Enjoy the moment… the real work starts now for Port Vale

Monday's souvenir edition of The Sentinel.

Monday’s souvenir edition of The Sentinel.

The euphoria surrounding Port Vale’s promotion (I’m going to call it that, irrespective of the mathematics) won’t die down for sometime yet.

Certainly not until after this weekend’s final game away at Wycombe where the party will doubtless continue.

The scenes at Vale Park and around Burslem after the final whistle on Saturday will live long in the memory.

What was especially nice is that the players, the manager and even owner Norman Smurthwaite were able to celebrate with the fans in the pubs and at a curry house in the Mother Town.

Port Vale is nothing if not a family club and to see the images of key players in the promotion sharing their success with those who make the turnstiles click was special.

It was a great bonding exercise and terrific marketing for the club as the serious business of planning for life in League One begins.

Vale’s attendance on Saturday was 12,500 (admittedly, it looked like more) – but in truth many of those were there specifically to share in what promised to be an historic occasion.

If we’re being brutally honest, the club’s hard-core support in League Two during the dark days of the last 18 months has been around 4,500.

We had the best away support in the division but while that makes such a difference to the players it doesn’t put any money into Vale’s coffers.

Saturday showed the new owners, the club’s employees, lapsed fans and would-be recruits the potential of a club with a ground that is ready-made for Championship football.

The trick now is to convert those who enjoyed an emotional afternoon on Saturday – all the wives, brothers, children, fathers, mothers, grandparents, friends and workmates – to become regulars at Vale Park.

In reality the work of the new owners is just beginning because Micky Adams’s players have done wonders this season and, as a result, expectation levels have now risen considerably.

Anyone who’s been watching Vale regularly knows that we are half a dozen key players short of a team which can compete with the best teams in League One.

And compete we must.

I don’t think anyone should be using the word consolidation. Aspiration is the word we should instead be using. We should be aiming for the play-offs by strengthening the squad through smart signings over the summer.

Then, once we’ve got the 50-odd points on the board which will make us safe, we can see where the season takes us.

Off the field Norman Smurthwaite and Paul Wildes know they are at the start of a long road.

They know that we still tend to run out of refreshments on match days. They know that the seats in certain sections of the ground are a decade past their use-by date – sun-bleached and frost-wrecked so as to be brittle enough to shatter if a ball hits them.

They know Tommy Cheadle’s is too small and not really fit for purpose. They know the Lorne Street needs finishing.

They know the pitch needs re-laying – irrespective of the magic groundsman Steve Speed and his team work.

They know there’s a terrific opportunity to finish the oft-talked about Robbie Williams suite.

They know that Port Vale needs to build bridges with local communities and start getting into local schools to nurture the next generation of fans.

They also know that the honeymoon period hasn’t really ended for them.

Barring a blip about six weeks ago when the team wasn’t performing, Messrs Wildes and Smurthwaite haven’t seen supporter unrest and haven’t had to deal with anger and frustration at games, in the media or on the internet.

The acid test for them will come if we lose six games on the trot and are sitting in the bottom three half way through next season.

That’s when you have to hold your nerve as the owner of a club and not get swept along by disappointment or have a knee-jerk reaction.

This sport is the graveyard of many a fair-weather owner and it is good to know that Norman and Paul who, (by their own admission) are not football people, are ‘in it for the long-haul’.

I certainly hope so.

They have been as good as their word so far, backed the manager in the transfer market, and done their best to listen to fans’ concerns.

In return, I hope supporters will give them time and all the backing they need when the going gets tough.

After everything that’s gone on in recent years – the protests, the boardroom shenanigans, the broken promises, the fantasy deals, the administration, the bucket collections, the vanishing bidder and finally a takeover – this season’s achievement must rank up there with one of English football’s greatest comebacks.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that very soon the administrators who successfully sold the club will soon become liquidators for the old Valiant 2001 business.

This will give them far greater powers and certain people who owed Valiant 2001 (and its creditors) money can hopefully expect a call soon.

