With the football season on hold our Port Vale reporter Mike Baggaley is taking a look through the Sentinel archives…..
Promotion became all but a mathematical certainty for Port Vale on this day, April 18, 50 years ago.
Gordon Lee had been appointed in 1968, replacing Stanley Matthews. He had been given the task of turning around a team that had just finished 18th in the old Division Four and survived the threat of expulsion from the Football League.
He had led the Vale to 13th in his first season and, in his second, had them pushing for promotion.
That was with a battling team, built around the timeless class of Roy Sproson, then 39, in defence and the skills of John Green in midfield.
They needed a win from their third-from-last game, at home to Notts County, to be absolutely certain, but knew a draw would almost certainly be enough because of their superior goal average.
They had moved to the brink with a 2-1 win at the same opponents, on April 8 at Meadow Lane, coming from a goal down to win through the sheer grit, and refusal to accept defeat, that was a hallmark of Lee’s team.
Trailing 1-0 to a header from Richie Barker – the future Stoke manager – Vale looked certain to go 2-0 down early in the second half but were rescued by a brilliant double save from Keith Ball.
What followed was furious Vale pressure before an equaliser finally came on 73 minutes. Chris Harper’s Sentinel match report captures it perfectly: “Once more Vale forced a corner and once more there were 21 players in the County box to greet it, but this time Sproson rose above the queue at the far post to nod home (Mick) Morris’ flag kick.”
The comeback was completed three minutes from time when Ron Wilson pumped the ball up to John James who knocked it into the path of Green. He in turn set up Ian Buxton to drive it low and hard into the corner.
“Port Vale put the champagne on ice after a performance at Nottingham that was as magnificent as it was vital,” concluded Harper.
The Vale were frustrated in their next game as they were held to a goalless draw at Crewe. Lee’s side dominated but were denied by Alex keeper Ernie Adams in front of the best attendance of the season at Gresty Road, 7,155, half of whom had come from the Potteries.
So, the Vale went into the home game with Notts County still needing a point. Skipper John King was only on the bench while he recovered from a thigh injury so Clinton Boulton deputised in central defence as Vale went in search of a promotion which had been considered unlikely at the start of the season.
But Notts County were a decent side, in seventh, no one had completed a league double over them, and they shook Vale by taking a 36th-minute lead when Don Masson slipped home his 23rd goal of the season.
James and Boulton both went close at the start of the second half but the crucial goal arrived on 56 minutes when Green floated a free kick into the area and the ball broke to Bobby Gough whose return was stabbed home from close range by Mick Morris.
Vale couldn’t force a winner but that didn’t matter. Manager Lee and trainer Lol Hamlett celebrated with the players and Lee told The Sentinel: “I am so pleased for them all; it has been a miracle. We may have had no right to even think of promotion.”
Any mathematical doubt was removed in the next game with a 0-0 draw at Peterborough as Vale were confirmed as promoted with Chesterfield, Swansea and Wrexham.
As for the man who scored the crucial goal, Mick Morris, regular readers of the Sentinel Sports pages will have seen the tribute to him following his death, aged 77, on March 15.
We are grateful to his family and the reverend Jeff Short for this account of his funeral service that took place on April 9.
With the current Government restrictions in place only close family were in attendance, son Andrew and daughter Laura with their partners Sally and Jon. However, a lone fan with a banner that read “The Wonder of you” – the Vale anthem – stood at the gates of Bradwell crematorium to pay his respect to a Vale legend.
Mick was fondly remembered in the eulogy, given by Rev Jeff Short, himself a Vale season ticket holder.
He spoke of Mick as a special man, highlighted by the double page spread in The Sentinel, the 900 visitors to the Death Notices page, the fact that 50 years after he played at Vale Park fans could still recall the chant “We’ve got Micky, Micky Morris on the wing”, but more that he was placid, easy going, approachable man.
The minister said that Mick had time on the ball when he played but more notable was the time he had for everyone he met off the field. His children had said he was a nightmare to go out with because so many people wanted to chat with him about football – and he always obliged them. But his finest epitaph was to be known as “a great dad”.
PORT VALE 1
NOTTS COUNTY 1
April 18, 1970, Division Four
Port Vale: Ball, Logan, Wilson, Boulton, Sproson, Green, Morris, Lacey, James, McLaren, Gough.
Notts County: Watling, Ball, Worthington, Oakes, Needham, Stubbs, Hobson, Bradd, Barker, Masson, Crickmore.