Why a little friendly football rivalry is good for Stoke-on-Trent

Former Vale striker Tony Naylor with Stoke and Vale mascots Pottermus and Boomer.

Former Vale striker Tony Naylor with Stoke and Vale mascots Pottermus and Boomer.

As much as some people would like to hype things up, if you’re from Stoke-on-Trent you know there’s only ever been one football derby worth talking about in these parts – and it doesn’t involve Crewe Alexandra, Shrewsbury Town or another Midlands club.

If you were there on that famous FA Cup night at Vale Park in November 1992 when Stoke striker Dave Regis’s shot got stuck in a puddle a yard or so away from the empty Vale net then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the derbies in which the likes of Stein, Gleghorn and Sheron made headlines for the Potters and Cummins, van der Laan and Bogie became heroes for the Valiants.

How great it was last Sunday that the Potteries derby was resurrected at Vale Park – complete with legends from both clubs and a smattering of celebrities.

Former Vale striker Tony Naylor and his friend, local businessman Kevin Jones, organised the Legends game at pretty short notice and, in all honesty, I don’t think many people thought they could make it happen.

But on a rare sunny weekend almost 4,000 Vale and Stoke fans turned out to watch former players roll back the years in aid of charity.

The Vale team, featuring the likes of Ray Walker and Neil Aspin lined up against a Stoke team including the aforementioned Dave Regis and Micky Pejic while famous names like Jonathan Wilkes, Paddy McGuinness and darts maestro Adrian Lewis added to the mix.

Potteries football icons John Rudge and Denis Smith were there in a managerial capacity, for Vale and Stoke respectively, while top flight referee Phil Dowd volunteered to officiate.

Many Vale employees, including stewards, worked for free in the knowledge that local organisation Approach, which helps older people with dementia or mental health needs, would benefit.

The charity was chosen because Tony Naylor’s father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and he wanted to do something which raises awareness of dementia.

While we await the final figure for how much money has been raised, it’s safe to assume that more than £20,000 will be going into Approach’s coffers as a result of last Sunday’s game.

But perhaps more important than that, the event shone a light on dementia – something which affects more than 800,000 people across the UK. I think Vale and Stoke fans can also be immensely proud of how they pulled together for this worthy cause.

Yes, there was banter – with Stoke fans reminding home supporters of the gulf between the clubs these days and Vale fans enjoying ‘normal service being resumed’ as their team put eight past the visitors without reply.

In the end, however, the result was of secondary importance. The charity was the real winner and Stoke City and Port Vale fans proved they can sit side-by-side in friendly rivalry.

Barring a random cup draw, there’s no guarantee that the proper Potteries derby will happen again in my lifetime.

As a Vale supporter, I live in hope, of course.

But if it doesn’t happen then I’d settle for an annual ‘legends game’ – perhaps alternating between the Brit and Vale Park – in aid of different local charities.

Given more time to organise the game for next summer, and with the involvement of both clubs and perhaps the city council, this could become a brilliant off-season celebration – particularly as Stoke-on-Trent bids to become a ‘football city’, as championed by out-going MP Joan Walley.

Events such as this are relatively inexpensive to organise and they generate enormous goodwill.

It’s another easy way to tap into our city’s heritage and help cement football as a sport fit for a family day out.

Fingers crossed for next year and many congratulations to Tony, Kevin, Stoke City fan Angela Smith and all the volunteers for their efforts on Sunday.

They did us all proud – which ever half of the city you come from.

Did you go to the legends game? Would you like to see this become an annual event?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Some football fans have short memories…

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Football managers are a funny breed. Perhaps it’s the nature of a job where the casualty rate, for want of a better phrase, is so high.

Perhaps it’s the fact that they have to deal with big personalities in the changing room.

Perhaps it’s because they come under constant scrutiny from the media – and now fans in this digital age.

Or, perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above which makes them such unusual, fragile and frustrating creatures.

During the last 25 years I’ve met quite a few and I can honestly say that only a handful would be on my Christmas card list.

Many have huge egos and seemingly low self-esteem. Some are just plain rude – wandering into rooms and talking over people. Others simply can’t take criticism and are prickly to the point that they are an interviewer’s nightmare.

A handful of those I’ve had dealings with, however, are proper gentlemen who always had time for the Press and supporters alike.

Former Stoke City manager Lou Macari falls into this bracket – as does, of course, Vale legend John Rudge.

