Talking to Vale fans this week there’s confidence and hope in abundance that this season we will finally climb out of the lowest tier of English football.
This confidence is based on two things: Firstly, the majority of performances thus far by a terrific set of lads, put together on a shoe-string by Micky Adams and his staff, which have put us top of the league and, secondly, the addition of four vastly experienced players who will help to steady any nerves for the run-in.
Supporters know full well that our destiny is in our own hands. We’ve all done the maths: Every three points now represents one step closer to automatic promotion.
Since Norman Smurthwaite and Paul Wildes took over the club there’s been a steady drip, drip of good news from a club that used to be the dictionary definition of calamitous.
Off the field Papa Smurf, as our chief executive is affectionately known, has been beavering away doing all the unglamorous but rather important stuff like sorting the infamous toilets in the Railway Paddock and working hard to bring in lots of new sponsorship.
I would venture to say that Norman isn’t your ‘normal’ football club chief executive – if such a thing exists – and we, the fans, are all the better for having someone who is a businessman, first and foremost, at the helm.
It’s also really important that someone does the ‘people stuff’ and gets out and about meeting local people and Vale supporters from all backgrounds and he’s certainly doing that.
Paul Wildes, meanwhile, is the ‘face’ of the club. He is the chairman and figurehead – saying all the right things to the media and even creating a profile on social network Twitter.
Together, Norman and Paul are slowly starting to turn the ship around through a combination of sensible stewardship and innovative commercial and marketing initiatives.
I can only commend them for their endeavours thus far and hope that when the Supporters’ Club holds it AGM on February 12 plenty of people turn up to show how keen Vale fans are to work with the new owners.
The one nagging concern I do have is this week’s big talking point among fans which is the fact that leading scorer Tom Pope isn’t, as we were led to believe three months ago, contracted to the club until the end of next season.
We all know the Pontiff loves playing for the club he supports and he has indicated he wants to stay in Burslem.
I can only hope that the gaffer can persuade him to pledge his future to the Vale and that he gets the contract his efforts deserve.
Some fans argue that Tom has ‘only had one good season’. This isn’t true.
He worked his socks off last season too for scant reward in a team that was far less creative and where he had to play second fiddle to Marc Richards.
Now he’s sharp, hungry and a brilliant leader of the line.
It’s a rare thing when a local lad is banging in goals for his team and I sincerely hope we don’t lose him next week or over the summer.
There have been times in recent years when being a Port Vale fan has been difficult, to say the least.
Supporters of all clubs have their good and bad times but what we’ve been through since 2000 really would test the patience of a saint.
With the exception of one memorable day at the Millennium Stadium it has been more than a decade of disappointment and misery.
We’ve gone from having the beating of our cousins down the A500 to languishing in the lowest tier of English football.
At the same time we’ve had to suffer the gloating of Stoke City fans living the Premier League dream.
We’ve been denied a shot at the play-offs on goal difference and seen promotion hopes dashed when we lost our manager to the club he supported as a boy.
The people running the club abused their positions, misled the fans with tales of spurious investments and took Port Vale the blink of oblivion.
It has been the most humiliating, demoralising and depressing period in the club’s history.
When the likes of Manchester United fans moan because they don’t win a trophy one year I struggle to muster any sympathy because it’s been pretty grim down looking up at the top table.
Mercifully, long-suffering Vale fans finally have something to smile about – irrespective of the fact that the club remains in administration.
Performances this season have been so good – so utterly brilliant at times – that it is actually allowing us to put the club’s precarious position to the back of our minds.
I didn’t think that losing Marc Richards, Sean Rigg and Anthony Griffith in the summer was the end of the world but neither did I think it would lead to a footballing revolution.
To see the Vale playing expansive, attacking football echoes the halcyon days of the early to mid-Nineties and reminds us of when we had Messrs Guppy and McCarthy on the wing.
Putting 11 goals past two of the promotion favourites has laid down a marker for the rest of the division and the sheer quality of the displays has restored some much-needed pride.
So thank you, Micky Adams and the coaching staff. Thank you, lads, for playing with such passion. Thank you too to the administrators for honouring Keith Ryder’s promises to the players he signed.
Port Vale are no longer a League Two embarrassment: They’re the top scorers in England with the top-scoring striker in the country in the form of local lad Tom Pope.
We may change our kit every month and we may not have the smartest toilets at a football stadium, but who cares?
We’re Port Vale, and we’ll score when we want.
Read my Port Vale articles every Friday during the season in The Sentinel
Yes, we were beaten away at Accrington but, from what those who were there tell me, it was a game we could and should have won.
What’s perhaps most pleasing about the start we’ve made is that the team minus Marc Richards and Sean Rigg is creating lots of chances and hitting the net.
While I was disappointed to see both strikers leave during the summer – along with the workhorse that is Anthony Griffith – I never thought it was the end of the world.
I like Rico. He did a good job for us and so I’m not going to criticise him.
However, as is perhaps being exposed now, I think the Vale of recent seasons relied too heavily on him to score goals.
