In Keith Ryder Vale fans may, at last, have found a leader worth following

There have been plenty of false dawns at Vale Park in recent years… Valiant 2001. Harlequin. Ameriturf. Blue Sky.

So many, in fact, that it’s actually incredibly hard for supporters to put their faith in anyone or anything.

But maybe, just maybe, in a few years’ time people will look back on this week’s open fans’ forum with Keith Ryder as a watershed moment and say: ‘I was there’.

Yes, the club is still in administration and there are certainly no chickens being counted in Burslem just yet.

But the impressive turnout by fans to welcome the preferred bidder to the club on a cold, wet, Wednesday night spoke volumes for Port Vale’s potential.

As did the atmosphere in the meeting which was heavy with optimism.

There was a sense that, after years in the wilderness, perhaps there was a brighter future ahead for the other football club in the Potteries.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the meeting was the way the main man conducted himself.

Clearly nervous at first, obviously not relishing his moment in the limelight, he palpably grew in stature and confidence as the evening wore on but never lost that initial humility.

When he spoke he was respectful to his customers, didn’t promise the earth and acknowledged that there was a great deal of work to be done to resuscitate Port Vale.

He seemed to me to give an honest, measured assessment of where the club is at present and he gave glimpses of where Vale could be if managed properly.

What’s more, Keith Ryder clearly understands the damage caused by previous regimes and the need for an ongoing dialogue with the supporters who have rescued it from oblivion.

All in all, to quote one member of the audience, he was ‘a breath of fresh air’ after years of posturing, prevarication and self-interest by smug suits who put themselves before the Vale.

It is, of course, still early days and – as we have seen many times before – talk is cheap.

But no-one who attended Wednesday night’s meeting could, in all fairness, pick fault with what they heard.

If Keith Ryder continues in this vein, if he is as good as his word, then he will be able to tap into a huge reservoir of goodwill and I’m convinced the lapsed fans will flood back to Vale Park.

What is certain is that, united, Vale fans are stronger and – who knows – in this unassuming Lancashire businessman we may at last have found a leader worth following.

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

How on earth did Port Vale end up in this sorry mess?

It began with a dream and ended with a nightmare.
It started with a vision of a fan-run club – never again to be at the whim of a sole owner in the mould of Chairman Bill Bell.
It finished with a small band of desperate, embattled men who are now, unquestionably, more unpopular and reviled than the aforementioned Bell ever was.
Today, as Port Vale stands on the precipice, we can all be forgiven for asking how and where did it all go wrong?
The answer is complex – a series of near-misses, “what ifs” and “what are the odds?”
However, it can be boiled down to attempts by a small group of individuals to defy the will of the majority of their customers: The supporters and shareholders of Port Vale – the lifeblood of the club.
Over time the “For Us All” motto somehow got lost in translation to be replaced by ‘For a few of us who know better than the rest (and have put more money in).’
Let’s not forget, there was a honeymoon period: A period of grace for the Valiant 2001 regime where the future looked rosy.
We wondered how the club could fail with heroes like Martin Foyle, Dean Glover and Andy Porter around the place to guide the team like echoes of past glories.
Chairman Bill Bratt was a man of integrity. He was the man who had given up his business to save the club he loved and could often be found painting dressing rooms or building something: Mucking in to help the Vale – a club he’d supported, man and boy, for 50-odd years.
Good old Bill. He and his fellow directors didn’t have sackfuls of cash, but they would work hard to get us some investment.
More importantly they cared – just like the supporters – because they were fans themselves.
Bridges were built with everyone from the police to the city council, who had previously been viewed as hugely pro-Stoke City.
Things were looking up. So much so that the authority loaned Vale £2.25m to help towards the creation of business and enterprise units and a children’s centre.
Vale was suddenly a thriving hub of the community – and not just on match days.
Over time, however, a pattern began to emerge. Promised investment never quite materialised. It was always just over the horizon.
Potential investors were ignored or dismissed as chancers, property developers or “total fantasists”, as I was once told.
Fans and shareholders were told that none of these individuals or groups were right for our club. Not the Texans, not Mike Newton – nor anyone else for that matter.
Meanwhile, the millions promised by overseas property firm Harlequin never arrived.
Instead, we ended up with a new shirt sponsor and a few too many people with dodgy Southern accents wandering around Vale Park as if they owned the place.
Managers came and went – Foyle, Glover and Lee Sinnott paying the price for failure and soaking up some of the growing resentment fans felt towards a board seemingly taking the club nowhere.
However, Micky Adams then arrived and suddenly there were flashes of the Vale of old. Cup victories and a genuine shot at promotion seemed to be looming.
But in December 2010, the landscape changed…
Gary Speed took the Wales job and Adams was tempted away by the prospect of managing Sheffield United – the hometown club he had supported as a boy.
That was Christmas ruined, then… followed by the remainder of the season courtesy of the car crash that was Jim Gannon’s reign.
Still, better news was that Mo Chaudry was on the scene and he was offering to buy a controlling 51 per cent interest in the Vale.