No matter what was going on at their respective clubs they always treated people with respect and in return earned the admiration of media professionals and supporters alike.

Joe Royle is another. I remember one wet night at Vale Park in the early 90s when his Oldham side had just beaten Rudgie’s lads.

As a cub reporter I was covering the game for the national and local press and – having filed one of my match reports – saw, to my horror, the Oldham team bus pulling away.

Needing quotes from Joe, I ran after it, flagged the vehicle down and the driver opened up the door.

He didn’t look too friendly, to be honest, but I asked if the manager was able to spare me two minutes.

‘Come up lad, you’ll catch your death of cold out there,’ said Royle – his head appearing at the top of the steps.

He sat me down, gave me a coffee and made the bus driver wait for five minutes while I conducted my interview.

This was such a rare, kind gesture by a football manager that it has stuck with me for more than 20 years.

My team may have been beaten that night but Joe Royle was gracious in victory and it’s remarkable how that can dilute a fan’s disappointment.

Football managers will always divide opinions – in the same way the word ‘fickle’ will always be inextricably linked with the words ‘football fans’.

Managers can go from hero to zero, and vice versa, in an incredibly short space of time.

For example, turn the clock back a couple of months and you’d struggle to find many Stoke City fans brave enough to leap to the defence of Mark Hughes.

Many were calling for him to be sacked, some were doing the ‘I told you so’ routine and bemoaning the departure of Tony Pulis.

But chairman Peter Coates – not known for his lack of conviction – wasn’t to be swayed.

I spoke to him after Stoke had beaten Aston Villa at the Brit just a few days before Christmas and asked him how Mark Hughes was doing.

‘Oh he’ll be fine,’ said the chairman, sagely. ‘These things take time.’

He was right, of course, and as I write this column the Stoke manager’s stock has never been higher among Potters fans who can now see exactly what he’s trying to do with his players – many of whom had previously been square pegs put into round holes.

As for the supporters, let’s just say that some of my Stoke City fan friends who were calling for Mark Hughes’s head on social media in December and January have changed their tune and are now denying they ever held such views.

Over at Vale Park, however, the reverse has happened. Micky Adams – who led Vale from administration to promotion in a remarkable season last year is suddenly being portrayed as the devil incarnate in some quarters.

Despite what many observers would consider to be a decent first season in a higher league – with Vale sitting mid-table – his future is uncertain.

After being on the receiving end of what he termed ‘disgusting abuse’ from a small group of supporters on Tuesday night following a calamitous away defeat at Bristol City, Adams said he was considering his future at the club.

This has sparked a huge reaction from fans – with many pleading for the manager to stay on at Vale and others saying they aren’t bothered if he leaves or even urging him to go.

After paying their money to travel an awful long way – only to watch their team put in an embarrassing performance – it’s easy to understand the anger of Vale supporters who made the trip.

The truth is Micky is a canny operator and knows exactly how to play the fans and the media.

This has led to accusations from some quarters that he is simply ‘posturing’ as the season draws to a close ahead of contracts talks with Vale’s owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Personally, I think we Vale fans need to be careful what we wish for.

Micky and I have fallen out on a number of occasions but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what he’s done for the Vale.

As with any club, sometimes Vale supporters have short memories.

Lest we forget Micky Adams pulled together a squad on a shoe-string budget while the club was in administration and guided the team to promotion.

This season, Vale were ninth in January and handily placed for an unlikely play-offs push but the manager wasn’t allowed to bring in the players he wanted.

Since then Vale’s form has been patchy, to say the least – which has coincided with the chairman espousing his views that the club isn’t ready for Championship football – and a mid-table finish is now on the cards.

To be fair, I – and I think most Vale fans – would have taken a mid-table finish at the start of the season.

Forget Tuesday night. Forget the knee-jerk reactions. I think Micky Adams is doing a terrific job at Port Vale.

I personally would be sad to see the best manager since John Rudge leave.

But, let’s be clear: If he does leave at the end of the season it won’t simply be because of a row with a small minority of supporters this week.

He will leave because of the farcical contracts situation which have left him and some of the club’s key players in limbo. He will leave because his position has been undermined on several occasions by ill-timed and ill-advised comments from the chairman.

He will leave because he will be offered what I think he considers to be a ‘relegation’ budget to work with.