We played through him and to him – often at the expense of other strikers whose confidence ebbed away as a result.
By the same token, I think Sean Rigg flattered to deceive. Sure, he had a purple patch towards the end of the season (shop window time), but very often struggled to hit a barn door.
To be fair to him, however, he always put in a shift when asked to play as a makeshift winger and was sometimes our most creative player.
Griff was loved by Vale supporters because he always gave 100 per cent – which is why we forgave him for not being able to pass.
Yes, his passing did improve, but let’s be honest – we will remember Griff mainly for his workrate and well-timed tackles.
This new Vale team will take a few more games to gel properly but the signs are encouraging.
I’m not too worried about our defence because I think it’s solid and Chris Neal looks like a goalkeeper we can have a bit of confidence in at last – something I’ve not had since Goodlad was between the sticks.
As always, of course, goals will be crucial and I’m pleased we are scoring from different areas of the park and that Tom Pope has bagged a couple already.
If he carries on in this vein then there will soon be some Vale fans with egg on their faces.
The bottom line is this: Thanks to Keith Ryder’s bizarre disappearing trick we are still in administration and a winning Port Vale team is far more attractive to potential buyers than one languishing at the bottom of League Two.
So far so good, then. Keep it up, boys.
Read my Port Vale articles every Friday during the season in The Sentinel
We should all know by now that, ultimately, all footballers are mercenaries. It is the nature of the beast.
More money and the chance to play at a higher level are often factors which are equally, if not more important, than geography or family circumstances.
This isn’t a criticism. It is just the reality of the modern-day game where careers are short.
With the club in limbo until Keith Ryder’s takeover is approved by the Football League, Micky Adams has been forced to hedge his bets.
He’s offered deals to a large chunk of the squad from last season – knowing that he cannnot have a situation where, after the summer break, he’s only got half a dozen players to work with.
I understand the strategy and think that adding to a squad which was almost good enough to make the playoffs is better than starting entirely from scratch.
I don’t know what was offered to Rico or Griff but I would imagine Micky Adams offered them what he thought they were worth.
I do know that word around the club six weeks ago was that neither player would stay.
I can understand why. Griffith is a solid, reliable player who gives 100 per cent and is the sort of dogged scrapper and ball-winner that most teams in the lower leagues would want.
He has taken the opportunity to play at a higher level and presumably on better terms.
Richards is a proven goalscorer and several clubs were chasing his signature. Loyalty doesn’t come into it. He’s doing what’s best for him and his family at this stage of his career and I say ‘good luck to him’.
Disappointing as this news is, the departure of two of Vale’s better players is not, as some would have you believe, the end of the world.
The end of the world would have been liquidation which the club narrowly avoided not so long ago.
Now we have a chance to rebuild our club from top to bottom.
We will miss Marc Richards and Anthony Griffith but neither are irreplaceable.
Take Rico’s penalties away from his season tally and you realise that he wasn’t, in fact, God’s gift to the penalty area.
Some fans get carried away and believe that Richards is the king of the world because he is our top scorer.
This is only because we’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a decent striker who scores 20 plus goals a season from open play.
In the case of Anthony Griffith, if he could pass he would be playing in the Championship by now. Sadly, he can’t.
Personally, I believe Doug Loft to be a better quality player for one of the two central midfield roles as he can tackle, has – as they say – a good engine and can pick out team mates with a decent pass. Oh and he scores goals too.
What I am trying to say is that the glass is half full and that, logically, we should have expected this summer to be one of major change – given what has happened off the field in recent months.
I don’t buy my season ticket because of one or two players or depending on who we sign over the summer.
I buy it because I’m a Vale fan and because I want to support the team in black and white. I dare say most Vale fans think the same.
Of course I am excited about new players coming in but I’ll be there next season come what may.
Frustrating as it has been in recent weeks, we have to remember that Keith Ryder hasn’t yet taken over from the administrators and Micky Adams’ hands are somewhat tied at present in terms of bringing in new faces.
We know that the playing budget will be larger this year and I’m hoping a decent keeper, a quick centre half and a nippy little striker is on the manager’s shopping list.
Let’s give Micky Adams and Keith Ryder the opportunity to build a squad which we hope can challenge for promotion and not start writing ourselves off before a ball is kicked.
Read my Port Vale articles every Friday during the season in The Sentinel
One of the things I admire most about Micky Adams is his willingness to make changes when things aren’t going our way.
Of course, he threw down a marker by famously putting the entire squad on the transfer list when we were badly beaten by Notts County.
Some people considered that little more than a publicity stunt but the gaffer’s gamble soon paid dividends and results picked up.
The indifferent start we’ve made to this campaign has been largely down to poor defensive form.
A back line which had built up a reputation for being miserly suddenly started giving goals away and lads who were outstanding at times last season started to look distinctly average.
That’s when Micky rang the changes and brought in a couple of old heads to shore up the defence.
