Thursday, 27 October 2011

Cult Hero: Martin Foyle

With Port Vale the next visitors to Grenoble Road this Saturday, we turn our attention to a well-known veteran of both clubs: Martin Foyle. Foyle is a legendary figure at Port Vale (he is their post-war record goalscorer and later went on to manage the club), but he also made over 150 appearances and scored 44 goals for Oxford before he was sold to Port Vale. More recently he was manager of York City on that fateful day at Wembley last May, at the same time creating an unusual space for himself in the history books of Oxford United.

Foyle started his professional career at Southampton, but made his first professional appearances in Sweden. Southampton loaned a 19-year-old Foyle to IFK Munkfors in the summer of 1982, where he filled his boots with 30 goals in 22 matches. He made his senior English debut for Southampton in 1983 but failed to make enough of an impression in the First Division and joined Fourth Division Aldershot for £20,000 in 1984.

Foyle spent three seasons at the Rec, making almost 100 appearances and notching up 35 goals. In his first season at Aldershot he was paired up front with Teddy Sheringham (on loan from Millwall), though the club was unable to challenge for promotion. The 85-86 season was much the same, but the following season Foyle was an ever-present in an Aldershot side challenging for promotion from Division Four. Though he missed the FA Cup match between a then-Division One Oxford and Aldershot, he had already impressed the Oxford scouts and was signed in March 1987 for £140,000, missing Aldershot's playoff victory over Wolves as a result.

Foyle joined Oxford at around the same time as Dean Saunders, to replace John Aldridge and Billy Hamilton who both left the club at around the same time. The transition from Fourth Division to First was not easy and Foyle struggled to get first team action as Oxford struggled, though he and Dean Saunders gradually began to form a good partnership up front. The club struggled and were eventually relegated that season, but Foyle began to find the net in the latter part of the season, notching a brace away to Nottingham Forest. The following season in Division Two started badly for Martin, as he lost his strike partner Dean Saunders in controversial circumstances with manager Mark Lawrenson following soon after. He did manage to find his scoring boots after a while and the goals began to flow, with Foyle finishing the season as Oxford's top scorer on 15 goals. The arrivals of John Durnin and Mark Stein the following season provided some competition up front and Foyle spent much of the year out of the first team. The 90/91 season proved something of a renaissance for Foyle's Oxford career and though he was in and out of the side for much of the season he managed to net 17 league and cup goals, including a brace in the FA Cup away at Spurs. In the summer of 1991 he was sold to Port Vale for £375,000 – at the time the Burslem club's record transfer.

Martin Foyle's Port Vale debut against.....Oxford

Foyle was an immediate hit at Vale, scoring twice on his debut against the club that had just sold him, Oxford. Foyle went on to chalk up 16 goals that season but it wasn't enough to prevent Vale from being relegated in last place. The 1992/93 season was an action-packed one for Port Vale, who played out 5 matches against local rivals Stoke (including a famous FA Cup replay at Vale Park in which Foyle scored a brace), finished in 3rd in the league (4 points behind winners Stoke and eventually were beaten playoff finalists), and won the Autoglass Trophy at Wembley. Foyle's 18 goals the following season were enough to fire the Valiants to promotion at the second attempt, but he went one better the following season in the second tier, scoring a total of 20 goals in league and cup. Over the next few years, Foyle was part of a Vale team that challenged for promotion to the Premier League and reached the 1996 Anglo-Italian Cup final (Foyle scored both of Vale's goals, but they went on to lose 5-2 to Genoa at Wembley). As Foyle began to reach the twilight of his career in the late 90s, Port Vale began to struggle, having missed their chance to win promotion to the Premier League, and in his final season they were relegated back to the 3rd tier. 

Midway through the 98/99 season Foyle linked up with his old manager from his Oxford days when Brian Horton took over the reigns at Port Vale. Horton encouraged Foyle to take up coaching and, following his retirement in 2000, he took over management of Port Vale's youth team. When Horton left the club in 2004 Martin Foyle was announced as the new Port Vale manager. Unfortunately, the position (with Vale having just emerged from a spell in administration) was not ideal for a first-time manager and Foyle was unable to hold on to many of the club's best players. Throughout Foyle's tenure as manager, Vale were a midtable League One side and the club's board, with promotion ambitions in mind, sacked him early in the 07/08 season. The club would be relegated to League Two at the end of that season.

After a brief spell as coach and then caretaker manager at Wrexham, Foyle took over as manager of York City in November 2008. Under his stewardship, York would deliver Chris Wilder's second defeat as Oxford manager in the FA Trophy and would eventually go on to reach the final of the tournament, losing to Stevenage at Wembley. The following season he led York to Wembley again, this time losing 3-1 to Oxford (just in case you needed reminding!), but following that playoff defeat things at York began to go wrong and he resigned early into the 2010/11 season. How different things might have been for both Oxford and Martin Foyle if that result had been reversed. Since leaving York he turned up briefly as a coach at Bristol Rovers, but now finds himself again without a permanent job in football.

Foyle's 107 goals for Port Vale make him a legend at Vale Park, but his own decent spell at Oxford, as well as his involvement in our promotion back to the Football League (even if he was on the other side!), means he holds a place in the hearts of Oxford fans as well. And, with almost 200 career goals to his name, perhaps he would make a good attacking coach at Oxford. Maybe he could even teach Alfie Potter to score!


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