Billy Paynter has admitted he is thrilled by Pools’ FA Cup Second Round draw – because it gives him the chance to go back to where it all started for him in football.
The Pools Club Captain began his career with Port Vale, bursting on to the scene as a fresh-faced teenager when then-boss Brian Horton took him under his wing at Vale Park.
Paynter made his senior debut for The Valiants at just 16 when he came off the bench for the last half-hour of their 2-0 home defeat to Walsall in May 2001 and so the learning curve began.
He went on to score 34 goals in just over 150 appearances for the Staffordshire outfit and the memories he made there mean it’s a club which remains close to his heart.
“I was out for a family meal on Monday night for my mum’s birthday and had mistakenly thought that the FA Cup draw was taking place later, after the live game,” Paynter explained.
“Over the meal we got talking about my sister and her fiancée taking my son to his football match on Sunday and that led on to my mum reminiscing about taking me along to Port Vale when I was his age and how cold it was!
“Then I got a phone call to say we had been drawn away at Port Vale in the FA Cup – it was so strange the way it unfolded.
“It’s back to where it all started for me; from being a 10-year-old being taken down there for the first time by Henry Bradley as a scrawny, skinny little kid who got a chance to learn his trade.
“I got a break at 16 under Brian Horton and I still remember travelling around the country on the coach with the First Team, getting the odd substitute appearance here and there – the experience was brilliant.
“I didn’t play much Youth Team football but I got a chance in the Reserves and it went from there – and then I got thrown in with the First Team and it was an opportunity I took with both hands and didn’t really look back.
“Ever since then, Port Vale has been a club that is close to my heart and I will be looking forward to going back and seeing some familiar faces when we play the FA Cup game.
“I have actually only played there once professionally since I left, though I was invited to play in a charity game during the summer organised by Tony Naylor for Alzheimer’s and dementia awareness.
“It will be brilliant to go back there and if we can get the win and then draw Everton away in the Third Round then that will be the perfect FA Cup run for me!”