The ‘We are where we are’ poll

I’ve been as positive as anyone about Vale and urging people to pull together for the good of the club and set aside any differences they may have.
But I can’t escape the fact that there’s still a lot of discussion over the current state of affairs off-the-field at Vale Park.
Keith Ryder’s disappearing act has thrown a spanner in the works and left the club in limbo (administration) and whilst it is great to be watching football again at Vale Park we can’t ignore the fact that the future remains uncertain.
Many are pointing their fingers at the administrators for failing to do their homework. Others blame the Supporters’ Club for being ‘taken in’ by Keith Ryder.
For what it’s worth, I think everyone who campaigned for change was right – irrespective of whether or not Keith Ryder let down the administrators.
I certainly wouldn’t change a thing about the way the Supporters’ Club conducted itself. We’e always done what’s best for the club – something which can’t be said for many people involved in this pantomime.
I think it’s very easy to throw stones from sidelines.
But what do you think?
Tell me whether or not you think the fans/Supporters’ Club/and yes, yours truly, were right to campaign for the removal of Valiant 2001 and the old board.
Or tell me why you think we were better off under Bill Bratt, Glenn Oliver and Mike Lloyd and co.
Comments on the actions of the administrators and the Supporters’ Club are very welcome!

Lessons mustn’t be forgotten: Here’s to a brighter future for Port Vale

The waiting has, at times, been excruciating. If I had a quid for every time someone had asked me when Port Vale would be able to move forward under a new owner I would, by now, have enough money for… well, a season ticket at least.

First there was the placing of the club into administration and the 10-point deduction which wrecked Vale’s chances of making the play-offs.

Then there was the heartbreak of redundancies and the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of shares owned by ordinary supporters.

Next we crossed our fingers and hoped the city council would underwrite the costs of the administration process – rather liquidating the club.

After that there was the lottery of Port Vale being up for sale which left us hoping that whoever came in had the club’s best interests at heart and wasn’t just out to make a quick buck – like some of the previous incumbents.

All the while, Vale’s long-suffering fans have watched, powerless, as some of the club’s better players have moved on to pastures new during the transfer embargo.

Thankfully, if all goes according to plan Lancashire businessman Keith Ryder will this week finally be given the necessary Football League approval to take control of the Burslem club.

It has been a long and tortuous road for Vale’s employees and supporters alike and, even now, I’m pretty sure most people don’t realise just how close the club came to oblivion earlier this year.

What went on at Vale Park over the last couple of years must never be forgotten.

Now the dust has settled, it is a tale so utterly bizarre and convoluted that when retold it stretches credulity.

It is the story of how the self-interest and bloody-mindedness of a handful of individuals brought a business to its knees.

It is a salutary lesson in economics and public relations for all who follow the likes of Bill Bratt, Glenn Oliver, Peter Jackson, Graham Mudie, Mike Lloyd, Perry Deakin and Peter Miller.

In layman’s terms, the customer is king and you neglect him or her at your peril when running a football club.

Any owner of a football club has to realise that they are simply the privileged custodian of something which, hopefully, will carry on long after they have shuffled off their mortal coil.

When the mismanagement of the previous boards of directors was exposed for all to see it made Port Vale a laughing stock.

At times, certainly when I was writing stories in November and December of last year, it felt like an episode of Only Fools and Horses – only less believable…

*We had the issuing of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of ‘nil-paid’ shares;

*We had people using those shares to vote themselves on to the board of directors;

*There was a fantasy deal with a U.S. sports pitch firm which was never what it had been cracked up to be;

*We had the family of Vale’s greatest servant snubbed over the unveiling of a statue in his memory;

*We had fans locked out of their own pub out of spite;

*We found out the Chairman was being paid an offensive amount of money for a previously-unpaid figurehead role;

*We had a manager promised a January transfer window war chest which never existed;

*We had Annual General Meetings postponed time and time again because the club’s accounts were in such a state;

*We were promised a fantastic new Robbie Williams Suite in the Lorne Street Stand which never materialised;

*We had the ludicrous situation of fans’ car registrations being noted down by security guards drafted in to keep those nasty, trouble-making customers away from senior club officials;

*We had supporters being fed lies and misinformation on an almost daily basis;

*And, finally, the absolute nadir – we learned of the remortgaging of Vale Park.

Even now many Vale fans cannot agree on who was to blame for what and cannot forgive some of what went on during what was akin to a civil war.

