Tributes have been paid to former Port Vale goalkeeper John Poole who has died aged 87.
John, from Smallthorne, played 38 games for the club between 1956 and 1961 before remaining closely involved as a supporter and helping form the ex-players’ association.
Family friend and former Port Vale director Geoff Wakefield recalls a fearless goalkeeper and a gentleman.
He said: “I remember quite clearly the first time I saw John play for the Vale. It was a reserve game and their centre forward was about 6ft 8in. John was about 5ft 8in and I thought, ‘oh God almighty!’
“But they didn’t score because John’s anticipation was superb.
“He never, ever, let the Vale down, either on the field or off it.
“He was a perfect gentleman. If he could do anything for the Vale, he would do it.
“When the ex-players group was active he went around schools and clubs and gave talks.
“He was a wonderful ambassador for the club and a wonderful guy.”
John, who was a motor mechanic, was on Vale’s books as an amateur when he joined the army at 21, doing his national service with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and serving in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
In terms of first–team ambitions at Vale Park, he was unfortunate to be at Vale at the same time as Ray King and then Ken Hancock, two of Vale’s greatest keepers.
But he and Hancock were best friends and he also got on with King so well that, long after their playing careers, Ray, who lived in Thailand, would stay at John and wife Pat’s house when he was back in England.
His best season was in 1959/60 when he made 28 appearances and had the distinction of playing in front of the biggest crowd ever at Vale Park, the 49,768 who took in the FA Cup 5th Round tie at home to Aston Villa.
Later that season, Pat got a phone call from manager Norman Low long after her husband should have returned from a game at Mansfield.
She said: “He told me, ‘John’s had had an accident. We know he’s got a broken nose but we won’t know if his skull is fractured until tomorrow.’
“And that was it, boink, the phone went down!”
John, however, accepted the hazards of being a goalkeeper in an era when they were offered little protection.
As John would recall in The Sentinel: “I remember being injured once when a player’s boot slid all the way up my shin pad and took a slice out of my leg.
“I went to the hospital and this little old lady with glasses stitched it and covered it – and then told me she had the wrong glasses on.
“I came back a couple of days later and a student nurse removed the dressing and told me it had been done wrong and she had to rip out all the stitches and douse it in iodine to get rid of the infections.
“Once when I was in the army I got a pass to play football and I was in a bit of trouble. While I was playing I realised my wrist was sore and thought I’d sprained it.
“By the end of the game my fingers had gone black. When I went to the hospital the doctor said this is broken, why have you left it so long? “I just told him I had a match to play and that was more important.”
John was also part of the Vale tour of Czechoslovakia in 1960 which included a trip to Lidice. The village had been razed to the ground by the Nazis in 1942, the men executed and the women sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.
The Lidice Shall Live organisation, spearheaded in North Staffordshire, helped rebuild the village after the war.
John would recall: “The old village was completely destroyed and there was another new village. It was very fascinating but very sad. There was a marble statue with all the names of the villagers that were killed on it.
“The players were taken aback; it brought it home to you. It was a fantastic experience and it made you feel how lucky you’d been. We don’t know what the world would have been like if the Germans had won.
“Food was very limited at the time, but we couldn’t eat all the food they were giving us. Nothing was too much trouble for them.”
After leaving Vale, John signed for Macclesfield Town and played 94 games for them before retiring from the game in 1963.
John’s former Vale team mate Colin Askey said: “John wasn’t big for a goalkeeper but he was very brave. It was much harder for goalkeepers then – you only have to look at them now and it’s a free kick!
“Back then there were some centre forwards that really used to hammer goalkeepers. But he wasn’t scared.
“He loved Port Vale, even when he finished playing he was a real fan as well as being a nice bloke. He was a good lad, on and off the pitch.”
John leaves wife Pat, sons Duncan and Greg and grandchildren and great grandchildren.
News of his death was passed on to the club by current first-team goalkeeper Scott Brown. He got in touch with the Pooles during lockdown and has been in regular contact over the weeks to check on them and talk football with his fellow keeper.
Pat and John celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary this year.
Pat has thanked everyone for their support and messages of sympathy, including John’s beloved Port Vale.
She said: “He wasn’t always in the first team but he never let them down. The funeral will be going past Port Vale…he would have liked that.”