No manager, player or owner for that matter, is bigger than a football club.

But, as Tom Pope said yesterday, I hope Micky Adams does stay at Vale and I honestly think he deserves a bit more respect for what he has achieved.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Put our differences aside is the only thing that makes any sense

Norman Smurthwaite.

Norman Smurthwaite.

Just get it sorted. That seems to be the opinion of many level-headed Port Vale supporters as Norman Smurthwaite’s ban on The Sentinel continues.

Forget that respected football writers with a national profile have backed this newspaper.

Forget that the legend that is Robbie Earle thinks a football club banning its local paper is tantamount to self-harm.

I think a lot of Vale fans have taken the view that, whatever the rights and wrongs of this dispute, ultimately it is in the interests of both parties that we seek a speedy resolution.

They are absolutely correct which is why, behind the scenes, that is exactly what The Sentinel has been trying to do since last Friday.

We hoped this row would be resolved days ago and drafted a joint statement – as requested – in an attempt to overcome the impasse.

It seems that statement isn’t acceptable but, rather than having another go at it, we now have to wait until next Tuesday for a meeting – at which presumably we’ll go over the same old ground we did during this Tuesday’s negotiations.

Personally, I can live without it.

After everything that’s gone on during the last three or four years it breaks my heart to see Vale and the newspaper I work for falling out.

Or rather, the Vale owner and this newspaper falling out.

I guess you have to have lived through it – like all Vale supporters did – to appreciate the upheaval, uncertainty, anger and embarrassment at the time.

I certainly never want to go through anything like that again.

For the Vale owner to now fall out with the media organisation which best supported the fans and club during those troubled times seems utterly nonsensical to me.

It’s about 12 months ago to the day since I was on the car park at Vale Park in the pouring rain giving an interview to BBC Radio Stoke’s Stuart George on the breakfast programme.

I was still on the Port Vale Supporters’ Club committee at the time.

Vale was about to come out of administration and I got into an argument with a council taxpayer called Peter, from Trentham, who told me the club wasn’t worth saving and would be bust again with a year.

I told him Vale was worth saving, that the club was an essential part of the city’s heritage and that the new owners wouldn’t let it go bust.

Consequently, Peter – if you’re reading this – you owe me breakfast.

On that morning it occurred to me that the new owners had an opportunity perhaps unlike any previous chairman or chief executive to take over at Vale Park.

The club had no debts, the fans were united, Micky Adams’s team was performing terrifically well on the pitch, and the relationship between Port Vale and this newspaper was stronger than it had been at anytime during the 15 years I have worked here.

Since then our sports team has worked hard to promote the club – providing season ticket publicity and telling our readers about events and the new club shops.

I was given a personal guided tour around Vale Park by the chairman in July and wrote a very positive article for our pre-season supplement which talked up the changes taking place at Vale Park and emphasising Norman Smurthwaite’s hard work and investment.

We’ve also talked several times about problems and potential problems facing the club and I’ve done my best to help him make the club stronger. Furthermore, I’ve personally invited Norman to all of The Sentinel’s flagship community events – the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards, The Sentinel Business Awards and the recent Our Heroes Awards.

Why? Because he is an important figure in the local community and we want Port Vale to be represented at these dos which provide excellent networking opportunities.

All of this is true and the chairman knows it.

Yet here we are with the team sitting pretty in League One and in a decent run of form and the chairman and this newspaper are at loggerheads.

Over what? A perfectly legitimate story about a delay in the arrival of 1,000 shirts. (Friday’s phone message to me said the ban related to us running ‘negative stories about his club’).

Or possibly because, as the Editor was told, The Sentinel doesn’t make a direct financial contribution to the club in order to be able to cover matches (no newspaper in the UK does).

Or possibly because of the way we handled a story back in May. (The Vale chairman approved the contents of this story before it went to print and it hasn’t been brought up for five months or more).

Having devoted so much time, effort and resources to helping supporters win their battle to save Port Vale why would The Sentinel or I publish anything which we knew would harm the club and damage our relationship with the owner and the fans?

The answer is: We wouldn’t and we haven’t.

Whether you believe me or not, it is an indisputable fact that both Port Vale and The Sentinel working together is good for both the club and the newspaper and for the benefit of the city, local communities and, of course, the club’s commercial partners.

I don’t want our end of season special (hopefully a promotion special) to be canned because we have no photographs taken at home games. I’d like that Vale souvenir to put with all the others we do.

