The Wonder of You: Victory and relief at last for Port Vale fans

When Norman Smurthwaite sent a text on Monday to say all was good and that the takeover of Port Vale would be completed the following day I felt an enormous sense of relief.

Yesterday marked the end of a very long and, at times, incredibly dark road for Port Vale, its staff and its long-suffering supporters.

For me, personally, the takeover means I can now step down from the Supporters’ Club (SC) committee knowing that we have achieved what we set out to achieve.

The self-interested few who were running Port Vale into the ground 12 months ago are history and will very soon be hearing from the liquidators of the old Valiant 2001.

Crucially, Port Vale is out of administration and under new ownership.

I’m proud to say that during the last 12 months the SC has grown in membership from 200 to more than 1,600.

And, after 11 years, the Sproson Statue is finally in-situ and looks magnificent.

It is about 18 months ago that I stumbled from the EGM, shell-shocked that the will of the vast majority of ordinary shareholders in Port Vale had been denied.

Hopefully, I’ve kept a promise to a supporter called Caroline who was standing outside on that day.

Fast forward a few months – December 1, 2011, to be precise. That’s when the SC committee members had their first spectacular falling out with Perry Deakin and Peter Miller.

What began as a cordial discussion descended into a slanging match when Messrs Miller and Deakin were presented with evidence of the issuing of half a million pounds worth nil paid shares.

Then they locked us out of Tommy Cheadle’s. The gloves were off.

What followed was several months of digging, arranging meetings, seeking legal advice and protests.

We exposed the fact the Blue Sky deal was dead and unearthed the sorry saga of the re-mortgaging of the club and the Gibraltar loan.

We even went as far as to create an interim board in preparation for a second EGM which never happened.

Of course, the SC was able to draw on a reservoir of goodwill formed by years of unhappiness and unrest.

It was able to bring together groups like North London Valiants, Black and Gold and the Starve ’Em Out campaign under one umbrella.

Let’s never forget it was these people who started the fight. They laid the foundations for change.

Ultimately, together, these groups and the SC were to prove an irresistible force – one which put paid to the likes of Miller and Deakin, Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver.

When the club went into administration earlier this year there was absolutely no guarantee that Port Vale would survive.

But thanks to the city council we were given a lifeline that we clung to for grim death.

Fans collected money in buckets, bought mugs and t-shirts and showed the local authority that they were right to help save our unique local heritage brand.

Then the Keith Ryder affair almost derailed everyone’s good work.

However, yesterday we crossed the finish line. Together.

I can’t give any guarantees about the future. Football is football. Owners and fans alike are fickle. Circumstances change. Players and managers come and go.

But I think Port Vale is now in a better position than it has been for many years and its success or otherwise is now down to the business people who run it – not the SC, not shareholders, not the administrators nor the cretins who used to be in charge.

Port Vale will be run by some blokes who know full well the importance of making it a customer-focused business.

Who knows, we may even have a shot at promotion this season with the Sneyd Green Pontiff leading the line. At least now we can focus on what’s happening on the pitch rather than off it.

During the last 12 months I have fallen out with everyone: My colleagues at The Sentinel; my friends on the Supporters’ Club committee; various bidders; the administrators and even club staff.

My friends and I on the SC committee have been called all the names under the sun by keyboard warriors who haven’t been prepared to say it to our faces or lift a finger to help.

They include supporters of failed bidders for the club, former club staff, former directors and even disgruntled ex-SC committee members.

Some people still maintain we were wrong to campaign for change. Some people will never admit when they’re wrong.

I’ve witnessed unbelievable self-interest from people who really ought to have known better.

I’ve been abused while collecting money in a bucket at the Bycars turnstiles and on The Sentinel’s website by some wag who now refers to me as ‘the mob’s favourite journalist’.

How my gaffer must love that. Not.

Frankly, being involved with Port Vale Supporters’ Club has been a thankless task.

We’ve often doubted ourselves. There have been countless hours spent on the telephone and in meetings. Many a sleepless night because of what we’ve learned.

We’ve been party to discussions which have left us genuinely gobsmacked and been given information which has been dynamite. Much of it still is.

But we’ve only ever acted in what we consider to be the best interests of the club. That is the truth.

Just ask the administrators or Norman Smurthwaite if you don’t believe me. Just ask Phil Sproson and the wider Sproson family.

There’s a book in this and one day soon, perhaps, I will sit down with Gary Benson and write it.

Or maybe not.

Again, it depends what’s in the best interests of Port Vale and, sometimes – as we have learned, it’s better not to rock the boat.

It has been a privilege working with Gary and Pete Williams, my other colleagues on the SC committee and our solicitor Stephen Inglis.

It has also been a genuine pleasure to meet so many decent, honest and passionate Port Vale fans – many of whom I’m now proud to call friends.

Whatever the future holds I’m confident that Vale will be alright precisely because of people like Gary and Pete and the hundreds more who have fought this fight with us.

Today we can all be proud. Now we really can look forward and not backwards.

We’re Vale, aren’t we?

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4 thoughts on “The Wonder of You: Victory and relief at last for Port Vale fans

  1. peter johansen says:

    Martin you mentioned the EGM and a promise made to the supporter named Caroline. Well, I don’t know what you promised her but I can remember a promise you made to me in front of number of other disgruntled, angry supporters. You told me that based on what you had witnessed that day inside at the EGM you were now with us and that you would personally not rest until the vermin that were destroying our club were removed. Well, Martin, you kept your word and I thank you. And yes, mate, we’re Vale, aren’t we?

  2. Chris Bentley says:

    Martin,

    Thanks so much for all the fantastic work you have done in helping us to get rid of those that were destroying this club. Now, as you say, we can look forward with great optimism and Roy can look down proudly on Vale Park.

    Well done – your efforts won’t be forgotten. Up the Vale!

  3. Steve Lockett says:

    I’d like to express my gratitude to you and the SC as a whole for picking up the fight after we of B&G and those of NLV had burnt out our fight.

    As I said to you on Saturday, I’ve been critical of you in the past, for good reason, but you saw what we saw and joined us in the fight for what we all now know to have been right. Your professional and honest leadership in the final and arguably hardest-hitting leg of the battle has been nothing but superb and you managed to unite the fanbase better than the rest of us could.

    It’s a real shame that you have decided to step down. The SC and fanbase as a whole will very much miss you but I can fully appreciate your reasons for doing so. So, thank you for all of your efforts in ridding us of the previous scum and also in aiding the smooth transition of new ownership. New ownership that I think every Vale fan is excited by. They seem the real deal and so far have made very positive impressions.

    All the best Martin, from your ‘Steady Hand On The Tiller’ abuser, Steve Lockett.

  4. Melv says:

    Martin I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to yourself and the rest of the SC committee. I for one don’t think for a second that what you have done was a thankless task. It was a difficult task under difficult circumstances, with many hurdles. But it was very very much appreciated, of that I have no doubt. Now is the start of a new era and a brighter future for PVFC.

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