The city’s football clubs need their fans now – for very different reasons

Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite celebrates the 7 - 1 home win over Burton Albion.

Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite celebrates the 7 – 1 home win over Burton Albion.

Turn the clock back 12 months and you would have been given very good odds on the current state of affairs at football clubs in The Sentinel’s patch.

Alternatively, you may have been sectioned for suggesting such things.

At the time Stoke City were heading for another comfortable, if unspectacular, mid-table finish in the Premier League.

The icing on the cake was that Potters fans had enjoyed a Europa League adventure courtesy of the previous season’s heroics in reaching the FA Cup Final.

The football may not have been pretty at times but pundits were describing Stoke as an established Premier League team.

Such was his relationship with owner Peter Coates, it seemed that only an unthinkable fall from grace would place Tony Pulis’s position as manager in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, over in the Mother Town, things were looking grim for the Potteries’ other professional club.

In administration for a second time in 13 years, players and staff at the club were going unpaid and Micky Adams’s team were set to miss out on promotion thanks to a 10-point deduction inflicted by the Football League.

To this day, very few people realise just how close Port Vale came to oblivion which makes the events of recent months such a blessed relief for me.

The renaissance began with the (second) takeover announcement which was followed quickly by the long-awaited unveiling of the statue to the club’s greatest servant – Roy Sproson – funded entirely by Vale fans.

Perhaps a little bit of Sproson magic has rubbed off on the current squad because what has happened since has been nothing short of incredible.

Nobody, including Tom Pope himself, would have dared suggest that a bloke from Sneyd Green, a life-long Vale fan at that, would become only the third player since the war to score more than 30 goals for one of the Potteries clubs.

No-one who followed the Vale, least of all me, would have predicted that a squad mainly comprising free transfers was capable of challenging for automatic promotion.

Of course, the season’s story isn’t yet complete and I, for one, won’t be counting any chickens until it is mathematically impossible for Vale to cock it up.

However, the Lazarus-like revival of the club in the north of the city will, I trust, give some hope to our cousins down the A500 as they face a daunting six games to stave off relegation.

I mean it most sincerely when I say that I hope Stoke City get the points they need to survive in the Premier League.

It’s good for the city’s profile that they’re up there and it’s good for my long-suffering Stoke fan mates who remember only too well third tier football and attendances of less than half what they get nowadays.

The truth is I’ve mellowed. Perhaps it is the events of recent years have changed my perspective on things.

Yes, If Vale were playing Stoke in the cup tomorrow It goes without saying that I’d want Vale to murder them.

But right now the two clubs are poles apart – so much so that Stoke City aren’t on the radar of most Vale fans and vice versa.

Yes, there are some supporters on both sides who would be only too happy to see the other club go out of business.

Honestly, there are.

But I’m not one of them. Apart from anything else, I thoroughly enjoyed the Vale/Stoke derbies and would love to see them return some day.

I genuinely believe there’s room in this city for two successful professional football clubs.

I appreciate the fact that last Friday night, when cheap admission prices swelled Vale’s attendance to almost 11,000 for the first time in years, there were a number of Stokies in that crowd.

I also recall during the dark days of last March, April and May how some Stoke City fans attended games and gave generously to the Save The Vale collection buckets.

Stoke’s current crisis – one win in 13 games and the serious risk of being dragged into a relegation scrap – is one of a footballing nature. One that two wins would sort out.

However, as we know, the financial implications of dropping out of the top flight are enormous and everyone connected with Stoke City – from the owners to the fans in the cheapest seats – are feeling the strain right about now.

Tony Pulis – the man who got them into the Premier League and took them to their first FA Cup Final – is being almost universally vilified by fans on forums and radio station phone-ins.

Supporters have hesitated to renew their season tickets and Fortress Britannia suddenly seems far from impregnable.

The next few games will sort the wheat from the chaff and perhaps sort the hard-core of fans from the band-wagon jumpers of the last five years.

Both clubs need their supporters right now – for very different reasons.

I hope some of the 5,000 extras who turned up at Vale Park on Friday night will return to help usher in a successful new chapter in the club’s history.

I also hope Stoke City’s infamous twelfth man is enough to drag them over the line to safety.

Whether or not that will be enough to save the manager’s job remains to be seen.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

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Pride restored: We’re Port Vale; we’ll score when we want

There have been times in recent years when being a Port Vale fan has been difficult, to say the least.

