Port Vale Football Club historian Phil Sherwin pays tribute to former Vale striker John "Jesse" James following news of his passing on Sunday.
It was sad to hear about the death of John James, my first real football hero. I started going to games in 1968 and ‘Jesse’ was the star of the 1969/70 Fourth Division promotion winning team. Top scorers always grab the headlines and his long hair made him stand out even more. He always gave everything as well and he had a great rapport with the fans, the Tom Pope of his day.
Born in Stone in October 1948, he graduated through the club’s academy originally as a defender/half back and he made his debut in April 1966, against Newport County, with Vale winning 3-0. The following season he was part of the team that reached the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup, and then became a regular in the first team.
Manager Gordon Lee had the foresight to turn him into a striker in 1969 and that paid off when he was a cult hero in the 1969/70 promotion season, finishing as top scorer with 17 goals. One of those was a last minute winner at Old Trafford, but not against Man U, against Wigan in an FA Cup second replay. In 1970/71 ‘Jesse’ as he was known, scored another 15 goals. Unfortunately injuries hampered his career after that with the Vale and he was sold to Chester for £5,000 in February 1973 after scoring 44 goals in 229 appearances for the Vale. He had success there, helping them to promotion as well as a place in the semi-finals of the League Cup.
He finished his league career with Tranmere Rovers, playing for them at Vale Park in 1977 when he received a rousing reception. He was cheered every time he touched the ball as fans chanted his name throughout and even the Tranmere fans must have been mystified. God knows what would have happened had he have scored! I’ve never seen a former player get such a reception either before or since. He also had a loan spell with Chicago Sting.
At the end of his playing career he went to live in Torquay where he ran a newsagents. He passed away earlier this week after suffering from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease surrounded by his family. RIP Jesse.