1989 Football League Third Division play-off Final
|Event||1988–89 Football League
|Date||31 July 1989|
|Venue||Twerton Park, Bath|
|Date||3 June 1989|
|Venue||Vale Park, Stoke-on-Trent|
The 1989 Football League Third Division play-off final was a two-legged football match played at on 31 May and 3 June 1989, to determine the third and final team to gain promotion from the Third Division to the Second Division of The Football League in the 1988–89 season. Port Vale faced Bristol Rovers. It was the final Third Division play-off final to be decided on a two leg basis. From 1990 onwards, matches would be decided at Wembley – or an appropriate national stadium.
Rovers' rivals Bristol City had been defeated in last year's play-off finals after losing the replay 4–0. It was the first time either Rovers or Vale played a play-off final. Rovers had easily disposed of Fulham and Vale had brushed aside Preston North End to reach the final.
The first leg finished 1–1, with Vale's talisman Robbie Earle equalising in the 73rd minute after Gary Penrice had given Rovers the lead in the first half. In the second leg, Earle was the hero once again, scoring the only goal of the game with a 52nd-minute header.
Route to the final
|Pos=Position P=Games played W=Wins D=Draws
L=Defeats F=Goals for A=Goals against Pts=Points
Port Vale had finished the 1988–89 Football League season in third place in Division Three, two places ahead of Rovers. Both therefore missed out on the two automatic promotion places and instead took part in the play-offs to determine the third promoted team. Vale had finished level on points with second place Sheffield United, but their inferior goal difference cost them automatic promotion. Fulham took 4th, nine points below Vale and Rovers finished 5th, ten points behind the Vale. Over the course of 46 games both clubs had only lost ten games, Vale's superior goal scoring helped them to win five games more than Rovers.
In the semi-finals, Rovers had on paper the most difficult task in facing 4th placed Fulham, However, Fulham record of conceding a further sixteen goals than Rovers over the course of the season showed and the Bristol side went through in emphatic style – winning 4–0 at home and 1–0 away. Vale's opponents Preston North End proved to be a greater challenge and after a 1–1 tie at Preston, the Vale won 3–1 at home thanks to a Darren Beckford hat-trick. At Preston's ground there was a pitch invasion by the Preston fans after a fire erupted under the wooden slats of their stands. Joan Walley called for an enquiry at Parliament, but no enquiry was made.
|Bristol Rovers||Round||Port Vale|
|Fulham||5–0||1–0 away; 4–0 home||Preston North End||4–2||1–1 away; 3–1 home|
John Jeffers saw his chance go begging on the 30th minute mark following a Darren Beckford flick-on from a corner kick. It was Rovers that were the first to score; keeper Nigel Martyn smashed the ball upfield and Gary Penrice volleyed home over a stranded Mark Grew following a Devon White flick-on. Ron Futcher headed into the net just before half-time only to find his goal disallowed for offside.
It was Robbie Earle who equalised seventeen minutes from time to level the tie, heading home a Futcher cross. The Vale nearly won the game in the dying moments only for Beckford's header to be cleared off the goal-line.
The first half finished goalless, meaning Rovers had to press Vale in the second half to score a goal, else face losing the tie on away goals. The second half saw the "MBE" combination pay off, resulting in a Robbie Earle headed goal in the fifty-second minute (ironically Earle would be made an MBE years later). The "MBE" move was a Mills corner, flicked on by Beckford and knocked into the net by Earle. It was to prove the only goal of the game.
"We practised corners for hours, and it certainly paid off. Millsy could put in a brilliant delivery and as soon as it went toward Becky I knew it was coming my way. At the end of the game it was a huge feeling of relief that we had proved a point – we were good enough for promotion. We knew as a group of players we could play at a higher level and this gave us a chance to do so. I had a great time at Vale, and this was the greatest of them all.
Rovers recovered excellently from the loss and the following season joined Port Vale in the second tier, coming up as champions. Port Vale lasted in the second tier until 1991–92 when they took the wooden spoon with them back to the third tier. In 1992–93, Rovers did the same.
Robbie Earle was sold on to Wimbledon for £775,000 in July 1991 and later appeared in the 1998 FIFA World Cup for Jamaica. Now retired, as of 2009 he is a successful columnist and TV pundit. The man that effectively put Vale in the final – Darren Beckford, was himself sold for £925,000 in 1991, to Norwich. His career however was to go into a decline, and was in the non-leagues by 1998, after retirement he took a career in education. Mastermind of the success John Rudge continued to manage Vale until 1999 when he was sacked in a very controversial decision by chairman Bill Bell.
31 May 1989
|Bristol Rovers||1 – 1||Port Vale|
3 June 1989
|Port Vale||1 – 0||Bristol Rovers|
- Kent, Jeff. The Valiants' Years: The Story of Port Vale. Witan Books. p. 286. ISBN 0-9508981-4-7.
- Kent, Jeff. The Port Vale Record 1879–1993. Witan Books. p. 225. ISBN 0-9508981-9-8.
- Sherwin, Phil (28 August 2010). "Memory Match: Bristol Rovers 1 Port Vale 1 May 31, 1989". The Sentinel. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
- "Vale heroes completed mission thanks to MBE". The Sentinel. 30 October 2009. Retrieved 31 October 2009.