Port Vale: 60-years ago today, Vale came back home to play
THE year 1950 may have seen the likes of Princess Anne, David Cassidy and Julie Walters first draw breath, but for Vale fans it will forever be linked with their team's return to Burslem, writes Phil Sherwin.
However, the seeds for the dramatic switch were sown seven years earlier during the depths of the Second World War.
Vale had been playing their home games at the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley since 1913, where the shopping centre car park now stands, and had no plans to move.
But during the summer of 1943 the club's first president, Major William Huntbach, died.
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He had many debentures – long-term loans – in the club.
And on his death his estate asked for them to be repaid – about £3,000 in all.
As there was no league football during the war, Vale faced a dilemma.
They had no significant income and no contracted players, so the raising of £3,000 was a potentially crippling blow.
The club first appealed to the FA and local businessmen.
But when no help was forthcoming, the directors had no option but to sell the ground or wind the club up.
The council then bought the ground for £13,500 and initially refused to let the club play on it until they found another ground.
After heated meetings, the authority relented and agreed to a rent of £400 per year.
It was in 1944 that a site was found in Hamil Road – opposite the old Burslem Park ground where the club had played in the mid-1880s.
Negotiations began with the owners, the Brownhills Estate Company, and a deal was concluded in September of that year.
Part of the area was sold to a colliery to almost offset the club's outlay.
Grandiose plans were then drawn up for a ground with a capacity of 70,000 and space for 1,000 cars.
By the time 1946 came around, the council had agreed to the Vale staying at the Old Rec until 1950.
And with four years to play with, plans were unveiled to increase the capacity of the new ground to 80,000 and call it the Wembley of the North.
The site was right next to Burslem railway station on the old loop line, so the positioning was ideal.
But the club directors seemed to forget they were a Third Division side with little cash to spare.
To raise money they offered fans lifetime seats for £100 to the first 100 supporters to apply, but they didn't sell out.
After all, admission in those days was about the equivalent of 5p, so it was like paying for 200 matches in one go.
The new pitch was the most expensive ever laid in the country at that time, costing about £100, and in 1948 plans were released to the public.
It showed a huge grandstand on the Lorne Street side, a covered Bycars End with the other two sides remaining open.
The main problem was that the ground had already cost more than Vale had received for their old home and it was still two years away from being ready.
But Vale chairman William Holdcroft was determined to see the project through and all sorts of fund-raising events took place.
A scaled down version of the original plans were put into place, with an opening planned for Easter Monday 1950, but this proved to be too premature.
In the end, the whole project cost £50,000 and the opening was set for August 24, 1950 – the first day of the new season.
The ground capacity was now around the 40,000 mark, with the only seats, about 360 of them, at the back of the Bycars end, under a roof that had been transferred from the Hanley ground.
In those days ground moves were rare, unlike today, and there was plenty of national interest.
There was a banquet held at Burslem Town Hall.
And for that opening Third Division (South) game against Newport County the guest list included the presidents of both the FA and the Football League; the secretary of the FA, Stanley Rous; plus representatives from 47 league clubs.
The new ground's name of Vale Park was revealed at the banquet by the chairman, having being kept secret.
The kick-off was at 6pm and the pre-match entertainment saw the Fodens brass band playing for an hour, followed by 30 minutes of community singing.
It poured with rain, but a crowd of 30,042 turned up to see the Vale win 1-0, with Walter Aveyard scoring the historic first goal in the 63rd minute.
The Vale team that day was: King, Hamlett, Potts, Martin, Cheadle, McGarry, Peppitt, Aveyard, Lewis, Polk and Hulligan.
The captain was 'Lol' Hamlett, who went on to be the club's trainer for many years.
In the 60 years since that historic day, the ground has undergone many changes.
The Railway Stand was built in 1954 and the ground capacity was increased to 50,000 in the late 1950s.
The demand for seating increased in the 1990s, and since 1998 the ground has been all-seater with a capacity of just under 19,000.
It has even staged a rock concert in 1981 and the line-up included Motorhead – fronted by Burslem-born Lemmy – and Ozzy Osbourne.
At least 20,000 rock fans turned up, and the Vale made £25,000.
American Football was also played at Vale Park between 1986 and 1987 when the Stoke Spitfires used the ground as their home.
The largest crowd at Vale Park was the 49,768 who witnessed the 2-1 first round FA Cup defeat by Aston Villa in February 1960.
Two of the greatest games there were the demise of two FA Cup-holders.
In February 1954, Stanley Matthews and Blackpool's star-studded side were despatched 2-0.
And it happened again in February 1996 when Everton were dispatched, this time 2-1.
The biggest win was an 8-0 thrashing of Gateshead in December 1958.
And arguably the game that really put Vale on the map was the FA Cup victory over Tottenham Hotspur in January 1988.
For those who like statistics, the club have played 1,546 competitive games at Vale Park, including the recent 1-1 draw against Chesterfield.
They have won 751, drawn 421 and lost 374.
Goals scored are 2,450, with 1,605 against.
Happy birthday, Vale Park.