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


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

Time for Football League to deliver a double celebration

There is a man at the Football League who has it within his gift to make us all very happy in the next few days.

Last Thursday preferred bidders Norman Smurthwaite and Paul Wildes received verbal confirmation from the League that their bid to take-over Port Vale had been accepted.

A week later and we’re still waiting for the written confirmation which will take the club out of administration and herald a new era at Vale Park.

The money has been transferred to the solicitors, the Football League has everything it has asked for. The administrators are happy. The preferred bidders can do no more.

So let us hope that the Football League’s in-house lawyer Nick Craig completes his work before next Wednesday when the preferred bidders’ period of exclusivity expires.

After all the heartache, what we absolutely don’t want is for the administrators to have to go back to the drawing board and look for yet another new buyer.

This isn’t a Keith Ryder vanishing act/lack of money scenario. The ball is now firmly in the Football League’s court and, frankly, Port Vale and its fans have been waiting long enough.

So, Mr Craig, please help us make it a double celebration and give us the good news before Wednesday.

It will be the icing on the cake after tomorrow’s Sproson Statue unveiling.

Tomorrow, it won’t matter whether you sit in the Paddock, the Bycars End or the Lorne Street stand.

It doesn’t matter whether you were Black and Gold, Starve ‘Em Out, or still hold affection for the previous board.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a season ticket, you walk up to games or you are a lapsed fan – someone who perhaps recalls the days when either Roy or Phil Sproson wore a Vale shirt.

Tomorrow none of that matters. Tomorrow all Vale supporters can come together to celebrate one family’s special association with our club.

It was 11 years ago that a group of fans sat around first discussing the idea of a permanent memorial to the club’s greatest servant.

Yes, it’s a crime that it has taken so long for the project to be completed but we shouldn’t allow any negativity tomorrow.

So many people have been involved in the Sproson Fund and have worked on the Sproson Statue project.

Then there are the thousands more who have donated sums large and small to help realise the dream of acknowledging Roy Sproson’s achievements and his family’s remarkable service to Port Vale.

There are many statues of great and famous footballers and managers at grounds across the country – celebrating domestic success and international honours.

Now Vale Park has one which is unique in that it honours one man’s devotion to his local club and his family’s record of more than 1,360 appearances for that club.

Tomorrow is a day of great pride and a day of memories. But is also a day to look forward with renewed hope that the talismanic Sproson name can inspire Port Vale for generations to come.

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

A week to savour as we hope Vale has turned a corner

Even the most one-eyed and cynical fans must be feeling more optimistic about the club’s prospects after the last seven days.

A cracking victory over Oxford in front of a TV audience of millions didn’t half feel good.

It also put breathing space between us and the teams in play-off positions – something which we can hopefully increase tomorrow.

That Vale only played to their potential in patches on Monday night shows that this team is perfectly capable of achieving a promotion berth.

The only thing I can see stopping us being in the top three is our relatively small squad because of the Football League embargo which currently limits us to registering just 20 players.

While we remain in administration, a few injuries and suspensions to key players – like we have at present in central midfield – could well put a spanner in the works.

Of course, if Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite complete their takeover within the next couple of weeks, as seems likely, this won’t be a problem.

Micky Adams will then be able to strengthen the squad as and when he needs to.

What’s more, it turns out that on completion of a takeover the players’ contracts revert to their original terms agreed with the lesser-spotted Keith Ryder.

This means there’s less danger of the Pontiff, Dodds, Neal, Vincent or Myrie-Williams being taken off us for nowt in January.

I spoke to Micky Adams after Tuesday’s press conference where the new preferred bidder was unveiled and I realised then just how remarkable our start to the season has been.

The gaffer told me he hasn’t even had the resources to properly scout other teams before we’ve played them.

That we already have 26 points on the board and have the top scorer in the country is testament to the skill of Adams and his coaching staff and the work ethic of a group of players who, without wanting to sound clichéd, are playing for each other.

No-one is getting carried away with what they heard from and about Messrs Wildes and Smurthwaite on Tuesday but it didn’t set any alarm bells ringing either.

Cautious optimism should be our default setting – secure in the knowledge that the new owners are savvy enough to realise that they must take the fans with them as they plan for Vale’s future.

Personally, I’m excited and hopeful that we’ve finally turned a corner because there’s a huge reservoir of goodwill that new owners will be able to tap into once the all important deal is done.

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

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

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

Those who could help fiddle while Vale Park burns

I’m hoping against all hope that we get a result tomorrow.

I’d even settle for a draw given the threadbare squad Micky is having to work with.

However, the truth is my thoughts are so dominated by the disgraceful off-the-field situation that football has honestly become of secondary importance.

It’s a case of: Another week – another shocking revelation.

As many suspected, the £277,000 mortgage signed off by former chairman Peter Miller to pay December’s wages breached the terms of the far more significant council loan agreement.

It seems Miller was relying on the benevolence – or possibly the intransigence – of the local authority when he saddled us with yet more debt.

He gambled that the council wouldn’t call in the loan and thereby put Vale into administration.

If anyone was in any doubt about the club’s parlous financial position, then this should clarify the situation for them.

At present, it strikes me the only thing keeping the wolves from the door is that the Vale loan is such a political hot potato.

However, this cannot go on and surely even Stoke-on-Trent City Council will not allow its investment of taxpayers’ money to be jeopardised further.

Let’s be clear: If Port Vale does go into administration then it will be because of the incompetence of the current board – nothing else.

Of course, the directors who have lied to, misled and manipulated fans, shareholders and club employees have now gone into hiding.

They refuse to talk to fans or the media and the chief executive is rarely seen at the club anymore because the truth of the board’s ineptitude is there for all to see.

Port Vale FC is a laughing stock and in very serious financial trouble and yet none of the organisations or individuals who could intervene have so far lifted a finger to help its fans.

Stoke-on-Trent North MP and Vale fan Joan Walley, the city council, the Football Association and the Football League have all been told what is going on and done nothing.

They fiddle and talk in platitudes while Vale Park burns.

Thus it is left to the Supporters’ Club and affiliated fans’ groups to rescue Port Vale from the not-so-fab-four.

When the EGM is finally called I’m confident the phantom U.S. investment, the issuing of ‘nil-paid’ shares, the shabby treatment of the Sproson family and the taking out of a dubious mortgage will spell the end for Messrs Miller, Oliver, Lloyd and Deakin.