It’s all systems go at a re-energised Vale Park


It’s been another extremely positive week for Port Vale fans and it genuinely feels like a huge black cloud has been lifted.

A terrific, hard-fought win away at Aldershot has maintained the distance between us and the chasing pack and closed the gap on league leaders Gillingham to just two points.

Heading in to the festive period Vale are perfectly placed to maintain a promotion push.

What’s more, Micky Adams now has options in midfield and upfront – with Ryan Burge, Kingsley James and Ben Williamson emerging as the latest players to shine in a squad that plays for each other.

The addition of Liam Chilvers and then Calvin Andrew to the squad weren’t perhaps what some supporters were hoping for.

However, it is clear from the names being bandied about and the ambition being shown that we are now a club which has the financial clout to bring in new faces.

We are no longer, as Norman Smurthwaite has said several times, in a ‘distressed state’. In other words, we don’t need to flog our best players to pay next month’s wage bill.

As well as new players we now have a chief scout in the experienced George Foster which make Vale something of a rarity at League Two level.

This is a significant development in that it will give us better knowledge of opposition teams and help Micky Adams and his team identify potential recruits.

Off the park things are happening quickly too: Those awful toilets in the Railway Paddock will soon be sorted; the catering situation is being reviewed and fans will be able to buy mini season tickets valid from January.

Interestingly, the new regime is also starting to right a few wrongs – such as ensuring those Vale fans who paid for bricks with names on for the Lorne Street’s ‘wall of fame’ are finally getting what they paid for.

This is all about making Port Vale the customer-focused business it has to be to attract more bums on seats.

There is, of course, still much work to be done but it seems everyone is pulling in the same direction now – the staff, the supporters and the new owners.

Having ‘Papa Smurf’, as he has affectionately become known, at Vale Park five days a week can only be a good thing.

He’s not come out of retirement to waste money and I know supporters will be pleasantly surprised by some of the announcements which will be coming out of a re-energised Vale Park in the coming weeks.

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

Advertisements

The sorry state of the UK’s dumbed-down TV is forcing me to watch period drama

That’s it then. There’s nothing for it. I guess I’m going to have to watch Downton Abbey.

Having set my stall out long ago against costume romps, the latest viewing figures for British TV are so depressing that they leave me with no choice but to cave in.

How did it come to this? Well, the sad truth is that ITV’s flagship period drama – the most successful since 1981’s Brideshead Revisited – is actually the only proper programme in the top 10 most-watched shows of 2011.

According to figures just released by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb), reality TV and ‘talent’ shows account for six of the top 10 slots.

The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent each grab two places while Strictly Come Dancing and I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here) also chart.

Now, as a staunch supporter of our very own Stoke’s Top Talent, I’ve got nothing against variety competitions. If they do what they say on the tin, that is.

But the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent aren’t anything of the sort.

They are, first and foremost, entertainment programmes and anyone who doesn’t understand that simple conceit is being emotionally mugged.

Let’s face it: If they were genuine talent competitions then the likes of Jedward and Wagner would never have got anywhere near a television camera.

They were put through to the finals in order that we would all sit around asking each other why they had made it to the finals.

As one of the few people in the UK not under the spell of PJ and Duncan – sorry, I mean Ant and Dec – I have to say I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here) also leaves me cold.

Morecambe and Wise they are not and if I want to watch people eating a kangaroo’s testicles I can observe the queue for pies at any League Two stadium that Port Vale visit.

As for Strictly (I’m told you’re supposed to shorten the title) I have no real objection other than the fact that it seems a tad self-indulgent of the BBC to throw its own presenters into the mix with the so-called celebrities.

For example, no sooner had Alex Jones finished fawning over the latest guest on the unfathomably random One Show than she was all sequins and cleavage doing a rumba.

When you take out the boring annual Coronation Street set-piece and the yearly Eastenders misery-fest that leaves only Downton and the Royal Wedding – which topped the chart with an average of 13.59 million viewers but doesn’t really count as it’s a one-off event.

I’m afraid to say that, had it not been for William and Kate’s nuptials, Simon Cowell’s empire would have reigned supreme once again.

What a depressing thought.

Granted, I’m not your archetypal television watcher: If a programme doesn’t contain space ships, the supernatural, an archaeological dig, cricket, Port Vale or Bon Jovi then it’s unlikely to be on my radar.

However, once in a while a fine piece of drama or a brilliant new comedy will grab my attention.

