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

Now is the time for some straight-talking, Mr Ryder

Now that we are safe from getting drawn into a relegation scrap all eyes are turning to next Wednesday night’s meeting with a certain Keith Ryder.

The man named by the administrators as the preferred bidder for Port Vale has pledged to meet with fans for an open forum.

Initial anger from a minority of supporters that Mr Ryder wasn’t at last week’s press conference has abated somewhat as people wait patiently to see what the Lancashire businessman has to say for himself.

I have kept out of it up to now because I’ve yet to speak with the bloke and searching the internet for information at this stage is a sure-fire route to madness.

One thing I’ve learned in the last 12 months is that anyone who rocks up at Vale Park with anything other than the club’s best interests at heart will be rumbled very swiftly.

Due to previous bad apples, any new arrivals in the board room will be scrutinised to within an inch of their life. And rightly so.

Mr Ryder has to understand that everything he does or says from this point on will be analysed by supporters and the local media.

If he sets a deadline and then misses it, he will be vilified.

If he promises investment and it fails to materialise – for whatever reasons – he will be tarred with the same brush as previous failed regimes.

If he treats the fans with contempt or tries to pull the wool over their eyes then he will face an almighty rebellion.

Mr Ryder has to realise that, while all fans are very grateful for his potential investment, he is walking into no-man’s land where a fragile cease-fire is just about holding.

Where Port Vale is concerned, the trust of the cynical and battle-weary supporters has to be earned.

This makes next Wednesday’s initial meeting with fans vital for Mr Ryder.

He has to be prepared to answer questions honestly and openly and not hide behind the old ‘I’ll come back to you on that one’ excuse.

People, quite rightly, want to know who Keith Ryder is, what his background is and why he is interested in Port Vale FC.

I want to know what his relationship was with previous directors and where the money he plans to invest in our club is coming from.

It’s a simple question: Is it Mr Ryder’s money or is he the front man for a consortium and, if so, who are his associates.

Now is the time for some straight-talking.

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