Supporters of all clubs have their good and bad times but what we’ve been through since 2000 really would test the patience of a saint.

With the exception of one memorable day at the Millennium Stadium it has been more than a decade of disappointment and misery.

We’ve gone from having the beating of our cousins down the A500 to languishing in the lowest tier of English football.

At the same time we’ve had to suffer the gloating of Stoke City fans living the Premier League dream.

We’ve been denied a shot at the play-offs on goal difference and seen promotion hopes dashed when we lost our manager to the club he supported as a boy.

The people running the club abused their positions, misled the fans with tales of spurious investments and took Port Vale the blink of oblivion.

It has been the most humiliating, demoralising and depressing period in the club’s history.

When the likes of Manchester United fans moan because they don’t win a trophy one year I struggle to muster any sympathy because it’s been pretty grim down looking up at the top table.

Mercifully, long-suffering Vale fans finally have something to smile about – irrespective of the fact that the club remains in administration.

Performances this season have been so good – so utterly brilliant at times – that it is actually allowing us to put the club’s precarious position to the back of our minds.

I didn’t think that losing Marc Richards, Sean Rigg and Anthony Griffith in the summer was the end of the world but neither did I think it would lead to a footballing revolution.

To see the Vale playing expansive, attacking football echoes the halcyon days of the early to mid-Nineties and reminds us of when we had Messrs Guppy and McCarthy on the wing.

Putting 11 goals past two of the promotion favourites has laid down a marker for the rest of the division and the sheer quality of the displays has restored some much-needed pride.

So thank you, Micky Adams and the coaching staff. Thank you, lads, for playing with such passion. Thank you too to the administrators for honouring Keith Ryder’s promises to the players he signed.

Port Vale are no longer a League Two embarrassment: They’re the top scorers in England with the top-scoring striker in the country in the form of local lad Tom Pope.

We may change our kit every month and we may not have the smartest toilets at a football stadium, but who cares?

We’re Port Vale, and we’ll score when we want.

Read my Port Vale articles every Friday during the season in The Sentinel

Why we should appreciate winter and the occasional snow fall

Who would drive a gritting lorry, eh? What a thankless, anti-social task.

Other than bankers and traffic wardens, these poor souls must be the most unpopular people in the country.

Well, for about two days a year that is. The two days a year that everyone loses perspective.

Yes, the Great British penchant for moaning about the weather returned with a vengeance this weekend.

A heavy (but predicted) snow-storm hit North Staffordshire and South Cheshire around Saturday teatime – bringing gridlock to parts of our road network.

The Met Office had issued severe weather warnings but still many reacted with incredulity – as if a new Ice Age had sneaked up on them.

Motorists sat in queues of traffic for hours on end as blizzard conditions enveloped them.

The A50, the A34 and the D-Road came to a standstill as football traffic leaving the Britannia Stadium drove into a whiteout.

Where were the gritters, people wondered? (As if it would have made any difference).

The question they should have been asking, of course, is: Why are we so woefully inept at coping with a bit of snow now and again?

Why do we fail to fit winter tyres to our cars? Why do we act like it’s the end of the world when we see a few snowflakes?

In the wake of Saturday night’s snow storm, the local authorities will doubtless cop a load of flak for not preparing our roads properly.

Indeed, I await the inevitable backlash via The Sentinel’s letters pages about the inconvenience of it all.

To be fair, we’ve had the mildest winter since Adam was a lad – weeks and weeks and weeks of overcast skies and rain.

Personally, I’d rather have a covering of the white stuff any day.

The truth is, I’ve been waiting for about two months for some snow and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

I suspect, however, this puts me in a very small minority.

The problem is that, as a nation, we simply haven’t a clue how to act when we do have the odd flurry.

What’s more, sadly, most people have absolutely no appreciation of winter.

They sit in their centrally-heated homes, watching summer holiday adverts on the telly and looking balefully out of the windows as if the very pavement has suddenly become a death-trap and the roads a total no-go zone.

I’m pretty sure that when Sammy Cahn wrote Let It Snow back in 1945, this attitude wasn’t what he was trying to evoke.

Yes, I know it’s no fun stuck in a traffic jam. We’ve all been there. Yes, you have to be careful not to trip, drive slowly, wrap up warm, allow a little more time for journeys and travel prepared.

But, by the same token, a snowfall shouldn’t equate to the end of civilisation as we know it.

It’s certainly not an excuse to raid the emergency store of Fray Bentos corned beef.

