Result: Port Vale 4-0 Hartlepool United (FA Cup 2nd Round)
Venue: Vale Park (Sunday 5th December 2016, 3pm)
First of all, a slight disclaimer. With all this happening a week ago, the events may be somewhat hazy and. therefore, make little sense in places. But, then again, that just sounds about normal thinking about it, so on with the show!
With ground 200 fast approaching, I was stuck on 198 after Saturday’s round of fixtures. Luckily, with the Fa Cup being played out during this very weekend, it meant I had the opportunity to squeeze in #199 on Sunday afternoon. Obviously, with cut back transport links in places, I decided it’d be best to remain somewhat local and thus meant a chance to tick off another of the ’92’ and also my first Football League ground of the season.
To be honest, there wasn’t a glut of fixtures to choose from and so I plumped for the one with the quickest journey time back home. This all meant that Vale Park would round off the one-hundred-and-something grounds and become the 26th tick for me. The cut price tickets may have also been a factor in my choice, with Vale knocking a full tenner off their usual entry fees, so I only was to shell out £12 for some Cup action.
After heading into Manchester, I had a small wait ahead of the train onwards down to Stoke-on-Trent. Once aboard, it quickly became apparent that there had been issues with the reservations as, firstly, they didn’t show up on any seats and I was forced to move once, before those who had taken up their rightful places were then questioned to why they were in another groups seats. It turned out that Virgin had thought it a good idea to double book them. Not ideal.
Anyway, this didn’t particularly trouble me and I was soon arriving into the Staffordshire city. Now, I was faced with a slight dilemma: get the bus to Burslem or embark on the three-mile walk over to Vale Park. Being a bit on the tight side and reconciling this with the fact it was a pretty nice day, I decided on the latter and so headed off through Hanley and onwards to the North of the city.
After passing through a random car-boot sale and getting lost around the back of timber yards and car washes, I eventually arrived at Burslem Park, with the sight of the stadium and its floodlights being even more of a welcoming one than it would have been usually! After a quick but pleasant walk around the park, I headed for the ticket office and purchased a ticket for the aforementioned price. It turned out I’d be located in the Railway Paddock, though I’m not sure if the guy at the counter did give me this as his recommendation, as I’d said, or if he just wanted me gone. Either way, it was a decent view as it turned out!
With the time only at about 1.30pm, I thought I may as well head into Burslem and see what the place is like. To be honest, I hadn’t heard much to raise my expectations as those enamoured with the town seem to be in the few. But and this certainly wasn’t a popular view as I found out on twitter afterwards, I quite like it! Whether it’s because the pubs/bars I went in were all decent in their own way or whatever, I don’t really know, but it seemed decent enough and nowhere near as bad as people like to make out. Easily enough bars to spend a couple of hours in.
On that subject, my intended first stop-off, the Post Office Vaults, was too full to get in upon my initial arrival and so I headed off a little more into the centre, trying to find somewhere showing the Curzon-Wimbledon tie. With no luck on this front, I settled on the Titanic Brewery-owned Bull’s Head, which was proclaiming that it had a beer festival on. This all looked good to me and so a pint of the brewery’s “Map” was purchased for just over £3. An Atlantic Pale Ale, it wasn’t too bad at all. But, with the pub getting fuller by the second as fans from both sides began to turn up in the town, I reckoned a change of scenery would be a good option, settling on Dominique’s Wine Bar over the way.
Dominique’s was another pretty full bar, but the big pulling point in here, for me, was the fact they had Blue Moon on draught. Blue Moon is the one and the £3.50 price tag was more than acceptable. After a fairly quick stop-off here, I reckoned I could squeeze in a couple of halves in the Leopard, an older establishment from the 18th century and the Vaults. The Leopard was an ok place, not much to report here, but the Vaults was even more populated than earlier in the afternoon and so to Vale Park I went.
After heading through the car park, I entered through the turnstiles (no, really, I know that’s a shocking revelation) and I was into my 199th ground. Vale Park is a ground with a fair amount of character to it, though its partial redevelopment is beginning to make it slightly more modernised. This is, mostly, down to its Main Stand, which is still not quite fully fitted out with seats. Both ends have similar stands behind them, though the one without the scoreboard, the Bycars Road End, appears slightly larger than its counterpart, the Hamil Road End. The Railway Paddock seems to be the older of the four stands in the ground, with the corner towards the left-hand end from this viewpoint being filled in by a cottage-like structure. This is the oldest part of the ground and also has some parts dating from the club’s previous stadium. As for Port Vale FC…
Port Vale Football Club was formed in 1876 and is named, it’s assumed, after the valley of ports on the Trent & Mersey canal. However, the official story states that the club was formed in the Port Vale House and this is where the name derives from. Either way, Port Vale FC was founded and began life playing at Limekiln Lane in Longport, moving to Westport in 1880 before moving to Burslem in 1884, whereupon they changed their name to Burslem Port Vale, using both the Moorland Road and Athletic Grounds during their time in the town.
