Some football fans have short memories…

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Football managers are a funny breed. Perhaps it’s the nature of a job where the casualty rate, for want of a better phrase, is so high.

Perhaps it’s the fact that they have to deal with big personalities in the changing room.

Perhaps it’s because they come under constant scrutiny from the media – and now fans in this digital age.

Or, perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above which makes them such unusual, fragile and frustrating creatures.

During the last 25 years I’ve met quite a few and I can honestly say that only a handful would be on my Christmas card list.

Many have huge egos and seemingly low self-esteem. Some are just plain rude – wandering into rooms and talking over people. Others simply can’t take criticism and are prickly to the point that they are an interviewer’s nightmare.

A handful of those I’ve had dealings with, however, are proper gentlemen who always had time for the Press and supporters alike.

Former Stoke City manager Lou Macari falls into this bracket – as does, of course, Vale legend John Rudge.

No matter what was going on at their respective clubs they always treated people with respect and in return earned the admiration of media professionals and supporters alike.

Joe Royle is another. I remember one wet night at Vale Park in the early 90s when his Oldham side had just beaten Rudgie’s lads.

As a cub reporter I was covering the game for the national and local press and – having filed one of my match reports – saw, to my horror, the Oldham team bus pulling away.

Needing quotes from Joe, I ran after it, flagged the vehicle down and the driver opened up the door.

He didn’t look too friendly, to be honest, but I asked if the manager was able to spare me two minutes.

‘Come up lad, you’ll catch your death of cold out there,’ said Royle – his head appearing at the top of the steps.

He sat me down, gave me a coffee and made the bus driver wait for five minutes while I conducted my interview.

This was such a rare, kind gesture by a football manager that it has stuck with me for more than 20 years.

My team may have been beaten that night but Joe Royle was gracious in victory and it’s remarkable how that can dilute a fan’s disappointment.

Football managers will always divide opinions – in the same way the word ‘fickle’ will always be inextricably linked with the words ‘football fans’.

Managers can go from hero to zero, and vice versa, in an incredibly short space of time.

For example, turn the clock back a couple of months and you’d struggle to find many Stoke City fans brave enough to leap to the defence of Mark Hughes.

Many were calling for him to be sacked, some were doing the ‘I told you so’ routine and bemoaning the departure of Tony Pulis.

But chairman Peter Coates – not known for his lack of conviction – wasn’t to be swayed.

I spoke to him after Stoke had beaten Aston Villa at the Brit just a few days before Christmas and asked him how Mark Hughes was doing.

‘Oh he’ll be fine,’ said the chairman, sagely. ‘These things take time.’

He was right, of course, and as I write this column the Stoke manager’s stock has never been higher among Potters fans who can now see exactly what he’s trying to do with his players – many of whom had previously been square pegs put into round holes.

As for the supporters, let’s just say that some of my Stoke City fan friends who were calling for Mark Hughes’s head on social media in December and January have changed their tune and are now denying they ever held such views.

Over at Vale Park, however, the reverse has happened. Micky Adams – who led Vale from administration to promotion in a remarkable season last year is suddenly being portrayed as the devil incarnate in some quarters.

Despite what many observers would consider to be a decent first season in a higher league – with Vale sitting mid-table – his future is uncertain.

After being on the receiving end of what he termed ‘disgusting abuse’ from a small group of supporters on Tuesday night following a calamitous away defeat at Bristol City, Adams said he was considering his future at the club.

This has sparked a huge reaction from fans – with many pleading for the manager to stay on at Vale and others saying they aren’t bothered if he leaves or even urging him to go.

After paying their money to travel an awful long way – only to watch their team put in an embarrassing performance – it’s easy to understand the anger of Vale supporters who made the trip.

The truth is Micky is a canny operator and knows exactly how to play the fans and the media.

This has led to accusations from some quarters that he is simply ‘posturing’ as the season draws to a close ahead of contracts talks with Vale’s owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Personally, I think we Vale fans need to be careful what we wish for.

Micky and I have fallen out on a number of occasions but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what he’s done for the Vale.

As with any club, sometimes Vale supporters have short memories.

Lest we forget Micky Adams pulled together a squad on a shoe-string budget while the club was in administration and guided the team to promotion.

