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John Rudge - the "quiet man"
John Rudge was a manager who let his team do the talking. He led Port Vale through one of its great periods, and is now part of Stoke City's backroom staff. Ashley Hammond interviewed him at the Britannia Stadium...
Not since the late Sir Stanley Matthews has the spirit of football in Stoke on Trent been epitomised by one man - John Rudge.
Not only had he a massive influence as manager of Port Vale for many years, but now he is the steadying hand on the tiller at Stoke City.
BBC Radio Stoke's Rob Adcock interviewed him for nearly an hour - in which John spoke about his lengthy career, and revealed much about what has gone behind the scenes at both Port Vale and Stoke City over the last thirty years...
Port Vale team of stars
Wolverhampton born Rudge steered Port Vale from the depths of the old Fourth Division to the First in his nineteen year reign at Vale Park, which saw him clock up 843 games and 3 Wembley visits.
During his illustrious managerial reign he spotted and developed the careers of many past and present Premiership aces - such as Mark Bright, Robbie Earle, Robin Van der Laan, Gareth Ainsworth, Ian Taylor, Steve Guppy, Jon McCarthy, Lee Mills, and most recently Anthony Gardner - then he sold them on for a cumulative value of just under ten million pounds over the seasons in order to balance the books.
Playing days cut short
However his playing days were admittedly less spectacular. Taken on by Wolverhampton schoolboys he soon developed a prowess for playing down the wing, and served Huddersfield, Carlisle, Torquay, and Bristol Rovers, before ending his career at Bournemouth after an Achilles injury.
He played 211 games and scored 70 goals.
His role as manager
At 32 Rudge was fortunate to be handed his first job in management as assistant at Torquay, before being offered a coaching role with John McGrath’s Valiants side.
In his own words
When I went along to his new stomping ground The Britannia Stadium I asked him about his fondest memories at Vale and the list became almost infinite.
“...Our three Wembley visits: the Playoffs against West Brom; Anglo Italian Cup against Genoa; and also the LDV Van (as it is now) Trophy victory. Although we lost against Genoa and the Baggies, they are still great days in the clubs history and we certainly made up for it in our win against Stockport.
Over nineteen years we had some fantastic FA cup runs; we beat Everton and Tottenham. Getting Port Vale into the (then) Second Division for the first time in 33 years was also a great achievement.”
Rudge gets the boot
Having written himself into Port Vale folklore, nineteen years after plucking Vale from obscurity, Rudge was sacked after poor league form; the board didn’t even express gratitude for his hard work in more than a two-paragraph memo.
If it wasn’t for John Rudge’s endless modesty and reluctance to be disloyal- by refusing to take Preston and Bradford up on previous offers - he may have gained more of the recognition he deserved, thus creating more of an uproar in the national press when he was savagely expelled from Vale Park, but it was not in John's gentlemanly nature to steal any such limelight.
He admitted: “I suppose my biggest regret in the game is not having the chance to test myself at the highest level. I did have opportunities to leave Port Vale, but it didn’t seem right.”
It is a rare occurrence nowadays to see a manager sacrifice his own aspirations for the good of the club. Who remembers Steve Cotterill?
Although the controversial dismissal didn’t evoke the mass hysteria nationwide that it warranted, the hugely underrated Rudge did speak of the local reaction.
“Nineteen years was a long time. I was sacked and asked to be director of football, but I thought it was the right time for me to leave, because I didn’t think my relationship then with the Board of Directors was as good as I would have liked it to have been.
It was always an awkward situation and I think the main reason I stayed as long as I did was down to the supporters, because they were fantastic to me.”
Flat caps as a tribute
“They organised a tremendous reception for me when I was sacked, followed by a march from the town centre all donning flat caps as a tribute to me. 750 people turned up to Trentham Gardens for my celebratory dinner, which is an experience I’ll never forget. There aren’t many who could last nineteen years: I just guess I was pretty good at dodging the bullets!”
“I wasn’t treated poorly by the supporters at all - I want that to be stressed. As regarding the board and Chairman, the way it was handled after such loyal and lengthy service and effort I just felt it could have been dealt with in a fairer manner, but they obviously thought it was time for me to leave.”
Move to Stoke City
From Vale, Rudge made the short trip across Stoke to the Britannia Stadium and took up the post, in 1999 as Director of Football for First Division Stoke City.
“They asked me to be the manager, which I declined on two or three occasions - I didn’t want to go from my sacking at Vale straight into the role at Stoke. I was flattered but it wasn’t to be.
The role I came into was something I had always intended to do at Vale with someone like Robbie Earle as Manager.”
“I didn’t intend any revenge on Vale by joining their local rivals. It was just the convenience of the area; my family and I are settled here, it was a quick opportunity to get back into football, and it was right for me at the time.
I didn’t want to move away from Stoke on Trent because the people here are the salt of the earth, I can relate to them, and I will always regard it as my home now after coming here in 1979.”
Back to management?
“I have had opportunities to get back into management since.
I wouldn’t say never - but now I’m getting to the stage now where I’m 59, and the role I do now at Stoke is still involved very heavily in the football side. I’m still involved in all aspects of the club, contracts, training, and attending matches, and I’m working with someone I get on really well with in Tony Pullis, and I hope that I can just help him by taking the strain off him because I know exactly what its like to be a manager, which is a hard role; and can be often too much for one person.
I’m here to lighten the load so he can focus on winning matches.”
“My job involves sixty to seventy hours a week, it’s very time consuming. I suppose it’s a drug for me, though its something I’ve been involved in since I was fifteen.
True Gentlemen in the form of John Rudge are few and far between in the modern game, and it is impossible to profile the servant of Stoke without doing him the justice he deserves, so I leave the lasting words to another great manager Sir Alex Ferguson who once said “Every Port Vale supporter should get down on their knees and thank the Lord for John Rudge.”
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last updated: 05/08/2009 at 11:30