Here was a local businessman, with plenty to lose, stepping up to the plate.
When his bid was also dismissed out of hand, it was the signal for disgruntled fans’ groups to rally to his banner.
The Black & Gold Until Sold group, North London Valiants (NLV) and Starve ’Em Out – fans who felt so disenfranchised they were making the ultimate sacrifice by staying away from their club – got behind the owner of the Waterworld leisure complex.
It seemed almost inevitable that Chaudry would win his fight and that the old guard would be swept aside at an EGM convened by NLV members.
But last-minute horse-trading meant three members of the board – Bratt and his fellow directors Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver – survived by the skin of their teeth. Vice-chairman Peter Jackson and Stan Meigh weren’t so lucky.
Three had lived to fight another day but, in truth, Valiant 2001 were finished – five blokes with more money invested in the club having stood against the wishes of the vast majority of their fellow shareholders.
Adams returned from the Steel City and took the squad on a pre-season tour to the United States and Canada courtesy of the board’s latest beau – American artificial turf manufacturer Ameriturf, whose investment in Vale was sold to fans as being worth £1.6m.
How strange then that when the players returned with a tan, the deal had changed – and Bratt was on his way out.
In fact, the deal had morphed beyond all recognition into an £8m investment with a different U.S. sports turf company, Blue Sky International.
If it sounded too good to be true, it was, and ultimately the exposure of the “Pie In The Sky” deal and all of its associated pitfalls in early December was ultimately to prove the final nail in the coffin of a board now comprising Lloyd, Oliver, the club’s newly-appointed chief executive Perry Deakin… and Peter Miller, the man who had supposedly brokered the Blue Sky deal in return for Bratt’s departure from the club.
Their credibility with the fans was shot. Who was going to invest now in a regime which was running out of money, ideas and time?
The answer, of course, was no-one.
Blue Sky boss Hank Julicher, never one to mince his words, was right to ask Miller: “Where’s the beef, baby?”
In other words, where was the money for all these schemes we Vale fans were promised – like the Robbie Williams’ suite?
The answer, of course, is that there wasn’t any money. All of us, the fans, the shareholders and club staff had been led up the garden path by a regime seemingly driven entirely by self-interest.
You can’t issue ‘nil-paid’ shares worth £500,000 and then use them to help vote yourselves on to the board when you haven’t put a bean into the club.
You can’t expect supporters in a low-wage area like Stoke-on-Trent – some of whom have invested their life-savings into Port Vale – to swallow the news that the chairman of their cash-strapped League Two club is being paid a small fortune for a previously unpaid figurehead role.
You can’t re-mortgage Vale Park under the noses of fans to some random firm in Gibraltar and expect the major creditor – the city council – to once again turn a blind eye to the fact the club had breached the terms of its loan agreement.
You can’t stop paying your suppliers, the tax man… or your own staff, for that matter.
The sad truth is that all of this could and should have been avoided.
Back on December 1, as a representative of Port Vale Supporters’ Club, I presented Deakin and Miller with a list of questions given to us by concerned fans.
They were never answered. Subsequently, the board cut off all communications with fans, treated the media with contempt, and created numerous smokescreens to hide their own incompetence.
None of it mattered, of course, because they made one simple mistake: They disenfranchised the most important people to any football club – its supporters. In doing so, they forgot Port Vale’s raison d’être.
Now, it seems the club’s fate rests in the hands of the city council, who will decide whether or not to place the club into administration, or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – a body not known for going easy on football clubs who fail to pay their tax bills.
The local authority can’t win, of course, but councillors know full well just how important Port Vale is to this city, so that remains a cause for optimism.
But it is one that must be tempered by the knowledge the taxman is unlikely to be as sympathetic.
With that in mind, I think it is worth Vale fans remembering something the late, great Roy Sproson once said: “At the time, we did not know what it was like to lose and the thought never occurred to us. We were convinced, in fact, that we could not be beaten.”
Amen to that.

So tell me… why are Miller, Deakin, Lloyd and Oliver still here?