This season, Vale were ninth in January and handily placed for an unlikely play-offs push but the manager wasn’t allowed to bring in the players he wanted.

Since then Vale’s form has been patchy, to say the least – which has coincided with the chairman espousing his views that the club isn’t ready for Championship football – and a mid-table finish is now on the cards.

To be fair, I – and I think most Vale fans – would have taken a mid-table finish at the start of the season.

Forget Tuesday night. Forget the knee-jerk reactions. I think Micky Adams is doing a terrific job at Port Vale.

I personally would be sad to see the best manager since John Rudge leave.

But, let’s be clear: If he does leave at the end of the season it won’t simply be because of a row with a small minority of supporters this week.

He will leave because of the farcical contracts situation which have left him and some of the club’s key players in limbo. He will leave because his position has been undermined on several occasions by ill-timed and ill-advised comments from the chairman.

He will leave because he will be offered what I think he considers to be a ‘relegation’ budget to work with.

No manager, player or owner for that matter, is bigger than a football club.

But, as Tom Pope said yesterday, I hope Micky Adams does stay at Vale and I honestly think he deserves a bit more respect for what he has achieved.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Inspiring partnership celebrates city’s rich sporting heritage

Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi at the Sports Awards 2012.

Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi at the Sports Awards 2012.

It’s another big week for our city, following the hugely popular visit of HRH Prince Charles to the Mother Town a few days ago.

On Thursday evening an array of stars from the world of sport will turn out at the Kings Hall in Stoke to pay homage to individuals who are perhaps less well-known but nonetheless equally deserving of praise.

The guest of honour will be Sally Gunnell OBE – our compere for the 38th year of the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality Awards.

The gold medal-winning Olympian follows in the footsteps of sporting luminaries such as Lord Sebastian Coe, James Cracknell OBE, Dave Moorcroft OBE and Jonathan Edwards CBE who have all graced the event in recent years.

Joining Sally will be a veritable who’s who of home-grown sporting legends who each year give up their time to make the event more memorable for those in attendance.

These include World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks OBE, Paralympic equestrian hero Lee Pearson OBE, Olympic gold medal-winning hockey player Imran Sherwani, former England wicket keeper Bob Taylor MBE, current England cricket star Danielle Wyatt and football pundit Mark Bright, to name but a few.

They’ll be rubbing shoulders on the red carpet with Potteries football royalty like John Rudge and Micky Adams.

The list goes on…

It really is a night to reflect on Stoke-on-Trent’s rich sporting history and our celebrity guests add a touch of glamour to what is a very prestigious occasion.

We’ll be handing out the Sir Stanley Matthews Potteries Footballer of the Year Awards to a Stoke City and Port Vale player and inducting two more famous faces into the Civic Sporting Hall of Fame.

But the real focus on Thursday’s event is on the achievements, endeavour and selflessness of individuals and teams who may never hit the big time or make national headlines.

That said, their contribution to sport in our patch is exceptional and well worth celebrating.

Indeed, this is why in 1975 councillor Tom Brennan came up with the idea of a civic event, championed by The Sentinel, to pay homage to the unsung heroes and heroines of local sport.

The City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards has come along way since those early days when a few dozen people attended a buffet and prize giving.

It’s now a black tie event for more than 300 guests with video tributes to all shortlisted nominees which you’ll be able to view on The Sentinel’s website on Friday morning.

But the ethos of the awards remains the same: To honour the local footballers, cricketers, rugby players, martial artists, cyclists, coaches, officials and competitors across a range of sports and sporting disciplines.

They make all the wet Sunday mornings, the endless training sessions, the fund-raising and administrative nightmares worthwhile.

Most of those who we will be honouring on Thursday will not be household names but, through their efforts, they touch the lives of thousands of people in the Potteries.

Their walk on to the freshly-painted stage, accompanied by music and the warm applause of a packed Kings Hall to receive their trophy from a celebrity and have their photograph taken, may only take a few minutes.

But it will hopefully create a memory that will last a lifetime and we will chronicle it for them.

I think there must, sadly, be a perception among some city councillors that journalists at The Sentinel spend all their time thinking up negative stories about them and the local authority.