You see, I’m convinced that it’s only in the UK that we view winter with such fear and loathing. Other nations undoubtedly scoff at our nesh-ness (my word) and laugh at the way in which everything grinds to a halt with a covering of snow.

Why can’t we learn to love winter? I don’t know how anyone can fail to wake up and not appreciate the sun-kissed majesty of a crisp frost.

Have we all forgotten what it’s like to be children? Have we forgotten that snow equals fun?

Have we forgotten listening to Radio Stoke while crossing our fingers and hoping to hear that our school has been closed because the boiler’s packed in?

Are our hearts so hard that we are untouched by the gift of a fresh blanket of snow which makes any tired old street look like a picture postcard?

I actually travel to Scotland annually to seek out the white stuff. What’s more, when I took my kids to Lapland last year to meet Father Christmas, a huge part of the attraction for all of us was proper, deep snow.

People moan incessantly about the cold over here, but the truth is, we don’t know we’re born.

When I was in Finnish Lapland, just inside the Arctic Circle, the temperature dropped to as low as minus 26 degrees celsius.

To be honest, nobody noticed how cold it was until we got back to the hotel. We were too busy sledging, driving snowmobiles, building snowmen and pelting each other with snowballs.

I remember looking out of the lodge windows at the pine trees and the moon-lit snow and thinking that there couldn’t be a more beautiful sight.

What a shame we don’t appreciate it round our neck of the woods…

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Harman’s pay-off would be better spent securing jobs

Former city council Interim Manager Chris Harman.

Former city council Interim Manager Chris Harman.

It’s enough to make us weep – or certainly question why we bother getting up every morning, going to work and then paying our taxes.

Last week I likened the events at the Civic Centre to a pantomime.

I apologise. I was wrong.

There is nothing remotely funny about the scandalous way in which Chris Harman’s absence has been handled by the powers-that-be at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Rarely do those running the largest local authority in our circulation area cover themselves in glory.

But just occasionally, every now and then, something happens which is so very strange, so patently wrong, that it beggars belief.

It is the kind of something which is so unusual that it merits this columnist returning to the same topic.

The fact is, right now there is only one story in town.

A cursory glance at the letters pages of The Sentinel in recent weeks or the comments on our website will tell you what is exercising the residents of the Potteries.

The poor, long-suffering taxpayers of this city are so angry that they’ve run out of adjectives to describe both Mr Harman’s behaviour and the apparent impotence of his colleagues and councillors alike to end this farcical stand-off.

They want to know how it is that a bloke can get away with not showing up for work for weeks on end (even if he does work in the public sector).

They want to know why his period of sick leave coincided with him being told he hadn’t got the job he wanted.

They want to know who has been running the city for the last three weeks.

They want to know why it is that we are even entering into discussions with Mr Harman regarding a pay-off, given that the bloke has a perfectly good job to be getting on with.

In other words: Isn’t it about time he just knuckled down and started doing it?

Mr Harman’s contention that his position at the authority has been made somehow untenable because he was unsuccessful in his bid for the top job is as absurd as it is insulting to our collective intelligence.

Make no bones about it, the only person making his position untenable here is Mr Harman himself as he appears to squirm his way out of his contractual obligations.

There are two scandals being played out here.

The first involves the unwillingness of a man to accept that he didn’t get the rub of the green and move on.

The second, arguably more alarming situation, is the staggering ineptitude of both senior officers and leading councillors who once again seem unable to champion the taxpayers they are supposed to serve.

I have a horrible feeling that we are about to be soft-soaped. Again.

I worry that we are about to be spun a line about how paying Mr Harman off and getting new chief executive John van der Laarschot to take over the reins at the council as quickly as possible was the best outcome for the city.

I have a suggestion. It’s just a thought, mind. How about we don’t pay Mr Harman a bean and, if he wants to quit his job, we point him in the direction of the A500?

Personally, I’d rather we used some of the tens of thousands of pounds it will cost this city to get shot of another high-roller to secure the jobs of a couple of decent, hard-working council employees.

Maybe it could be spent on saving a few of the 430 positions at the city council that are about to be axed through the process of asking for voluntary redundancies.

I’m sure there are many staff employed by the council for whom the threat of losing their job in the current economic climate represents a very dark cloud indeed.

Not everyone is in the fortunate position of being able to bail out when something doesn’t quite go their way.

Mr Harman, and those sitting down to debate his pay-off with public money, would do well to remember that.