What is your favourite Port Vale XI from the players you have seen in action?
We’ve asked Vale supporter, historian and author Phil Sherwin to select his. He’s come up with quite a team, and agonised about having to leave some players out.
Phil says: “I have been watching the mighty Vale since 1968, two days before we were forced to seek re-election for illegal payments, so I can hardly be classed as a glory hunter! There have been many ups and downs over the years, so here is what I consider the best XI over the last 50 years. Everyone will have their own opinions.”
Goalkeeper – Paul Musselwhite
“Paul was very quiet for a keeper, but he let his goalkeeping do the talking. He was a bargain £17,500 signing in 1992 (in the days when we used to pay transfer fees) and once he got in he was a regular for eight years in the best decade in the club’s history. He was instrumental in the 1993/94 promotion season and also did something no other Vale ’keeper had done – played at Wembley, and three times at that.
“He produced many top class saves and yes he made the odd error, like at Everton in the FA Cup, but he made up for it in the victorious replay. Who will forget when we kept a clean sheet at the soon to be double winners Arsenal in the FA Cup?
“He went on to make more appearances for the Vale than any other ‘keeper, 367, so that shows what manager John Rudge thought of him.
“We have had other good ‘keepers over the years, Mark Goodlad could well have been a great one but for injury, Scott Brown has had a great last couple of years, Mark Grew was good as were some others but for me Mussy has to be the one, particularly at the level he played at.
Right back – Micky Cummins
“Micky probably played more in midfield but his days as a full back were excellent. He came in on a free transfer from Middlesbrough in 2000 and played his first few games in midfield but switched to right back the following season.
“His attacking prowess and eye for goal made him a very dangerous opponent and he played his part as the club won the LDV Vans Trophy in 2001.
“The following season he did move to midfield where he spent the majority of his career at the Vale, and was joint leading scorer in the league in 2005/06. He will also be remembered as the man who scored the last goal in a Potteries Derby.
“Neil Aspin was of course a great full back, but he appears later in the list as a central defender. Simon Mills was also very good but his skills were also put to better use in midfield. Andy Hill was also a capable right back just like Alan Webb, and Michael Walsh would have been a contender but for injury.
Central defenders – Neil Aspin and Dean Glover.
“They were like chalk and cheese in styles but complemented each other superbly to make a great partnership. Aspo was chipped out of granite and also gave 100% to the cause throwing himself in the way of danger whenever it arose. Costing £150,000 from Leeds in 1989, he played at right back and centre half during the best decade the club has ever had with over 400 games in his ten years with us.
“Very few strikers got the better of him and they always knew they had been in a game having had the Aspin glare from the first minute.
“He won the player of the year award in his first season and then again in the 1993/94 promotion campaign. No one who was there will ever forget the roar when he marauded up the field to score against Grimsby! Vale fans always they were in with a chance if Aspo was in the side.
“Dean Glover was simply a Rolls Royce of a footballer, undoubtedly the classiest player we have ever had. Vale fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief when he was signed for £200,000 in 1989 to prevent our promotion push for falling off a cliff due to injury.
“Why it stood out was that it was five times the previous record, but the majority of the 16,000 crowd who saw his debut against Wolves when he kept Steve Bull goalless (no mean feat in those days) knew that it was money well spent.
“He seemed to be able to read the game better than any Vale player I have ever seen and he was always there to anticipate any danger. He is the only Vale captain to lift a trophy at Wembley, which is fitting. Had he had a bit more pace there is no doubt in my mind he would have made a top player in the Premier League.
“Central defenders who came close to be being chosen were Phil Sproson, a 500 game legend who scored the winner v Spurs amongst other things, Nathan Smith, who is on his way to being a legend certainly, Peter Swan and George Pilkington.
Left Back – Allen Tankard
“Tanks’ was a consistent performer for over 300 games and cost £87,500 from Wigan in 1993. He was a solid presence as we became established in the Championship as it is called nowadays and could always be relied upon to give an 8 out of 10 performance.
“Fair enough, his penalty against Arsenal is still orbiting Jupiter but I think we can forgive him for that, he played well in the two games against them. He scored the odd goal as well, 13 of them, which isn’t bad for a full back.
“There were a few other contenders, Darren Hughes, one of the paciest full backs I have ever seen, and Russell Bromage, local boy made good.
Right wing – Jon McCarthy
“The classy right winger who cost £450,000 from York in 1995 (it was a different world then) and lived up to the billing. He terrorised opposition defenders and ran them ragged with his pace and had a great partnership with Steve Guppy on the other wing.
“Macca was also a great crosser of the ball. He was a decent bloke off the pitch as well, and always had time to speak to the fans. His piece de resistance was his winning goal against Everton in the FA Cup after a mesmerising game which I would rate as the best team performance I have seen the Vale give.
“He played over 100 games in just two years at the Vale when he was sold to Birmingham City for £1.5 million and it was no surprise that we struggled in the next three seasons. He is also one of the few players to have won international caps whilst on the Vale’s books, playing for Northern Ireland
“He came back for a few games in 2002 and will always be remembered as one of the greats at Vale Park.