This is presumably one of the reasons why communications gurus come and go with such regularity and there seems to be a constant appetite for reviewing the council’s press and PR strategies.

However, the truth is somewhat different to the perception of some elected members.

The vast majority of council-related stories carried by this newspaper are positive or neutral and that’s a fact.

What’s more, Thursday night proves that our partnership activities with the authority are a real success – genuinely aspirational and important events for the city as a whole.

Along with The Sentinel Business Awards, the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality is a key event in the city’s calendar with a long and distinguished history.

Long may it continue to reward and inspire.

*Follow @SentinelStaffs on Twitter for updates on Thursday night as the winners are announced. Full coverage of the event in Friday’s Sentinel and online.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

How Vale’s goal-den boy made history (and made his dad proud)

Tom Pope with his daughter Mollie Mae.

Tom Pope with his daughter Mollie-Mae.

There is an alleyway behind Buxton Street in Sneyd Green. This is where our story begins…

It’s where Tom Pope, his brother, and his mates would spend hours kicking a ball about like any young lads the length and breadth of the country.

By his own admission, there was nothing at that stage to indicate he would go on to become an icon at the club he has supported since he was a boy – one of only two Vale players since the war to score more than 30 goals in a season.

Tom, a former pupil of Sneyd Green Primary and Holden Lane High School, said: “If you’d have asked any young lads back then I guess loads of them would have wanted to become footballers.

“There’s not so many these days because they’ve got other distractions but all I honestly ever wanted to do was play football.”

Born into a Vale-supporting family, young Tom was taken to home games by his grandfather and stood in the Lorne Street.

“I’d have been about five when I first started going,” he said. “Dad wouldn’t let me go in The Paddock because he didn’t think it was for children so I spent my first few seasons kicking a can about in the Lorne Street.

“My dad went on the buses to every Vale away game for about 15 years I think and he only stopped to come and see me when I was playing for Crewe.

“My fondest memories as a Vale fan are of the early to mid-nineties and the team John Rudge put together – the likes of Martin Foyle, Neil Aspin, Dean Glover, Ian Bogie and Bernie Slaven etc.

“I guess players like Neil Aspin will always have a special place in the hearts of Vale fans. I used to love his mazy runs from the edge of his own penalty area which never amounted to anything. He would have run through walls for the Vale.

“Then there was Foyley. He wasn’t the biggest of strikers but he was good in the air, strong and such a great finisher. His record speaks for itself.”

Despite his love of the Vale it was Crewe Alexandra’s highly-acclaimed youth set up which nurtured young Tom’s skills between the ages of six and 13.

He wasn’t, however, offered a contract by the Alex and so turned his hand to window-fitting while playing for Biddulph Victoria.

It was his performances (and goals) in the Midland Football Alliance which finally persuaded Crewe boss Dario Gradi to sign him.

Tom turned pro in 2005 at the age of 19 after two unsuccessful trials with, you’ve guessed it… Port Vale.

He spent four years with the Alex and was the club’s top scorer with 10 goals from just 17 starts during the 2008/9 season.

That season, however, Crewe were relegated from League One and Tom signed for League Two rivals Rotherham for a then joint club record fee of £150,000.

His time in Yorkshire wasn’t a particularly happy one and goals were few and far between.

He missed out on a trip to Wembley because of a broken metatarsal and when he returned to fitness found himself behind Adam Le Fondre and Ryan Taylor in the pecking order.

By his second season with the Millers the then Rotherham boss Ronnie Moore was quite prepared to sell Tom to the highest bidder as he hadn’t been scoring regularly.

Several clubs expressed an interest but it was Jim Gannon who tempted Pope to Vale Park.

“It was about the only thing Gannon did right, wasn’t it?” I ask.

Tom smiles. “You could say that. I was grateful of the opportunity Ronnie Moore gave me to get out on loan, to be honest. I think he just wanted to get my confidence back up.”

In August 2011 Tom joined the Vale on a free transfer, having been released by Rotherham.

He said: “There were five or six clubs interested in me at that time and Vale’s offer was by far the lowest on the table, to be honest. I took a huge pay-cut. I’m not just talking a few hundred quid either. But there’s more to your career than just money.