Neither do I want blank spaces or filler images in our match reports. I’d rather see a picture of a fellow Sneyd Greener celebrating his goals, thank you very much.

Neither do I want a nice bloke and a terrific sports writer like Michael Baggaley prevented from doing what he does best.

I can’t say it any clearer than this: We are ready to resolve this dispute for the good of all concerned but it really does take two to tango.

Let’s talk, put differences aside, and get back to the mutually beneficial relationship Vale and The Sentinel have been enjoying since Norman Smurthwaite took over the club.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Majority of fans shouldn’t have to pay penalty for ignorant few

valebadge

It seems incredible that in 2013 we are still debating how to deal with racism in the stands at football matches.

The sad fact is we are, however, and every time it raises its ugly head it simply can’t be ignored.

My club Port Vale made headlines in a national newspaper a few days ago for all the wrong reasons after racist chanting during the recent home game against Bradford.

It led Potteries-born former Stoke City striker turned BBC pundit Garth Crooks, trustee of the anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, to write to the Football Association and Football League calling for swift action.

Our Garth believes that unless the Vale is seen to root out the culprits and ban them, then the footballing authorities should step in.

This could involve, for example, a temporary closure of the Railway Paddock – the area of the ground where the offensive chanting emanated from.

In his comments, Garth cited the example of another club, QPR, which banned fans who abused England star Shaun Wright-Phillips within 48 hours of the incident taking place.

He also pointed to the action taken by authorities in Italy at the weekend who closed down a stand of Lazio’s Olympic Stadium after Juventus players were abused during a game last week.

So should the Burslem club be subject to the same sanctions if it fails to identify and take strong action against the fans who brought its name into disrepute?

I don’t think so. And no, that’s not because I’m a Vale supporter.

I think that each case needs to be examined on its merits and I think closing the Railway Paddock because of the bone-head behaviour of a handful of fans would be the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Apart from the fact that I’m not convinced it would solve the problem – should it re-occur – it seems an entirely disproportionate response.

Let’s not forget it was a number of Port Vale fans who complained about the offensive chanting.

That in itself reflects a club whose fanbase are self-aware and capable of policing themselves in terms of what is or isn’t acceptable behaviour.

The club itself has also been swift in its condemnation of the racist chanting and a statement told how officials have been studying CCTV footage in an effort to identify the trouble-makers and are looking to implement improved security measures so that a repeat of any such behaviour will be quickly dealt with.

Given that the chanting involved a tiny percentage of the Vale supporters at the game the response by both fans and the club itself seems reassuring and entirely reasonable.

Apart from potentially moving troublemakers to another part of the stadium, I dare say closing the Railway Paddock would do nothing but penalise the vast majority of decent fans who have paid to sit in a certain part of the ground because they like the view and the atmosphere.

Or because they have sat there for years and that’s where their dads and grandads sat before them.

Perhaps lessons can be learned from the problems at the Bradford game, but anyone who’s been around Vale Park in the past decade or more knows full well that this is a club with a community ethos and where the management doesn’t tolerate offensive behaviour.

What happened at the Bradford game was wrong but it was no more wrong than long-haired opposition players being labelled ‘gypos’ by home fans at grounds around the country – something which still, unbelievably, goes on – and yet the authorities don’t seem as motivated to act upon.

The fact is a football crowd is a microcosm of society and, as such, inevitably includes a minority who believe swearing in front of small children and abusing the referee, opposition players, or anyone who is different is as much a part of their Saturday afternoon as a pie and a pint.

That doesn’t make it right. That’s just how it is.

It is something which needs to be tackled education through every generation with through education and the constant reinforcement of the values of fairness and equality.

So long as the majority of fans and – crucially – the clubs themselves act with genuine intent to weed out of a minority of morons, then our national sport is in safe hands.

This will help us not to blow such incidents out of proportion while ensuring they are clamped down on.

Read my Personally speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

It’s early days and there’s absolutely no need to panic. Enjoy the ride…

A frustrated Tom Pope.

A frustrated Tom Pope.

I hope no-one’s panicking just yet. I’m certainly not.

Although we’ve yet to record our first win of this campaign, it’s still very early days.

Granted, we’ve scored only one goal and have only one point out of a possible six in the league.

We’ve also crashed out of a potentially money-spinning cup competition.

