Civic honours for Robbie Williams something we can all agree on

Robbie Williams on stage in Leeds.

Robbie Williams on stage in Leeds.

Today The Sentinel celebrates the achievements of a local lad done good.

It’s a story that will please many but doubtless cause a vocal minority to reach for their keyboards or pens to condemn the council, The Sentinel and probably the bloke in question too.

It was as recently as November 15 that I suggested through this column that our city should do something to honour Robbie Williams’s achievements – both in terms of his career in music and his charity work.

This was on the back of plans for RWFanFest – a celebration led by fans being planned here in Stoke-on-Trent to mark Rob’s 40th birthday and to raise much-needed funds for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice (DLCH).

My contention was that it was about time the city did something to acknowledge one of its most famous sons – i.e. Robert Peter Williams, formerly of Take That, who has for some time been the UK’s most popular solo music artist.

This is because, until now, there has been nothing here in the Potteries to say that a bloke who has sold more than 70 million records and won more BRIT Awards than any other artist comes from our neck of the woods.

The statistics of his career to date are impressive enough in terms of concert tickets and albums sold, but when you add to that his charity endeavours then surely no-one would dispute that his home city can rightly be proud of the man known to millions as Robbie.

With his mate Jonny Wilkes he created the bi-annual Soccer Aid football match which has so far raised more than £11 million for children’s charity UNICEF.

Perhaps more pertinently Robbie has given away £5 million of his own money through his Give It Sum charity to worthy causes here in North Staffordshire and, let’s not forget, bought £250,000 worth of shares in his beloved Port Vale which, at the time, saved the club from going bust.

He has a Staffordshire knot tattoo on the back of his hand and constantly references both his birthplace and his football club through his music lyrics and when on stage in front of millions.

Robbie may not live in the ST postcode area anymore but no-one could accuse him of forgetting his roots – unlike many celebrities drawn to the bright lights of London or Los Angeles.

Today we announce that the city council has decided to create various legacy projects which not only honour Robbie for his achievements to date but also tap into the potential of brand RW for the benefit of the city in terms of raising its profile and helping to bring in tourists and visitors.

This is something which, I believe, Robbie himself would approve of and I’m sure he’s as chuffed as his mum and dad are that very soon there will be a tourist trail, streets named in honour of his music, a ‘Robbie Day’ in schools and a photographic and memorabilia exhibition at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG).

Hopefully, one day soon, (and inevitably incognito) he will arrive in Stoke-on-Trent to have a look for himself at the legacy work being done in his name.

When initiatives like this are undertaken critics often argue that the recipient of the honour isn’t worthy or cannot be compared to other famous names who have been paid similar tributes.

In the case of Stoke-on-Trent we are talking about the likes of Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell CBE and Sir Stanley Matthews CBE who have statues here in the Potteries and who have been honoured with street names and exhibitions.

Of course, to compare them with each other would be like comparing apples and pears. Both were sublime in their respective fields and I suspect both would be gracious enough to acknowledge a recording artist with the stature of Robbie Williams as someone worthy of recognition by his home city.

Another thing critics of initiatives such as those announced today often pick up on is the cost to council taxpayers so let’s nail that one now.

The cost for all the projects unveiled today is minuscule – primarily because they represent a partnership between the local authority, this newspaper, the DLCH, private firms, members of the community and individuals like Robbie’s mum and dad.

In my opinion spending a few thousand pounds on an exhibition at PMAG and creating a tourist trail (the other projects are cost neutral) is well worth the initial modest outlay when you think about the potential benefits.

This money wouldn’t have saved jobs or prevented a council-run facility from closing but it will definitely help brighten up our city and increase our ‘offer’, as they say in tourist-speak, to visitors to Stoke-on-Trent. Having a Robbie Day in schools sounds brilliant in terms of engaging children through music and art. Why not?

Naming streets with a nod to the bloke’s tunes costs nowt. It’s just a nice gesture so I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that – unless they want to pick fault with the names, that is. I guess someone’s bound to.

I’d like to think that down the line our temporary Robbie exhibition leads to a permanent one somewhere here in the Potteries – hopefully including items donated by the man himself.