“This is where I’m from and my family and friends are here. In the end it was an easy decision for me.”

He played 45 games last season but scored just five goals as Marc Richards went on to become Vale’s leading scorer for a fifth season running.

Tom said: “We were a different team last year. We didn’t really have any wide players to speak of. Lewis Haldane was out injured and Rob Taylor kept having little niggles.

“All our play came through the middle of the park and when you’re a bloke who likes to get on the end of crosses there wasn’t much in the way of service for me.

“To be truthful I think there were quite a few Vale supporters who would have been glad to see the back of me during the summer. Thankfully, Micky Adams gave me a one-year deal and I’ll always be grateful for the faith he showed in me at that time.”

So what’s been the difference this season? Why is Tom Pope, at the age of 27, now breaking records and picking up awards?

He said: “Believe it or not this summer was my first pre-season in a while when I’ve been able to train properly.

“I would go running round Forest Park and up to Bradeley and I felt good.

“I remember we went to Ireland for the pre-season tour and I started scoring a few goals and the gaffer (Adams) took me to one side and said he’d never seen me looking so sharp. That really gave me a boost. I was ready to go.”

Of course, Vale started the season in administration and there were no guarantees there would even be a club in 2013.

It was a worrying time for fans but also for the club’s staff and players who – at one time – went unpaid.

Tom said: “It was extremely difficult for us all. We could see and hear what was going on and I think it was obvious that the club needed a new board and a change of direction.

“Of course, as employees, you can’t speak out. You’ve got a job to do and you just have to get on with it – no matter what you think.

“Thankfully, we had a great set of lads in the dressing room and in Micky Adams we had a strong leader to hold everyone together and I think he deserves enormous credit for that.

“Do I think the supporters were right to campaign for change? Yes I think they were. We’ve got a good set of fans and they usually know when something’s not right.

“The club is certainly in a better place now than it was 12 months ago. It’s a happy ship.”

This season’s heroics have seen Tom, nicknamed The Pontiff and The Sneyd Green Sniper by the Vale Park faithful, named League Two Player of the Year – among other accolades.

Barring a barren spell around March-time he’s been prolific all season and his goals are effectively Vale’s goal difference of plus 30-something.

He said: “It makes such a difference for a striker like myself having good, creative wide players in the side.

“Jeno (Jennison Myrie-Williams) and Ashley Vincent will always cause problems for defences because of their trickery and pace.

“I’ve tried to stay more central – rather than doing lots of chasing around – and I’ve had good crosses coming in. Fortunately I’ve been able to put quite a few of them away.”

Does he think players in the current squad could step up to the level required to survive and thrive in League One?

“Definitely,” he said. “We’ve got some very talented lads in the dressing room. You look at skilful players like Doddsy (Louis Dodds) and you think that actually playing at a higher level might suit them.”

Whats it like to be a Vale fan, though, playing for the club you love and scoring goals?

He said: “To be honest I try to keep my feet on the ground. I know I’m very lucky but I don’t tend to get carried away.

“Of course I can hear the supporters – I used to be one of them shouting for Foyley and the like – so I know what that’s all about.

“It’s hard to believe they are shouting for me, to be honest, and I try to block it out and concentrate on my game. I know it’s special for me but now isn’t the time to start thinking about records and awards and personal targets.

“I’m not someone who thrives on praise. If I score a hat-trick then the manager will shake my hand and that’ll do.

“My dad is very like Micky Adams in that respect. I’m sure he tells all his mates how proud of me he is but he wouldn’t tell me. If I score a hat-trick he’s more likely to pick me up over a mis-placed pass. Him and the gaffer know how I tick.”

What about the future, then, for a bloke who is enjoying the form of his life while juggling the responsibilities of being a dad?

“I’ve said before I’d like to see out my career here. I’ve probably got four or five good years left and I love the place.

“The new owners made me an offer which was respectful and it ties me to Vale for another two seasons. I’d love to think I could stay beyond that too and score a lot more goals.

“Let’s put it this way – it would take an offer of silly money to tempt me away at this stage and, if that were to happen, then I’d obviously have to think about my family and see what’s right for us.