However, to play devil’s advocate, I’d say we earned a good point on the first day of season against a decent Brentford side and, although we didn’t play particularly well, were rather unlucky against Walsall when the officials rather let us down.

In contrast, against Colchester we were clearly second best and created very little in the way of chances.

In fact, the only danger was to our own supporters – and Doreen Robbins’s plaster cast is testament to this.

The gaffer simply chose the wrong formation, and perhaps picked a couple of players he shouldn’t have, and has admitted as much.

After all, you can’t really blame the forwards for not scoring if they’re not getting any service from a sluggish midfield.

What we’re experiencing now is perhaps something of a reality check and, frankly, I’d rather we have it now than at Christmas.

We’ve stepped up a league, the opponents are better and they move the ball around more quickly.

It will take time for Micky Adams’s teams to adjust, to get used to their positions, and learn to play off lads who signed over the summer.

Being positive, the back four (and I think it should be a four) and the ‘keeper look solid.

Chris Neal and Adam Yates are playing well, in particular, and Robertson, Dickinson and Lines already look good signings.

I’d like to see Doddsy in the team, personally – playing behind the Pontiff. But perhaps that’s just me.

Let’s not lose perspective here. Ambition and aspiration is fine but it must be tempered with honest expectation.

I’d love us to repeat last season’s promotion heroics but I’m not going to kick the cat, so to speak, if we don’t.

Vale Park is looking terrific and will continue to improve. Meanwhile gates are bigger because the clubs we are up against – some of whom have infinitely bigger playing budgets – have larger followings.

It’s an exciting time to be a Vale fan and I, for one, am enjoying the stability and putting my trust in the new owner and Micky’s squad to continue to do us proud.

Lest we forget… we almost didn’t have a Port Vale to support

The Port Vale Supporters' Club meeting in January 2012 at which a letter was signed by fans calling for a police investigation into the club's affairs.

The Port Vale Supporters’ Club meeting in January 2012 at which a letter was signed by fans calling for a police investigation into the club’s affairs.

As Port Vale’s preparations for the new season continue, everything looks rosy.

Owner Norman Smurthwaite continues to please the faithful with his own unique brand of public relations.

The club has a popular new shirt sponsor in trade union the GMB and the impressive new club shop is the flagship for infrastructure improvements at Vale Park.

Season ticket sales are going well in the light of a remarkable, against-the-odds promotion to League One, and some quality additions to the playing squad have created a genuine buzz around Burslem ahead of the big kick-off.

So as an exciting new season dawns, is there any point – some will say – in dredging up the past?

Because that’s exactly what yesterday’s news about the liquidation process for Valiant 2001 and the ongoing police investigation does.

Many supporters have welcomed the announcement that insolvency practitioners Begbies Traynor have become liquidators for the company which formerly owned Port Vale.

But others may well question the merits of digging through the ashes of the most turbulent time in the club’s history.

Some may argue that it is perhaps better to let sleeping dogs lie and focus on all the positives as the club enjoys a much-needed period of stability in terms of finances and leadership.

For me, however, the situation just isn’t that simple and I am pleased that Begbies Traynor will soon be attempting to recover further monies it believes are owed to creditors.

As we all watched as the incredible promotion campaign came to a conclusion in May, a few of us still had half an eye on some unfinished business.

We knew the police investigation instigated by the Supporters’ Club into the activities of some former directors was still trundling along.

We also knew that the administrators for Valiant 2001 would very soon become liquidators and that their powers would increase dramatically as a result.

Now Begbies Traynor can throw their weight behind the task of determining whether there was any wrong-doing on the part of directors who ran Port Vale prior to March of last year.

I well remember, in the midst of the battle to remove the remaining members of Valiant 2001 from office, there was a very raw anger at the way in which fans – and especially shareholders – had been treated by the board of directors.

There was a belief, which I shared, that supporters had been misled over the proposed Blue Sky investment, misled over the issuing of so-called ‘nil-paid’ shares and not told at all about the infamous ‘Gibraltar loan’ which involved the re-mortgaging of Vale Park from under the nose of key creditor Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

I recall how Supporters’ Club members canvassed fans on the turnstiles before one home game in 2011 about the election of Perry Deakin and Peter Miller to the board of directors in the mistaken belief that they had personally invested £100,000 and £250,000 respectively into Port Vale.

