Port Vale archives classic: Bargain buy Darren was darling of Valiants fans


With the football season on hold, Mike Baggaley is taking a look through the Port Vale archives. Today, we travel back to March 25, 1989.

PORT Vale’s travelling supporters were given a reminder of the brilliance of Darren Beckford on this day in 1989.

The striker has to be rated as one of Vale’s best ever buys. Identified by John Rudge, he was partly paid for by fans whose ‘buy-a-player fund’ raised half of the £15,000 fee to sign him from Man City in the summer of 1987.

In summary, Beckford was brilliant – a hugely important part of the team that won promotion from the old Third Division in 1988/89.

In fact, by the time the Vale headed for Notts County on March 25, 1989, the 21-year-old had already scored 15 goals that season to help the Vale to second in the table, behind only Wolves.

They went to Meadow Lane without a win away from home in two months, and facing a side who had won five of their previous six games. So, no easy mission for Rudge’s side.

However, Vale came through the test of their ability and character in some style.

Beckford led the way, scoring his second hat-trick of the season, having also achieved the feat in a 5-0 win at home to Chesterfield in the September, a result that had helped the Vale to the top of the table.

Vale were already in front by the time Beckford struck in this one, captain Ray Walker having given them the lead, curling a corner into the far corner of the net after five minutes.

Ray Walker scored Port Vale’s first goal in the victory over Notts County.

But Notts County put the Vale under pressure before Beckford netted his first, scoring with a goal out of nothing midway through the first half.

His strike partner Ron Futcher had given chase to a long clearance from Mark Grew and, when the ball broke loose, Beckford drilled it home from around the edge of the box.

His second after 58 minutes was a classic. Simon Mills led the charge with a long run out of defence along the touchline, skipping past a tackle to deliver a perfect low cross to the near post where Beckford swept home his shot in superb fashion.

Vale’s hopes of keeping a clean sheet were ruined after 79 minutes when a mis-hit shot was helped into his own net by Darren Hughes.

But County were caught out as they had to go chasing the game. Vale twice went close before Andy Jones, chasing Gary Ford’s long ball, was pulled down by keeper Steve Cherry.

Regular penalty taker Futcher had been replaced by Jones, who was back on loan at Vale from Charlton. So, Beckford was given the last-minute penalty, and duly scored to complete his hat-trick.

The Sentinel’s Chris Harper rated it the best away win of the season so far, although the Vale were about to be reminded that promotion was still some way away.

A 2-1 home defeat to Mansfield and a 3-0 loss at Reading loosened their grip on the second automatic spot.

Ron Futcher played a key role in Port Vale's promotion season.
Ron Futcher played a key role in Port Vale’s promotion season.

In fact, after the defeat at Reading, Rudge said: “Our forwards couldn’t burst a paper bag at the moment. If the players think they are going to get promotion on that kind of display then they have another think coming.”

Rudge’s rocket proved timely, and, although the Vale were pipped for automatic promotion by Sheffield United, they held their nerve to win through the play-offs, beating Bristol Rovers in the final.

Beckford would finish the season with 23 goals, including another hat-trick, this time in the play-off semi-final against Preston.

Meanwhile, Futcher finished with 19 goals, an excellent return for the 32-year-old who had been recruited from Bradford at the start of the season to add experience to the forward line and help Beckford who was only in his second full season in the Football League.

Beckford would stay with the Vale until the summer of 1991, scoring 82 goals before moving to Norwich for £925,000. 

What a signing! Rudge’s judgment had been proven correct from back in March 1987 when he persuaded the then 19-year-old Man City striker to come to Vale on loan.

The manager explained to the Sentinel at the time: “I have seen him with City reserves and also when he was on loan to Bury last season. The lad can play.”

He scored four goals in nine full appearances in that loan spell before Vale made their move in the summer in a deal that went to a tribunal at Manchester’s Portland Hotel.

Port Vale manager John Rudge's astuteness in the transfer market saw him land Darren Beckford for a bargain price.
Port Vale manager John Rudge’s astuteness in the transfer market saw him land Darren Beckford for a bargain price.

Vale were happier with the fee than Manchester City were.  City’s general manager Jimmy Frizzell said: “We could not even buy a non-league player at that price.”

However, Vale chairman Bill Bell said: “We feel it is a fair price. This is the player the supporters wanted. They have contributed half and the club has paid the other half.”

Initially the deal included a 50 per cent sell on clause for City, but Vale then bought that out for an undisclosed sum.

So, when Beckford was sold to Norwich in 1991, with the £925,000 fee again set by a tribunal, The Sentinel reported that £200,000 had gone to Man City.

The fee was a Vale record and was wisely invested by Rudgie who that summer paid a then club record £375,000 to sign a fella called Martin Foyle from Oxford United…

NOTTS COUNTY 1
PORT VALE 4
Third Division (now League One)
March 25, 1989

Notts County: Cherry, McStay, Withe, O’Riordan, Yates, Law, Turner, Barnes, Lund, Pike, Draper. Subs: Thorpe, Birtles.
Port Vale: Grew, Mills, Hughes, Walker, West, Glover, Ford, Earle, Futcher, Beckford, Riley. Subs: Jones, Webb.

Attendance: 7,328





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