“At this moment in time, however, I’m enjoying my football and I want to be able to look back in five, 10, 15 years’ time and have people say to me: ‘What a season that was. What a team we had back then’.”

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.

Magic moment for Pope echoes Eighties Vale legend

Vale legend Andy Jones with his gaffer John Rudge.

Vale legend Andy Jones with his gaffer John Rudge.

Believe it or not 30-goal strikers are a rare breed in these parts.

That is why the achievement yesterday of Sneyd Green’s finest – Tom Pope – is worthy of such high praise.

As I write this the Pontiff, as he is affectionately known, has scored thirty goals and – with six games remaining – has every chance of setting a new post-war record.

Since 1980 only two players – one for Port Vale and one for Stoke City – have reached the heady heights of 30-plus goals.

Before that you have to delve deep into the history books for names like Wilf Kirkham (three times for Vale between 1924 and 1927) and, for Stoke, Charlie Wilson (1927/28) or the great Freddie Steele (1936/37 and 1946/47).

Since 1980 the only Stoke City player to score more than 30 goals in a season (in all competitions) was Mark Stein.

The pint-sized marksman hit 33 goals, including 26 in the league, to fire the Potters to promotion during the 1992/93 season.

I was a cub reporter at the time and was covering all Stoke and Vale home games and even I, as a Vale fan, had to acknowledge I was witnessing something special at the Victoria Ground.

Stoke went on a 25-game unbeaten run that season and Stein’s partnership with Wayne ‘Bertie’ Biggins was prolific.

At Vale Park it was a unheralded Welshman who was to set a new post-war goal-scoring record in the mid-Eighties.

Andy Jones joined the Vale from non-league Rhyl in May 1985 – manager John Rudge having paid the princely sum of £3,000 for the man who had failed to make an impact at Wrexham.

He was only at Vale Park for two and a bit seasons but his impact during that time was astonishing.

He was Vale’s top scorer in his first season with 18 goals and his strike partnership with Robbie Earle, which fired Vale to promotion from the old Third Division, was unforgettable.

But it was the following season when Jones really hit the heights. He scored 37 goals and 27 of those came in the league – making him the top striker outside the top flight.

As Vale’s penalty-taker, he scored 12 of his goals from the spot.

But he also scored twice in eight games, scored a hat-trick against Fulham at Craven Cottage, and managed to score five against Newport County.

Andy Jones had scored six goals in eight games at the start of the 1987/88 season when he was transferred to First Division Charlton Athletic.

Ironically, his time with the club wasn’t a success and he probably looks back ruefully at the fact that Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson just missed out on signing him.

Tom Pope may not be on Sir Alex’s radar just yet. Perhaps it’s because he isn’t taking Vale’s penalties at the moment.

However, having just been named the League Two Player of the Year, the lad who was born just a few months after Andy Jones signed for the Vale and grew up supporting the Valiants has emulated a club legend made in the Eighties.

Whatever happens between now and April 27, our Popey has had a terrific season and deserves all the plaudits he’s received thus far.

But I am sure all football fans can see the romance in him scoring a few more goals this season and firing his boyhood club to promotion after the most turbulent of periods.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

Vale’s loveable rogue who’s legacy is there for all to see

Port Vale Chairman Bill Bell celebrates with fans at the end of the 1993 season.

Port Vale Chairman Bill Bell celebrates with fans at the end of the 1993 season.

He was the archetypal cigar-chomping, Rolls-Royce driving football club chairman.

A man with a polished mahogany veneer but who was all solid, working class oak beneath.

Yes he may have divided opinion – indeed he still does.

I asked Vale fans on social media sites to sum up this most colourful of Potteries characters in one respectful word.

‘Shrewd’, ‘steadfast’, ‘cornerstone’, ‘foundation’, ‘wise’, ‘boss’, ‘astute’, ‘unique’, ‘character’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘rogue’ were some of the adjectives used.

Other words that cropped up included ‘promotions’ and, of course, ‘Spurs’.

Towards the end of his tenure at Vale Park, Bill Bell’s star was certainly waning – due in large part to the fracturing of his strained relationship with John Rudge.

During the Valiant 2001 era he was reviled by many as the man who sacked the club’s most successful manager and took Vale into administration.

