Date: 21st June 2011 at 2:14pm
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Vital reader Burslem Boy takes a brief look back at the career of Vale’s all-time leading scorer…

As I was leaving the ground at Sixfields after Vale`s inept 0-0 draw with Northampton Town last season I heard a plaintive voice behind me declare ‘oh for a striker who can put the ball in the net`. This set me thinking about Vale strikers. There haven`t actually been that many prolific ones. My dad used to talk in reverential terms about one of them, possibly Vale`s greatest striker, Wilf Kirkham. Even a cursory summary of Kirkham`s career shows how much football has changed. And, in the case of the Vale, how little it has changed. Kirkham was born in Cobridge in 1901, the son of Andrew Kirkham, a miner, and his wife Mary Ann. Tom ‘Dirty Tommy` Holford, one of Vale`s few England internationals and later the club`s player-manager, was Kirkham`s cousin. Kirkham played briefly for the Vale as an amateur before going to teacher training college in Sheffield in 1920. He re-joined Vale, this time as a professional, on the conclusion of his studies in 1923 and during the whole of his playing career also worked as a school teacher. This was until his appointment as headmaster of Cobridge School in the summer of 1933 when the greybeards at the education authority decided that professional football was incompatible with the dignity of a headmaster. Kirkham is Vale`s all-time top scorer, with 164 goals in all competitions, including 153 in the Football League, most of them scored in Division 2 (aka The Championship). He was Vale`s leading scorer in the 1924-25, 1925-26 and 1926-27 seasons. He scored a record 38 League goals in the 1926-27 season. His value to the club was clearly recognised. Such that the club secretary declared ‘We realise Kirkham is our most valuable player, and that our supporters would never forgive us for parting with him`. Kirkham was duly sold in May 1929 for £2,800. Just to rub salt in supporters` wounds, he was sold to Stoke City. Nothing new there, then. Wilf Kirkham`s scoring feats for the Vale included twelve hat-tricks. He died in Bournemouth on 20 October 1974, aged 72.


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