14. Feb, 2022


"I think Spurs face one major problem on Saturday, finding the ground" That was Jimmy Greaves verdict on the eve of Tottenham Hotspur's visit to Port Vale. The FA Cup 4th round tie took place on January 31st 1988.

Now you may feel Greavsie was a bit out of order here, you could accuse him of a lack of respect towards Port Vale. But hang on, he did have a point. You see there is no actual place called Port Vale. The Vale actually play their home games in Burslem, one of the 6 towns which make up the city of Stoke-On-Trent. The others are Stoke, Hanley, Fenton, Longton and Tunstall. Just to confuse matters further Hanley is the city centre, rather then Stoke.

But I am sure you are all familiar with Stoke-On-Trent's most famous export. The Ceramic Industry which produces plates, cups and vases. The Industry is world famous and even saw this corner of Staffordshire been dubbed The Potteries

The regions most recognizable product was originally exported by a network of canals. This interface connected a valley of ports, this is often cited as been the reason why the club was christened Port Vale. Founded in 1876, Vale have spent most of their history in the bottom two divisions of English Football.

In 1954 Third Division Vale reached the FA Cup Semi Finals. On the way they knocked out FA Cup holders Blackpool. The Tangerines included Stanley Matthews. The legendary winger was also a Stoke City icon. City are the other club in the Potteries and have often over shadowed the boys from Burslem. So the Blackpool victory must have been particularly sweet for the Vale fans.

Matthews was briefly Port Vale manager. But the appointment of John Rudge really put Vale on the map. Wolverhampton born Rudge was appointed manager in 1983. Three years later Vale were promoted to the Third Division.

Having consolidated in the third tier, Rudge's men were in confident mood when Spurs trotted out at Vale Park. Tottenham were in a state of flux. The previous campaign had seen Spurs finish 3rd in the First Division, reach the League Cup Semi Final and lose a memorable FA Cup Final to Coventry City.

Despite this triple disappointment there was still a feel good factor around White Hart Lane. But as summer turned to Autumn Tottenham suffered a double blow. Striker Clive Allen suffered a groin injury in October. Allen had scored an incredible 49 goals in the 1986-87 season and was voted Footballer of The Year. In the same month manager David Pleat was arrested on suspicion of Kerb Crawing. The Spurs board had no choice, Pleat was sacked and replaced by Terry Venables.

With Spurs struggling in the league, Vale must have fancied their chances. Hopes were raised further by the state of the pitch, heavy overnight rain meant the playing surface was bobbly. The underdogs were hoping that the tricky underfoot conditions would hamper the silky skills of Allen and Chris Waddle. Terry Venables had already decided to omit playmaker Ossie Ardiles from the starting line up. Maybe Tottenham did not fancy it!

The early stages seemed to suggest otherwise, Waddle missed a glorious chance to put Spurs in front. The England winger shooting wide from point blank range. The bad miss unsettled the favorites. Two bad back passes from Neil Ruddock nearly resulted in own goals. Sensing blood, Vale took the lead on 13 minutes. Gary Ford's through ball created confusion in the visitors defence. The loose ball fell to Ray Walker 20 yards from goal. The midfielder took a touch before curling shot beyond Tony Parkes and into the top right corner of the net (pictured above)

It was a beautiful goal, ironically it resembled many scored by Spurs legend Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle had left Spurs the previous Summer signing for French club Monaco, The goal also brought back happy memories for Ford. Three years earlier he had been part of the York City side that had knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup. Could he complete a memorable North London double? It looked a distinct possibility as the home side doubled their lead on 25 minutes. Walker floated a free kick into the Spurs penalty area, Parkes dropped the ball after colliding with team mate Chris Fairclough. Darren Beckford fluffed his chance but Vale defender Phil Sproson made no mistake, as he gleefully hammered the ball into the empty net.

It was fitting that Phil Sproson should score on Vale's big day. Uncle Roy was a Port Vale legend having made a record 837 appearances for the club. Indeed a statue of Roy Sproson was erected outside Vale Park in November 2012.

Tottenham were stunned and struggled to respond. Hopes of a face saving comeback were briefly rekindled when Ruddock headed home in the 64th minute. The big defender netted after a Waddle free kick. But Vale clung on as Allen and Gary Mabbutt missed chances. As the final whistle blew TV cameras showed a jubilant John Rudge leaping from the dug out while Venables made a hasty exit down the tunnel.

The result shocked the football world, Vale built on their success. In 1989 they were promoted to the Second Division, and then embarked on a yo-yo existence in which they were relegated once and promoted twice. In 1996 Port Vale were an established Second Division club and were regarded as the top team in The Potteries. An attractive team included wingers Steve Guppy and Jon McCarthy were again making waves. They pulled off another FA Cup giant killing when holders Everton were beaten 2-1 at Vale Park. The following season Port Vale finished 8th in the Second Division, this remains their highest ever league place. Who knows with a bit more investment Port Vale could have gained promotion to the Premier League.

One thing is certain, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton know where Vale Park is.