After a number of years in the Midland League, the club became founder members of the Football League’s Division 2 in 1892, but they struggled at this level and, just four years later, they dropped back into the Midland League after failing to secure re-election. But, after just two seasons back in the Midland League, they were elected back into the League, re-joining Division 2, where they remained until their resignation in 1907.
In 1911, the club dropped the ‘Burslem’ part of the name to become Port Vale FC once more and moved into their next ground, the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley from 1912. After a few years in the Centeal League, Vale again re-joined the Football League’s Division 2 from 1919, taking over the record of Leeds City. After being relegated to Division 3 North in 1929, they immediately won the title to bounce back. A further relegation back to Division 3 North/South followed in 1936 and the club remained here through to the outbreak of WWII.
Following the resumption of football in 1946, the club re-took their place in the Division 3 South, where they spent a further six seasons, including their move to Vale Park in 1950, until a switch to the Northern section. The club was far more successful here, recording a runners-up placing in their first season, before winning it again the following campaign (1954). 1957 saw Vale finish bottom and thus return to Division 3 for one year, where a 15th place finish meant they had to take a place in the new Division 4.
Their initial stay here lasted a season, with Vale promoted as 1959 champions, but they were back after six seasons. 1968 saw Vale expelled from the league due to financial issues, though the club did get this reduced to a re-election vote, which they went on to win. A 4th placed finish in 1970 saw them back in Division 3, where a stay of eight years was achieved until their relegation back to the Fourth Division.
After spending the 1983-’84 season in Division 3, another Division 4 4th place in 1986 meant the club were back in Division 3, but this time they went a step up instead of down, being promoted to Division 2 as 1989’s play-off winners. Relegation followed in 1992, but they bounced back almost immediately and after just missing out on promotion in 1993 (though they did lift the Football League Trophy) to the top-level of the Football League, the club managed it as runners-up the following year. 1996 saw Vale reach the final of the Anglo-Italian Cup (bring it back), where they lost to Genoa.
The club mostly struggled during their stay in Division One and were eventually relegated in 2000, but a second FL Trophy win was achieved in 2001. They remained in League 1, as the league was known by then, before dropping to League 2 in 2008, where they stayed until 2013 when Vale finished third and won promotion back to League 1. Last season, the club achieved a 12th placed finish. Their best FA Cup run was to the 1954 semi-final.
Following a minute’s silence for the victims of the Colombian air crash involving the Chapecoense side, the game got underway and Vale were quickly into their stride. With just twelve minutes on the clock, a low ball in found Rigino Cicilia at the near post and he controlled the ball before knocking it past Trevor Carson in the Pools net, before being lauded with chants of “Reggie” from the home support as “Glad All Over” rang out around Vale Park.
Just two minutes later, the Valiants doubled their advantage, a ball over to the back post by Kiko was turned into his own net by Michael Woods. This led to Vale then dominating the vast, vast majority of the tie with Pools offering next to nothing going forward and rarely threatening an after half an hour it was three, as the impressive Paulo Tavares played a lovely ball to release Alex Jones and he confidently slotted beyond Carson and into the far corner. 3-0 and, you felt, that was that.
With half-time approaching, I headed off for some food, but found little luck in my search as the food bar had run out. This strangeness was accentuated as a group of us were then told to vacate a hatched area, despite the top step being, clearly, not hatched and then, to wrap up a terrible trinity, was warned off from filming the game, (in a nice way, I should add) despite the fact I wasn’t, which was accepted immediately. Stupid EFL ruling either way and the quicker they stop going all dictator, the better. Apparently Craig Hignett was sent off during this period too, so we both had a bad time there.
Anyway, with the break out of the way and no more bad happenings occurring, we were back underway. The second half, to be honest, was a bit of a non-event with Vale happy to secure their third-round berth and Hartlepool not making much and generally accepting their fate it seemed. Before the hour mark, the tie was well and truly settled as Ryan Taylor converted a spot-kick following a foul on Nathan Smith with the travelling support mustering a “What a load of rubbish!” chant from their end.
Things only got worse for the visitors, who saw defender Rob Jones stretchered from the field, though their fans did have two things to cheer by the end, namely a pair of shots which were greeted with “We’ve had a shot!” songs. They were almost even further behind just before the end too, but Carson just got enough behind Gezim Shalaj’s effort to send it wide of the target. The 213 fans in the travelling band had been left well and truly….disappointed, shall we say, with their team’s performance and let it be known as the minutes ticked away as Vale deservedly took their place in the hat.
So, after the long walk back to Stoke station was undertaken in the darkened, chilly streets the one bonus was that, upon arrival back, the train pretty much arrived as I got to the platform and a quick exit was enabled, so I was back into Manchester just a couple of hours after the final whistle had blown, which wasn’t bad timing at all. Overall, it had been good to get Vale Park done and out of the way, though the little spell of five minutes around half-time did leave a bit of a sour taste. Regardless, I did enjoy the visit overall and now look onwards to ground 200 and the Champions…
Food: N/A (sold out prior to half-time)
Programme: 4 (cut back issue, £2)
Value For Money: 6