The council and this newspaper are constantly criticised for being too negative about the city. Hopefully today will be one of those rare occasions where everyone can agree that the announcements represent a win/win for all concerned – especially, of course, a charity close to Robbie’s heart.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

A golden decade for Team GB’s Olympic athletes

Believe it or not there was a time when people in the UK could choose whether or not they wanted to watch the Olympic Games.
It was a more innocent age when not being interested in handball, beach volleyball and synchronised diving wasn’t punishable by incarceration in the Tower of London.
It was a time when seeing Olympic athletes perform on telly in glorious colour was a relative novelty and BBC employees had the freedom to criticise stuff as they saw fit.
It was a period when we weren’t brow-beaten into repeating the mantra that sports we’ve never heard of are all wonderful and exciting just because it has almost bankrupt the nation to stage an Olympics.
That decade was the 1980s when colour TVs which were becoming a fixture in most homes turned some British Olympians into household names.
The Moscow summer Olympics of 1980 was the games that made baldness cool as swimmer Duncan Goodhew scooped gold in the 100m breaststroke and bronze in the 4x100m medley relay.
At the same games, which was boycotted by many countries including the U.S., Japan, China and West Germany because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, Scottish sprinter Allan Wells won gold in the 100 metres in a photo finish. He was pipped to silver in the 200m by just 0.2 seconds.
It was in Moscow that decathlete Daley Thompson announced his arrival on the world stage by taking top spot on the podium – a feat he then repeated four years later in Los Angeles.
The 1980 games saw current London 2012 supremo Lord Sebastian Coe, beaten into second place by his great rival Steve Ovett in the 800 metres – his speciality.
However, Seb hit back in the 1500m race to take gold, while Ovett had to settle for bronze. Coe replicated his achievements over both distances at the next Olympics in LA.
Those games in the City of Angels marked another golden period for British athletics when Tyneside’s Steve Cram – the ‘Jarrow Arrow’ – completed a one, two, three for us when he nabbed the silver in that infamous 1500 metres.
It was a race which was so thrilling that even I, a 12-year-old asthmatic and the laughing stock of Holden Lane High’s cross country course, was enthralled.
That year also saw Tessa Sanderson become the first black British woman win gold in the javelin. She went on to represent Britain at no less than six Olympics.
Meanwhile, her close rival Fatima Whitbread, whose personal story of triumph over adversity was as inspirational a tale as you could hear in sport, won hearts and minds when she scooped bronze at LA and followed this up with a silver medal four years later in Seoul.
Hockey forward Sean Kerly sealed a bronze medal for the GB men’s team with his winner against Australia in the Los Angeles games and went on to be the Aussie’s bogeyman again in 1988 when he scored a hat-trick against them in the semi-final.
Believe it or not, 1984 was the year that a young Steve Redgrave won the first of his five Olympic gold medals for rowing.
Little did we know back then that he would go on to become Britain’s greatest ever Olympian.
Swimmer Adrian Moorhouse had been expected to win gold in LA in the breaststroke but finished a disappointing fourth. Happily he made up for it four years later by winning gold in the 100m race.
My final Eighties Olympic household name will be no stranger to Sentinel readers.
Former policeman and Cobridge newsagent Imran Sherwani scored two goals and set up the third in Team GB’s demolition of West Germany in the final at Seoul.
It prompted one of the best bits of Olympics commentary ever by the BBC’s Barry Davies whose enthusiasm led him to ask the question: “Where were the Germans? And, frankly, who cares?”
All in all the Eighties was a great Olympic decade for Britain – before the time when the games themselves became the huge corporate monster that they are today.

Robbie’s got more important things on his mind than saving Port Vale

Jealousy is a terrible thing. It makes people do and say the daftest things – especially where celebrities are concerned.

I guess that’s why stars like the Potteries’ own Robbie Williams will always be a soft target and why he will never be able to do right in some people’s eyes.

On February 27, 2006, The Sentinel announced our Rob had effectively saved cash-strapped Port Vale by buying £265,000 worth of shares in the club.

At the time Vale Chairman Bill Bratt said: “It clearly shows he cares about Port Vale and its future. It’s now up to the board and all at Port Vale FC to ensure his investment is used wisely in helping to secure the future of our club.”

Fast-forward six years and Rob is now one of more than 1,000 creditors – including more than 900 ordinary Vale fans – who have lost their investment.

The club is back in administration and doesn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together.

Supporters are rattling collection buckets again and Vale’s future is far from certain.

Cue a procession of people asking why Robbie doesn’t buy the club, pay the costs of the administration process or stage a concert at Vale Park. After all, he’s minted, isn’t he?

