Mild! Oatcakes! Saggar Makers Bottom Knockers! My head span with the glamorous possibilities of a trip to Burslem when United were the fourth ball to be drawn in the FA Cup 1st Round draw.
While some sneered about an underwhelming draw, I couldn’t have been happier.
may be the cradle of the originally amateur game, hosting FA Cup football since
1871, but the industrial north and midlands represent its heartlands, the
origin of the Football League which effectively created the template for the
professional sport we know and love.
More to the point Port Vale were a proper league club, founder members of Division 2 with their Vale Park stadium a chance to claim that the Magpies were on their way to “Wembley” (of the North).
There was also the opportunity to remind the wider world of the unusual way in which the first video footage of
York Road came to pass, when it doubled
as the home of Bursley FC, to all intents and purposes Port Vale, United even
wearing the correct black and white colours. Watching again the pivotal match
at the climax of The Card I was struck by an unmistakable Potteries
background painted behind our old main stand, sadly destroyed in an arson
attack in 1986. If any local councillors are reading this it was as good a
vision for the town centre as I’ve ever seen in the Advertiser.
The lead up to the game involved much correspondence with the One Vale Fan website. James Smith who I hope to meet tonight has provided some great online conversation in recent weeks and exemplifies the friendship which has sprung up between fans of the two clubs, something I’m sure will bloom this evening regardless of the result. All of which only heightens my healthy dislike of Vale’s deadly rivals Stoke City which began after a visit to the Potters’ old Victoria Ground in the early 90s when on leaving the away end I was advised to take a lift back to the railway station in a police van for my own safety. Stoke beat Reading 3-0 that day. I dread to think what they’re like if they lose.
I elected to take the train up to Stoke from my
home for the Magpies Cup tie. The
journey bought a few hours of quiet contemplation of the day to come and a few
First up was Wembley Stadium where last May I saw Arsenal deliver the perfect performance to win the FA Cup 4-0 against Aston Villa. My love of football started with Arsenal’s awesome cup runs of the late 70s when the Gunners reached three consecutive finals under Terry Neill.
Images sprang to mind of a bloodied John Wile, my first taste of footballing disappointment in the 1978 final, Jack Charlton ordering the Hillsborough Kop to stop throwing snowballs at Pat Jennings, the jaunty theme tune of Sport on Two followed by the passionate Welshman Peter Jones or the more authoritative tone of Bryon Butler, the five minute final, cramp, bottles of milk, Brian Moore knows the score, Brooking’s header.
Passing Wembley at speed I was taken back to Maidenhead United when I saw Harrow Borough’s unusual Earlsmead floodlights. A reminder of the many points Alan’s teams won there at the start of the 21st century to maintain the Magpies’ hard won place in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
Soon the train stopped at Berkhamsted, like United a station next to a football ground, where Tim Cook once literally scored direct from a throw in.
Further up the line and I glimpsed
ground my only visit coming at the start of Johnson Hippolyte’s time as
manager, where a point was earned en route to promotion. Rugby Town
A draw in somewhat different circumstances was the result at Stafford Rangers, the penultimate stop recalling that heady first ever appearance in the FA Cup First Round in my lifetime by the Magpies. A glorious encounter where the nine men of Maidenhead held on for a draw thanks in the main to Chico Ramos’ penalty save. That led to the first outbreak of cup fever in the town as people poured through the gate at the replay. I stood incredulous with microphone in hand in front of the dug outs as the flood of spectators continued unabated up to kick off and beyond.
After several years of turmoil on and off the pitch that match signalled the start of better times for United, the fruits of which were in plentiful evidence in Burslem, as over twice the number who went to
Stafford made the trip to Port Vale.
A slight delay meant I emerged from Stoke station to see my bus disappearing into the distance. Never mind the occasion justified a taxi which delivered me outside the Bull’s Head which was thronging with home and away fans alike. As I made my way through the Titanic Brewery menu it almost seemed a shame to leave a venue which was warm in every sense. Not that I regretted it as the Brixton Academy like doors to the away end at Vale Park opened to reveal the Magpies tearing into their opponents.
Looking around it felt like the whole of
York Road had made the trip in addition
to few exiles like Keith Jackson who now lives in . Hull
The acoustics were perfect for the
Bell Street choir to deliver their non
stop vocal encouragement which was unceasing in its support, growing to a
crescendo as the match drew on despite Port Vale taking the lead and the post
denying a Ryan Upward equaliser in the first half.
In a funny sort of way I think remaining behind at the interval helped United. Port Vale were left in no man’s land, do they stick or twist? Going into half time level may well have provided manager Rob Page with the spark to fire his team to greater efforts.
As it was Vale still dominated proceedings but Maidenhead stuck to the task reflecting Alan Devonshire’s great strength as a manager, the ability to devise a successful playing method which gives every player a specific role in the team. With a sharp eye to identify and motivate the right player for the right role, the eleven become the personification of the word team, effectively greater than the sum of their parts. All for one and one for all, every one a hero.
And so it came to pass that it was the home team who were the ones trying to wind the clock down. Sensing the opportunity that it was now or never the away end rose to the occasion notching up the volume as Vale tried to keep the ball in the corner.
Looking to my left I saw former Chairman Rob West doing his bit to make more noise as the yellow shirts retrieved possession and hared off into the distance.
The ball pinged around the Vale penalty area. Tarpey must score! Saved! It’s in! Mulley’s running towards us and the team are following. We ran down to the front to meet them and after the referee politely but firmly insisted the game finish formally the final whistle blew. Never has a draw felt more like a victory. I staggered back towards the exit hugging Timmy Mallett, Bob Pritchard and countless others in a delirious stupor which would last for a day or so.Years ago Alan revealed to a group of supporters at