Season 1 1980-81
How things have changes over the 30 years I was Team Manager, we had only two sets of kit, both black and white striped shirts without numbers which meant that the trials were very different. Instead of each trialist being allocated a numbered shirt in a specific colour, we had to identify players by bib colour, colour of socks or shorts or even hair colour! 1980 also marked the Vale’s entry into the Berkshire County League; at that time there were seven associations from Berkshire in the league so travel was not so widespread as it is now with only one Berkshire association playing league football. In all league and cup matches we were only permitted to use three substitutes and if, having used all three, there was then an injury, it meant we had to complete the match with ten players. How much better it is now with the use of repeated substitutions in youth football.
Before the final squad was selected we had two trial matches, both lost, and in the first of those against Bracknell, the first goal whilst I was manager was scored by Andrew Claxton; it was the only one he was to score. Our first league match at home to Slough ended in a 4-4 draw, Vale’s goals coming from Andrew Berry, Duncan Buck and a brace from Justin Alphonse. The following week we lost a league game against Newbury 0-4 and our next match on the Friday of the half-term holiday was against the formidable Deeside team from North Wales. Deeside already had a reputation for developing outstanding talent, Ian Rush and Kevin Ratcliffe both played for Ron Bishop’s team, and 1980 was no different with Gary Speed leading the way. After an encounter with the North Wales team a couple of seasons earlier, a Vale player was heard to say, “If that’s their ‘D’ side I’d hate to play against their ‘A’ side.” As our match was played during the half-term break the usual goalkeeper was away and Matthew Jenkins stepped into the breach, he performed very well but he, and the rest of the squad, were comprehensively outplayed as Deeside ran out 9-0 winners. It therefore showed the strength of character the squad had when, the very next day, the same players, including Matthew, defeated South Oxon 8-1 in a Southern Counties Shield match with goals from Fergus Kelly, Alphonse (3) and Mark Orlando (4). Despite finishing bottom of the league that season, we reached the semi final of the Southern Counties competition.
The season ended with our tour of Chester and North Wales, the first of four matches was against Deeside. Malcolm Fretter had accompanied the party up to North Wales to watch the Deeside game and was alongside Gary Speed’s dad when the siren at the adjacent Fire Brigade Station sounded. Fire Officer Speed jumped the fence and went off to deal with the emergency whilst his son’s team completed a 7-1 victory, Vale’s goal coming from Duncan Buck. The next day we joined the Deeside players on a tour of Anfield, where we were able to photograph the squads next to the First Division Championship Trophy. We lost the next two fixtures, but again, it showed the strength of the squad that in our final match we beat Rugeley 7-0 with goals from Andrew Watts, Buck (3) and Orlando (3).
Barry James was the team captain that season, Mark Orlando the top scorer with 17 goals and Mark also received the President’s Trophy. The rest of the squad was as follows, Justin Alphonse, Andrew Berry, Duncan Buck, Andrew Claxton, Neil Franklin, Fergus Kelly, Kevin McGlynn, Nicky Rusher, Simon Russell, Alasdair Simpson, Peter Smith, Andrew Watts and Lee Whittington.