‘Not the time for falling out. The players and manager need a cuddle…’

Vale co-owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Vale co-owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Norman Smurthwaite says he knows exactly what the Port Vale players and manager need right now – and it’s not criticism.

The club’s chief executive and co-owner has called on supporters, home and away, to get behind whoever wears the shirt.

Smurthwaite said: “What the players and the manager need at this moment in time is a cuddle. They need us – the owners, the staff at the club and – crucially – the fans, to put our arms around them and make them feel warm and loved.

“We can all see what is going on. We know that results haven’t been going for us, but criticising the players and the manager who have put us in the automatic promotion places won’t help.

“Every other team and set of fans is out to get us. Our team and our manager are there to be shot at, and we can help take some of the heat off them by encouraging and supporting them at this difficult time.

“The younger players aren’t daft. They know that this is their time and they know that unless they do the business they could end up painting and decorating Vale Park rather than playing here, which is a real privilege.

“Of course, fans are entitled to their opinions and I understand their frustrations, but the truth is that everyone at the club is just as disappointed as them at the way things have gone recently.

“I can assure the supporters that no-one hurts more than the players and the manager when we get beat. Micky Adams is a proud man and he doesn’t accept failure.”

On the subject of the manager, Smurthwaite was unequivocal in his support.

He said: “Micky Adams is going nowhere. He will be at York on Saturday, he will be with us until the end of the season and I fully expect him to be with us next season when we will hopefully be in League One.

“There is no doubt that Micky Adams was one of the key reasons for me buying this football club.

“As much as I saw potential in the stadium, I could see that we were lucky at this level to have a manager of his calibre and experience.

“I was also struck with what he and the group of players he had assembled had achieved in the early part of the season before we came in and spent money to strengthen the squad.

“If ever I’m feeling low I think back to that terrific day in the FA Cup at Sheffield United. I was so incredibly proud – even though we lost the game.

“On that day I saw our potential. I saw how we could stand toe-to-toe with teams from a higher level, play good football and have fantastic supporters.

“It is about re-discovering the spirit of earlier on in the season when the club was fighting for its life.”

On Tuesday night, midfielder Ryan Burge took to Twitter to claim he was just five minutes away from Bristol Rovers ground on Tuesday when he received a text saying he was not in the Vale squad.

Asked what he thought about players voicing their disappointment at being left out of the squad on social media, Smurthwaite said he was disappointed.

Smurthwaite said: “In a perfect world this kind of thing wouldn’t happen and issues between the manager and the players would remain behind closed doors.

“However, I trust the manager and the players to get their heads together and sort these kind of things out.

“They are grown-ups and they’re paid to do a job. This isn’t the time for fallings out.

“At the end of the day we need the best possible team out on the pitch on Saturday – irrespective of personal grievances.”

Despite Vale’s recent poor run, Smurthwaite said he was still “loving” the challenge.

He added: “It was unfortunate but I had to be away for a few days and I returned to a real storm.

“But nothing will divert myself or Paul (Wildes) from our goals. We are here for the long-haul.

“I hope that the fans can see that we’re doing our bit and are happy with what we are doing.

“It is a massive learning curve because we are still relative newcomers to the business of football, but I’d like to think the fans can see that we’ve done everything that’s been asked of us.

“As an example, the wage bill for players and player support has gone up by 40 per cent in the time we’ve been here. That’s a significant investment to try to help the manager.

“Paul and I, and our staff, are working hard – perhaps doing the not-so-glamorous things which make the business sustainable because we want to build Port Vale up and go higher.

“There are lots of positives, lots of things we are working on which the supporters aren’t aware of just yet, but which will help the club down the line and improve the experience for fans.

“However, we understand fully that all that matters in the end to our customers is what happens out on the pitch on a Saturday or a Tuesday evening.

“I don’t believe that our early season form was a fluke. The fans know what our lads are capable of. We’ve seen the best of them and we’ll see it again soon – I’ve no doubt about that.”

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.

Time to deliver as tricky Christmas period looms for Vale

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Right. I’ll cancel that charabanc for Wembley then, shall I?

Let’s put it this way: I’m hoping we won’t need one for any play-off action come May as we are perfectly positioned to get promoted automatically.

The FA Cup was a potential revenue raiser and the Johnstone Paints Trophy could have given us all a great day out.

But am I really that disappointed that we crashed out of both competitions this week?

In all honesty, no.

Am I disappointed with aspects of the performances – particularly the second half against Bradford? Yes.

Am I disappointed by the match officials? Endlessly.

But let’s try to take the positives from this week because they are there.

We’ve demonstrated we can compete against the likes of high-flying Sheffield United in the league above.

Once again Vale’s travelling support excelled themselves and deserve huge credit.

Micky Adams has now given game time to some fringe players and has virtually a full strength squad to pick from.

