Port Vale were already virtually assured of promotion by the time they kicked off at Torquay on this weekend, in 1986, but victory at Plainmoor made absolutely certain.
A defeat for outsiders Hartlepool had meant champagne corks were popping in the ‘Valiants Club’ because Vale’s goal difference was so good, they were practically up from Division Four already, despite mathematically still needing a point.
The Hartlepool defeat meant Vale’s player of the year presentations turned into a promotion party, at which John Rudge said: “I hope this is the start of an upward trend by Port Vale,”
It certainly was. Under Rudgie, the Vale would establish themselves in the third division over the next three years, then win promotion to what is now the Championship and spend most of the next decade there.
Their 1985-86 promotion was Rudge’s first as manager, although he had achieved the feat in 82/83 as assistant to John McGrath.
This success was helped by some typically canny Rudge signings, not least Andy Jones, brought in for just £3,000 from Rhyl, and also set-piece expert Paul Maguire who weighed in with 13 goals, having been brought back to England from Tacoma Stars in the United States by Rudgie in the summer of 1985.
Vale also had the best defence in the league – marshalled by skipper Phil Sproson – when they headed to Torquay on April 26 to make certain of promotion.
In fact, keeper Jim Arnold didn’t have a serious save to make before Vale struck in the 70th minute, Robbie Earle pouncing on a defensive mix up to win the match.
The Sentinel reported: “Torquay never looked like coming back, and the final whistle set off a pitch invasion by more than 1,000 fans who virtually turned the whole occasion into a home match.”
The celebrations would continue at the next home game, against Northampton, when Rudge and his players were driven around the pitch to take the applause and also thank their fans.
The truck carried a huge hoarding saying ‘ Thank you for your support – see you in Division Three’.
Under Rudgie, the Vale would go much further than that.
PORT VALE 1
Division Four, April 26, 1986.
Torquay: Fry, Dawkins, Pugh, Wright, Compton, Crowe, Crabbe, Walsh, Phillips, Webber, Pyle,
Port Vale: Arnold, Webb, Banks, Hunter, Sproson, J Williams, O Williams, Earle, Jones, Bowden, Maguire.