When Port Vale almost became Five Towns FC


Some time ago, I presented a talk at the Potteries Museum on aspects of Port Vale’s history.

Club historians such as Jeff Kent and Phil Sherwin are specialists in the subject, but I’d done some original research over the years and was keen to share.

There was one moment that made it thoroughly worthwhile.

Jaws dropped among the 41-strong audience when I conveyed that in 1935, there was so much concern that Port Vale – once known as Burslem Port Vale – couldn’t be identified with a geographical area, that new names for the club were suggested by many.

Burslem 1964 Hamil Road. Port Vale Football Ground. Stoke-on-Trent City / Bert Bentley Archives

To some people, it made sense.

After all, Ardwick, Newton Heath and Small Heath had all changed their names to emphasise their location and now strode forth as Manchester City, Manchester United and Birmingham City – but where on earth was Port Vale?

“We all love the old Vale,” argued one newspaper correspondent, “but it has been proved to me many times when visiting other towns that football followers never give Port Vale a thought.

“It is always, ‘I suppose you go to see Stoke City.’”

Supporters were invited to submit their preferences, shareholders were consulted – and The Sentinel’s postbag bulged with letters on this divisive subject.

Changing the name of Port Vale to Stoke Central or Stoke United was a suggestion that was popular among many.

Lest we forget, Port Vale were playing at the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley at the time and some people believed that Hanley should be included in any new name.

Hanley Port Vale and Hanley Town United were two suggestions at the time – but such names sounded ‘too parochial’ to other judges.

One Sentinel correspondent suggested the name of Stoke Royal to mark the upcoming Silver Jubilee celebrations of King George V. Among other names offered by readers of the local press were Five Towns AFC, Stoke Vale, Stoke North End, Stoke Northern, Stoke-on-Trent FC and even Stoke Far Green.

To some supporters, the club’s name was far less important than the direction in which it was heading.

“If they called it the North Staffordshire Arsenal, they would only get the same regular 7,000 supporters,” scribed one correspondent, tartly.

“If a change will do the Vale any good, let it be a change of policy, by keeping the players together, instead of transferring first one and then another.”

To many people living in Stoke-on-Trent in 1935, the arguments for and against Vale’s name-change may have had echoes of the pre-Federation debates on identity issues leading up to 1910.

Would retaining the club’s name – or even changing it to include Hanley – bang the drum for tradition, pleasing Vale’s hard core supporters and catchment area?

Or would it signify inward thinking, a refusal to assume a stronger commercial brand that would not only benefit the club but the city?

Would it evince a lack of civic pride and was the club about to spurn the opportunity of doing its bit to promote the twelfth largest city in the country?

As today’s readers will surely testify, there is only one way of cutting through uncertainty – and that’s to have a public vote.

The supporters were indeed balloted prior to a home match in March, 1935 – and the local press reported on the result…

“There were 8,120 spectators at the match with Norwich City, and 7,470 of them voted.

“Those favouring a change numbered 3,737, and those against 3,633, a negligible majority of 104.

In the final stages of demolition is the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley. This was home to the Valiants for many years but in August 1950 Port Vale made the move to the new Burslem ground The old stadium and pitch was destroyed and a municipal car park was built on the site

“It is only another proof of the unreliability of a clamorous agitation as a guide to the mass of opinion. As usual those desirous of a change made themselves heard; very few of those who prefer the present name made their wishes public. It was stated officially that every one of the letters and petitions constituting a great volume of correspondence on the subject which had reached the directors, advocated a change of name.

“Yet the plebiscite shows an equal division of opinion amongst supporters.

“This presents a problem for the directors, who, however, may be expected to hesitate to make any change in the face of so indecisive a ballot, and so large a negative vote.

“Obviously, a great many of the club’s supporters cherish the old, familiar name, and question the advantage of a new one…”

History records that there was no name-change, and Vale moved from Hanley back to Burslem anyway.

The Remainers of the times had their way.





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