Let’s also not forget that, thanks to the Supporters’ Club, Staffordshire Police are currently investigating allegations of wrong-doing by some former directors of the club.

These activities don’t affect the Port Vale which has just been promoted to League One but I’m sure they are still important to the many fans and shareholders who lost out when the club went bump.

For now, however, Port Vale fans can enjoy the moment and reflect on just how far their club has come.

From the blink of oblivion to promotion and celebration.

Who would have believed it?

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday


A cautious welcome to Vale’s (new) preferred bidders

This time there will be no counting of chickens. The champagne will remain well and truly on ice for several months yet and that is no bad thing.

Today’s public confirmation of Paul Wildes and his business partner Norman Smurthwaite as the new preferred bidders for Port Vale Football Club is, however, a welcome step in the right direction.

Whether or not the deal will actually happen and whether or not Mr Wildes and Mr Smurthwaite have the money to lead the troubled League Two club into a bright new era remains to be seen.

They’ve certainly got their work cut out to win over a fanbase which has been lied to, misled and spectacularly let down in the last few years.

After the previous anointed one, Lancashire businessman Keith Ryder, did a Lord Lucan there was a lot of head-scratching and a good deal of finger-pointing.

A minority of Vale fans blamed the administrators and the Supporters’ Club for being ‘taken-in’ by Ryder.

In fact, Bob Young from administrators Begbies Traynor, subsequently admitted that he had perhaps given the first preferred bidder too much time to come up with the cash.

But hindsight is a wonderful thing and, in fairness to the administrators and the Supporters’ Club, no-one can deny that Ryder had given every indication he wanted to do the deal.

After all, why would he give up his non-refundable deposit of £60,000, and shell out tens of thousands of pounds more in paying for things like half of the monthly wages bill if he didn’t intend to go through with the takeover?

I met Keith Ryder privately three times and found him to be a perfectly decent, plausible and candid bloke.

As did the vast majority of the 500 plus Vale supporters who listened to him speak at a fans’ forum event.

Yes, I had my reservations about a man who didn’t seem to exist on the internet and who didn’t have what I would call ‘a proper job’.

But despite what conspiracy theorists and know-it-alls might say after the event, there really was nothing to indicate that Ryder would do an 11th-hour vanishing act.

The lesson that many of us have learned by closely following the Port Vale saga is that football clubs tend to attract opportunists, egos and eccentrics.

Unfortunately, the likes of Stoke City Chairman Peter Coates – a local man with a passion for his boyhood club and, crucially, the brass to match his ambition – are extremely rare.

Thus, after the unmitigated disaster of the fan-owned club experiment, the Vale is forced to take its chances with businesspeople who see potential in the club and believe they can turn a profit down the line.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Indeed, most supporters will tell you that what Vale is actually crying out for is hard-nosed business people with some commercial know-how.

I hope Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite are two such blokes and I know the majority of fans will give them a fair hearing and a cautious welcome – irrespective of what has happened in the last couple of years.

One of the positives to come out of this troubled time is that Vale fans have, for the most part, pulled together and become critical friends of their club.

Many are well-read, well-informed and care enough to devote countless hours to scrutinising developments at Vale Park – both on and off the field.

However, this is a double-edged sword and internet forums inevitably attract a minority of attention-seekers, troublemakers and people with axes to grind.

Thus Mr Wilde’s character, business interests and personal wealth have already been debated to death before he’s even been unveiled to the media.

The fact is, whether we like it or not, Port Vale is a club in administration and we’ll get what we’re given by the administrators whose job it is to seek the best deal for the creditors.

I actually think Begbies Traynor deserve enormous credit for agreeing with Stoke-on-Trent City Council to cap their fees – effectively working for several months for no additional money.

Had Port Vale not been dealing with administrators who are local to the area and had it not been for the support of the council I dare say we wouldn’t have two professional clubs in the Potteries anymore.

Today Paul Wildes, the man who wanted to take control of Darlington not so long ago, will be presented to Vale supporters experiencing a whole range of emotions – from hope to fear and suspicion all over again.

