This goes beyond tribal loyalties. Come and be Vale with us tonight

In years to come people will remember where they were and what they did in the coming days and weeks.
An old friend of mine is in trouble, you see. Deep trouble.
One of Stoke-on-Trent’s grandest institutions is on its knees and the prognosis is bleak.
The situation is so desperate and so unfair that it has caused many of us months and months of sleepless nights.
Emotions are running high. None of us can rest easy until we know for sure that our friend is going to pull through.
But I am keeping the faith. We all are.
As a result, something momentous is happening: Something at once inspirational and humbling which makes me extremely proud of my home city.
Port Vale Football Club is being resuscitated.
The community club with a 136-year history that has had its name dragged through the mud and been left for dead, is slowly but surely being revived.
Not by outside investors, your understand. There isn’t an oligarch or a sheikh to be seen around Boslem.
No, this rebirth is being driven by the people of the Potteries who are demonstrating that the city council is right to bail the club out by underwriting the costs of the administration process.
They are the same people who dipped into their pockets less than a decade ago when Port Vale went into administration the first time around.
They are the same people who chucked coins in buckets or used their hard-earned savings to buy shares. Often both.
They are the same people who bought bricks for the plinth on which a statue of Port Vale’s greatest player will one day sit.
They are the perennially disappointed and downtrodden – the let down and the misled.
But they are steadfastly loyal and they care so much about the financial basket case that is Port Vale that I defy anyone to ever write the club off.
They’re making donations, planning fund-raisers and working their socks off.
What’s more, this time around the ordinary fans – the lifeblood of the club – are not alone.
What has happened at Vale Park in recent months has touched a chord with many people, some of whom never even attend football matches.
Even die-heard Stoke City supporters living the Premier League dream and dining out on European adventures are shaking their heads at the catastrophe that has befallen their poor cousins down the A500.
This goes beyond tribal loyalties. You don’t have to be a Port Vale fan to realise that some things are just plain wrong. Like telling supporters £8 million is being invested into their football club when it isn’t.
Like issuing shares that haven’t been paid for to people who then use them to vote themselves on to the club’s board of directors.
Like remortgaging Vale Park from under the noses of its fans and the club’s shareholders – thus breaching the terms of its loan agreement with the city council.
The list of misdemeanours goes on and on – so much so that, if I wrote them all down and submitted the story on spec to ITV as an idea for a drama based around a struggling northern League Two football club, the producers would undoubtedly reject my pitch on the grounds that it was too far-fetched.
As a result of months of poor stewardship and a complete disregard for the club’s fanbase by the board of directors, Port Vale is on the brink of extinction.
Ordinary, hard-working employees at Port Vale have been left in limbo – not knowing where their next pay packet is coming from.
Manager Micky Adams was only able to take four substitutes to Saturday’s game because there was no money to cover the fifth player’s travel expenses from Sheffield.
I kid you not.
The players, who are unbeaten in six matches, are performing for free. Respect is due.
This is why tonight I’m hoping we’re going to have the largest home attendance at Vale Park this season.
In its hour of need, I’m hoping lapsed Vale fans and those who have deliberately boycotted the club will return and be joined by a few of their mates who normally make all the noise down at the Brit.
I’ll be there in the Bycars End rattling a collection bucket.
I’ll be accompanied by a Manchester United season ticket holder and a lapsed Vale who hasn’t been regularly since He Of The Flat Cap was in charge.
More used to the Theatre Of Dreams, my Man Utd fan mate was at Sunday’s emotional Supporters’ Club meeting at Baddeley Green Workingmen’s Club and was swept up in the emotion of the occasion.
Tonight, he’ll be in the presence of the ghosts of Aveyard and Sproson, Rudge and Earle, Foyle and Ainsworth at a ground echoing with memories of FA Cup giant-killings and glorious, heart-stopping promotion campaigns.
Tonight he’ll be Vale and he’ll be very welcome. Please join him.