Of course, it was subsequently revealed that neither man had paid for the shares which they used to vote themselves on to the board and which, effectively, devalued the shares owned by more than 900 ordinary fans.

These supporters dipped into their savings and used their hard-earned wages to buy shares in the belief that they were helping their club and would forever own a little piece of their beloved Vale.

To have those shares – hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds’ worth – wiped out when the club was placed into administration by the city council was a bitter pill to swallow.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Supporters’ Club was right to ask Staffordshire Police to investigate the running of Port Vale by a board discredited in the eyes of many fans.

I am convinced that, if financially viable, the liquidators should use all powers at their disposal to chase up monies owed to Valiant 2001 – thereby recouping as much cash as possible for out-of-pocket city council taxpayers.

In my opinion this genuinely is a case of justice being seen to be done in the eyes of those who lost out and were treated so shabbily by some former Port Vale directors.

It’s about making sure that every single penny that can be recovered for creditors is recovered and perhaps ensuring that fans of other football clubs don’t suffer the same losses and humiliations inflicted on Vale supporters.

We can, of course, all look forward to the new season but it does us no harm whatsoever to remember how close we came to not having a Port Vale to support.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel and my Vale columns every Friday, during the season, in The Sentinel

Good luck to Smurf but it should be business as usual at Vale Park

Norman Smurthwaite.

Norman Smurthwaite.

So the worst-kept secret at Vale Park since Robin van der Laan’s love of crisps has finally been revealed.

Paul Wildes has departed Vale Park after just seven months as Chairman.

It is a shame that the partnership which helped to see the Vale to promotion has ended.

However, the cracks have been there for some time and the only reason they weren’t public knowledge before this week is that nobody wanted rock the boat – certainly not while the team was scrapping for automatic promotion.

When Norman Smurthwaite first spoke to me it was a telephone call to my mobile. I remember it vividly: I was at Staffordshire University and the call came out of the blue one morning.

It was last October and during that first conversation he told me that Port Vale had been bought with his money.

While I don’t think Paul Wildes ever actually said: ‘It’s my money’, by the same token he did publicly state on a number of occasions that he and Norman were fifty/fifty partners in the deal.

As a result of this, I’m certain that many fans would have believed it to have been a joint initial investment which bought the club out of administration.

If this was any other football club, then perhaps nobody would care where that money came from.

But, given what’s gone on in recent years, it was clear that the knowledge that the initial investment came from Norman Smurthwaite could actually cause Port Vale fans to question the motives and intentions of the new owner/s.

I didn’t want to rock the boat and neither did anyone else who was privvy to that information, including my colleagues on the Supporters’ Club committee, and so nothing was said or done.

Everyone instead stayed positive and focused their efforts on trying to help the club achieve automatic promotion.

Since that first conversation I’ve met with ‘Smurf’, as he’s affectionately become known, on a number of occasions and spoken to him regularly.

Everything Norman has told me has happened how he said it would happen. At no point, thus far, has he given me any reason not to trust him.

He does, by his own admission, occasionally shoot from the hip – but I think supporters would rather have heart-on-the-sleeve honesty than polished flannel, especially given what’s gone before.

It’s been clear for some time that Norman and Paul’s relationship had broken down and that there was a power struggle going on within the club.

For me, the over-riding fear was that the man with the money, the passion and the genuine rapport with supporters would get fed up and walk away.

Thankfully that hasn’t happened and, instead, we have a situation where the man who bought the club, funded our January loan signings and steadied the ship after the Bristol defeat with sensible comment and a rallying call to fans (when some wanted to sack the manager who had put us second), is finally taking over as Chairman.

Presumably he will now bring in an experienced CEO who will report directly to him and surround himself with his own team.

I’d like to thank Paul Wildes for his contribution to Port Vale’s success in the last seven months – not least because it was him that persuaded Norman Smurthwaite to invest in Port Vale in the first place.

On Monday night supporters will be able to quiz ‘Smurf’ at Vale Park and hopefully that will help to allay any fears they may have.

At Port Vale, as with any club, there will always be rumours and conspiracies but I’m convinced the vast majority of fans just want what’s best for the club – even if they express it in different ways.

It’s business as usual at Vale Park so let’s just enjoy the summer.

Let’s stick together, support Norman, buy lots of season tickets and look forward to new signings in the coming weeks as we prepare for life in League One.

We’re Vale aren’t we?

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