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Rudge pickles
By Ian Grant
It's "Happy Hour" at the Last Chance Saloon.

The First Division soap opera is reaching new heights of absurdity. As directors continue to ignore the very obvious reality that their investments can go down as well as up, that the Second Division is as close as the Premiership (and easier to get into), the casualties are piling up. Portsmouth are now in administration with Oxford likely to follow; Crystal Palace have paid the inflated price for an absurd dalliance with Terry Venables; no less than seven of twenty-four clubs (Bristol City, Swindon, Wolves, Palace, QPR, Bury and Port Vale) have changed managers.

And so we get to the point. Of all the ridiculous, idiotic decisions made in English football so far this season (and let's face it, there have been a few) one stands out.

After fifteen years and 843 matches, Port Vale have sacked John Rudge. You do have to wonder what qualifies some people to own and run a football club, I do struggle to understand what's going on in their empty heads.

John Rudge was Port Vale. No, scratch that, John Rudge is Port Vale.

In footballing terms, he was simply the best manager that Vale will ever have. He may not have achieved headline-grabbing success - fittingly for a seemingly modest, understated man, his reign leaves no indelible mark on the national consciousness - but that shouldn't mean that what he did achieve passes unnoticed.

Three promotions and three Wembley visits isn't the stuff of childhood dreams - but for an classically unfashionable club like Vale to be occasionally challenging for the Premiership was truly remarkable. As Watford fans ought to remember, all things are relative. Crucially, however, Rudge did it differently from others.

Many have bruised their way into contention, winning no friends. Vale, on the other hand, were one of every season's highlights. Their visits to Vicarage Road were never likely to break box office records, yet Rudge's sides were guaranteed to at least attempt to provide good entertainment. The formula never changed - passing football, forward-thinking, always with two fine wingers - but, as I remarked earlier in the season, familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. Vale were frequently quite lovely to watch. More than that, they were distinctively lovely - a team that you could pick out in an identity parade ("It was the one with the two wingers what done it, officer"). First Division football will be much poorer for his absence.

In the process of quietly building his teams, Rudge unearthed so much talent, a great deal of which is exercising its considerable earning power elsewhere - Mark Bright at Charlton, Robbie Earle and Gareth Ainsworth at Wimbledon, Ian Taylor at Villa, Steve Guppy at Leicester, Robin van der Laan at Derby, Jon McCarthy at Birmingham, Lee Mills at Bradford. That's nearly ten million quid's worth. Several of these, and current, players appear to have that unshakeable, burning loyalty to Rudge that indicates a manager who is not only obeyed, not only respected but loved. There are few who can claim that. That he appears to have done most of this transfer trickery via his own scouting is fairly typical of the man.

To dismiss him is one thing. There is, if you're that way inclined, some cause for it - Brian Horton will provide a major culture shock for Vale fans but he's performed minor miracles at Brighton and may do the same at his new club (although it's difficult to imagine that anyone will be able to resist the eternal pull of gravity like Rudgie could). To dismiss him with a two paragraph memo that doesn't even bother to say "thank you", to try to put him out to pasture as "director of football" above a new manager with whom he shares no footballing philosophies whatsoever, well, that's just too much. Have some respect. If Rudge was a gentleman, he was clearly one of a dying breed.

Football is changing. If it has no room for people like John Rudge, then it is not changing for the better.

John Rudge biog