Port Vale Vintage: Part Three

Welcome to the concluding part of very special guest Phil Bowers‘ modern history of Port Vale told through the club’s football kits.

Part Two ended in suspense with Burslem’s finest entering administration for the second time in 9 years, and without a kit for the 2012-13 season.

Mr Bowers takes up the story!

Vandanel’s contract along with their shirt sponsorship deals had ended with the club’s entry into administration.

Vale faced the prospect of turning out in training gear on the opening day, but what transpired next was of interest to those involved in the kit world.

Norman Smurthwaite had a connection with Sondico, and they hastily produced a shirt for Vale to wear in their first game – a League Cup tie at home to Burnley.

Just one problem: It wasn’t black and white.

It was pink.

Whilst it’s hard to see in this picture, Vandanel’s logo featured on shirts sponsored by Sondico

Bizarrely, due to a contractual arrangement, Vandanel still had their name on their shirt, but Sondico had the more prominent position. They were making the kit, but Vandanel still had their name on it.

In time for their next home game, Sondico managed to get a black and white version sorted, and Vale wore these colours for the first few months of the season.

Sondico’s shirts carried Vandanel’s name

Vale made a strong start, with Tom Pope banging in the goals, and players like Jennison Myrie Williams, Ashley Vincent and Chris Neal enjoying excellent campaigns.

Midway through the season, Sondico finally managed to get their own kit into production for Vale to wear, with a pinstriped home kit and a more traditional yellow change outfit.

Sondico’s bespoke kit from the 2012-13 promotion season became a fans’ favourite

Adams added experience in the shape of Daniel Jones, Lee Hughes and Darren Purse in January as Vale were promoted at the end of that season, and the shirt, however late it arrived, is now a crowd favourite.

Back in League One after an absence of 5 years, Sondico had more time to to plan what they wanted to do with Vale’s colours and they produced some brilliant work for 2013/14.

The home shirt was simple, sponsored by GMB, but with watermarked images of Burslem etched into the shirt.

It was the first to feature Port Vale’s new badge and became a much-loved shirt.

The black away kit (crucially not combined with an all-white home kit this time), was even more popular.

Sondico’s smart away shirt featured Vale’s new badge

The sash design was something Vale hadn’t experimented with before, but it was a thing of beauty. Incorporating the gold into the kit was a masterstroke, but did pose one problem.

The shirt was great, but the gold socks looked exactly like 1940’s wartime tights. It wasn’t a good look and they were quickly replaced with black ones.

A solid season saw Vale establish themselves as a solid League One team, and the financial backing provided to Adams allowed him to strengthen the following season.

They exited the cup competitions early, but their League form was solid enough up until a horrendous September/October.

Six defeats, including a 3-0 mauling at Bristol City, proved the final straw in Adams and Smurthwaite’s relationship.

Adams left, amid rumours of disagreements behind the scenes, strenuously denied by Smurthwaite, who had offered Adams a Director of Football role.

Adams’ assistant, Rob Page, stepped in and kept the club’s head above water. During this period, Vale had gone back to having three kits, with new manufacturer Erreà.

Adams had links with them from his time with Brighton, and they came up with some wonderful shirts. Their home effort was another great addition, with a black collar and gold cuffs evoking memories of the club’s 1997 classic.

Erreà’s first Vale home shirt

The away kit was also retro, with black and gold stripes reappearing. A purple alternate kit was used sparingly too.

The end of the season proved tumultuous. Tom Pope, Mark Marshall and Ben Williamson all left, and with them a truckload of goals. And other players had their contracts cancelled as the owner made behind the scenes decisions that began to irritate fans – like scrapping the club’s door to door lottery sellers.

Smurthwaite though, pledged to back Page in his first full season in charge, and kept to his word by bringing in Newcastle goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, key midfielder Anthony Grant and defenders Ryan Inniss and Remi Streete.

The away and third kits stayed the same, but a new home shirt corresponded with the naming of former Stoke defender Carl Dickinson as club captain. The new Erreà design was inspired by designs from the 80s, with a black V returning for the first time since 1982.

V for Vale!

However, much was to change at the end of the campaign, and not just the kit. The V was retained, but on the club’s popular new third kit, which featured claret and blue from the club’s 1900/01 season. The away kit was a pinstriped yellow affair, but the home shirt was another classic, evoking memories of Admiral’s 1982 England kit in Vale colours.

Erreà gave Vale three smart kits for 2016-17

Off the field, Smurthwaite made the controversial decision to jettison many of the club’s English players in favour of a foreign revolution.

Page left, to be replaced by Bruno Ribeiro, and several untried foreign imports. Smurthwaite maintained that he would get the club promoted without having to pay English players large sums of money, but the gamble didn’t pay off.