“Other right wingers in contention were of course Gareth Ainsworth, who had a great twelve months at the Vale, Steve Fox, a star of the 1982/83 promotion side, Mick Morris, and Chris Birchall, the club’s most capped international player.
Centre midfield – Ray Walker and Robbie Earle.
“Ray was an immediate breath of fresh air when he arrived on loan from Aston Villa with his classy midfield play in 1984. He made the move a permanent one two years later for £12,000 and was the bargain of the century.
“He went to make a whopping 440 appearances for the club to be fourth on the all-time list, and the most of anyone in this XI. He soon stamped his mark in midfield helping the club to two promotions and scoring THAT goal against Spurs really helped to put the Vale on the football map.
“He also won the player of the year award twice and was selected in the PFA Divisional team three times which shows the esteem his fellow pros held him in. Again another one who had the skill but maybe not the pace to lay at the top level, but certainly good enough for me.
“Robbie Earle is probably my favourite Vale player of all time. Ever since he made his debut aged 17 and then scoring his first goal in his next game at Aldershot, he showed the commitment in every single game and he played in three promotion sides.
“The main one was of course the one in 1988/89 when he scored the winner in the play-off final to take us back into the Second Division for the first time in 32 years.
“He also scored in the first local derby against Stoke City which was a new feeling for virtually all Vale fans. He also had a spell as a striker and typically did well at that as well, scoring 36 goals in the two seasons he played there.
“It was no surprise that, after he left for Wimbledon (then First Division) for £775,000 in 1991, we went down the following season.
“The unluckiest midfielder not to make the team is Ian Taylor, a two-year sensation, and it was very hard to leave him out, but they can’t all get in there. Robin Van der Laan was also unlucky.
Left winger – Mark Chamberlain
“Mark was simply sensational as soon as he made his debut aged 16. 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.
“People might have said ‘It was only the Fourth Division’ but four months after he was sold to Stoke City for £180,000 in 1982 he was scoring on his debut for the full England team, going on to win 8 caps.
“He only made 110 appearances for the Vale but nowadays that would be zero because the big clubs watch all games from 9 years old upwards and would have spirited him away long before he reached our first team.
“Obviously the big casualty on the wing is Steve Guppy who was a superb player, and it was a very close call between him and Mark, but again everybody can’t get in. Paul Maguire and Johnny Jeffers deserve a mention in despatches.
Strikers – Tony Naylor and Martin Foyle
“I did think of playing one up front so that I could get Ian Taylor in the team but in the end I opted for two.
“Tony Naylor was not just a great goalscorer, he was a scorer of great goals. He cost £150,000 from Crewe in 1994 and never looked back after scoring on his debut at Bristol Rovers.
“Despite being only 5ft 7ins tall he often played as a lone striker and he was top scorer with 20 goals in the 1996/97 season when the club finished 8th in the Championship.
“Arguably his best goal was against Sunderland at Vale Park in 1997 when he back heeled the ball from the halfway line and left players in his wake before curling a superb effort into the top corner, but there were many other crackers.
“He was top scorer three times as Vale were established in the Championship and his nippy style gave defenders nightmares. With 89 goals in under 300 games he just had to be in any top Vale side.
“Martin Foyle was also top drawer and lived up to his reputation having been the club’s record signing when he came in 1991 from Oxford for £375,000 to replace Darren Beckford.
“He scored twice on his debut and went on to score a fabulous 108 goals in nine years (I can hear Tom Pope now saying ‘Is that all?’).
“He certainly knew where the net was and when he was on the field he was always liable to score. He scored important equalisers in the Cups at both Liverpool and Everton and is the only Vale player to have scored twice at Wembley, in the Anglo Italian Cup Final.
“He was leading scorer for the club four times and scored twice in the game at Brighton in 1994 that clinched promotion. He was also on the mark a few times against Stoke City and scored in the game at Huddersfield in 1998 that saw us avoid relegation.
“The ones that were missing from the team included some superb strikers like Darren Beckford, who is unique in the fact that he scored 20 goals in 3 successive seasons in the Championship. Tom Pope of course deserves a mention for his goals and being a legend, as do Lee Mills, Bob Newton and Ernie Moss.
Manager – John Rudge
“Is anyone really surprised at that choice? His list of achievements for a club of our size is truly remarkable and one that is unlikely to be surpassed.
“Three promotions, two of them to the Championship, and three Wembley appearances is something no other Vale manager has ever done. It is hard for any fan under 30 to believe that in 1997 we were 5th in the Championship with three games to go and challenging for the play offs to the Premier League!
“He bought players cheaply, improved them and often sold them for a profit. Chairman Bill Bell also deserves credit for allowing him to manage until things went sour at the end.
“John assembled a fabulous squad throughout the 1990’s, the likes of whom we can only dream about and we had many great victories over the years, including four against Premier League teams, Everton, Southampton, Spurs and Derby County.
“No one else really comes close, Micky Adams did a great job to take us to promotion whilst in administration, John McGrath turned the club around in the early 80’s and Gordon Lee brought us back from the brink in 1970.”