Surely he wouldn’t miss a few million quid. It’s the equivalent of the rest of us chucking a hundred quid in the pot.

My answer to these questions would be: It’s his time and his money and it’s up to him what he does with them.

Back in 2006 it was made abundantly clear to the then Vale board of directors that Rob’s investment was a one-off – a goodwill gesture to the club he had supported all his life.

Of course, back then few people realised lightning could strike twice and that Vale would so soon be up the creek again without a paddle.

If Rob fancies doing something more to help the Vale then great. If he wants a Save The Vale tee-shirt for kick-abouts in California then I’ll send one to him via his dad.

But, to my mind, he’s done his bit – far more so than others I could mention.

For example, without Robbie’s shareholding – entrusted to the Supporters’ Club – ordinary fans wouldn’t have had a voice during the past tumultuous 12 months.

What I reckon we should be asking ourselves is why on earth he would want to do an Elton John and become more involved in a struggling League Two football club.

He’s indicated previously that he doesn’t have the time to devote such an undertaking and I’m not sure the basket case that is Port Vale would do the RW brand any favours right now.

Let’s say he did buy the club. It isn’t just a question of putting a few new seats in the Lorne Street stand and finishing off the infamous Robbie Williams suite.

As soon as things started to go pear-shaped on the field some fans would demand the club’s moneybags benefactor dip into his bank account for that star striker or desperate loan signing. And so it would go on.

No. What Port Vale needs is to be run by a businessman or woman who knows how to turn a profit while keeping his or her customers happy.

Let’s leave Rob to enjoy married life, carry on making music and continue contributing to the charities he supports – including many here in North Staffordshire.

You see, contrary to what Bill Shankly may have said, there are far more important things in life than football.

A few days ago Rob announced via the internet that he and his wife Ayda were announcing their first child.

The ‘tweet’ was an honest and emotional one from a man who, despite his worldwide fame and substantial fortune, has clearly realised that he’s about to have his world rocked by something entirely natural and human.

He’s soon to become a dad and, as any parent will tell you, it’s the best feeling in the world.

It doesn’t matter if he lives in a mansion in Los Angeles. It doesn’t matter if he’s Britain’s biggest music star. It doesn’t matter how much money he has.

Right now he’s Robert Peter Williams and he and his missus are about to have a baby.

I think he can be forgiven if he’s got more important things on his mind than Port Vale. He’s loving angels instead.

So let’s just be happy for a Potteries lad done-good and wish him and his family all the best.

Club is at a crossroads… will we all take the same path?

This is the first week in a long time that I’ve sat down and not felt obliged to moan about the boardroom situation.
That doesn’t mean the problems have gone away or that a degree of suspicion doesn’t remain – far from it.
Talking to other supporters, many are desperate to put the civil war behind them, look forward to bigger home gates and simply get behind Micky’s team.
But there’s also a sense of “close but no cigar” about the way in which the campaign for change concluded.
I think this springs from the fact there was no dramatic coup d’état – as many had hoped for.
Instead we’ve seen the removal of the old guard, or most of them, and witnessed the death of the dream of a supporter-run club.
In many ways we are into uncharted territory and have to hope that the £8 million Blue Sky investment deal is all its cracked up to be.
So I guess the question is how and when will Vale supporters judge the ‘new’ regime?
Of course, promotion – or any sort of success on the field – goes a long way to papering over the cracks or masking any misgivings fans may have about the way in which their club is being run.
This is something we all want and, if it comes via the manager being given a few hundred thousand pounds to strengthen his squad, then it will certainly be a big tick for the powers-that-be.
For me, however, the ‘new’ board should be judged on two things.
Firstly, the investment of £5 million over the next 11 months or so is an easy one to measure.
This will include completion of the Lorne Street stand and the Robbie Williams’ suite.
Rob has now given his blessing to this – via his dad who visited him in LA last week – and so there is no reason why we shouldn’t see some swift progress on this development.
What the rest of the £5 million will be spent on we shall have to wait and see.
The second way in which I will judge the new regime is on its ability to deliver on the promise of a supporter-elected representative to the board.
Thanks to Robbie Williams’ proxy, the Supporters Club actually has some clout now and will be fighting tooth and nail to ensure fans have a voice.
This will be done through regular polls of fans on important issues relating to the club, and by ensuring that any new fan representative on the board has the same rights as any other director.
In many ways we are at a crossroads and hopefully, if those that run the club are true to their words, we can all start to take the same path together.