Very shortly the Audit Commission will give its verdict on whether or not the deal which enabled Stoke City to acquire sole ownership of the Britannia Stadium was properly handled by the city council.
It follows claims that councillors were misled over the exact details of the £5 million sale.
The inference is, of course, that the sale of the city’s 36 per cent stake in the stadium may not have gone through at all had elected members been made aware of the exact details.
At this point I should declare my interest in this matter. I’m a Port Vale fan, a season ticket holder, a (very minor) shareholder and a Vale columnist for this newspaper.
For years now I have observed as the city council has displayed what I believe has been an astonishing bias in favour of the club whose players wear red and white in comparison to Burslem’s finest.
Now, as my club teeters on the brink of a financial and footballing abyss, I’d like to point out the obvious.
Yes… I can almost hear the jeers. I’m waiting for the emails and the letters from Outraged of Heron Cross, Sarky from Trentham and Smug of Blurton.
It’s a good bet that the word ‘jealous’ appears in this correspondence. Fair enough – it’s a free country.
Whatever people might think, I’m not anti-Stoke City. I’d like to see both clubs doing well. I appreciate full well the importance of the Potters being in the Premier League – for the club and its supporters, for the profile of the city and even for the company I work for.
However, that shouldn’t mean the city’s other professional football team is treated like a poor relation by the local authority.
We know Stoke City has more supporters than Port Vale. Thus, simple mathematics dictates that there are going to be more Potters fans among the powers-that-be at the Civic Centre (Town Hall as was) than there are Vale fans.
Could this, then, help to explain some of the following?
During the season 89/90 (Vale’s first season back in the old Second Division – now the Championship) the Burslem club’s relationship with the city council hit rock bottom.
The authority forced the closure of Vale market which had been generating around £120,000 a year for the club. Cheers.
In the early 90s the idea of building a ‘community stadium’ was first mooted. The concept was championed by the then city council leader Ted Smith, a no-nonsense politician and staunch Potters fan who brokered a deal between the authority, Stoke City and St. Modwen.
To be fair, Vale were approached about the possibility of ground-sharing with Stoke at the proposed venue in Sideway. Which was a bit like asking Stoke fans if they fancied leaving the Victoria Ground to share a new stadium with the Vale in Middleport.
Needless to say, Vale stayed put and Stoke City received millions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money (and, against the odds, European grant aid) to build a new ground which never realised its grand vision of becoming a community stadium. (Hosting a few pop concerts just doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid).
In June 2007 Stoke City was able to purchase the city council’s 36 per cent stake in the Britannia Stadium for £5 million.
Whether or not this represents value for money for the city’s taxpayers is open to debate. (I suspect the pre-credit crunch valuation of the site would have meant the stake was worth more).
However, the phased payments which city councillor Mike Barnes and other colleagues have taken issue with equate to an interest-free loan to the Premier League club.
In stark contrast, League Two Port Vale has been paying up to six per cent interest on the £2.25 million loan it secured from the same authority.
At the same time Vale Park, at the council’s behest, has become a genuine community venue in the way the Britannia Stadium never was.
But while the Vale has had to finance its own community programmes, £500,000 of the £5 million Stoke City is paying to become sole owner of the Britannia Stadium will actually be ploughed into community schemes… at the home of the Potters.
Does this all sound fair to you?
I could go on. There are many more examples. But, in summing up, I reckon that, irrespective of the result of the Audit Commission’s investigation, it is a fact that the bias towards Stoke City within the city council is every bit as real today as it was when Ted Smith and his Labour cabal ruled the roost.
And, should the unthinkable happen to Port Vale, then I believe that through their actions elected members and officers, both past and present, will certainly have contributed to the club’s demise.