(Written by Mervyn Edwards, Local Historian and Burslem History Club Speaker Secretary, November, 2016)

Alan Massey, from May Bank, is the Chairman of Burslem History Club – but did you know that he was once on the books of Port Vale?
When I sat down to interview him recently, he recalled heady days at Vale Park in the 1960s.

“I was a ball-boy at Port Vale from, I think, the 1962/3 season to the 1965/6 season, finishing in the May of that year,” explained Alan, aged 65. “I applied for a ball-boy’s post, and may well have been interviewed by Len Parton, who was the head groundsmen and a strict, old-school chap.”
Alan, who then lived in Windermere Street, Cobridge, recalls that ball-boys used to change in the cellar of the club’s boiler house, and were usually kitted out in second-hand tracksuits that were too big. “After games,” continued Alan, “we would collect all the flags up, then unhook the goal-nets and fold them up before taking them to Hamil End, where Len Parton’s office was. “There were always four ball-boys on duty per game, and each of us would be paid half-a-crown.” 
He has graphic memories of one tremendous match. “When Vale played Liverpool in the FA Cup tie in 1964, I was on duty at Vale Park,” he recalls. “I found myself on the side of the pitch, standing next to the legendary Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly. “He turned to me and said what a magnificent state the pitch was in
– especially as it was January.  I was twelve years old and talking to God!” The match itself is remembered for the Liverpool fans who climbed into the stadium on rope-ladders, packing the ground out beyond its safety limits. “People were falling from the stand and overflowing on to the running track,” says Alan. “It wasn’t a safe occasion to be a ball-boy.  A policemen said to me, ‘Come here, son, I’ll look after you.’ “Vale lost 2-1 on what was a fantastic occasion, with Albert Cheesebrough scoring for us. “That season, Liverpool won the First Division, so for the Vale to have drawn at Anfield and to have narrowly lost in the replay at Burslem was some performance.
“You felt close to the players in those days, because they had other jobs. "Selwyn Whalley was a school teacher at Hanley High, and Roy Sproson kept a newsagent’s shop.  “My favourite home player was the centre-half, John Nicholson, but everyone liked Stan Steele, nicknamed ‘Chunky.’ “It was pretty rare for anyone to get sent off in those days, but I recall him being sent off, once, and there was a near riot at the players’ entrance.” 

Some games could be boring, of course.  He smiles: “In one game, I was clapped by the Lorne Street supporters because I made a catch that was just about the highlight of the match.”
Alan continued to support Vale up until adulthood and marriage, though he has attended some matches with the GMB trade union in recent years. “This has given me the chance to see how things have changed,” he explains. “The Hamil Road End was formerly a dirt-hill. The old manager’s office has gone, and there are boxes or suites at the ground now. “Something else that has changed a lot is that in the 1960s, people supported Vale one week and Stoke the next – but I leaned more towards Vale because I’ve always supported the underdog.
“I feel that it’s highly appropriate that the GMB is the main sponsor of a football club whose roots are in the local community.”

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