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Another 'Grand Tour' of the Potteries
- David Proudlove & Steve Birks -

buildings in Burslem

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No 9 -  Burslem 
Vale Park

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'Wembley of the North'

“If the normal laws of business applied to football, Port Vale would no longer exist”
- Simon Inlgis

To say 2012 has been a difficult year for Port Vale Football Club would be like saying George Best enjoyed a pint: a bit of an understatement. 

Though playing some of their best football for years and developing a promotion challenge on the pitch, off the pitch, the club is in chaos, still in administration following their near financial meltdown as 2011 became 2012, with knight in shining armour Keith Ryder stalking back to Lancashire, leaving the club’s administrators battling to find a new buyer. Given the context in which he has been working, Micky Adams’ achievements with virtually a new playing squad are almost miraculous. 

It is a credit to the management, players, staff, and most importantly the supporters that football is still being played at Hamil Road, Burslem.





No one should be at all surprised by the latest crisis to hit Port Vale; the club’s history is littered with stories of financial disaster, mismanagement, incompetence, and borderline criminality. The above quote from Simon Inglis was from 1996, and recently, leading football magazine Four Four Two branded the Vale “Britain’s most dysfunctional football club”. 

Over the years they have gone out of business, though subsequently reformed. They have been thrown out of the League twice, resigned once, though have always managed to return stronger. As Simon Inglis has pointed out, Stoke-on-Trent is “the smallest English city to sustain two full-time clubs…somehow, Port Vale have endured”.

Port Vale’s latest troubles have been years in the making: on the pitch success with relatively small attendances during the Bell/Rudge-era led to increased pay for players and a need for ground improvements which became even more pressing post-Hillsborough and the Taylor Report. 

A slight dip in fortunes eventually saw Rudge dismissed and replaced by former player Brian Horton, but his failure to bring back the success achieved by Rudge saw the club slide into administration, long-serving Chairman Bill Bell leave, with fans-led group Valiant 2001 – fronted by Bill Bratt – eventually taking over the running of the club.

It was clear from the outset that Valiant 2001 did not have serious resources, but on a wave of good will, they stabilised the club, and set out to try to return Port Vale to the Championship. However, the club stagnated on the pitch, and were eventually relegated back to the fourth tier of English football. Since Brian Horton left the club in 2004, Martin Foyle, Lee Sinnott, Dean Glover, Jim Gannon and Micky Adams have all struggled – albeit in very constrained circumstances – to turn the club’s fortunes around.

During 2010 and 2011, matters started to come to a head, with supporters demonstrating against Valiant 2001, and in particular the club’s Chairman Bill Bratt, with boycotts and protests held regularly. Local millionaire business man Mo Chaudary expressed his desire to buy the club, with the backing of campaign group ‘Black and Gold Until it’s Sold’, but the club’s board and some sections of support questioned Chaudary’s motives, leading to a botched attempt to buy the club.

The years of struggle led to the club experiencing a disastrous start to 2012, which saw the club enter administration once again, but only through the intervention of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.


For many years, supporters of Port Vale have seen the City Council as the club’s bogeyman, accusing them of favouring their neighbours and great rivals Stoke City, and accusing them of starving the club of income through the forced closure of Vale Market. However, as the club once more descended into chaos, Bill Bratt and other board members departed, leaving them with two few officials to legally function, meaning that the club could not place themselves into administration. 

The City Council are one of the club’s main creditors due to them providing the club with a loan in recent times, and were urged to take the decision to place them into administration. This, the Council did, a decision which effectively saved Port Vale. This led to the club being deducted ten points, thus derailing their 2011/12 promotion campaign, and harbouring in Port Vale’s Summer of Discontent.

The current success of Stoke City can be put into context by Port Vale’s fight for survival, and also that of club’s such as Charlton Athletic, Leeds United and Portsmouth. As Port Vale fought for survival during the summer, some supporters of Stoke City began to question manager Tony Pulis following a disappointing run of form towards the end of the 2011/12 season. 

Yet Tony Pulis with the backing of the Coates family has provided Stoke City with the stability so lacking at Vale Park in recent times. Those questioning Pulis would do well to take a look at their local rivals and the other clubs mentioned and ask themselves the question: “could it happen here?” History and evidence should tell them, “damn right it could”.


Vale Park

Vale Park 



Vale Park is seen as the Vale’s traditional home, but in actual fact, Port Vale are the city’s footballing nomads. Indeed, the Vale have spent more time drifting than they have in Burslem.

It was an old joke amongst supporters of Stoke City that Port Vale doesn’t exist, that there is no such place as Port Vale. Setting aside the humour and banter of local football supporters, the origins of Port Vale Football Club are fast disappearing, therefore ‘Port Vale’ may not exist for much longer. 

The roots of the club are in the Middleport area, which the City Council have spent the past decade attempting to erase. 

