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

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.

Port Vale’s directors are about to reap what they have sown

I have a feeling tonight’s game is going to be something of an emotional affair because we all know just how bleak the prognosis now is for our club.

After further damaging financial revelations at the weekend, the news in today’s Sentinel that the board is inquorate once again, and therefore the club is incapable of functioning as a proper business, is yet another nail in Vale’s coffin.

To be fair, I would argue we haven’t functioned as a proper business for some time because we owe money to every man and his dog and Port Vale appears to be a completely rudderless ship.

That said, however, I’m pleased Peter Miller has finally resigned. The problem is he’s done it about three months too late, by my reckoning.

He should have gone the day The Sentinel exposed him for lying to the supporters over the nil-paid shares.

Instead he went on BBC Radio Stoke after the Blue Sky deal was shown up to be a fantasy and dug an even deeper hole for himself.

This is a man who:

a) Took a whacking great salary out of our League Two club which it couldn’t afford

b) Misled supporters over the Blue Sky deal

c) Lied about paying for £250,000 worth of shares

d) Used those nil-paid shares to vote himself on to the board

e) To cap it all, he remortgaged Vale Park – thus breaking the terms of the loan agreement with the city council.

Nice work, Peter.

Mike Lloyd’s words in an ‘off-the-record’ chat early in December keep coming back to me…

He said: “I think Peter (Miller) is doing a cracking job, a great job – and Perry for that matter. Is he worth his salary? Well, I think so if he brings the sort of money we are talking about with the Blue Sky deal into the club.”

I’m not sure whether even Mike Lloyd realised at that point just how far up the creek without a paddle Peter Miller was taking us.

My only hope now is that Peter Miller is hounded to the ends of the earth for that £250,000 and made to pay for the unholy mess he created during his reign of terror at Port Vale.

Meanwhile, Messrs Lloyd and Deakin – finally realising the game is up – have held talks with the Supporters’ Club’s solicitor.

Again, this dialogue comes about three months too late in my book. During that time they have treated fans and shareholders with utter contempt.

The smart money is on us not even making it to an AGM/EGM. It won’t be held in the Robbie Williams suite, that’s for sure.

If the worst should happen in the coming days and our club goes into administration, then let’s be clear about who is to blame.

Peter Miller is responsible for many of the problems and his list of known misdemeanours is listed above.

Perry Deakin, a man who changed the story about his nil-paid shares more times than I care to remember, is the CEO of Port Vale and, as such, has to take responsibility for the financial catastrophe enveloping the club.

He and his fellow board members – Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver – failed to bring in any investment of any note during the last six months while they were busy alienating the fanbase and blaming supporters for all the club’s ills.

Well, it seems like you may be about to reap what you have sown, gentlemen. What a pity none of you have ever even had the good grace to admit your mistakes or say sorry.

Sadly, Port Vale and its supporters may soon pay the penalty for your arrogance and incompetence.

I really hope we beat Crewe tonight to give us all something to smile about. Something to lift the gloom.

Micky Adams and the lads certainly deserve great credit for recent results which have been achieved against a very difficult backdrop.

Whatever happens in the coming days, fans can rest assured that the Supporters’ Club will do right by them and the Vale and fight tooth and nail for its future.

One thing’s for sure. Very soon, once again, Port Vale is going to need all the friends it can get.

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

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

Who cares if they announce new money? The Vale board’s time is up…

As predicted by many observers weeks ago, the Port Vale board has put back the club’s annual meeting for a second time.

It would be nice to know why they have done so, but the twaddle put out on the club’s website: “This short delay is necessary to complete dealing with the consequences of recent events and manage various club operational requirements”, told us nothing. It’s barely even English.

In my opinion the board’s motivation is fuelled entirely by self-interest. Saddled with an ever mounting debt and terrified of facing Vale fans, the directors continue to hide, squirm and delay.

Apparently Messrs Deakin and Oliver will step down on March 13.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but I hope they do and they never darken Vale’s door again.

As for Mike Lloyd and the lesser-spotted Peter Miller, who knows what the future holds for them?