First things first… that was a very welcome three points yesterday and something of a vindication for Micky Adams that his loan signings were both on target to break our run of games without scoring.
That good news aside, however, a very dark cloud remains over Port Vale at present. Otherwise known as the board of directors.
Despite a raft of damning revelations which have shown Messrs Deakin and Miller – and by association Lloyd and Oliver – to have misled shareholders and supporters, these lot are refusing to step down.
After all, it’s not all the fans who want them to resign is it? According to Mr Miller: “It’s a couple of people saying it without having all the information.”
I think he may have been referring there to myself and Gary Benson, creator of Portvaleonline and a Supporters’ Club Committee member.
Flattered as we are by this remark, I don’t think the chairman is correct.
Indeed, I know of a group of supporters who confronted the club’s bosses at Dagenham yesterday and presented them with ‘Monoperry money’ from the ‘Bank of Pinocchio’.
I also of know 600 fans (that number is growing) who have signed up to a Facebook petition calling for the entire board to step down.
I know of hundreds who voted in an online poll on fans’ forum Onevalefan – the vast, vast majority of whom do not support the current board.
I know that I personally have had dozens of emails from Vale supporters of all ages and backgrounds who are appalled at the way in which the club is being run.
These include multi-millionaire local businessman Mo Chaudry – who is angry as the rest of us – and former Vale directors.
I know The Sentinel has received many letters from its readers saying the same sort of things.
I know that Tim Hollinger, CEO of Ameriturf, Hank Julicher, CEO of Blue Sky International, and Steve Leighton of the Gol Illuminado foundation in the States all feel they have been misled and let down by the current board of directors at Port Vale FC.
I know because I’ve spoken to them all.
I know the newspaper I work for published a strongly-worded ‘leader column’ last Thursday. Basically, that was the voice of The Sentinel itself saying to the board: ‘Get yer coats, lads.’
So Mr Miller might want to think again when he claims that it’s just a couple of people who want him and his cronies out.
I’m damn sure that come the AGM – or EGM if we have to push for one – Messrs Miller and Deakin will find out in no uncertain terms where they can shove their new era of openness and transparency.
Tomorrow night at Burslem WMC the various groups, working under the umbrella of Port Vale Supporters’ Club, will plan their next moves in consultation with fans.
Make no bones about it – it’s going to be a long, cold winter for the board of directors until they do the decent thing and leave our club.
Messrs Miller and Deakin can talk all they want about ‘common business practice’.
In Boslem, if you tell someone you’ve ‘purchased’ something they think you’ve paid for it.
In Tunstall, if you tell someone you’ve secured an £8 million investment for Port Vale they think that’s money coming into the club’s bank account. Call us old fashioned, like.
The Vale board may be surprised to learn that we fans can use fancy words too and we’re perhaps not as daft as they think we are.
Too many false statements, broken promises and misleading comments to count have come out of Port Vale in recent months for this board to ever be trusted again.
Interestingly, despite all the bluff and bluster, the powers-that at Vale Park are still refusing to answer questions from fans which I handed to them on December 1. This is an insult to us all.
This board has shown no evidence of bringing any money into the club and no work has begun on any of its much-vaunted projects.
FACT: Deakin and Miller used shares they hadn’t paid for (and which Blue Sky hadn’t paid for) to vote themselves on to the board.
FACT: The Blue Sky deal has been dead since October – the club just pretended it wasn’t as they desperately tried to rekindle the relationship with Hank Julicher via an intermediary.
It seems to me that the entire Blue Sky deal was ‘a vision’. Basically, it was up to the club to find the millions of pounds worth of funding to make various projects happen and then Blue Sky might chuck some money our way.
Whatever the story, the credibility of the club’s directors is shot to such an extent that even if they showed me a bank statement I wouldn’t believe them anymore. And I dare say I wouldn’t be alone.
My message to Messrs Deakin, Miller and Lloyd is simple: ‘Leave now. We are not interested in having another director foisted on us from outer space to replace Glenn Oliver. We want our club back sooner rather than later. This is a battle you cannot win.’

If Vale is so flush… show us the money

So, is the multi-million pound deal that was trumpeted as Port Vale’s salvation still on track? It is, after all, the question fans are asking.

Yesterday’s short statement on the club’s website regarding the status of the Blue Sky investment in Port Vale FC was prompted by questions posed by both The Sentinel and supporters’ groups after weeks of speculation that the deal had unravelled.

Claiming to ‘clarify the position for supporters’, the statement instead prompted far more questions than it actually answered.

Apparently, the initial cash investment of £150,000 by Blue Sky in Vale shares has ‘encountered contractual issues’.

Does this mean the money that the club claimed more than a month ago had been pumped in by the U.S. company – enabling it to buy 8.93 per cent of the club’s shares – isn’t in the bank yet?