For example, programmes such as the excellent Band Of Brothers or current hit shows such as Boardwalk Empire or Game Of Thrones made the cut.

Of course, the aforementioned sweeping epics were made by U.S. network HBO because neither the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 nor Channel 5 have the resource or the gumption to pull off anything so cinematic.

The truth is I haven’t watched terrestrial telly for a long time and so I have to ask: Did IQs drop sharply while I was away?

Along with the shows I dismissed earlier there is even more vacuous tripe to avoid like Big Brother, Geordie Shore and The Only Way Is Essex.

I’ve clearly turned prematurely into a curmudgeonly old git because it seems to me that warm and engaging family programmes (Auf Wiedersehen Pet/The Darling Buds Of May) and non-offensive and clever comedies (Only Fools and Horses/Blackadder) are now considered too bland.

Meanwhile brainless is the new mainstream as we continue to worship at the cult of celebrity.

We’ve got more channels to choose from than we’ve ever had yet the only time the nation properly comes together is to watch warbling non-entities or Z-list celebrities wretching over a plate of cockroaches.

It’s so bad I’m almost looking forward to the Olympics. Yes, OK, and Downton Abbey.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

The goodwill of restless natives hinges on the board making good on investment promises


The natives are restless. There’s much discussion about which of our players are good enough to take us to a higher level and which aren’t.

There’s also a great deal of expectation building with regard to January’s transfer window and how much money, if any, Micky Adams will be given to spend.

Isn’t it amazing how a couple of bad results can focus the mind?

For a few months now many fans have adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ policy towards the new regime.

After all, it’s only fair they be given a chance to deliver on their promises.

But as we head towards the crucial festive season, by the end of which we will know just what our promotion credentials really are, recent poor performances mean any honeymoon period for the new directors is now officially over.

Supporters are desperate to see real, tangible progress and the hope was that Blue Sky would deliver it.

I’ll be honest – I have viewed everything that was said with regard to the potential £8 million investment with a healthy dose of scepticism.

If we take out of the equation £500,000 for pre-season tours to the States and £2.5 million for ‘unspecified community outreach facilities over the next five years’ then what are we left with?
We know Blue Sky have invested £130,000 in Port Vale.

By my maths this leaves a further £4.87 million which we were assured would be spent on the club within 12 months of the investment deal being announced on September 14.

Now you can’t tell me that finishing the seating in the Lorne Street stand and completing the Robbie Williams suite will cost £4.87 million.

So where is all the money going and when will it be spent?

I wouldn’t, for obvious reasons, expect the club to say how much but what I want to know is: Will the manager be given significant funds in January to bolster his squad?

I ask because it seems to me that, to date, Micky Adams has been forced to operate on a relative shoestring compared to some managers in League Two.

Up to now he has had to take punts on youngsters or rely on journeymen pros to supplement the nucleus of his squad because, I suspect, he couldn’t pay the wages of the kind of players he would really like to sign.

New Chairman Peter Miller and Chief Executive Perry Deakin have told supporters to judge them after three months, six months and 12 months.

Well the clock is ticking and any goodwill that exists hinges on them delivering substantial change during those self-imposed time-frames.

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

An encouraging win but boss must keep it up

THE lesson here, of course, is to keep your powder dry.
On Tuesday, a Vale fan texted me saying he hoped we’d “get stuffed” by Rotherham and Wycombe so we’d get rid of “that clown”.
Another proclaimed Jim Gannon to be the worst manager in Vale’s history.
No matter what the situation, I can never hope we get beaten. It’s just unnatural.
Neither do I reckon Gannon is our worst manager.
Granted, the new gaffer’s team selections, tactics and substitutions during his first five games have left me scratching my head.
It is also fair to say that some of his comments haven’t gone down too well either.
His veiled attack on protesting fans did him no favours, and there is a perception his approach with the team has been rather like a bull in a china shop.
The fact that a deputation of players felt the need to go to the board of directors to voice their concerns about the new gaffer and his management style speaks volumes.
Gannon inherited a team who were third in League Two. By his own admission, not making the play-offs from that position would be a failure.
Before Tuesday, I couldn’t see where a goal was coming from – let alone a win.
Neither could I understand the 4-2-3-1 formation or the need to play two defensive midfielders in front of the back four when at home.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the players came out against Rotherham. Not only did they look fired up, we also played some decent stuff at times.
In fact, were we not so powder-puff up front we’d have beaten a decent team with ease.
I still think we should find room for playmaker Gary Roberts alongside a combative midfielder, and I could argue the toss about who should start as an attacking option along with Rob Taylor if Marc Richards is injured.
But I can’t really criticise the gaffer if we continue to win matches – with the emphasis on the word “continue”.
I doubt the rift between manager and players is completely healed, but Tuesday night must have helped in that regard. I know I prefer clapping, motivating Jim Gannon to the shouty bloke I saw against Barnet.
What is most encouraging for me right now is the rapport that exists between this squad of players and our fans. Ultimately, our 12th man could be the difference come May.