I am sure he and his business partner are well aware that their would-be customers have had a really rough time in recent years.

Fingers crossed, the first thing they will do is reassure ordinary Vale fans of their intentions regarding the club the supporters have fought so hard to save.

I have to say I was heartened by yesterday’s statement about holding a fans’ forum as it shows they clearly understand the need to invest time and effort in building up trust.

I hope they also realise that it would be commercial suicide for them to become friendly with any previous members of the board of directors at Port Vale or for these individuals to be seen swanning around the ground again as if they own the place.

Thankfully, they have already had the good sense to distance themselves from previous bidders for the club which is a smart move.

The new men will know that the current squad is doing a remarkable job under difficult circumstances and I hope Messrs Wildes and Smurthwaite will work to tie players down on proper contracts as soon as possible.

I think most of us reckon this Vale side has a genuine shot at promotion if we can protect what we’ve got and strengthen in key areas. Investing in the squad is a sure-fire way of the preferred bidders earning the goodwill of fans who have been starved of success for so long.

Presumably, Mr Wildes and Mr Smurthwaite realise that Micky Adams is a good manager who, together with his back room staff, is doing a tremendous job while the club remains in administration.

Micky and his team were led up the garden path by previous directors and badly let down by the first preferred bidder.

That being the case, I hope the new men don’t mess the gaffer around.

Finally, when I meet them today, I will tell Mr Wildes and Mr Smurthwaite that on Saturday, November 17, a statue honouring Port Vale’s greatest servant – Roy Sproson – will go up at Vale Park.

I am sure they will understand that this is an important day for many reasons and that the unveiling of this sculpture, funded entirely by Vale supporters, symbolises that this is a club with a proud heritage and an extremely passionate and loyal fan base.

I would simply ask, therefore, that the preferred bidders help us make it a day to remember.

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

Port Vale’s employees and fans deserve better than this

Enough really is enough. Port Vale’s employees and supporters deserve much, much better than the farce that is being played out in public at the moment.

The ongoing saga of preferred-bidder Keith Ryder’s takeover of the club is once again turning Port Vale into a laughing stock and undermining his reputation with the very people he ultimately needs to win over.

For weeks and weeks now, just like the Supporters’ Club, I have kept my powder dry. I have answered fans honestly when they have rung me, emailed or contacted me via Twitter or Facebook.

At the same time I haven’t wanted to fuel the rumours and speculation or doing anything to rock the boat.

I am just desperate for our club to be out of administration and avoiding a 10-point deduction.

But now, two weeks from the start of the new season, I am forced to ask: What the hell is going on at Port Vale?

Even if we accept that ‘draconian’ conditions are being attached to the takeover by the Football League and that their lawyers are going through the deal with a fine toothcomb, the current delays are frankly intolerable and, in my opinion, are seriously jeopardising the future of Port Vale.

Whilst not expecting to be privvy to every dot and comma of the negotiations, I believe that we fans (I include the Supporters’ Club in this) have been treated very shabbily in recent weeks and months.

There was a time, not so long ago, when myself and Supporters’ Club chairman Pete Williams sat on a panel at Vale Park with manager Micky Adams and the administrators to show solidarity for what we hoped would be a new era at Port Vale.

Back then we were useful to the administrators. We were necessary to bring the fans onside for the tricky period that lay ahead.

I can assure you that since that time the Supporters’ Club’s committee has worked tirelessly to build bridges, forge relationships and ask questions of all the relevant parties on a regular basis.

At no point has anyone sat on their laurels, been soft-soaped or fobbed off. However, we have been – at times – conveniently ignored and I, for one, am sick of it.

We at the Supporters’ Club (SC), and in the local media for that matter, can only work with the information we are given by the administrators, by the Football League and by Keith Ryder himself.

As of last Friday the deal was still on and Mr Ryder assured the SC that he was just one signature away from securing the necessary Football League approval for his takeover – which would hopefully be given on Monday (today).

Now, according to my colleagues on The Sentinel’s sportsdesk, it seems we face yet more delays. Why? Why on Earth would there be any more delays? How can Mr Ryder and Bob Young be so spectacularly wrong again and again on their assessment of where the deal is?