Where had all the money gone from the sale of great players like Beckford, Guppy and Ainsworth? That’s what people wanted to know.

The former Chairman’s unconvential business methods certainly came under scrutiny like never before and it seemed that his reputation would forever be tarnished.

Had a group of Vale fans met in a pub 10 years ago I dare say their opinion of Bill Bell would have been negative as nerves were still raw.

But time, and perhaps the events of recent years, have served to put the man’s period at the helm in a different light.

I always got on well with Bill Bell. He was warm and generous and always had time for a chat or an interview.

Interestingly, some of the people who knew him best at the Vale – those who were there before he arrived – still hold him in the highest regard.

Groundsman Steve Speed is unequivocal.

He said: “Without Bill Bell I don’t think Port Vale would still be at Vale Park. We would have had to move to a smaller ground somewhere else.

“When he took over the place was literally falling apart and he laid the foundations for the stadium we have today. As Chairman he was so positive. He somehow managed to bring everyone together.

“It didn’t matter to him whether you were a cleaner, a player or the manager – we were all on the same team.

“Without his enthusiasm and his initial investments we wouldn’t have enjoyed the success we did – simple.

“I think towards the end he perhaps felt that he hadn’t received the credit he deserved for what he had done in partnership with John Rudge.

“It was very much a team effort. The Chairman would be down here seven days a week.”

Club Secretary Bill Lodey was Stadium Manager when Bill Bell took the reins at Vale Park and views the former Chairman as ‘Vale through and through’.

When I asked if Bill Bell had always been a Vale fan, Mr Lodey said: “Well he told me that when Vale Park was built he came along with his uncle and helped out with the work.

“He certainly put his heart and soul into the club while he was here.

“I think what’s crucial is that without the former Chairman’s initial investment to bring in the likes of Dean Glover and Neil Aspin – in the days before John Rudge was buying, polishing and selling-on players – we wouldn’t have gone on to enjoy the success we did.

“What’s more I’m pretty sure those investments, which were big money at the time, came out of his own pocket.

“He laid the foundations for the successful period when Vale fans enjoyed being in what is now the Championship and had numerous trips to Wembley and Cardiff.

“He was a classic wheeler-dealer. I think he paid about £4,000 for the second hand Sealand Road stand from Chester City and had it transported to Vale Park.

“What a piece of business that was. Just look at the stadium today to see what a difference he made.

“Bill Bell was also incredibly down to earth and carried the respect of everyone here at the club.

“Over the last decade or more I’ve heard more than a few people say: ‘This would never have happened under Bill (Bell)’. They’re right.

“He was a one-off and his partnership with John Rudge was exceptional.”

Potteries entertainer Pete Conway, father of pop superstar Robbie Williams knew Bill Bell for more than 50 years.

He said: “I think what is sad is that the Potteries has lost another of its most colourful characters.

“Bill delivered great times and wonderful memories for the Vale, however, and his legacy is the great stadium the club has today.”

Pick up a copy of today’s Sentinel (February 16, 2013) for more tributes to Bill Bell in the Green ‘Un.

One game at a time. And let’s win tomorrow for Mr Bell

valebadge
I wasn’t too disappointed with the goalless draw against Barnet.

It was a classic case of a game where league positions were irrelevant with a team near the bottom scrapping for their Football League existence.

We were lucky to come away with a point, by all accounts, but the fact is we did and, who knows, that point – or the point we rescued away at Wimbledon – may just prove crucial.

If nothing else, last Saturday reminded the players, coaching staff and fans that we can’t take anything, or any game, for granted.

It is, and always has been, a case of one game at a time and a matter of changing up the formation and tactics depending on the opposition.

Forget the 10 point cushion between Vale and the play-off positions: If we win at least six of the remaining 15 games and pick up two or three draws that should see us promoted automatically.

There’s every chance we could go up as champions, which would be terrific, but as I’ve said before – promotion without the lottery of the play-offs – is all that matters.

What is particularly encouraging about recent results is that we have tightened up at the back and the influence and experience of Darren Purse is clearly paying dividends.

The Sneyd Green Pontiff will doubtless return to the scoresheet tomorrow as the club and fans look to pay a fitting tribute to former Vale Chairman Bill Bell who died this week.