This leads, of course, to a far bigger question: If Vale have not yet received the £150,000 from Blue Sky then what chance have they got of actually seeing the £5m that was promised to be invested in the club by next September?

Chief executive Perry Deakin says the deal is still in place, but to be honest, none of what has happened in relation to the Vale in recent weeks makes any sense to me.

We are all still scratching our heads as to why the £1.2 million Ameriturf investment fell through – as neither the company nor the club have given supporters an explanation.

Then our saviour – Blue Sky – announced three weeks ago it was ploughing £1.25m into League One strugglers Yeovil Town.

This has only served to increase speculation that the company’s deal with Vale had hit the buffers.

Let us recap: Supporters were told the £5m investment by Blue Sky would, among other things, lead to the creation of the much talked-about Robbie Williams suite and finally finish the seating in the Lorne Street stand.

We were even given a date for completion of the first project: December 17.

The club have revealed logistical matters have delayed the work on the suite, which, I presume, means the chances of hitting this deadline have decreased.

Indeed, I’ve seen nothing – no investment of any kind either on or off the field – to suggest we are a club that will shortly be rolling in dosh.

Surely even if the club only has the £350,000 invested by chief executive Perry Deakin and chairman Peter Miller in the kitty then we should be seeing some progress.

If we are so flush, why is Vale’s manager scratching around to find enough fit players to field on Saturday because of injuries and suspensions – rather than being allowed to dip into the loan market?

Yesterday’s statement says Deakin will present ‘a full and detailed report’ on Vale’s relationship with Blue Sky at the club’s forthcoming annual meeting.

Of course, that meeting has been put back from it’s usual December slot to February… leaving fans to wait even longer for crucial information on the health and prosperity of their club.

Instead of stalling, I believe it is time that the new regime delivered the openness it promised.

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

It’s only right we ask questions of this dream investment in Vale

The charm offensive continued this week with Vale Chief Executive Perry Deakin’s first live web chat.
If only through its own website, the club seems to be attempting to engage with supporters in a manner and on a scale not seen before.
Of course, not everyone would have been online and available to take part in a web chat at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
I suppose it is a start, however. The first step, one would hope, towards developing a genuine dialogue with ordinary fans who for so long have been treated with contempt by those in charge of the club.
The next step ought to be an open meeting with supporters at the Vale where Perry Deakin and Mike Lloyd make themselves available in the flesh to outline their vision with regards the largest investment in the club’s history.
I’ve been criticised for being too negative in recent weeks towards to the Blue Sky investment and the Vale board.
On the contrary, I think the deal sounds fantastic and if £8 million does indeed come to the club over the next few years as a result of the recent trip to the States then I’ll be as delighted as the next man.
Finishing off the Lorne Street stand, completing the Robbie Williams Suite – this is stuff we’ve been banging on about for years so it’s all good.
But I make no apologies for not yet putting the bunting up.
After all, large carrots have been dangled before – just think Harlequin and Ameriturf – only to never materialise.
Last night it was announced that £400,000 of new shares had been purchased in the club by Blue Sky and Perry Deakin’s contact Peter Miller.
I’m sure we are now all looking forward to the remainder of the investment that has been promised.
However, in spite of the lengthy question and answer session via the club’s website, I think there is still much we don’t know about the proposed Blue Sky deal.
For example:
What exactly are these ‘community outreach facilities’ which £2.5 million will be spent on and what is the timescale for this part of the deal?
This isn’t me being negative. This is me asking the kind of questions other Vale fans are and should be asking.
I am sure Chairman Mike Lloyd is only too aware that he we have been down this road before and the proof of the pudding with regard to any investment is in the eating.
At this juncture, it is worth taking stock of just what has been accomplished in the last couple of years through the efforts of ordinary fans and shareholders.
As a result of the work of Black and Gold, Starve ’Em Out and North London Valiants, among others, the old guard has been ousted.
Stan Meigh and Peter Jackson have been removed from the board. Bill Bratt and Glenn Oliver will soon be gone.
The fear among some supporters, however, is that the while some of the faces at the top may have changed, the club’s modus operandi remains the same.
Only time will tell and it’s only fair that those currently running the Vale are given the chance to prove themselves.
If nothing else, we will know within 12 months whether or not the Blue Sky deal they’ve negotiated is all it’s cracked up to be.
Meanwhile, it is looking increasingly like the shareholders’ choice from June’s EGM – Mark Sims – will not be taking up a director’s seat.
If that is the case then, perhaps with the help of the Supporters’ Club, Port Vale could look to accommodating the Robbie Williams’ proxy shareholding in another way.
How about removing the obstacle of a director’s financial liabilities and allowing a supporter-elected director on to the board with full rights and privileges?
I can’t think of a better way of showing that the new regime is serious about consulting with the fanbase, healing the rift between supporters and demonstrating the kind of transparency we would all wish to see.