The Football League, administrator Bob Young and Keith Ryder himself know damn well that we are running out of time and that many fans have long since run out of patience.

Many now, rightly or wrongly, suspect that Mr Ryder either a) doesn’t have the money to buy the club or b) isn’t prepared to sign up to conditions which the Football League requires of him.

Having met him privately three times in very amicable meetings where we talked about future plans for the club I’m still none the wiser. I know very little about Mr Ryder because that’s the way he chooses to play it.

Therefore we are forced to rely on our own impressions of the man and, more importantly, the administrators who did their homework and chose him as the preferred-bidder for Port Vale.

The incredibly poor handling of this takeover by all three parties from a public relations perspective, in terms of deadlines set and broken and the non-existent communications with Port Vale’s fans, has severely damaged their reputation and is in danger of derailing our season before it begins.

Mr Young hasn’t helped by making himself a hostage to fortune by giving hoped-for completion dates that have been missed time and time and time again.

I remember Mr Young having the gall to criticise the newspaper I work for when he first took over, as I sat there in the audience, for running a story about players not being paid.
He was condescending and dismissive and accused the local rag of getting its facts wrong.

Well touché, Bob.

The facts now are that season tickets have yet to be issued, we have no new kit, we have no new sponsors.

On a day-to-day basis it seems Port Vale is a rudderless ship. Who exactly is running our club? Who is calling the shots during this weird limbo period?

You would think it would be the administrators, wouldn’t you, but by their own admission they are not always at the club.

I have consoled myself in recent weeks with the logic that the administrators must have done their homework. I have reassured myself that if there was a major problem with the deal then they (or the Football League) would have pulled the plug on this takeover by now.

Let’s put it it this way: If the deal goes pear-shaped now then there is very little time to get a new buyer in and sort out the many and varied issues any football club faces going into a new season.

I sincerely hope Keith Ryder gets the approval he needs in the coming days. I sincerely hope he is the real deal and that the faith invested in him by Port Vale fans in recent weeks and months hasn’t been misplaced.

By the same token I hope the administrators and the Football league know what they are doing. They ought to, surely.

Whatever the truth of these latest delays, then in the near future all three parties will have a lot of questions to answer over the shambles of recent weeks which have led to unnecessary fear, anger and yet more mistrust.

I feel for the club’s employees – including Micky Adams and his staff – who are attempting to prepare for a new season with one hand tied behind their backs.

There will be some who, for their own reasons, would like to see this deal fall through. They’d like to be proved right. They’d like to say ‘I told you so’.

I, for one, hope they are wrong. I have no vested interest in any individual and, like the SC, never believed in taking sides.

I hope the deal goes ahead as soon as possible and that two of the three parties involved show some humility and some much-needed transparency in the coming weeks.

Port Vale supporters fought tooth and nail to rescue their club from a corrupt regime last year and deserve better than to be led a merry dance by the very people entrusted to secure its future.

If the deal does go through it still leaves many questions unanswered and people will want to know just what exactly were the stumbling blocks which turned a complex takeover into a recurring nightmare.

That’s before we even begin chasing up the administrators and Staffordshire Police over alleged wrong-doing by members of the previous board of directors.

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

As debuts go, I thought our Keith played a blinder…

Apparently, Keith Ryder is a very private person – which means that standing in front of 500 expectant Vale fans probably wasn’t his cup of tea.

But when administrator Bob Young left him on his tod 15 minutes into last night’s open fans’ forum – in an attempt to placate the 100 or so supporters locked out because of fire regulations – there really was nowhere for our Keith to hide.

I dare say only Robbie Williams could have attracted more people to Vale Park last night. There was standing room only and even that wasn’t enough.

You could tell straight away it was going to be a positive meeting. It struck me that fans are sick to the back teeth of negativity and desperately wanted the preferred bidder to be the real deal.

