Taken from the Port Vale fansite onevalefan.co.uk
You joined the
club (Port Vale) in 1949 - I understand your brother George persuaded
you to take a chance at Vale Park. Can you explain how you came to
join the club?
My joining Port
Vale came about in quite a remarkable and, at times, painful and
exasperating way. Prior to that memorable day when I put pen to paper
in the presence of Gordon Hodgston and club chairman, Mr Holdcroft, I
was pretty much on the scrapheap as far as professional football was
I'd played as a
seventeen-year-old for Newcastle United, my 'local' club with my debut
a derby game against Sunderland! I quickly established myself as their
first Team goalkeeper and at the time was being touted as a future
However, there was
a slight interruption to my playing career in that I was called up for
National Service (this during the Second World War) and I joined the
army, at eighteen. That interruption lasted some four and a half years
- a long spell out of the game in any player's career.
I did manage to
play again for Newcastle United, in 1945 after hostilities had ceased
(and I'm not talking about the derby matches!).
I had also been a
'guest player' for Chester in wartime regional football games and
these were of considerable significance for a variety of reasons, not
least because they afforded me an opportunity to play against greats
such as Tommy Lawton and Stanley Matthews.
saving a penalty taken by Tommy Lawton resulted in a broken wrist, the
first of such injuries which by rights should have put me out the game
for good. I was a stubborn bugger, though!
I also suffered a double fracture of the jaw on another occasion, so
the likes of Roy Keane are perhaps following in a dishonourable
tradition! The player who inflicted that particular damage upon me
approached me years later, revealing that he had been given specific
instructions from his manager to "put Kingy out of the
game". Regrettably, this particular incident occurred in my first
match back in goal after being out for three years. It was a disaster
It seemed that I'd
finally reached the point where I must bow to the inevitable and kiss
goodbye to a career which had begun full of promise. I did find myself
eventually back on the pitch for my local team, Amble, who played in
the Northern Alliance, but it was as a full back, centre forward or
any other position except goalkeeper.
It was during this
period that Ashington (home of Jackie Milburn and the Charlton
brothers) were looking for a keeper and they invited me to play for
them. Again I hadn't been between the posts for some years due to
those numerous injuries and I was somewhat anxious about how I'd cope
decided to risk it. I ended up playing a couple of games in their
second Eleven, which was not exactly an awe-inspiring experience and I
was hardly Ray King, future England goalkeeper.
But fate again
played its hand, this time more favourably. Ashington manager Jimmy
Denmark, a former Newcastle centre-half, sent me a telegram
instructing me to report to Roker Park, Sunderland's football ground,
that coming Saturday. The Ashington First Team keeper had taken ill
and so there I was, in at the deep end against a Sunderland team whose
players all made regular 1st Division appearances (often the Northern
Alliance served as a good run-out for players not able to find a place
in the first Elevens of their League sides).
As I ran out onto
that splendid pitch at Roker Park, soaking in the atmosphere, I
realised just how much I'd missed those St James's Park crowds of
fifty to sixty-five thousand-plus. It was like returning 'home'.
Sunderland had been my first opponents with me as a 'Big Time'
goalkeeper and, as it turned out, it was the Black Cats who played me
back into that same 'Big Time'. The confidence which I'd always had in
abundance as a keeper flooded back to me at Roker Park and it was as
though I'd never been away.
My brother George
was playing for Port Vale at the time, having previously been a centre
forward with Newcastle United and Hull City. He happened to mention me
to Vale's manager, Gordon Hodgston, who informed George to get me down
to the Potteries immediately. Gordon wanted me to play in the final of
the Staffordshire Senior Cup at Hanley.
Of course, I
thought I was dreaming but off I went and Gordon duly signed me up
before the game, despite not having seen me play! He told me: 'Ray,
you'll do for me!" Winning the game against Walsall was an added
bonus. It had been a sometimes tortuous route but I was back where I
felt I really belonged.
The modern game
sees some goalkeepers marshalling forces and directing traffic, even
taking penalties. Was that ever a part of your role and
responsibilities? Or did the manager do all of that?
Certain aspects of
the goalkeeper's game have changed and new rules have improved the
flow of the game, especially in relation to the back-pass and running
with the ball before its release. In my day we were subject to some
hefty physical challenges though I should say that I relished the
rough-and-tumble (except when I ended up in hospital).
It has long been
my opinion that in some ways a goalkeeper is the most important player
in a team. He can see the whole field of play in front of him allowing
him the opportunity to marshall his forces and, to some degree, direct
operations, as Barry suggests. When I talk to aspiring young keepers
today I tell them that making brilliant saves is only one aspect of a
keeper's game and that the most important responsibility of a
goalkeeper is to control his eighteen-yard area.
He must be brave
and display sound positional sense, knowing when to come off his line
to take crosses, either handling cleanly or punching away with
aggression. A goalkeeper has a love-hate relationship with the ball,
caressing it into his safe keeping or punching it away as if in
I often used to go
outfield to take free kicks and I also quickly learned how effective
throwing the ball speedily out to a player could turn a game and put
our team in a threatening position. These were useful strategies and I
considered it an important part of my role to turn defence into attack
as effectively as I could. Nobody taught me these aspects of the
goalkeeper's game - it was instinctive and learned through experience.
In fact I was
never ever coached, and I believe natural ability is paramount in a
goalkeeper. Personally, I believe that modern goalkeeping coaching
practices have done more harm than good.