U.S. investment in Vale begs so many questions

When Bradford equalised in the first half some wag sitting behind in the Bycars End me shouted: “Eight million quid and we still haven’t got a decent ’keeper.”
As well as being a tad harsh on Chris Martin, this observation didn’t take into the account that the multi-million pound investment by Blue Sky had only been unveiled three hours earlier.
Funny that: Fancy announcing the largest investment deal in the club’s history at 10 to 5 on a match night.
Call me old fashioned, but you would have thought the club would have wanted engineer the press release for a time which would give it maximum impact in the local media.
That way, journalists can ask the kind of questions the supporters around the ground were on Tuesday night.
As it was, the ‘investment which secures the future of the club’ was announced in Vale’s usual ham-fisted fashion and contained so little detail as to render it virtually meaningless.
My first reaction was that this was the Ameriturf/AGS deal with bells on. Which begged the question: Whatever happened to the £1.2m deal trumpeted by the club on May 23?
Are Blue Sky a competitor of Ameriturf and what do they see in debt-ridden Port Vale? Surely it can’t be a coincidence that two major potential U.S. investors in the club are both in the same line of work.
Still, perhaps this bolt from the Blue Sky explains why no-one from Ameriturf has been available to talk to The Sentinel for the last four months.
When you examine the statement it is filled with jargon that I defy any ordinary fans to decipher.
For example, the investment includes £2.5m to develop ‘significant community outreach facilities throughout the Stoke-on-Trent area’. Huh? Has someone swallowed a council agenda? What does that even mean?
To be fair, the key part of the deal appears to be the £5 million being invested into Port Vale over the next 12 months. So what exactly is it being spent on?
We can argue the pros and cons of proposed plastic pitches at Chatterley Whitfield but completing the long-awaited Robbie Williams Suite and putting seats in the unfinished part of the Lorne Street makes absolute sense to me.
However, surely that doesn’t add up to £5m.
I’d like to think that my friend sitting behind me in the Bycars will soon learn that the manager will be given at least part of the investment to strengthen the squad.
It’s early days with this investment but the way in which it was announced, the many questions it begs and the ongoing lack of transparency at the club means the champagne is still on ice for me.
Given the fact that we could also only muster a crowd of 4,769 on Tuesday – despite the reduced admission offer – this tells me there are more than a few sceptics out there who feel exactly the same as I do.

We’re still waiting for transparency at the Vale

The last couple of weeks have been something of a car crash for the lads.
After a promising start, our defence has suddenly sprung more leaks than the board room used to have.
Almost inevitably we limped out of the Paint Pot Trophy and two league defeats have seen us slip to mid-table as a result.
There’s no need for panic just yet – it’s not like we are being battered or not creating any chances.
In fact, sooner or later an opposing team is due a good thrashing when we convert the chances we are making into goals.
However, shoring things up at the back has gone from being a need to a necessity within a fortnight.
Recent results also go to show just how thin our squad is because we have really missed three or four key players sidelined through injury.
While I fully expect us to get a result tomorrow away at troubled Plymouth, Micky’s magic wand can only do so much.
In recent seasons Port Vale managers have been asked to produce a winning team with one hand tied behind their backs.
The playing budget and, therefore the squad, is simply too small.
It goes without saying that increased funding for a manager of the calibre of Micky Adams would make a hell of a difference to our chances of mounting a genuine promotion push.
It would seem that whether or not the gaffer is given additional money to strengthen the squad depends largely on what deal was thrashed out by the Chairman and Chief Executive during their visit to the States.
I would suggest it will have to be something pretty special to surpass what was on the table from the Chaudry/Sims consortium a few months back.
It will certainly take more than a few hundred grand and some plastic pitches to pacify supporters who could have been enjoying a renaissance fuelled by local money and the dynamism of a lifelong Vale fan.
It is only fair that I give Chairman Mike Lloyd the benefit of the doubt as we are still in the early days of his tenure.
He may yet deliver the millions of pounds that have been hinted at and I sincerely hope he is outlining just such an investment to the rest of the board at today’s meeting.
However, irrespective of next week’s much-vaunted announcement, what Mike Lloyd does need to do as a matter of urgency is to ensure that the directors who have promised they will step down do just that.
He also needs to get Mark Sims on to that crippled board as quickly as possible.
We’ve been promised a new era of transparency at the Vale but sadly, to date, I have seen nothing of the sort.