After a promising start, many of the players didn’t have the impact they were expected to have, and Ribeiro was sacked in December.

Great shirt, shame about the season

Michael Brown took the reigns, and produced another turnover of players by getting rid of the foreign signings and bringing in lots of out of contract English faces.

The downside was most of them hadn’t been playing first team football, and weren’t fit.

Ryan Taylor, Andre Bikey and Chris Eagles may have all been excellent signings in their prime, but not up to the rigours of a 2016/17 relegation dogfight.

Brown wasn’t helped by the sales of two key players. Star goalkeeper Alnwick was sold to Rangers, and midfielder Grant departed to Peterborough.

Loan striker Alex Jones, who’d scored 10 goals, returned to Birmingham, and Vale’s fate was sealed with a 0-0 draw at Fleetwood on the final day of the season.

League Two beckoned once more, but Vale hadn’t learned kit lessons of the past. All white and All black never end well, but that didn’t stop Erreà from handing Vale an underwhelming home shirt, which faced criticism for a seemingly grey line down the middle of the shirt.

Erreà’s 2017-18 shirt

The all black away kit looked better, but the white and yellow stripe down the front of the kit somehow just didn’t work. New sponsors Manor Shop computers featured on both shirts.

Back in Black: Vale’s 2017-18 away shirt

The two kits coincided with another underwhelming campaign.

Brown’s signings were largely inconsistent, and he drew criticism for continually fielding an aging midfield which was regularly overrun by younger players (through no fault of their own), and putting his faith in a series of questionable goalkeepers.

Vale incredibly fielded ten over the course of a calendar year, none of whom impressed sufficiently.

Brown was sacked in September and former defender Neil Aspin took over, galvanising the squad. Pope and defender Leon Legge were the standouts as the club turned their fortunes around.

For a while all looked well: Aspin had the fans onside, was building a decent team, and kept the club out of the relegation zone. Cracks began to appear at the end of the season, including a 5-1 rout at Cheltenham where Vale wore a one off yellow kit (as the referee said that white or black would clash with him and the home side’s red and white stripes).

Vale’s one-off yellow kit

It was the last kit Erreà was seemingly to produce with Vale, as Smurthwaite announced a kit deal with Australian teamwear manufacturer BLK Sport. The revamped home kit, introduced a gold and black stripe and several panels, and returned to black shorts and socks.

BLK in the room

The away kit was slightly more unconventional. BLK decked out Vale in purple – not a colour often associated with the club, and slightly annoying as it was soon revealed that long-time rivals Stoke City had also announced a purple change kit.

Aspin was active in the transfer market too, bringing in defenders Theo Vassell and Mitch Clark, midfielders Manny Oyeleke and Luke Joyce, and crucially, goalkeeper Scott Brown, filling the gap between the sticks.

But all the optimism of the first few weeks evaporated with a 6-1 home thumping by Lincoln that drastically changed Aspin’s philosophy. He began to play more defensively, relying on Pope to score the goals with little support from elsewhere. January arrived and only inexperienced players came to the club, all of whom had little impact apart from Nottingham Forest defender Adam Crookes.

No purple patch for Vale

John Askey took over in February, and after a shaky start guided the club to safety, as he slowly changed the club from being a soft touch to one capable of bloodying a few noses along the way. But yet more trouble was brewing behind the scenes.

Smurthwaite, in an angry radio tirade, announced he was putting the club up for sale, and if no buyer was found, he would put the club into administration.

This threw plans for the following season into disarray, with the BLK and Manor Shop contracts up, Vale again were faced with starting the campaign without a kit or a sponsor.

New owner Carol Shanahan made immediate sweeping changes, and being the owner of local IT firm Synectics Solutions, took the opportunity to use the company’s logo on the new shirts – but who would make them?

Fortunately Erreà came back over the horizon, and while their new home and away kits were teamwear templates, their simplicity has proved popular – even if they are both the same as Norwich City’s goalkeeper shirt.

The 2019-20 season saw Erreà return

So, in this little journey through Vale’s kit history, there seems to be one theme – aside from the genius of the Kalamazoo wallpaper – simplicity is best.

Keeping the design clean and straightforward is popular, and retaining the gold into the home kit is essential.

For the away kit, gold and black are undoubtedly popular, but all black, while looking smart, often leads to misfortune.

Simplicity at its best: Vale’s 2019-20 away kit

And as for the best?

Phil conducted a Twitter poll for Vale fans, revealing a very popular winner!

Massive thanks go to Phil Bowers for putting this epic review of Vale kits together!

We can’t wait to see their likes again but in the meantime, remember you can follow him on Twitter here!

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