Back in March when I was rattling a collection bucket at the top turnstile in Bycars End a supporter came up to me.

“Would you like to donate to the hardship fund?”, I asked.

“You must be joking,” he spat. “You’re the reason we’re in this mess and not in the play-offs.”

He’s entitled to his opinion, of course.

I, for one, am very grateful that ordinary supporters at Port Vale rose up against the self-serving few who were pillaging our club and treating its customers with contempt.

I am glad of the petitions, the demonstrations, the red card protest and the stay-away fans who defeated the contemptible directors.

No-one in their right mind wanted administration but many realised it was the only way Port Vale could have a future.

Hopefully, that future begins this week with a completed takeover, an influx of new signings and a spike in the number of season tickets sold.

There are now no reasons for Vale fans not to support their club.

I believe there’s plenty of room in Stoke-on-Trent for two successful professional football teams – whatever level they may play at.

Long may that be the case.

Up the Vale!

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Now is time for all Vale supporters to finally set aside their differences

I don’t know about you but I will be glad when the curtain comes down on this season.
Next week the retained list will be published and I expect decisions that may surprise a few supporters because I think Micky Adams may have a different view of some fans’ favourites.
But in all honesty I’m not that bothered about the comings and goings this summer.
Yes, I’d like us to keep Rico, Griff, Doddsy and Rob Taylor and I’m chuffed that Lofty is under contract.
But others will have a different view and I’m not going to lose any sleep either way.
What I really want is for us all to be able to draw a line under the most divisive period in the club’s history.
I see tomorrow’s home game against Oxford as a genuine watershed.
The worst part about what has gone in the last couple of years is that it has turned Vale fan against Vale fan.
Even now we see and hear it in the stands on match days, in the club shop, and all over the internet.
People with axes to grind. People with agendas. People who still believe Bill Bratt walks on water or that Mo Chaudry deserved to be given a chance to run Port Vale.
Let’s just stop it, eh?
Right now it doesn’t matter whether you were Black & Gold, Starve ’Em Out or fiercely against the protesters.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a member of the Supporters’ Club or you don’t like me or what I write.
The point is: We’re all Vale aren’t we?
Now really is the time to set aside all our differences, stop making excuses for not attending and get back to supporting the team and the club in general.
This summer is a glorious opportunity for healing and rebuilding.
If, as seems likely, Keith Ryder receives Football League approval for his bid and takes over next month then that should be the signal for us all to unite behind the common cause.
We have a weird, six-week limbo period now but, having spoken at length to the preferred bidder, he certainly understands the need to make Vale affordable for its fans so expect new offers and incentives.
What’s more, we already know Micky Adams will have an increased budget for players and that will mean new faces.
To top it all, in July we have Sproson Day to look forward to – when the statue of the club’s greatest servant will finally be unveiled in a manner befitting the man and his family.
Make no mistake, things are finally looking up.

Robbie’s got more important things on his mind than saving Port Vale

Jealousy is a terrible thing. It makes people do and say the daftest things – especially where celebrities are concerned.

I guess that’s why stars like the Potteries’ own Robbie Williams will always be a soft target and why he will never be able to do right in some people’s eyes.

On February 27, 2006, The Sentinel announced our Rob had effectively saved cash-strapped Port Vale by buying £265,000 worth of shares in the club.

At the time Vale Chairman Bill Bratt said: “It clearly shows he cares about Port Vale and its future. It’s now up to the board and all at Port Vale FC to ensure his investment is used wisely in helping to secure the future of our club.”

Fast-forward six years and Rob is now one of more than 1,000 creditors – including more than 900 ordinary Vale fans – who have lost their investment.

The club is back in administration and doesn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together.

Supporters are rattling collection buckets again and Vale’s future is far from certain.

Cue a procession of people asking why Robbie doesn’t buy the club, pay the costs of the administration process or stage a concert at Vale Park. After all, he’s minted, isn’t he?

Surely he wouldn’t miss a few million quid. It’s the equivalent of the rest of us chucking a hundred quid in the pot.

My answer to these questions would be: It’s his time and his money and it’s up to him what he does with them.

Back in 2006 it was made abundantly clear to the then Vale board of directors that Rob’s investment was a one-off – a goodwill gesture to the club he had supported all his life.

Of course, back then few people realised lightning could strike twice and that Vale would so soon be up the creek again without a paddle.