You be straight with us and we’ll stick with you through thick and thin was the subliminal message. You conna be any worse than the last lot…

Unaccustomed as he obviously is to public speaking, Vale’s white knight didn’t disappoint and, as the evening wore on, he warmed to the crowd and even cracked a few jokes.

That’s good because a sense of humour is certainly no bad thing to have when you get involved with the Vale.

The questions came thick and fast…

Is Keith heading up a consortium and is it his own money? Sorry, but there are no sheikhs waiting in the wings, he replied. And this isn’t the biggest investment he’s made, either.

Encouraging stuff.

Where are you on the Sunday Times rich list? asked one wag.

Keith couldn’t divulge that as it would ‘cause him marital problems and his wife would be off on a spending spree’.

Nicely dodged, sir.

The preferred bidder is a Manchester United fan, he told the audience but the Red Devils are no longer his number one team: That’s Port Vale.

Easy this PR lark isn’t it?

By the end the crowd was so jolly even the administrators and the council were getting rounds of applause.

As for Keith, he left to a standing ovation and went straight downstairs to the Lorne Street stand to do it all over again with a few dozen fans who’d waited patiently in the cold for the second coming.

In the end, most supporters went away happy – pleasantly surprised by the lack of rhetoric and the absence of daft promises from the Lancashire businessman.

Early days it may be but, as debuts go, I thought he played a blinder.

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

Now is the time for some straight-talking, Mr Ryder

Now that we are safe from getting drawn into a relegation scrap all eyes are turning to next Wednesday night’s meeting with a certain Keith Ryder.

The man named by the administrators as the preferred bidder for Port Vale has pledged to meet with fans for an open forum.

Initial anger from a minority of supporters that Mr Ryder wasn’t at last week’s press conference has abated somewhat as people wait patiently to see what the Lancashire businessman has to say for himself.

I have kept out of it up to now because I’ve yet to speak with the bloke and searching the internet for information at this stage is a sure-fire route to madness.

One thing I’ve learned in the last 12 months is that anyone who rocks up at Vale Park with anything other than the club’s best interests at heart will be rumbled very swiftly.

Due to previous bad apples, any new arrivals in the board room will be scrutinised to within an inch of their life. And rightly so.

Mr Ryder has to understand that everything he does or says from this point on will be analysed by supporters and the local media.

If he sets a deadline and then misses it, he will be vilified.

If he promises investment and it fails to materialise – for whatever reasons – he will be tarred with the same brush as previous failed regimes.

If he treats the fans with contempt or tries to pull the wool over their eyes then he will face an almighty rebellion.

Mr Ryder has to realise that, while all fans are very grateful for his potential investment, he is walking into no-man’s land where a fragile cease-fire is just about holding.

Where Port Vale is concerned, the trust of the cynical and battle-weary supporters has to be earned.

This makes next Wednesday’s initial meeting with fans vital for Mr Ryder.

He has to be prepared to answer questions honestly and openly and not hide behind the old ‘I’ll come back to you on that one’ excuse.

People, quite rightly, want to know who Keith Ryder is, what his background is and why he is interested in Port Vale FC.

I want to know what his relationship was with previous directors and where the money he plans to invest in our club is coming from.

It’s a simple question: Is it Mr Ryder’s money or is he the front man for a consortium and, if so, who are his associates.

Now is the time for some straight-talking.

