Majority of fans shouldn’t have to pay penalty for ignorant few

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It seems incredible that in 2013 we are still debating how to deal with racism in the stands at football matches.

The sad fact is we are, however, and every time it raises its ugly head it simply can’t be ignored.

My club Port Vale made headlines in a national newspaper a few days ago for all the wrong reasons after racist chanting during the recent home game against Bradford.

It led Potteries-born former Stoke City striker turned BBC pundit Garth Crooks, trustee of the anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, to write to the Football Association and Football League calling for swift action.

Our Garth believes that unless the Vale is seen to root out the culprits and ban them, then the footballing authorities should step in.

This could involve, for example, a temporary closure of the Railway Paddock – the area of the ground where the offensive chanting emanated from.

In his comments, Garth cited the example of another club, QPR, which banned fans who abused England star Shaun Wright-Phillips within 48 hours of the incident taking place.

He also pointed to the action taken by authorities in Italy at the weekend who closed down a stand of Lazio’s Olympic Stadium after Juventus players were abused during a game last week.

So should the Burslem club be subject to the same sanctions if it fails to identify and take strong action against the fans who brought its name into disrepute?

I don’t think so. And no, that’s not because I’m a Vale supporter.

I think that each case needs to be examined on its merits and I think closing the Railway Paddock because of the bone-head behaviour of a handful of fans would be the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Apart from the fact that I’m not convinced it would solve the problem – should it re-occur – it seems an entirely disproportionate response.

Let’s not forget it was a number of Port Vale fans who complained about the offensive chanting.

That in itself reflects a club whose fanbase are self-aware and capable of policing themselves in terms of what is or isn’t acceptable behaviour.

The club itself has also been swift in its condemnation of the racist chanting and a statement told how officials have been studying CCTV footage in an effort to identify the trouble-makers and are looking to implement improved security measures so that a repeat of any such behaviour will be quickly dealt with.

Given that the chanting involved a tiny percentage of the Vale supporters at the game the response by both fans and the club itself seems reassuring and entirely reasonable.

Apart from potentially moving troublemakers to another part of the stadium, I dare say closing the Railway Paddock would do nothing but penalise the vast majority of decent fans who have paid to sit in a certain part of the ground because they like the view and the atmosphere.

Or because they have sat there for years and that’s where their dads and grandads sat before them.

Perhaps lessons can be learned from the problems at the Bradford game, but anyone who’s been around Vale Park in the past decade or more knows full well that this is a club with a community ethos and where the management doesn’t tolerate offensive behaviour.

What happened at the Bradford game was wrong but it was no more wrong than long-haired opposition players being labelled ‘gypos’ by home fans at grounds around the country – something which still, unbelievably, goes on – and yet the authorities don’t seem as motivated to act upon.

The fact is a football crowd is a microcosm of society and, as such, inevitably includes a minority who believe swearing in front of small children and abusing the referee, opposition players, or anyone who is different is as much a part of their Saturday afternoon as a pie and a pint.

That doesn’t make it right. That’s just how it is.

It is something which needs to be tackled education through every generation with through education and the constant reinforcement of the values of fairness and equality.

So long as the majority of fans and – crucially – the clubs themselves act with genuine intent to weed out of a minority of morons, then our national sport is in safe hands.

This will help us not to blow such incidents out of proportion while ensuring they are clamped down on.

Read my Personally speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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Let’s be positive and keep faith with a team forged out of adversity

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It would be the easiest thing in the world right now to be negative; To condemn the manager and the players for the recent poor run of form.

But, for me, the glass is still half full and I don’t see any value at this juncture in laying in to a team that still sits second in the table with a goal difference of plus 29.

As anyone who follows Vale knows we never do things the easy way and I suspect supporters will have to grit their teeth and cross their fingers until the final game of the season.

Love hurts, as Roy Orbison was oft heard to say, but Vale fans will doubtless keep the faith with this team forged out of adversity.

I never thought we’d win the league but I do think we will still secure automatic promotion with five wins and a couple of draws from the remaining games.

Tuesday night’s goalless draw against Bradford – a team that are no slouches, by the way (as their cup runs proved) – at least stopped the rot.

On another day the Pontiff would have had a hat-trick and I expect normal service to be resumed soon and a visiting team to Vale Park to be on the end of a good hiding.

Remember that the teams in the chasing pack can’t win every game and have to play each other in the coming weeks.

The players need to forget all about the Cheltenhams, Rotherhams, Burtons and Exeters, stop looking over their shoulders and concentrate on what they did so well earlier in the season.

Even without skipper Doug Loft, whose tackle on Tuesday night was no less rash than the one which earned Sam Morsy a red card earlier in the season, we are hardly short of options in midfield.

