VIDEO: Port Vale goal hero Tom Pope can take his place among the greats
IT was July 2005, and Port Vale were just beginning their pre-season build-up with a friendly at Biddulph Victoria.
Surprisingly, they fell behind to the non-league team to a goal scored by a teenage striker from Sneyd Green call Tom Pope.
Vale eventually rallied to win the match 7-1, but Pope had made a big enough impression on the Valiants' management to be offered a trial.
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Nothing came of the 19-year-old's trial at Vale Park and so Pope ended up at Crewe Alexandra instead.
But like all good love stories, there was to be a happy ending.
After a few twists and turns which were to see him fall out of favour with Dario Gradi and then banished to a spell in South Yorkshire with Rotherham, the Vale fan ended up where he was always destined to be ... at his spiritual home in Burslem
And after a slow start on joining the club in 2011, what an impact he has had on Micky Adams's promotion-chasers.
Pope's 27 goals so far this term put him at the top of the national scoring charts.
It's a remarkable turnaround for a man who once seemed to be in the shadow of former strike partner Marc Richards.
Pope had never scored more than 10 goals in a season before, and only managed five last season when playing second fiddle to Richards.
But he has thrived since Rico left for Chesterfield in the summer. Now he's outscoring Premier League stars like Robin Van Persie.
Being the focal point of the Vale attack this season has certainly helped, as has the support of the most potent wide men in the lower divisions in the shape of Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams.
Pope's own finishing has been top class, though.
His total of 27 already means only Andy Jones has scored more goals than him in a season for Port Vale since the Second World War, and he's still got another 18 games to improve that tally.
"Jones the Goal" was signed from Rhyl in May 1985 for £3,000, and hit top form in the 1986/87 season when he rattled in 37 goals in all competitions including 31 in the league.
That little feat helped him gain full international honours for Wales and a £350,000 move to Charlton Athletic, who were then in the top flight.
Nowadays, Jones lives near Bournemouth where he runs a food recycling company.
His total for that stellar season included an astonishing 12 penalties. In fact, had he not missed three spot-kicks he would have totalled 40 goals.
Of course, Pope doesn't take Vale's penalties, which makes his tally even more impressive. If he had, he would already have passed 30 goals by now.
Apart from Jones and Pope, the only other Vale player to hit 27 goals since the war is Steve McPhee, now the club's under-16s coach, who bagged exactly that amount in 2003/04.
Even in the club's championship-winning seasons of 1953/54 and 1958/59, no player managed to reach 27 goals, so Pope has the chance to cement his place in Vale history if his marksmanship can guide them to another title triumph.
Before Jones, the last Vale player to hit 30 goals was John Roberts in the 1937/38 season when the club were in the Third Division (South). His tally included just two spot kicks.
Roberts was an all-round sportsman who also captained England at baseball.
During the war he was captured in Tunisia, but managed to escape from a prisoner of war camp in 1944. He died in Cape Town in 1985.
The only other Vale player to have bettered Pope's goals tally in a season is club legend Wilf Kirkham. In fact, Vale's all-time record goalscorer appears on the list no less than three times.
The Cobridge-born centre-forward was in his pomp during the club's Second Division days of the mid 1920s, when he rattled in 109 goals in just three seasons.
He scored 33 in 1924/25, followed that with 35 in 1925/26 and then broke the club record for a third successive season with 41 in 1926/27. A stunning 38 of them were in the league, and the record has stood ever since.
While Kirkham was without doubt an exceptional talent, he also benefited from changes to the off-side law that saw a remarkable 36 per cent rise in goals scored in the 1925/26 campaign.
The mantel of a true great is seldom bestowed on a striker until he has scored goals regularly over a number of years, so Pope still has work to do.
His old partner Richards was Vale's leading scorer for four seasons and topped the 20 mark in successive campaigns.
Martin Foyle, the Vale manager when Pope scored for Biddulph all those years ago, is the only other man to top 100 goals (108) for the club besides Kirkham, also hitting the 20 mark in successive seasons.
And like Kirkham, Darren Beckford topped 20 goals for three consecutive seasons – although two of those were in what we now call the Championship.
Playing for a club you have supported all of your life is rare these days, and virtually unheard of in the lower divisions, so this must have been a fantastic season for Pope.
There are thousands of football fans all over the country who would like nothing more than to be banging in the goals for their home-town team, and Pope is literally living the dream.
He has certainly worked hard for his rewards, and now that it is all coming together for him is his just reward. Long may it continue.