‘Robbie saves the Vale’, The Sentinel’s headline screamed.
Yes, I well remember that day in 2006 when news filtered through that our exiled pop superstar fan had bailed the club out by buying £250,000 worth of shares.
It must have been a big story because, for once, Port Vale rather than Stoke City was flogging us papers.
Make no bones about it, five years on and the Robster’s decision to give the Port Vale Supporters’ Club his proxy vote ahead of tomorrow’s EGM is just as significant as that initial investment.
To be fair, it was a no-brainer really. For several weeks it has been something of an open secret that Rob (as his dad calls him) would not be abstaining from voting at the EGM.
You see, he may be up to his eyes with the Take That tour but our Rob’s savvy enough (and well-enough informed by people close to the Vale) to know what’s good for him back home.
Which ever way he jumped – either abstaining/voting to keep the current board in place or voting for change – he would have been heavily criticised.
So he took the only sensible avenue left open to him and, by putting his voting power in the hands of the supporters’ club, absolved himself of all responsibility should things go pear-shaped in the coming months.
It’s a smart move but one which has provoked criticism from both the club’s directors and those who feel the supporters’ club in its current form isn’t representative of Vale fans.
They argue that half a dozen people with an anti-board agenda will now have the final say with around 21 per cent of purchased shares.
I actually take the view that Rob’s decision has rather evened things up – given that the current board has 28 per cent to play with – and placed the power firmly in the hands of 900 or so small shareholders.
As one erudite woman said at a fans’ meeting last Wednesday, these 900-odd supporters are the real Valiant 2001 and it is fitting that they should decide the fate of the until-now untouchable five-man board.
These are people with no seat on the board riding on the outcome – purely a love of Port Vale.
How the current board must now be rueing not maintaining a decent relationship with the supporters’ club.
Indeed, their inability to cultivate any kind of rapport with so many fans is one of the reasons they are now firmly up the creek sans paddle.
Of course, the supporters’ club can’t win. Even by setting up a dedicated email address for fans to air their views, and by holding a public meeting, they cannot possibly hope to gauge the opinions of 6,000-odd people in less than a week.
Critics will also say that very few people who are against the Mo Chaudry consortium’s takeover bid would be brave enough to stand up in front of a partisan crowd at Baddeley Green Workingmen’s Club and say as much.
I actually think the supporters’ club is doing a fine job under difficult circumstances.
I’d even go so far as to say I hope R. Williams Esquire now goes the whole hog and actually signs his shares over to the supporters’ club – rather than, as rumoured, divvying them up between shareholders.
I, for one, can live without a personal windfall on the basis that an empowered supporters’ club would give ordinary fans a genuine voice for years to come.
Tomorrow’s EGM will very likely result in the removal of Messrs Bratt, Jackson, Meigh, Oliver and Lloyd.
It seems that not even the regenerative powers of a returning Messianic manager and the announcement of a major potential investment from the States can save them now.
In truth, even if the board were to cling on to power tomorrow their position has become untenable.
Too many people are fed up with the arrogance, the lack of transparency and the promises of major investment which simply hasn’t materialised.
I don’t believe Vale would go bust anytime soon under the current board but most supporters are sick and tired of languishing in the fourth division and staring at a half-finished Lorne Street Stand.
The board’s attempt to besmirch the character of potential investor Mo Chaudry through a tacky mailshot to shareholders was the last straw for many observers.
In addition, the limp carrot of a £1.6 million sponsorship and investment package which includes pre-season tours to America (sorry, I can’t afford it) and plastic training pitches just doesn’t cut it with your average fan.
Tomorrow may well herald a new dawn in the history of our grand old club and if Mr Chaudry’s consortium is in the vanguard of it then it is the duty of all Vale fans to get behind the new board in the same way they will rally behind Micky Adams.
It is my fervent hope that any transition of power is smooth and not marred by protracted, damaging and costly legal manoeuvrings.
In addition, I hope the fans’ groups who have fought so hard for change will not simply vanish but will continue to work for the good of the club and scrutinise any new regime just as closely – perhaps under the umbrella of a truly representative supporters’ club.
The civil war must end. It is time to put our differences aside because Port Vale needs all the friends it can get right now.