If Rob fancies doing something more to help the Vale then great. If he wants a Save The Vale tee-shirt for kick-abouts in California then I’ll send one to him via his dad.

But, to my mind, he’s done his bit – far more so than others I could mention.

For example, without Robbie’s shareholding – entrusted to the Supporters’ Club – ordinary fans wouldn’t have had a voice during the past tumultuous 12 months.

What I reckon we should be asking ourselves is why on earth he would want to do an Elton John and become more involved in a struggling League Two football club.

He’s indicated previously that he doesn’t have the time to devote such an undertaking and I’m not sure the basket case that is Port Vale would do the RW brand any favours right now.

Let’s say he did buy the club. It isn’t just a question of putting a few new seats in the Lorne Street stand and finishing off the infamous Robbie Williams suite.

As soon as things started to go pear-shaped on the field some fans would demand the club’s moneybags benefactor dip into his bank account for that star striker or desperate loan signing. And so it would go on.

No. What Port Vale needs is to be run by a businessman or woman who knows how to turn a profit while keeping his or her customers happy.

Let’s leave Rob to enjoy married life, carry on making music and continue contributing to the charities he supports – including many here in North Staffordshire.

You see, contrary to what Bill Shankly may have said, there are far more important things in life than football.

A few days ago Rob announced via the internet that he and his wife Ayda were announcing their first child.

The ‘tweet’ was an honest and emotional one from a man who, despite his worldwide fame and substantial fortune, has clearly realised that he’s about to have his world rocked by something entirely natural and human.

He’s soon to become a dad and, as any parent will tell you, it’s the best feeling in the world.

It doesn’t matter if he lives in a mansion in Los Angeles. It doesn’t matter if he’s Britain’s biggest music star. It doesn’t matter how much money he has.

Right now he’s Robert Peter Williams and he and his missus are about to have a baby.

I think he can be forgiven if he’s got more important things on his mind than Port Vale. He’s loving angels instead.

So let’s just be happy for a Potteries lad done-good and wish him and his family all the best.

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.

The more Mike Lloyd talks about Port Vale the bigger hole he digs for himself

I dare say you will struggle to find a more breathtaking abdication of responsibility.

Mike Lloyd’s 55-minute interview with BBC Radio Stoke was remarkable for a number of reasons – not least the fact that he never once admitted he had done anything wrong or had the decency to apologise to Vale supporters for the current mess.

Mr Lloyd’s total lack of empathy with the fans was quite staggering. Meanwhile, his excuses for the numerous failings of his regime had more holes than a Swiss cheese.

Vale’s acting Chairman broke cover for the first time in six weeks to speak to Radio Stoke.

This is because very soon he will be attempting to foist another couple of ‘investors’ on to Vale’s shareholders to shore up his doomed board.

Like an absent politician who suddenly reappears on your doorstep a couple of weeks before the election, Mr Lloyd gave a pre-recorded interview because he was ‘too busy’ to appear live on the radio.

Shame that – because his fellow panelists would have eaten him alive.

Until Tuesday, of course, Mr Lloyd had previously ignored questions submitted on behalf of fans by the Supporters’ Club and repeated requests for an interview by local media outlets.

Doing his very best impression of a startled rabbit in the headlights, our acting Chairman delivered a master-class in obfuscation.

According to Mr Lloyd’s version of events, we are expected to believe that:

*He had nothing to do with the Blue Sky deal
*He had nothing to do with the appointment of Peter Miller or Miller’s ridiculous remuneration package
*He knew nothing of the Gibraltar loan agreement
*He has been speaking to supporters (all three of them – after the Wimbledon game)
*The club’s parlous financial situation is entirely the fault of stay-away fans (as opposed to the board’s abject failure to bring in any new investment)
*He has never misled supporters (despite being the man who wrote to shareholders and helped Messrs Deakin and Miller get elected to the board under false pretences)

I could go on… The beauty of the interview was that the more Mr Lloyd spoke and the more he blamed everyone else for Vale’s problems, the bigger hole he dug for himself.

Indeed, I did wonder what Bill Bratt, Peter Miller and Hank Julicher thought of his finger-pointing.

Surely Mr Lloyd was either party to the aforementioned disasters and is therefore culpable – or he didn’t know about them in which case I would suggest he has spectacularly failed as a director.

Either way, I actually only have one question to put to him: Mike, do you need a hand with your packing?

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.