Miller, who lied about having put money into the club and was elected to the board under false pretences, hasn’t been seen since he signed the now infamous document which mortgaged Vale Park and breached the terms of the council loan agreement. How on earth can he continue to be a director?

Surely even someone as creative and obstinate as Miller must realise his position is untenable after being sacked as chairman by his fellow directors.

Meanwhile, Lloyd remains in denial about his irrefutable culpability for the shambles of recent months.

How he believes he can remain in post is beyond me, but he has already declared his intention to do so.

This is the man who, a few days before The Sentinel broke the news that the Blue Sky deal was dead and was never what the club had claimed it to be, said he thought Miller was doing “a great job” and was worth his £100,000 plus remuneration package.

In Lloyd World – a parallel universe for the terminally-deluded – the blame for the failure of the Blue Sky deal, the issuing of nil-paid shares and the mortgaging of our club is everyone else’s fault but his.

In the real world, all this happened on Lloyd’s watch. Surely this is not a man who should be left to make decisions effecting Port Vale’s very survival?

In an attempt to prolong his tenure, my guess is that Lloyd is about to reveal another “new investment” – maybe one which actually involves someone paying for the shares issued to Messrs Miller and Deakin. Or not.

But who cares? I mean it. Who actually cares anymore what this board tell us via the club’s website?

Hands up who actually believes a word they say?

Last week The Sentinel submitted at least 10 questions to the club addressing the pertinent issues that most concern fans. When Vale got around to answering, the most common response was: “no comment”.

I believe that clearly illustrates the contempt with which the club’s support is held by this board.

Nothing and no-one can redeem this current board in the eyes of the vast majority of Vale fans.

Having watched their makeshift team be humiliated by a very poor Wimbledon side at home last Saturday, is it any wonder Vale fans are losing the will to live?

The EGM really can’t come soon enough.

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

Very soon we will boot the not-so-fab four out of Port Vale

Clearly it wasn’t just the fans and shareholders who were led up the garden path by the current board.
It comes to something when your manager publicly rebukes the powers-that-be over their failure to deliver a promised war chest for signings in the January transfer window.
Micky Adams sounded as frustrated as the rest of us – thoroughly disillusioned at trying to do his job with one hand tied behind his back.
Of course, it’s not the board’s fault, though, is it? It never is.
Just like it wasn’t the fault of Messrs Miller, Deakin, Lloyd and Oliver when the Blue Sky deal turned out to be pie in the sky or when they issued nil paid shares or were forced to take out a mortgage to pay December’s wages.
I find their arrogance and inability to accept responsibility for the current cataclysm quite breathtaking.
At least now the supporters are united behind a common goal: To get rid of the clowns currently running our club.
After the hugely-successful red card protest and a turnstile poll in which almost 97 per cent of fans said they supported moves to oust the current board, there is now a genuine mandate for change.
Unfortunately, the not-so-fab four haven’t quite gone yet. One of them is even talking about hanging around, for heaven’s sake.
I’m not sure what planet Mike Lloyd is living on but he needs to understand that his time as a director of Port Vale is ending. Leave now or get pushed out later. Your choice, Mike.
His comrade Perry Deakin said this week he was in discussions to extend his tenure – after quitting as chief executive in November.
Don’t bother, Perry. Someone will order you a (non-Police) taxi before then.
The enigma that is Glenn Oliver has at least publicly pledged to step down as a director at the AGM. However, given Mr Oliver’s propensity for contradiction I’ll believe that when I see it.
And then we have the lesser-spotted Peter Miller. He’s been sacked by his mates but is still on the board – presumably, like Mr Deakin – by dint of shares he never paid for.
At least the rest of us paid for our shares – even if they were only a couple of hundred quid’s worth.
The upshot to all this is that we have a club that has no money and can’t pay its bills courtesy of a board that is in hiding.
Nice work, gents. The only crumb of comfort I can offer is that very soon, once certain ducks are in a row, Vale’s supporters will unceremoniously boot these unwanted individuals out of our club.