There will be flags at half mast, black arm bands and a minute’s applause which will echo the gesture made at the Supporters’ Club AGM on Tuesday night.

Always a divisive figure, there is no denying Bill Bell’s shrewd investments and his partnership with John Rudge delivered the best period in Port Vale’s history to date.

His legacy is a stadium to be proud of which puts others in the lower leagues to shame and the foundations of what will hopefully soon be a Championship club.

As someone said to me earlier in the week: “Billy Bell may have been a rogue, but he was our rogue.”

Who knows, very soon the new owners of our club may see fit to honour ‘our rogue’ – and possibly even his partner in success JR – with some sort of lasting tribute.

Something perhaps for the new Supporters’ Club committee to work towards as we all look forward to a bright new era while paying a respectful nod to our past.

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.

A saint and a sinner. Bill Bell: One of Vale’s unforgettable characters

Former Vale Chairman Bill Bell.

Former Vale Chairman Bill Bell.

‘It’s a good little runner,’ were the first words Bill Bell said to me.

No, he wasn’t referring to Andy Porter. Rather, the then Vale Chairman was actually showing me my new company car – a bright yellow Austin Metro. I kid you not.

The year was 1990 and I had just started as a cub reporter at Smith Davis Press in Burslem – a firm which, at the time, leased all its cars from Bill’s dealership on Sandbach Road.

I didn’t know what to make of this eccentric car salesman with a glint in his eye and more than a whiff of cigars about him.

But, over time, a pattern emerged. Very often I would meet our new signings on the forecourt at W.T. Bell. Legendary names like Ian Taylor, signed for threepence from Moor Green, who was there to pick up his new ‘company’ car.

Not a yellow Metro, I might add.

By 1990 Mr Bell, as I referred to him back then, was already the Prince of Burslem and his emerging partnership with manager John Rudge was beginning to bear fruit.

Through canny stewardship, the man who bought the Vale for a song was transforming a struggling fourth division club (see any parallels?) into one that went on to compete in what is now the Championship.

In doing so, by backing Rudgie’s judgement, he oversaw the comings and goings of legendary Vale players and enjoyed the most successful years in the club’s history.

Let us not forget Bill Bell also was responsible for huge improvements to Vale Park – transforming it into a stadium which puts others in the lower leagues to shame.

The great cup wins over Spurs and Everton, the Autoglass Trophy victory, the Anglo-Italian Cup Final appearance at Wembley and, of course, our highest league position all happened on Bill Bell’s watch.

His partnership with John Rudge was never any easy one but with the gaffer’s guile and the Chairman’s, shall we say ‘unconventional’ business style, it was – for Vale fans at least – a match made in heaven.

Bill Bell also, as he was entitled, did rather well himself out of a relatively modest investment.
He was, to put it mildly, considered ‘shrewd’ and most fans inevitably sided with the Messiah that was Rudgie whenever their private spats became public.

Like when Rudgie stormed out of the club during contract negotiations – only to be persuaded to return to the table by a gaggle of fans standing on Hamil Road holding a placard calling for him to stay.

Bill Bell’s final years in charge at Vale Park were soured by the sacking of the manager who had brought so much success to the club.

The Chairman then suffered the final indignity of having to put the club he had built up from almost nothing into administration.

When Valiant 2001 took over the club what they discovered wasn’t pretty: Vale’s infrastructure had been sorely neglected as Bill Bell looked to extricate himself from the hotseat.

For a period the former Chairman was reviled, his name besmirched by some of those who followed.

No doubt a minority of fans, and perhaps some former employees, still have a dim view of Bill Bell.

But time is a wonderful healer and recent years have served to put a slightly different gloss on the man whose reign at Vale Park served up my favourite football memories thus far.

You could say nothing was black and white with the former chairman. But, make no mistake, he was black and white through and through.

Bill Bell was, and remains, an enigma. He was a canny operator who was more than a little Arthur Daley but who was also capable of displays of great humility and incredible generosity.

He is part of Vale’s rich tapestry and deserves to be remembered for those good times.

Pick up a copy of today’s (February 13, 2013) Sentinel for comprehensive tributes and a look back at Bill Bell’s time in charge at Port Vale or log on to: http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk