Ray King: Port Vale’s sixtieth anniversary dinner
In everyone’s life there will be times when a little rain will fall. During my lifetime I have experienced many ups and downs. In the last two years there have been many dark clouds, not only losing Norma, my partner for 60 eventful years, but my own health has been a matter of concern, no doubt due in part to the wear and tear of a sporting life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way; I enjoyed every minute of it.
I admit to being ‘very low’ recently, especially since even a short walk causes problems with my breathing and my legs. Thankfully my mind is still in good order and being able to write is a blessing. I’m also fortunate to have wonderful neighbours, I can never thank them enough for their kindness- to mention their names would only embarrass them. However I have done so in my forthcoming book, ‘To the end of the road’ which will be available soon.
I received a great ‘pick me up’ out of the blue when I received an invitation from Port Vale to be special guest on their sixtieth anniversary, when their new ground, which is to be named ‘Wembley of the North’ was officially opened. I was the only surviving member of the team which played on my very first match against Newport County in front of a crowd of 40,000. I remember there was no cover on the terraces and it poured with rain for the whole 90 minutes. Port Vale won 1-0.
The prospect filled me with both ecstasy and foreboding. Knowing I was to be recognised, but concerned whether I was up to making the long journey. However, I had no need to worry; a director and his wife came in their Mercedes to pick me up from home and then drive me back, 1,000 miles in all.
On arriving in Stoke on Trent, for the celebration, I was met by my good friends Pat and John Poole, who invited me into their home for my stay. Word spread very quickly that I had arrived and the phone never stopped ringing as fans wanted to get in touch. I was overwhelmed as it was 53 years since I played my last game there, which happened to be against Swansea City, my swan song!
We attended a celebration dinner on the Friday night. To keep me company at the top table was former Newcastle United and Port Vale manager Gordon Lee. I was introduced to the audience of around 300, and I got a standing ovation. With tears running down my cheeks and choking with emotion all I could do was wave my arms around in acknowledgement. There were photographers and autograph hunters and people with action shots of me that they wanted signed and those who just wanted to shake my hand. The most pleasing thing was the number of youngsters who said they had never met a legend before; I thought I must be dreaming.
The next day we attended a match between Port Vale and Aldershot. We had our own private box and looked forward to an appetizing lunch, my favourite meal, steak and kidney pie, only to be called out to meet a man for more photographs. This man wanted to meet me. He said I was his boyhood idol and whenever he played in goal for his school team he was Ray King. It was Pete Conway, father of Robbie Williams. Robbie is a major shareholder in Port Vale Club. Unfortunately he was unable to attend, but he sent his best wishes. So much for the lovely meal, I never got a bite. After the game I was presented with a beautiful photograph of the Vale ground..This was an occasion I shall never forget, and I thank all who contributed so much on my behalf.