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Proud To Be Vale Thanks To ‘He Of The Flat Cap’

It is sad but true to say that there is a generation of Port Vale supporters who have grown up without experiencing any real success.
It’s 11 long years since the club’s day in the sun at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the LDV Vans Trophy Final win over Brentford.
Before that you have to go back to the mid-Nineties when the team was managed by ‘He Of The Flat Cap’ – otherwise known as ‘The Bald Eagle’ or plain old ‘J.R’.
John Rudge may hail from Wolverhampton but he is a genuine Potteries legend and, unless you come from these parts, it is difficult to appreciate just how much a part of local footballing folklore he is.
He is one of only a handful of men who have crossed the great divide between Port Vale and Stoke City and somehow managed to retain the respect and admiration of both sets of fans.
As comfortable as a public speaker at a fund-raising dinner in aid of Vale’s youth team as he is talking tactics with Tony Pulis at the Britannia Stadium, Rudgie is a special bloke.
To fully appreciate the reverence with which he is held by Vale fans like myself, you have to journey back to December 1983 when he took over the reins after manager John McGrath was sacked.
Under McGrath, Vale had lost 13 of the opening 17 games that season and J.R. was unable to prevent relegation to the old Division Four.
What followed was a season of consolidation during which Vale finished twelfth before Rudgie took fans on a dream journey which included promotions, a number of genuinely jaw-dropping giant-killings, several trips to Wembley and some cherished silverware.
J.R formed an unlikely alliance colourful former chairman Bill Bell and together they oversaw the most successful period in the club’s history.
As marriages go, it was a fiery affair.
One afternoon, as a cub reporter, I was camped outside the old main entrance awaiting confirmation that Rudgie had signed an extension to his contract.
He swept past me, refusing to speak, jumped in his car and sped away from the ground – only to return a few minutes later.
“What’s going on, gaffer?” I asked.
He told me that the chairman had annoyed him so much by quibbling over money that he had decided not to sign a new deal.
However, as he drove away from Vale Park, Rudgie had spotted a small group of fans at the gates holding up a banner pleading for him to stay. Thankfully, that persuaded him to turn his car around and sign on the dotted line for another eight years.
Rudgie was manager at Vale for 16 years and during that time generated almost £10 million in transfer income for the club.
He nurtured the likes of Robbie Earle and Mark Bright and had a wonderful eye for talent – bringing a raft of quality players to the club whose names trip off the tongue of any Vale fan worth his or her salt.
These included Andy Jones, Mark Grew, Ray Walker, Bob Hazell, Darren Beckford, Simon Mills, Neil Aspin, Dean Glover, Martin Foyle, Gareth Ainsworth, John Jeffers, Robin van der Laan, Ian Taylor, Nicky Cross, Keith Houchen, Andy Porter, Paul Musselwhite, Steve Guppy, Jon McCarthy, Bernie Slaven and Marcus Bent, among others.
They were Vale’s golden generation – delivering FA Cup victories over Spurs (1988), our neighbours down the A500 (1994) and cup holders Everton (1996).
I was in the Press Box for the Stoke and Everton games and I am ashamed to say I was as un-impartial as you can get.
I remember the action from the Everton game like it was yesterday and recall beforehand having every confidence that our wingers would cause havoc for the top-flight team. Which they did.
Damn we had a good side. I reckon we’d have beaten anyone that night.
Rudgie was the mastermind behind it all and led us to Autoglass Trophy Final victory in 1993, the Anglo-Italian Cup Final against Genoa in 1996 and no less than three promotions to the dizzy heights of the old Division Two (now The Championship).
The only shame is that when J.R. did leave Vale Park after 19 years and 834 games in charge, it was after being sacked by Bill Bell.
Cue an outpouring of grief among Vale fans which included noisy demonstrations and the infamous ‘flat cap’ protest march.
You see, we knew what we had lost – even if the chairman didn’t quite appreciate J.R. who went on to take the club to an industrial tribunal and win a £300,000 pay-out.
I’ve heard the odd Vale fan label Rudgie a traitor for joining Stoke City.
It’s nonsense, of course. The truth is most of us just wish he was still ours.
Following his dismissal in 1999, no-less than Sir Alex Ferguson is reported to have said: “Every Port Vale supporter should get down on their knees and thank The Lord for John Rudge.”
To be honest, I think many of us were too busy praying he’d come back.