Stoke City: End of an era in Potteries football as John Rudge prepares to depart
JOHN Rudge is simply the father figure of Potteries football.
No-one has straddled the footballing fault lines between Stoke City and Port Vale to a greater and more influential extent than the unassuming man in the flat cap.
His distinguished service, totalling 19 years at Port Vale and a further 14 at Stoke, is unrivalled in the annals of Potteries football.
More than three decades as assistant manager, manager, director of football and, as he never tires of telling you, chief bottle washer too.
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It is a genuine devotion to duty accounting for nearly half of his 68 years.
But for a five-month gap between leaving Vale Park and moving to the Britannia in 1999, Rudge's has been a prominent, familiar and highly-respected face on either side of a city's great footballing divide.
He was twice courted by Stoke when Vale manager, but always said it was nigh on impossible to jump straight from one club to the other.
Not least in the 1990s when his stewardship of Port Vale transformed them into genuine rivals for their more celebrated neighbour.
He had little compunction in doing so in 1999 after being sacked by Vale in the January of that year.
Peter Coates, the man twice trying and failing to lure him to Stoke in the past, had finally got his man.
Not as manager, but in a director of football role for which the club was frequently indebted to his safe and steady pair of hands.
His experience, knowledge and contacts were a valuable resource, while his tact and diplomacy would often keep the peace between chairman and manager in the early years of his Stoke career.
And the sight of a Vale legend being so warmly welcomed by fans of the old enemy bore testament to the respect in which he is still so warmly regarded throughout this city.
Nonetheless, a character of less repute might have lasted barely six months at Stoke City at the turn of the century, but the in-coming Icelanders quickly recognised his ability to plug the gaps inevitably emerging in the wake of their historic takeover from Peter Coates and Keith Humphreys.
He remained a staunch ally of manager Gudjon Thordarson when the going was good – and a peacemaker when the going got tough between Thordarson and chairman Gunnar Gislason.
A change of manager in 2002, barely days after winning promotion to the Championship, further underlined Rudge's value to a club about to hit even more turbulent times as Steve Cotterill came and went in the blink of an eye.
Rudge's previous contact with Tony Pulis, dating back to their days at Bristol Rovers in the 1970s, did no harm to the Welshman's cause when he stepped into the breach left by George Burley's overnight flit from the Potteries after saying "yes", then "no", to the Stoke job.
Rudge even held his hand, so to speak, when Pulis confronted around 300 anxious and angry fans in the Waddington Suite soon after his appointment.
Relations between Pulis and the Icelanders became strained, not least because of the geographical distance and their failure to give quick answers, and Rudge's calming influence was a vital counterbalance to the manager's more robust approach to life at the Britannia in the 2003 to 2005 period.
Ironically, Rudge's influence was possibly at its greatest when Johan Boskamp rolled into town at the start of his one season as manager in 2005/06.
Ironic since Rudge's loyal support of Boskamp would be rewarded by one of the most spectacular fall-outs in the club's history.
Rudge had actually talked Boskamp out of resigning on a pre-season tour to Germany in the summer of 2005.
He then helped the head-shaking Dutchman to strengthen a painfully-thin squad by twisting his arm on domestic purchases like Luke Chadwick, Mama Sidibe and Paul Gallagher.
Their seemingly successful partnership was blown apart by events at Coventry City in the November, however, when Rudge unwittingly offended Boskamp's pride and professionalism on a very public stage.
With Stoke being run ragged down one of their flanks, Rudge ventured from the stand to the back of the dug-outs to offer some well-intentioned advice.
And because Boskamp was in the technical area and so impossible to contact, Rudge made the fatal error of passing on a verbal message via assistant manager Jan de Koning.
Boskamp saw this as a very public humiliation, a feeling fostered by the acute memory of an infamous event back in Holland when Johann Cruyff was similarly insulted.
Rudge and de Koning were subsequently ex-communicated by Boskamp after he refused all attempts at compromise.
Rudge kept his dignity, and his garden tidy, before returning to the club in the summer of 2006 as part of the second coming of Coates and Pulis, when the Icelanders sold up and Boskamp sailed out.
But his influence in frontline affairs was to eventually wane, to such a degree that he went part-time a couple of seasons ago and agreed to a substantial pay cut.
He was no longer at the forefront in the ever-expanding workload of contract negotiations, while the healthy relationship between Coates and Pulis meant his familiar peace-making role between chairman and manager was now redundant.
That Coates should retain him in a part-time capacity spoke much for his assessment of Rudge's on-going value to a club in transition.
That transition causes inevitable casualties, sadly, and it has finally caught up with one of football's truly nice guys.