The Sneyd Green Pontiff is back from his one-match suspension along with the impressive Ryan Burge and Kingsley James who I would hope would go straight back into tomorrow’s starting line-up.

In recent years we’ve been poor over the Christmas period and we’ve certainly got some tricky games to contend with over the next four weeks.

However, we are well capable of beating anyone in this league and so remaining within the top three spots is certainly achievable.

If we do that then I think we have an easier run in to the end of the season than some of our rivals and that is when, hopefully, our quality and goal-threat will tell.

My only real concerns are the fact that our centre halves are being shown up to be slow and that we don’t appear to have a plan B when teams double-up on Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams.

We have to some how find a way of exploiting the time and space this creates for our centre midfielders.

Yes, the squad may be strengthened in January but, for me, the most important thing is that Tom Pope remains at the club – along with Doug Loft, our wingers and ’keeper Chris Neal who has been excellent.

Tom Pope could get 35 goals this season and this team should go straight up.

There are no cup distractions. Off-the-field woes are a thing of the past. It’s time to deliver.

Read my Port Vale articles every Friday in The Sentinel

I don’t begrudge Stoke fans their Wembley trip

Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and give credit where credit is due. Sunday was such a day.
What I am about to write will see me slated in certain quarters – possibly even excommunicated.
Giving succour or praise to ‘the enemy’, as one Port Vale fan termed it in the wake of Stoke City’s FA Cup Semi-final heroics against Bolton, is considered by some in the wilder parts of Boslem to be an act of high treason.
They are no different to some Stoke fans who won’t rest until Vale Park is a car park.
Nonetheless, even I must take my black and white hat off to the red and white half of the city for a magnificent victory.
Well done Stoke City on reaching the final. I hope you now go on and win the Cup.
There. I’ve written it. That wasn’t so bad, actually.
You see, I can adopt this stance because I have plenty of mates who are genuine, long-suffering Stoke supporters and I wouldn’t dream of begrudging them their moment in the sun.
After all, I’m sure I can’t be the only Vale fan who fondly recalls passing under a bridge on the D-road on the way to the Autoglass Trophy Final at Wembley and spotting a group of Stoke fans with a banner wishing us all the best.
How times – and both clubs – have changed.
Certainly part of the reason I’m able to view Stoke’s achievement philosophically is that, as a middle-aged hack, I recognise it for what it is: a truly remarkable story.
In 1997, starved – as the club was – of success, you would have struggled to find many Potters fans who had a good word to say about the then chairman Peter Coates.
He stepped down with great dignity amid supporter protests and few would have dared predict him returning to the club he had supported since he was a boy.
However, having made a mint – and, no doubt, against the advice of some – he again invested in Stoke City and appointed a manager whom very few fans actually wanted.
Promotion to the top flight of English football ensued and now a place in the final of football’s oldest and grandest Cup competition.
A European adventure may follow.
What a tale. You couldn’t make it up. It’s Boy’s Own stuff, it really is.
Another reason that a Valeite like me can view Sunday’s result with a degree of objectivity is that I know that at least one of the teams that will contest the final won’t be from the ‘big four’.
I can’t abide the hype that surrounds our national game – particularly the big-money teams with their bone-head players who are fêted like rock stars.
Thus I take a crumb of comfort from knowing that, for once, average Joes from Stoke-on-Trent will be enjoying the Cup Final – rather than viewing it, as fans of some teams do, as a divine right and an annual day out.
Yes. I’ve heard all the well-rehearsed criticisms levelled at Stoke City by Vale fans jealous of the both the investment the club has enjoyed and the success it has bought. Criticisms such as:

  • Half the people who now go to the Britannia Stadium are ‘glory-hunters’ who only started supporting Stoke City when they made it into the Premier League.

(What did we expect? That’s the nature of sport – success attracts fresh interest)

  • Stoke have had an easy route to the final.

(Well, you can only beat the team put out in front of you)

The bottom line is that Stoke supporters are now reaping the benefits of a substantial cash investment by a bloke from Goldenhill who was prepared to stick his head in to the lion’s mouth for a second time.
A rare man indeed, Peter Coates brought in a good management team, enjoyed a slice or two of luck – which any team needs if they wish to ascend to the dizzy heights of regular Sky TV coverage – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The contrast with my own club couldn’t be more stark.
While Stoke have ascended, Vale have fallen and stagnated and I predict that the next three or four months will be crucial to my club’s very survival.
Yes, it really is that serious.
I have no problem congratulating Stoke because they are not Stevenage, Morecambe or Barnet – i.e. they no longer have a bearing on us.
The truth is it’s pretty grim being a Vale fan at the moment.
Through thick and thin, they say. Well this is decidedly anorexic, I can tell you.
Thus, I wish the Potters well.
Unless, of course, we draw Stoke City in the cup next season – in which case I will, of course, be hoping we stuff them.