracana Stadium in 1984, where he and John Barnes were dubbed “more Brazilian than Brazilians”.
But even he could not prevent Stoke’s painful relegation in 1985 … and turning down Chelsea to join a Sheffield Wednesday side managed by Wilkinson for £300,000 did not go well.
“It was an eye-opener,” he said. “All I did was chase the ball. At training we constantly worked on corners and throw-ins and then went on a 14-mile run.”
It picked up when he moved to Portsmouth in 1988, where he was unlucky to lose an FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool in 1992, but Sansom and Co would breath a sigh of relief he was never to hit those heights again.
Since hanging up his boots, he has worked as a coach, including in the Southampton Academy as Alex was making his way through the ranks.
To the wider world it seems like he has been pulled from the cold to star again on television.
But he will always be remembered fondly in the north and south of the Potteries.