Here can be found Port Vale Street. Alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal sits Port Vale Flour Mill, where formerly there was a Port Vale Wharf, and once upon a time there was a Port Vale House along what is now Scott Lidgett Road (formerly Limekiln Road) in Longport. Longport was also home to the Midland and Port Vale Tileries, whose site is buried beneath the D Road.


 Port Vale Flour Mill alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal

 Port Vale Flour Mill alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal


Staffordshire Blue Brick from the Midland and Port Vale Tileries, Longport

Staffordshire Blue Brick from the Midland and Port Vale Tileries, Longport



Although the club was formed in the late 1870s (the ‘official’ date is 1876, though research by club historian Jeff Kent suggests 1879), the Vale’s first games were on meadows off Limekiln Road. By 1881, they made their first move to nearby Westport Meadows, which is now the home of Westport Lake. Shortly afterwards they relocated to their first ‘proper’ football ground on Moorland Road in Burslem, adjacent to Burslem Station. The ground opened in 1884 with a game against Everton, and had a cinder cycle track and a small stand. Here the club adopted the name ‘Burslem Port Vale’, turned professional, and in 1885, became a limited company (it is thought that the Vale were the first club to do so).

  • The ground at Moorland Road had a sloping pitch, and conditions were often poor, and so in 1886, the Vale moved on once more, this time to Cobridge Athletic Ground on Waterloo Road next to the Grange Colliery, and just down the road from Arnold Bennett who portrayed the Vale in his novel The Card.

  • The move to Cobridge ushered in an era of chaos not too dissimilar to that being experienced by the club’s current patrons: they joined the League, dropped out in 1896, rejoined two years later in 1898, before going to the wall in 1907. However, ‘Port Vale’ was kept alive by a local church team who adopted the name and took over the ground in Cobridge.

The ground’s favourable location made it attractive for development, and in 1910, a stand with a capacity of 1,800 was built. However, mining subsidence wreaked havoc (this would prove to be a recurring theme for the club), and following the appearance of craters in 1912, the club took the decision to seek yet another new home.

A group of Hanley-based business men were keen to see professional football arrive in their town, and hearing of the Vale’s plight, made a successful bid to entice them away from Burslem to the Recreation Ground, right in the heart of Hanley. 

It was a significant move: the club left one Potteries town for another. This subsequently led to unsuccessful proposals to rename the club Stoke United, and Stoke North End.

On the Vale’s arrival, the ground was renamed the Old Recreation Ground, and improvement works were still incomplete when the club played host to Blackburn Rovers Reserves in their first fixture in Hanley in September 1913.


The Old Recreation Ground, Hanley
to the top right St. John's Church can be seen 


After six years in Hanley, Port Vale eventually returned to the League for the 1919-20 season, taking the place of the disgraced Leeds City. It was during this first campaign back in the League that the Old Recreation Ground saw its record gate, when 22,993 witnessed the Vale take on local rivals Stoke City on 6th March 1920.

As the club re-established itself in the League, they negotiated the purchase of the freehold from the Stoke-on-Trent Corporation, carried out a programme of improvements, and increased the capacity of the ground. However, despite these enhancements to the club’s home, Port Vale’s life was a constant struggle and in 1926, the club’s directors took the decision to merge with great rivals Stoke City.

The proposal went down like a lead zeppelin and was met by a barrage of protests, and so was subsequently abandoned. Just twelve months later, having spent a small fortune on ground improvements in just a few years, the board decided that the Old Recreation Ground was not big enough, and resolved to return to their former home in Cobridge.

Again, this was another decision which the club was forced to backtrack on. Their plan was reliant on the Corporation buying back the Old Recreation Ground, who refused to pay the club more than what they had paid for the ground when they acquired it a few years earlier. Thus the club resigned itself to staying put, and in 1931, invested £10,000 in the building of a new 3,500 seat stand.

By 1943, with the country fighting the Second World War, and the club engulfed in debt, the board took the decision to sell the ground back to the Corporation (without consulting shareholders), and took out a short-term lease until they could secure a new home.

It only took the Vale a year to identify a new site, but it took six years for them to build their new stadium, and so they remained at the Old Recreation Ground until 22nd April 1950, when Aldershot were the last visitors. The Vale’s final fixture in Hanley ended in disappointment, with the Shots running out 1-0 winners.

“Vale Park may not win any beauty contests, but it has been vastly improved, and with remarkably little fuss”
- Simon Inglis


Port Vale identified their new site in 1944 – a large former marl pit off Hamil Road in the Mother Town, and a site which provides English football’s second highest ground (West Bromwich Albion’s the Hawthorns is the highest). The club managed to pull off a clever deal which more or less financed their move and new stadium plans, by selling on part of the site immediately to a mining company. This left the Vale with around 13.5 acres on which to lay out their new home.

What the club came up with was either brave and visionary, or complete lunacy: in an era of post-war rationing and austerity, Port Vale Football Club drew up plans for a 70,000 capacity stadium, dubbed ‘the Wembley of the North’. The Supporters Club launched into fund raising mode, with the aim of generating £30,000 towards the mega-project, and when the ground was unveiled to the public, 12,000 turned up in a near monsoon.

