‘When will Stoke City and Port Vale meet again?’ – 100 years since first league derby


Today marks 100 years since Port Vale and Stoke City met for the first time in a Football League game.

Historian Phil Sherwin takes up the story…….

The Potteries was in the grip of derby day excitement on March 6, 1920 as Vale and Stoke prepared for kick off.

The teams had actually met each other the best part of 100 times before that, mainly in friendlies and also Staffs Cup, Birmingham Cup, one FA Cup tie and other assorted local competitions. But a Football League game moved things on to another level.

When League football resumed in 1919, after the war, the Second Division allowed Stoke in as they had been voted in four years earlier, whilst Port Vale were elected to the league in dramatic circumstances in October 1919.

Leeds City were expelled for making illegal payments whilst the Vale were invited to take over their fixtures with the points Leeds had already earned. It’s the only time such a scenario has ever existed in the 132 year history of the Football League.

When the euphoria had died down of Vale’s election, there was only one thing supporters of both clubs were interested in, and that was Vale would play Stoke in the Football League.

They had met twice already that season, once in a benefit game for Vale defender Harry Pearson which Vale won 5-0, and in a Staffordshire Cup tie, ten days after Vale had been elected to the league, Vale again winning 1-0.

Port Vale and Stoke City meet in 2000

The first Football League game between the pair was scheduled for Saturday March 6, 1920 at the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley, where Vale played their home games between 1913 and 1950. The site of it is now occupied by the Hanley Shopping Centre car park, and a plaque commemorates the fact.

The atmosphere was becoming fever pitch as ‘derby’ day  approached. In a bid to quell rivalry between fans, the Port Vale Supporters club, formed the previous year, held a smokers evening (it was 100 years ago don’t forget!) and invited the chairman of the Stoke Supporters club as guest of honour.

On the morning of the game, the trains and trams were packed and there were coaches from outside areas such as Leek.  In those days, the Potteries loop line was in existence so it was possible to travel by train from places like Kidsgrove, Tunstall, Burslem, Stoke and Newcastle to Hanley station. Trams were also in existence before buses took over later in the 1920’s. Some might say public transport was better than it is now!

The game took place barely a mile from where a then five-year- old Stanley Matthews was growing up. It is believed he was a Vale fan as a boy purely because of geography, but even this game may have been a bit early for him.

The attendance was recorded as 22,697, a record for the ground, which was never surpassed in the further 30 years that Vale played there.

Action from Port Vale’s Old Recreation Ground, Hanley, 1948

The police, who had 80 officers on duty, said that there was no reported trouble and that everyone behaved well.

As for the game itself, Stoke won 3-0 with goals from Bob Whittingham, Arthur Watkin and David Brown, with Vale fans venting most of their anger towards goalkeeper Alf Bourne.

The Sentinel report of the game said he ‘should have saved two and possibly all three of the goals’.

To be fair, the third was scored after Brown kicked the ball out of the keeper’s hands and into the net – which was allowed in those days.

Who would be a goalkeeper? Stoke were praised for having a solid defence and taking their chances when they came.

Bourne redeemed himself the following week in the return game at Stoke’s Victoria Ground by saving a Billy Twemlow penalty as the game ended 0-0 in front of 27,000 spectators.

Over the last 100 years Port Vale and Stoke City have been in the same division in 22 seasons, although only 11 have been in the last 87 years. In the 44 league games played, Stoke have won 16, Vale 13 and 15 have been drawn so it is quite tight overall.

The last time they met in league combat was in February 2002 when a Micky Cummins goal saw Vale win 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium in what is now League One.

Historic moment... Michael Cummins jumps with Sergei Shtaniuk to claim the last goal in a Potteries derby
Historic moment… Michael Cummins jumps with Sergei Shtaniuk to claim the last goal in a Potteries derby

When will they meet again? Vale fans would wish it to be next season as it would mean promotion, whereas Stoke fans would understandably be horrified at the suggestion considering their present league position. Who knows when it will be, but you never know, it is bound to happen one day!

Port Vale – Alf Bourne, Tom Lyons, Peter Pursell, Arthur McGarry, Ernest Perry,  Tom Holford, Willie Aitken, Joe Brough, Bob Blood, Billy Fitchford, James Hill

Stoke City – Tom Kay, Jack Maddock, Billy Twemlow, George Jarvis, Joey Jones, George Clarke, Harry Crossthwaite, Bob Whittingham, David Brown, Arthur Watkin, Billy Tempest

Referee – E.Spiers (Redditch)

·      Port Vale v Stoke City games have all been chronicled in a book called ‘The Potteries Derbies’ by Jeff Kent, published by Witan Books.





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