Once again he proved there are no sacred cows – dropping the likes of Sir Stanley Matthews Vale Player of the Year Adam Yates and crowd favourite John McCombe.
If nothing else this reinforces the approach that no player and no position is 100 per cent secure and this Vale squad responds to this kind of stick.
It seems like there’s nothing like a little competition for places or a stint in the reserves to make our under-performing players sharpen up their acts.
We are now six points off the top and handily placed for a tilt at promotion.
What’s more, there’s a feeling about the place that we have no-one to fear in this division – mainly because we work damned hard and are scoring a lot more goals these days.
The work ethic of the likes of Tom Pope and the Duracell battery that is Griff is the hallmark of this Micky Adams team.
The fact we have started to score goals from all over the park rather than relying on Marc Richards is starting to give me confidence that we will finish in the top seven this year – even if we don’t gain automatic promotion.
How nice it is too that hostilities have temporarily ceased and a few more fans are now turning up for home games.
This week, members of the committee of the official Supporters’ Club even met with Chief Executive Perry Deakin and potential director Peter Miller to discuss – among other things – the offer of having a supporter-elected director on the board.
This organisation can give us all a voice and I would urge every single Vale fan to join by going to http://www.portvalesupportersclub.org and filling in the online application form – especially as it won’t cost you a penny.
Four wins and a draw from the last six games is probably the minimum that we need in order to sneak into the play-offs.
It’s difficult, but not impossible. However, anyone who has seen Vale’s patchy performances since Happy Harry’s departure wouldn’t put any money on us right now.
We are finding it increasingly difficult to score and – without Gaz Owen in the heart of defence – are struggling to keep the clean sheets which got us off to a flyer in the first half of the season.
Oh how we are now rueing those points dropped in games we really should have won against the likes of Barnet, Bury and Lincoln.
Our main goal threat, Marc Richards, can’t seem to find any consistency and the service from midfield to the forwards has been poor, to say the least.
Sorry If I sound pessimistic – it’s because I am. Tomorrow’s game has become an absolute must-win for us.
We’ve wasted the games in hand and it’s the teams who are hitting form right now who are favourites to make those four play-off berths. And that ain’t us.
I’ve got a lot of time for Mark Grew and Geoff Horsfield but up til now, as a management team, they haven’t torn up any trees.
To be fair to them, I appreciate how hard it must be to get the lads who haven’t been playing match-fit again and to restore harmony in the camp following the destruction wrought by Jim Gannon’s reign.
The nose-diving of a season which promised so much can, of course, be traced back to the week before Christmas when Sheffield United were scouting round for a new manager.
Talk about Sod’s Law. Why did Micky Adams have to be a Blades fan?
I blame Gary Speed and the Welsh FA and am tempted to never go to Rhyl again by way of protest.
I fear that, barring a remarkable run of victories, it will be a classic case of ‘close but no cigar’ come May 7.
I’d love to be proved wrong. I’d love Rob Taylor, Louis Dodds and Rico to find their shooting boots.
However, knowing our luck, we will beat Barnet at their place on the last day of the season and still miss out on the play-offs on goal difference. Sound familiar?
Having been at Rushden and Diamonds for Steve McPhee’s swan-song, I wouldn’t wish such a cruel fate on anyone.
BY SUCH fine margins are careers made or ended, I guess.
The hard-earned point at Wycombe – which was so nearly three – has given new boss Jim Gannon a platform on which to build.
Two weeks ago, such was the backlash from fans that you wouldn’t have got great odds on him still being around come May.
He still has some work to do to convince the nay-sayers, but they should at least have the good grace to admit we are improving.
Four points from seven against stiff opposition means the Vale are now perfectly placed to move back into the automatic promotion places.
It is overstating it to say the next three games – all at home – will make or break our season, but seven points from nine – or, dare I say it, three wins – and I reckon we will be in the top three again.
I don’t fancy the lottery that is the play-offs, so the fact top scorer Marc Richards could be back as early as the game against Bradford is a real boost at just the right time.
As is the news that defensive lynchpin Gareth Owen’s injury isn’t as bad as was first thought and he could be back within a month or so.
Fortunately, in the versatile Lee Collins and Richie Sutton, we have decent cover for the big man, although we will miss his leadership.
The only setback is the three-match suspension of play-maker Gary Roberts, who was dismissed for violent conduct while playing for the reserves this week.
It’s a crying shame because his long-range passing is exceptional at this level, and I genuinely think he could be the difference for us come the end of the season.
Of course, off-field matters continue to colour everything that happens at the club.
Petitions, black and gold scarves and anti-board protests are the backdrop to whatever happens on the park, and I can’t see that changing while the current administration remains in place.
Mo Chaudry’s bid to buy the club is the most significant development in recent years.
The problem that the board have – and they know it – is that they need a damn good reason to turn him down which doesn’t involve hiding behind the 24.9 per cent shareholding stake rule.
Hopefully, weeks of shadow boxing will now give way to substantive talks and Mr Chaudry will get a fair hearing when the two sides finally meet.