As with most things Port Vale, the development of what came to be christened Vale Park did not run smoothly. As post-war rebuilding gathered pace, materials for non-essential construction work were very hard to come by, and this was compounded by a lack of club funds, and a lack of co-operation from the Stoke-on-Trent Corporation and the Ministry of Works.

Some £50,000 was invested in the building of Vale Park, but progress was slow: by the time the ground opened its doors on 24th August 1950 for a fixture with Newport, the ground was still entirely uncovered, and had temporary dressing rooms. Nevertheless, a record crowd for a Port Vale fixture of 30,042 witnessed the dawning of a new era.


Artist’s impression of proposed Vale Park

Artist’s impression of proposed Vale Park 
(from ‘The Story of Port Vale’ & One Vale Fan)



Building of Vale Park

Building of Vale Park 
(photo by Keith Hall - from ‘The Story of Port Vale’ & One Vale Fan)



Works to the ground continued slowly, and it took some time for the club to settle into its new home, with plenty of teething problems along the way. A new pitch was laid within a year, and only 1,000 seats were available, and despite the initial increased support for the club following Vale Park’s opening, gates actually fell. The Old Recreation Ground in Hanley was a tight and compact stadium and produced a special atmosphere. Vale Park’s vast open spaces, combined with the fall in attendances, led to more subdued crowds. As Stoke City would discover at the Britannia Stadium, it took time for Vale Park to become home.

In 1954, the Vale began to get their act together on the pitch, winning promotion to Division 2 and becoming only the second Third Division side to reach the FA Cup Semi-Finals. This led to the building of the Railway Stand (though not on the scale originally envisaged), which provided 4,500 seats, and a paddock of 12,000. The first season back in the Second Division saw a record average attendance of 20,708, and in 1958, the club erected floodlights. By the turn of the 1960s, Vale Park’s capacity was expanded to 50,000 with the terracing of the Bycars End, and on 20th February 1960, the club recorded their record attendance when a capacity crowd of 50,000 saw the Vale take on Aston Villa in the 5th Round of the FA Cup.

By this time though, the Vale had dropped back into lower league obscurity, and the ‘Wembley of the North’ vision had all but disappeared. By the 1970s, crowds dropped to below 3,000, and the incomplete Vale Park was fast deteriorating. By 1985, the ground’s capacity had been slashed to 16,500, and the Bycars End roof had to be replaced following a fire.

As manager John Rudge built a successful team during the late 1980s, Vale Park had become an embarrassment, leading to taunts from Stoke City supporters: in 1989, Stoke City fanzine the Oatcake published a cartoon entitled ‘Build Your Own Vale Park’, which saw a trampled on cardboard box cut up, glued and moulded into a model of Port Vale’s home. Although humorous, the cartoon illustrated perfectly the depths to which Vale Park had plummeted.


However, Vale’s on the pitch success – along with the recommendations of the Taylor Report – led to a series of renovations at Vale Park: an all-seater stand was built at the Bycars end, and this was followed by the installation of seats in the Railway Paddock and the Hamil Road End, where a roof was also erected following its purchase from Chester City, where it formerly covered the Main Stand at Sealand Road. In the mid-1990s, the club prepared plans to redevelop the part-completed Lorne Street Stand with a new £4million stand that would seat 8-10,000, and also include executive boxes, a restaurant, offices, and new dressing rooms. 

As work progressed on implementing the plans, the club fell into financial difficulties, and now – in late 2012 – the new Lorne Street Stand now stands part complete. This new incomplete stand chimes perfectly with Vale’s history of chaos and disarray: only Port Vale could replace a part-complete stand with a part-complete stand!

Painting of the old ‘part complete’ Lorne Street Stand
Painting of the old ‘part complete’ Lorne Street Stand 
by Ted Foxton ©


View of the new ‘part complete’ Lorne Street Stand
View of the new ‘part complete’ Lorne Street Stand 


Port Vale’s problems are well documented and very complex, but hopefully now there is light at the end of the tunnel. The club’s administrators say there are a number of bidders looking to take on and invest in the club, and it is hoped that whoever the club’s new owners are will provide the support and stability needed in order to enable the club to grown and flourish once again.


Blue skies over Vale Park

Blue skies over Vale Park 
© Wikipedia



One of my hopes is that the new owners will look to complete the Lorne Street Stand as a priority, once they complete the urgent task of stabilising the club’s finances. Vale Park may not be the ‘Wembley of the North’ originally envisaged, but Port Vale will have a home as good as any in the lower leagues, and one certainly capable of hosting Championship football again some time in the future. This would be great for the Vale, great for Burslem, and great for the Potteries.


Dave Proudlove October 2012




next: Burslem - Kismet Indian Restaurant
previous: Tunstall - Oldcourt Pottery
contents: index of buildings in Burslem




Related Pages

'On the Waterfront' - Port Vale Flour Mill

The Midland and Port Vale Tileries

external pages..

One Vale Fan

Port Vale F.C. - Wikipedia