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

Let’s stop bickering and focus on helping our club

There’s lots of nonsense being talked at the moment about the bidding process and a fair bit of bickering between Port Vale fans.
I wish it would stop and we could all just focus on supporting the team and help them to another couple of wins.
We’re still not mathematically safe and, while it is unlikely that we will be dragged into a relegation scrap, I won’t breathe easily until we can’t go down.
A couple more wins and the Company Voluntary Agreement – which avoids us having to take a points deduction next season – are what’s important right now.
I’ve been very disappointed with the attendances.
Yes, times are tough. Yes, the administrators may have annoyed people by sticking their oars into the match pricing structure. Yes, the football isn’t great.
But if ever a football club needed its fans then it is now at Vale Park.
I’ve heard people say (and seen them post on the internet) that this season is a dead rubber and we have nowt to play for.
On the contrary, I think it is more important than ever that fans do whatever they can to help Port Vale right now.
Whether that is attending games, getting behind the makeshift team, buying merchandise, pledging towards season tickets or donating to the hardship fund – it all helps.
It demonstrates to the city council that they were right to back Port Vale and shows potential buyers that we have a club worth investing in.
Frankly, not ‘being arsed’ – as one person quaintly put it – isn’t good enough. If the other 4,000 who turned up yesterday took that approach then Port Vale would be finished.
Let’s stop the bickering, the point-scoring and the hypothetical discussions which have fragmented our grand alliance which was instrumental in removing the previous, discredited board of directors.
For what it’s worth, my view is that it wouldn’t be right for the Supporters’ Club to endorse any prospective buyer as we won’t be seeing any of the bids.
The administrators and the prospective buyers are all ‘playing the game’ – so to speak.
There may or may not be half a dozen interested parties. Mo Chaudry may or may not be the only show in town.
We just don’t know and thus we should remain critical friends of Port Vale – ready and willing to support the new owner/owners in any way we can while scrutinising their actions and intentions.
You may not agree with me and that’s absolutely fine. Ultimately, it’s not our decision anyway.
To be honest, I’m not bothered who is pro-Mo or who is annoyed with the administrators. I just wish people would put Port Vale first.
Whoever the next owner of our club is (so long as it is not someone connected to previous failed regimes) they should expect – and get – 100 per cent support from the fans.
They will be inheriting a wonderful piece of Potteries heritage and, if run properly, they could soon have a successful business and the gratitude and loyalty of thousands of local people.
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has attended recent games and bought t-shirts, mugs, money boxes and postcards and thereby donated to the Supporters’ Club’s hardship fund.
Your generosity has been genuinely humbling and reminds us all that Port Vale is a key part of the local community.
Long may that continue to be the case.

Stop moaning, set aside personal agendas and support Port Vale

I guess we have to accept that some Port Vale fans will never be happy.

It wasn’t so long ago that the vast majority of supporters were united behind the common goal of removing the parasitic board of directors.

Now they’ve gone and the club is in administration I would have thought that everyone would realise there is still a need for us all to be pulling in the same direction.

However, there is unquestionably a minority of fans for whom moaning and whining has become a way of life.

You see, I found Wednesday night’s fans’ forum with the administrators quite useful.

We were back at Vale Park where supporters should be meeting and having an open discussion about the future of our club. Lest we forget, we simply couldn’t have done this six weeks ago.

We found out bits ‘n bobs of information we didn’t know before – although surely no-one in their right mind thought the three mystery bidders would be unveiled.

However, those with an agenda other than simply putting Port Vale first were out in force.

Those pushing for Mo Chaudry to be the next owner of Port Vale seem appalled that any other bids are even being considered.

Some can’t understand why other potential bidders would want their identities to remain a secret.

I can. It’s common sense.

Unless they feel you have something to gain by revealing their name then why on earth would any individual or company out themselves at this stage?

Unless they are named as the preferred bidder there’s simply nothing in it for them – apart from aggravation and vilification by a small minority for whom it seems to be ‘Mo at any cost’.

I am not for or against any bid. Ultimately it’s not a decision for ordinary fans like me and we will have to back whoever comes in.

What’s more, if you’re a Vale supporter who has lambasted the previous regime for ignoring offers to buy the club you can’t now start castigating the administrators for considering all legitimate offers.

There was also anger at the fans’ forum over the £1 increase on match day admissions.

Let’s be honest and say that £22.50 is an awful lot of money to pay to watch League Two football. Truth be told, what is served up sometimes is worth a tenner at most.

However, the commercial reality is that Port Vale is a business struggling to balance its books – particularly with such poor crowds at present – and if a new owner thinks admission prices are too steep then they can always be changed.

Right now Port Vale needs every fan to stop moaning, set aside personal agendas and get behind the team and the club as a whole.

We’re not safe yet and, at this stage, surely nothing else matters.

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