Council has definitely favoured Stoke City above Port Vale

The Britannia Stadium: Home of Stoke City FC.

The Britannia Stadium: Home of Stoke City FC.

Very shortly the Audit Commission will give its verdict on whether or not the deal which enabled Stoke City to acquire sole ownership of the Britannia Stadium was properly handled by the city council.

It follows claims that councillors were misled over the exact details of the £5 million sale.

The inference is, of course, that the sale of the city’s 36 per cent stake in the stadium may not have gone through at all had elected members been made aware of the exact details.

At this point I should declare my interest in this matter. I’m a Port Vale fan, a season ticket holder, a (very minor) shareholder and a Vale columnist for this newspaper.

For years now I have observed as the city council has displayed what I believe has been an astonishing bias in favour of the club whose players wear red and white in comparison to Burslem’s finest.

Now, as my club teeters on the brink of a financial and footballing abyss, I’d like to point out the obvious.

Yes… I can almost hear the jeers. I’m waiting for the emails and the letters from Outraged of Heron Cross, Sarky from Trentham and Smug of Blurton.

It’s a good bet that the word ‘jealous’ appears in this correspondence. Fair enough – it’s a free country.

Whatever people might think, I’m not anti-Stoke City. I’d like to see both clubs doing well. I appreciate full well the importance of the Potters being in the Premier League – for the club and its supporters, for the profile of the city and even for the company I work for.

However, that shouldn’t mean the city’s other professional football team is treated like a poor relation by the local authority.

We know Stoke City has more supporters than Port Vale. Thus, simple mathematics dictates that there are going to be more Potters fans among the powers-that-be at the Civic Centre (Town Hall as was) than there are Vale fans.

Could this, then, help to explain some of the following?

During the season 89/90 (Vale’s first season back in the old Second Division – now the Championship) the Burslem club’s relationship with the city council hit rock bottom.

The authority forced the closure of Vale market which had been generating around £120,000 a year for the club. Cheers.

In the early 90s the idea of building a ‘community stadium’ was first mooted. The concept was championed by the then city council leader Ted Smith, a no-nonsense politician and staunch Potters fan who brokered a deal between the authority, Stoke City and St. Modwen.

To be fair, Vale were approached about the possibility of ground-sharing with Stoke at the proposed venue in Sideway. Which was a bit like asking Stoke fans if they fancied leaving the Victoria Ground to share a new stadium with the Vale in Middleport.

Needless to say, Vale stayed put and Stoke City received millions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money (and, against the odds, European grant aid) to build a new ground which never realised its grand vision of becoming a community stadium. (Hosting a few pop concerts just doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid).

In June 2007 Stoke City was able to purchase the city council’s 36 per cent stake in the Britannia Stadium for £5 million.

Whether or not this represents value for money for the city’s taxpayers is open to debate. (I suspect the pre-credit crunch valuation of the site would have meant the stake was worth more).

However, the phased payments which city councillor Mike Barnes and other colleagues have taken issue with equate to an interest-free loan to the Premier League club.

In stark contrast, League Two Port Vale has been paying up to six per cent interest on the £2.25 million loan it secured from the same authority.

At the same time Vale Park, at the council’s behest, has become a genuine community venue in the way the Britannia Stadium never was.

But while the Vale has had to finance its own community programmes, £500,000 of the £5 million Stoke City is paying to become sole owner of the Britannia Stadium will actually be ploughed into community schemes… at the home of the Potters.

Does this all sound fair to you?

I could go on. There are many more examples. But, in summing up, I reckon that, irrespective of the result of the Audit Commission’s investigation, it is a fact that the bias towards Stoke City within the city council is every bit as real today as it was when Ted Smith and his Labour cabal ruled the roost.

And, should the unthinkable happen to Port Vale, then I believe that through their actions elected members and officers, both past and present, will certainly have contributed to the club’s demise.