For me, both Morsy and Ryan Burge warrant a starting place in order to help us win the crucial midfield battles – as does the excellent Louis Dodds who, in my opinion, is the best man to play off Tom Pope.

If the gaffer doesn’t believe Ashley Vincent is doing the business then can I be cheeky and suggest he gives Ben Williamson a start in his place?

Williamson’s goals return compared to that of, say, Calvin Andrew is far superior and his pace always causes teams problems.

I guess my point is that the manager has choices – thanks to the support of the new owners in the transfer market.

Now he just has to make the right ones.

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.

There’s no need for panic. We’re second for a reason

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It’s squeaky bum time, then. Three defeats in a week has left some people wondering whether or not we have misread the omens.

Fans are asking where the free-flowing football has gone.

Supporters want to know what has happened to the team that put 11 goals past promotion rivals in two games.

Have we been found out? Are we perhaps not as good as we think we are?

Is this where the wheels come off?

Despite the recent poor run of results I’m still optimistic.

We’re second for a reason and there’s absolutely no need to panic at this stage.

I’m not denying that there are issues, however.

It worries me that our defence is so slow. It concerns me that if teams double up on our wingers then we don’t seem to have a Plan B going forward.

Clearly some players are below par at the moment and, for whatever reason, their confidence has dipped.

The reaction of a section of the home crowd to last Saturday’s dismal performance against Chesterfield was perfectly understandable.

Vale fans will take defeat if the team give it their all and look like they want to win the game.

Away against Sheffield United in the FA Cup no-one could fault the endeavour shown.

But against both Bradford in the JPT and, more disappointingly, the Spireites in the league we were second best.

They were the better-organised teams who, crucially, looked like they wanted the win more.

It is for Micky Adams to decide whether or not the players who are under-performing require the carrot or the stick.

There are some – like Tom Pope and Chris Neal – whose inclusion on the team sheet is a no-brainer.

But how many others, at present, can claim they deserve a guaranteed start?

We’ve not seen much of Calvin Andrew yet but I would prefer to see Louis Dodds reinstated into the attack alongside the Pontiff.

Although he hasn’t scored many goals this season, Dodds’s link-up play and tracking back is crucial, for me.

We’ll miss Jennison Myrie-Williams tomorrow but should still have enough quality and attacking options to get a result against Cheltenham.

The away trip to Rotherham will provide a stern test but the home games against Wimbledon and Dagenham and Redbridge are eminently winnable.

You see, it’s not all doom and gloom. Last week I told Popey he’d score 35 goals this season and I’m sticking with that prediction.

It’s a time for cool heads, a little faith and some encouragement for the lads as the tough December fixture list continues.

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

Midfield key to Vale getting back to winning ways


It’s been a week of mixed fortunes and mixed performances.
In truth, we’d have probably taken four points from two games which included a difficult away trip to Bradford.
But to steal three points off the in-form Bantams only to then turn in our worst showing of the season at home to struggling Dagenham certainly wasn’t what most of us expected.
First came the relief of a precious clean sheet and a hard-fought victory in which Chris Neal once again showed himself to be the best ’keeper we’ve had since Mark Goodlad.
Meanwhile, goal number nine for the Pontiff underlined just how far Sneyd Green’s finest has come since the departure of Messrs Richards and Rigg.
On Tuesday night I honestly expected us to put three or four past the Daggers and couldn’t see anything other than our wingers running them ragged.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Aside from a purple patch which lasted for about 10 minutes before the half time interval, Vale were pretty awful.
So bad, in fact, that we made the visitors – who had initially seemed incapable of tying their own bootlaces – look vaguely OK by the final whistle.
Granted, their keeper played extremely well in the first period and kept them in it with a string of fine saves.
However, aside from the notable exceptions of Tom Pope, Jennison Myrie-Williams and John McCombe, I thought the whole Vale side was poor throughout – including the usually impeccable Doug Loft.
Chris Neal can surely be forgiven his almighty clanger, in view of his good form up ‘til that moment.
However, there really is no excuse for the way in which we lost our shape and the ability to string two passes together as they game wore on.
We’re still second but it does concern me that we haven’t been firing on all cylinders in the last three games.
Gone is the free-flowing football that saw us batter promotion hopefuls Rotherham and Fleetwood.
Where we seem to be losing the battle is in the centre of midfield and I was surprised to see Sam Morsy and Ryan Burge both start on Tuesday night.
For my money, our best pairing in the middle is Doug Loft and Chris Shuker – with Rob Taylor at left back.
In many ways the draw against Dagenham probably did more to damage morale in the camp than the defeat against Gillingham.
Perhaps the lads were feeling the after-effects of Saturday’s Alamo at Valley Parade.
Either way, hopefully Sir Micky of Burslem will have sorted their heads out by tomorrow and normal service can be resumed.