Port Vale: Rudge recalls glory days with fondness ... despite bitter parting with Bell
Bill Bell and John Rudge were the most successful chairman/manager partnership in Vale's history, but it was a relationship destined to end in tears and recriminations, as Martin Spinks and reports...
JOHN Rudge last spoke to Bill Bell a fortnight ago. It was the first time they had swapped a single word since their controversial parting of the ways in 1999.
The pair had barely exchanged glances on the few occasions they had been at the same functions down the years.
But a chance meeting at the start of the month left them speaking for the first time since the acrimonious break up of their famous and successful partnership 14 years earlier.
"I'd not spoken to Bill since I'd left Port Vale," said Rudge, "but as it happens, and I don't know if it was fate, I did meet him by chance a couple of weeks ago.
"I could see he wasn't well and I wished him all the best and shook his hand. I am really pleased I did that.
"It is sad news and my thoughts go out to his wife Jean, his daughter, Linda, and her husband, Andy."
No-one can pretend Rudge and Bell always saw eye-to-eye during their 12 years together as manager and chairman at Vale.
And the abiding memory for many fans will be Bell's sacking of Rudge in 1999 – followed by the legendary "flat-cap march" by supporters to mark their manager's controversial exit after 843 games in charge.
But something somewhere worked between the pair as they struck gold by jointly presiding over Vale twice winning promotion to what is now the Championship, visiting Wembley three times, beating the likes of Tottenham and Everton in the FA Cup, winning several Potteries derbies ... and frequently finishing higher than their Victoria Ground neighbours.
The secret, says Rudge, was simple. "He never interfered, that was probably his greatest strength as a chairman, certainly as far as I was concerned.
"I could count on one hand the number of times he came to my home. He never wanted to know what the team was on a Saturday until they went out to play, never mind trying to influence what the team was.
"He never put any pressure on me regarding players, or put pressure on of any sort really, he just let me get on with it."
They were productive years in the transfer market for Vale as the likes of Jon McCarthy, Steve Guppy and Gareth Ainsworth came and went for six and seven-figure transfer fees.
Rudge, pictured, would conduct the transfer negotiations to the point of near completion before calling his chairman into the office to give the final stamp of approval.
"I did all the talking to players," Rudge said, "because we didn't have chief executives and the like at Vale in those days.
"Then, when we got to the final stages,I would have the chairman in there with me to agree the terms I'd discussed with the player."
The net result was a team which won, and won in style, as Vale continually punched above their weight in the second tier of English football.
"We had some fantastic success during that time," Rudge reflected, "and as chairman he was very much a part of that.
"He did his job behind the scenes and helped transform the stadium during that time."
Rudge's dismissal brought a sad and controversial end to surely the most successful chairman/manager partnership in the club's history.
It was an ending which left its scars, but Rudge has since said there were no grudges.
And now he adds: "No, we didn't finish on the greatest note and we did have our ups and downs at different times.
"But I will always remember those times as being hugely successful for Port Vale because of the fantastic successes we enjoyed as manager and chairman.
"That is the best memory to take from that period."