Port Vale secured promotion from League Two at the weekend - in the eyes of all but a mathematical pedant - with the scenes of celebration on the pitch at full-time proving memorable for a club that has fallen on hard times recently.
Manager Micky Adams is renowned throughout the game for fostering a particularly strong team ethic, almost to the point of a siege mentality. He did it with Brighton as they won promotion from the bottom division 11 years ago in similarly testing circumstances. And he's done it again with a Vale side that only came out of administration at the start of the season.
But Adams isn't the only manager at Vale Park. Two of his players give up their Sunday mornings to run a pub team called Sneyd FC. Tom Pope and Adam Yates are local lads who like nothing more than joining up with their mates on Sunday at a proper grass roots level.
I went down to watch Sneyd in action last weekend to catch up with the managerial duo. Yates explained: "The lads turn up sometimes and they've had a drink - you've got to put up with it. They're not getting paid, obviously.
It's an eye-opener but it's great to be here learning about managing and coaching.
Quotes of the week
"It's an eye-opener but it's great to be here learning about managing and coaching. For me it's enjoyable. There are a lot of lads who we know and we're bringing players in who are renowned for being good Sunday footballers throughout the area and hopefully we can win some trophies."
Sneyd are on course for a league and cup double. They beat rivals Six Towns United in the Sunday Sentinel Cup last weekend and are on course to win the Potteries and District Premier League. The team was run by Pope's Dad, Bob, for 25 years and he was only too glad to hand the reigns over at the start of this season.
"It gets a bit of a bind after that amount of time and I thought Tom would be interested in doing it," said Bob, "Tom played for us when he was about 15 years old up until he was professional and I thought it'd give him a good insight into this side of the game as well as playing. To be fair they've taken to it really well, the pair of them. They seem to enjoy it and it might give them some sort of experience for after football when they've finished."
The emphasis at Vale may be on the team, but it's hard to ignore the impact Pope has made this season. He is the country's leading goalscorer with 33 goals. A Vale fan as a boy, the striker was a late developer. Now 27, he is in no doubt about the key to his personal success this season
"I just think it was a good pre-season," he added. "I haven't had a good pre-season for three years and fitness is a key part of League Two, you need to be sharp. I was having niggling injuries and coming back too soon. I was never 100 per cent fit, when you're a big man you can look sluggish, your touch is off and your movement isn't as good. Micky Adams is renowned for his pre-seasons, we did plenty of running, got ourselves fit and I felt sharp from the start. I've carried on going since the start.
"If you look at my goals this season I thrive on balls into the box and I've scored quite a few headers. Last season I didn't really do it, but this year the gaffer's gone out and brought in two quality wingers for this level and it's just gelled. Everything has come together at the right time and I've enjoyed it."
Pope was named League Two Player of the Year, an accolade that Dad is extremely proud of. "Oh it's fantastic, I knew he'd done really well but it's great that the other managers have seen that side of it," said Pope senior. "Personally I thought Gary Jones the Bradford captain might have won it because of their achievements, but over the season Tom's scored goals and been fantastic and I think other managers have seen that. It is credit to him he's won that. It's Vale's Player of Season Awards on 28th April and it's my 30th wedding anniversary so we're hoping he wins the Vale player of the Year as well, that'd be a nice touch."
It will be a night of celebration for all Vale supporters. Few predicted such success at the start of the season. Yates remembers the time 12 months ago when the players were told they wouldn't be paid.
"Yeah, we missed out on a month's wages," he recalled. "We're League Two footballers we're not Premier League footballers earning a hundred grand a week that can afford to miss out. We might be able to scramble through a month or two without wages but after that we're struggling. A lot of players I know where struggling through that month. Obviously we got it back in the end with the help of the PFA and the new owners that have come in. But the manager has assembled a great squad of players. I think without his man-management we wouldn't be in the position we're in."
For Pope and Yates there could be more success around the corner. The Sentinel Cup Final is another day to look forward to and Sneyd's Vale following will be out in force, even if the venue for the match isn't quite ideal - it's to be played at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium.
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