I see the Sentinel has had a good response to a story from the archives all about Mark Chamberlain and his full debut for the Vale, way back in this week in 1979.
I’m not surprised ‘Chambo’ is so well regarded, after all he was a hell of a player both for the Vale and for Stoke.
He’s three years older than me and was well established in the first team by the time I got to the Vale on a YTS scheme.
And when I trained with the first-team squad, I just could not believe how good he was.
I remember it was pre-season under John McGrath. I was put into the first team groups for the running and thought ‘right, I’ll make a good impression.’ I had come from running track and field at school, cross country and all the rest.
So, I was reasonably up there, but then all of a sudden Chambo would go and he was just on another level. He could virtually sprint all the way around this cross country run, down and around Westport Lake. He would be absolutely flying around.
Then when we got on the actual football pitch he was quick, he was smooth on the ball and could dribble.
The thing I remember to this day is us playing a first team v the rest training game when I was with the hopefuls trying to chase around and make an impression. I remember Chambo playing on one side and taking a corner with his right foot, then going to the other side and taking a corner with his left foot. Both were so good you couldn’t tell whether he was right or left footed.
I had seen players on the telly who were that comfortable on either foot, but never actually played with someone who could do it. He was also a powerful athlete as well as being tricky on the ball.
I remember thinking ‘wow!’ How is he playing in the Fourth Division?’
He used to get whacked on the ball but would pick himself up, he didn’t look that big but he was a powerful guy and could go like the wind.
Within 12 months Stoke snapped him and it was absolutely no surprise he did well in the top flight and got in the England squad.
He came up to the old First Division and tore it up; he was taking very good full backs like Kenny Sansom to the cleaners before making his England debut.
I am not sure you would get a player go from Division Four to be playing for England within four months like that these days.
But even so, League One and Two clubs are still so important to our football, and it’s so important they thrive, can bring through young players and get the chance to make transfer money.
In my case,the Vale was a great platform for me to work hard, improve and eventually be in the shop window. But I am just one of many that John Rudge took on – polished the rough diamonds as they say.
As for Chambo, when he left, I got a run in the team. He had been playing on the right wing but I was more of a striker or midfield player. But I think basically because I could run, John McGrath put me on the wing. So, I had the massive job of filling Chambo’s boots!
I was never going to be able to do that, I wasn’t a winger by any means, but I could run up and down, cause a few problems and be a bit of a threat on the back post.
I played about ten games that season, in and out, and as a sub. But it did create an opportunity for me which was great.
It would have been nice to play with him a few times because he was so good, but him moving in some respects aided my transition into the first team.
The other thing to say about him is he is a great guy, he was brilliant with us younger players at the Vale.
He was only 20 himself when he moved to Stoke so very much a young player and could certainly relate to us at the Vale. He was a modest lad and really encouraging to players like myself, Mark Bright and Andy Shankland.
As his career went on he suffered with injuries which perhaps brought him down to the level of normal players like the rest of us! But it’s great to remember a lad who was fantastic for Vale and Stoke.