Where Are They Now? Port Vale Fourth Div promotion winners 1985/86
by Neil Fissler
PHIL Sproson admits that he had a lot to live up to when he carried on a proud tradition of pulling on a Port Vale shirt.
He was the nephew of legendary Vale defender Roy, who made over 800 appearances, and his father Jess spent seven years at Vale Park between 1940 and 1947.
Only uncle Roy has played more first team games for Vale than Sproson, who captained them to promotion before being named in the PFA Team of the Season.
It was the second of three promotions that he would enjoy during his 12 years at the club.
“I was first made captain the previous season at Northampton. John Ridley was getting on a bit and the manager John Rudge asked me if I wanted to be captain – I jumped at it,” he said.
“I was really proud to wear the armband for as long as I did. The family have got a big history with the club and to be captain the year we went up was something really special.
“Even though I was in my mid- 20s, I’d played a lot of games.
“Roy had been there for such a long time and had been captain, but I never felt any pressure.
“Roy and my dad had always said that they thought I was going to be a pro but there was never any mention that I had to be as good as Roy or be better than him.
“I think that Roy and dad were especially proud that I captained the side. We were a very close family.”
Sproson admits it was fair to say Port Vale were in something of a transitional period, with Rudge moving towards having a younger squad.
“Most of the side were aged about 25 or 26, there weren’t many old hands in the side. I think Jim Arnold in goal would have been the oldest,” he added.
“John picked up striker Andy Jones from Rhyl for about three grand and he was as green as anything.
“He learnt a lot from Ally Brown and that was typical of John – throwing a green hand in with an old hand.
“Andy came of age that year – when he first came he was awful!
“It was a breakthrough year for Robbie Earle, too. He put some good performances together and you could see what a good player he was.”
In that Division Four season, Swindon Town roared to the title with 102 points.
Chester (84) and Mansfield (81) finished second and third, while Vale, with 79 points, grabbed the last automatic promotion spot in fourth.
- Phil Sproson: A central defender, he was the head of the PFA’s management agency. Now runs Genesis Sports Management in Stoke-on-Trent.
- John Williams: A defender who worked for Bournemouth as community officer and assistant manager, before briefly running a pub and coached at a school. He now works for BBC Radio Solent.
- Jim Arnold: The goalkeeper settled in Stafford and joined Staffordshire Police as a recreation officer.
- Chris Pearce: A goalkeeper who lives in Blackburn. Worked as a driving instructor and gardener before working for a firm that supplies machines to the paper industry.
- Eric Mountford: A midfielder who lives in Middleton, Stoke-on- Trent. Runs his own small building company.
- Jon Bowden: The midfielder gained a degree in physiotherapy from Salford University. Spent three years at Luton Town and is running his own practice in Stockport.
- Martin Copeland: The physio went on to work for the NHS and is now running the Lakeside Physiotherapy Clinic in Stoke-on- Trent.
- Andy Jones: The Welsh international striker was a rep for Mizuno before working for BT as a network specialist. Has been a director of Hampshire-based company Eco Food Recycling for six years.
- Alan Webb: The right-back has been a driver for Parcelforce after injury forced him to make an early retirement from the game.
- Osher Williams: The winger was a sports studies lecturer at Trafford College but now works for the PFA in Manchester as assistant director of education.
- Robbie Earle: The former Wimbledon midfielder went into the media after retiring. Is now working as an analyst for American broadcaster NBC.
- Russel Bromage: A full-back, he settled in Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex. Managed Littlehampton and Whitehawk before becoming a window cleaner.
- Ally Brown: The ex-West Brom forward became a publican and then a club steward in the Black Country. Was then a warehouseman in a Walsall iron foundry.
- Alan Oakes: A midfielder who twice managed Chester City. Then served Port Vale as reserve team boss, coach and youth team coach. Is now retired.
- Andy Shankland: A forward who bought a window cleaning business after hanging up his boots. Unfortunately, an accident saw him have a part of his leg amputated.
- Paul Maguire: A midfielder who was a cult hero at arch-rivals Stoke City. Now lives in Crewe and works as a sales rep.
- Geoff Hunter: A midfielder who won two promotions with Port Vale. Returned to his native Hull where he has worked as a sales rep.
- John Rudge: After spending 16 years in the Vale Park hot-seat, he was sacked in January 1999. Was later appointed director of football at Stoke City, staying until May 2013.
- Jeff Johnson: A midfielder who settled in Manchester. Has been driving a taxi around the city for a living for many years.
- Chris Banks: A defender who worked as a tiler and postman before gaining a degree in physiotherapy from Salford University. Is now Stoke City’s physio.
- Wayne Ebanks: The right-back joined Staffordshire Police after hanging up his boots.
Tagged Phil Sproson, Port Vale