Dean Glover is the boyhood Birmingham City supporter who devoted a decade to Aston Villa. Not just any 10 years, either, since the League championship trophy rested at Villa Park when he turned professional, and the European Cup followed within months. No wonder he reflects on that chapter in his career as "unreal".
Glover is now assistant manager and coach to Port Vale, although financial prudence sees him take a hand in everything from scouting prospective signings to "doing the laundry". On Saturday, however, unreality makes a welcome reappearance when Vale visit Villa in the FA Cup.
For the 42-year-old Glover, the tie represents a nostalgic return to one of football's stately homes. This is where he graduated from the apprentice ranks to make the first of 38 appearances for Villa in an FA Cup replay at Norwich in 1984 alongside Peter Withe, Gary Shaw, Dennis Mortimer and Steve McMahon. For Vale, he admits, the match is as much about money as the magic of the Cup.
Now scrupulously run by a board comprising supporters who steered the club out of administration, they still have debts approaching £1m, while a stand remains unfinished after eight years. The Potteries club hope a £200,000 share of receipts will cover holes in their budget caused by a shortfall of 900 spectators a game on a break-even figure of 5,500.
"We've had to sell to survive," says Glover. "Port Vale have always had to. We did it with Robbie Earle [to Wimbledon] and Darren Beckford [to Norwich] when I was a player here."
In fact, when he first arrived, in 1989, Vale were starting to spend. For the sum they hope to make this weekend, John Rudge made Glover their record buy from Middlesbrough. That distinction later belonged to Martin Foyle, a £375,000 capture from Oxford United who now occupies the manager's office. But those big-spending days are gone.
Glover had to mark Steve Bull after one day's training with his new colleagues. The Wolves and England striker was subdued so effectively that the late, lamented Vale fanzine, The Memoirs of Seth Bottomley, was moved to hail the newcomer as "coolest man alive - often takes a book on to the pitch to relieve the boredom".
The odd thing, Glover recalls, is that he had been playing in midfield for Middlesbrough. There again, he was a centre-forward in schools football, the self-confessed "Bluenose" who grew up wanting to be Trevor Francis, Bob Latchford, Kenny Burns or any of his Birmingham heroes.
"My dad used to take me and my brother to St Andrew's, but it was Villa who asked me to sign. I had no hesitation. My mates gave me some stick, but really they were pleased for me. Joining a big club like that was what we were all striving for."
He was associated with Villa from the age of 14, going full-time at 18 and staying another six years, the first of which Glover justifiably calls the best in their history. "I played with some cracking players. Mark Walters and Brian McClair were in my group - Brian was very quiet and went home to Scotland - and before I made the first team I learned by working with the fringe players like Colin Gibson, Gary Williams and Brendan Ormsby.
"It was brilliant to be part of it, even if we were on the outside looking in a bit. As a local lad you felt you got pushed further back whenever a new manager came in. I saw Ron Saunders, Tony Barton, Graham Turner and Billy McNeill come and go before Graham Taylor sorted it out. Each one had players in mind that they wanted to bring in. We felt we were never going to get that chance. That was the biggest disappointment."
At Vale he became part of the side Rudge took to the highest position in their 130-year history, just outside the Premiership play-off places. Giant-killing was a regular occurrence - holders Everton were beaten the last time they reached the fourth round, in 1996 - although it was Villa who slayed Glover and company at this stage exactly 15 years ago.
"We were a footballing team, with guys like Ray Walker, who was with me at Villa, and Robbie Earle. I had family and friends at the game, but it was very embarrassing because we got battered 6-0. Graham Taylor had Villa going head to head with Liverpool for the title and Gordon Cowans, David Platt, Tony Daley and Ian Ormondroyd destroyed us. There was almost a monsoon beforehand, so I'm putting it down to the pitch!
"Gordon was a terrific player and he's back at Villa as a coach. I don't think there's anyone else left from my time, apart from Deadly Doug [Ellis, the chairman] of course, though I don't expect he would remember me."
Villa also provided the opposition in Glover's testimonial match in 1998, after which he left, only to return twice on the backroom staff. It was a game remarkable for Robbie Williams' contribution. "Robbie came to Vale a lot until Take That got big and security became a problem. But he'd gone solo and decided late on that he'd play. Anyway, he scored a penalty but then gave the referee some verbals and got shown the red card. Actually, it was all planned because he needed a quick get-away. It was probably the only sending-off ever when the player wanted to go."
Vale will have to keep all their players on the pitch to have any chance of an unreal result, although they did despatch Villa's Carling Cup conquerors, Doncaster, in the third round. "David O'Leary has built a good Premiership side, and he often has a £9m striker [Juan Pablo Angel] on the bench," says Glover. "We're halfway down the old Third Division with a team built on free transfers, loans and our youth system.
"We'll need to play to our best to have any chance, but we'll have 6,500 supporters backing us and we'll certainly be giving it a go."
Today Burslem, tomorrow the world: Port Vale's player production line
Dean Glover was once their record signing, but Port Vale are renowned for developing talent, as this XI demonstrates:
1 Milija Aleksic Goalkeeper recruited by Stanley Matthews. Later an FA Cup winner with Tottenham Hotspur.
2 Roy Sproson Vale player for 22 years, then became manager.
3 Anthony Gardner Cost Tottenham £1m and has played centre-back for England.
4 Bill McGarry Won England caps after joining Huddersfield. Managed Wolves, Newcastle.
5 Brian Horton Bought for a pint of beer from Hednesford, he later played in the top flight with Brighton and Luton.
6 Robbie Earle Made debut at 17, before joining Wimbledon for £775,000. Played for Jamaica.
7 Mark Bright Bought by Leicester City, he moved on to Crystal Palace, Sheffield Wednesday and media punditry.
8 Ronnie Allen Sold to West Brom, he hit the winner against Vale in 1954 FA Cup semi-final.
9 Sammy Morgan Played for Northern Ireland before departing for Aston Villa.
10 Andy Jones John Rudge discovered him at Rhyl. Played for Wales before a £350,000 transfer to Charlton.
11 Mark Chamberlain Vale sold the winger to Stoke in 1982. Soon he was an England regular.Reuse content