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

Advertisements

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!

Port Vale, Keith Ryder and a few home truths…

I can’t quite believe that here we are, 10 days before the start of our first competitive fixture of the new season, and Port Vale is still in a state of crisis.

When Keith Ryder was unveiled as the preferred bidder for the club at the beginning of April, no-one could have envisaged that four months later we would still be waiting for his money to arrive and for the deal to go through.

Yes, there will be a few know-it-alls trying to claim some credit, pretending that they knew all along that Keef had no money.

There will also be a few still banging the drum for Mo Chaudry and saying it would all have been so different if the Waterworld owner had taken over.

So let’s set a few records straight before tomorrow night’s Supporters’ Club meeting at Vale Park.

No-one – none of us – could have foreseen that we would still be waiting for Keith Ryder’s money to come through four months after he was anointed. I include the administrators in this.

I met Keith Ryder privately three times but came away with the same impression anyone who had met him at the open forum would have had: Seems like a decent bloke. Head screwed on. No daft promises.

In the end, I was left clutching at the fact that it was the job of the administrators and, to a lesser extent, the Football League to check that the Lancashire businessman had the financial wherewithall and was a fit and proper person to own a football club.

The jury is still out on both, in my opinion.

But if Mr Ryder does now comes through with the money – and, let’s face it, it’s a big if – he has some serious explaining to do and, I reckon, some apologising to do to Vale’s fanbase who have been strung along with failed promises for weeks.

This is certainly not the new era of openness and transparency he acknowledged was needed when Supporters’ Club representatives met with him on several occasions.

As for Mr Chaudry, well it is fair to say that he hasn’t covered himself in glory this week by criticising the Supporters’ Club for not backing his bid.

We didn’t back your bid, Mo, because we were busy backing Port Vale.

We didn’t back your bid, Mo, because we didn’t see ANY of the bids. Only the administrators were privvy to that information so how could we back a bid that we hadn’t seen?

We didn’t back your bid, Mo, because suppose we had and then someone else had been named as the preferred bidder? Awkward…

No, the Supporters’ Club committee did what it has always done – certainly during my involvement – and that is to look out for Port Vale: To put ourselves in the best position to negotiate on behalf of, and represent the views of, the wider fanbase.

If Mo is a Vale fan, as he claims, then I’m sure he is sitting there as upset as the rest of us about this turn of events and wondering how he can help with his hands and his wallet.

Because scoring cheap points on radio shows does no-one any favours, does it?

Mr Chaudry had the best chance of any bidder to take over Port Vale. Fact. So we shouldn’t let anyone try to rewrite history at this stage.

I’m not going to sit here now, or tomorrow night, and pretend that everything has always been rosy in the garden since April.

The SC committee, especially yours truly, has disagreed with Keith Ryder and the administrators and often been appalled at the poor communication from both – prompting us to intervene several times.

However, and this is crucial, we have at all times set aside our own personal frustrations and put the club first – keeping all channels of communication open.

Just ask those fans on the internet who use social media or people who buy The Sentinel and who were kept informed of developments every day last week – as and when the SC was given new information.

It is easy to criticise. I’m guilty of it myself. But to sling stones at the Supporters’ Club because you’re angry and frustrated at what is happening at Port Vale is pointless and, frankly, out of order. But that’s what some people choose to do.

A few people, and it is a few who I could name, have very short memories it seems – along with their own personal agendas, of course.

What I would say to these individuals is: Tomorrow is your chance to come up to the Supporters’ Club committee members or say in public all the things you want to get off your chest.

For me, I would say that Vale supporters are strongest and have most influence when we are united towards a common goal.

Right now that should still be the very survival of our football club.

Tomorrow night we have an opportunity to come together and quiz Bob Young – the man responsible for guiding Port Vale through these choppy waters.

Whatever anyone thinks of him he has the guts to appear at the meeting. He doesn’t have to. It’s his call.

Thus I’m hoping for a constructive and positive first hour of the meeting where Bob will hopefully be able to answer a number of key questions.

This isn’t quite the Supporters’ Club meeting we had all hoped for.

We were hoping to get together to discuss how the remaining funds donated by fans could be spent and to release details of the Sproson Day.

I guess that will have to wait.

By the way, I’ve just rung Keith. He didn’t answer (quelle surprise) and so I left a message inviting him to tomorrow night’s meeting. You never know…

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