Peace at last… but can we learn from our mistakes?

It seems peace may finally have broken out in Burslem.
Fans’ groups who have been the bane of those in charge at the Vale have called a ceasefire.
Many of the objectives of the supporters who fought for change have now been realised.
Unpopular board members have gone or are going and many protesters have adopted a ‘wait and see’ policy with regards to the £8 million Blue Sky investment.
Mark Sims – the only man elected on to the board by a majority of shareholders at June’s EGM – has finally shown his hand.
He claims to never have been given enough financial information to have allowed him to make a decision on signing up to director’s guarantees and therefore won’t be joining the board.
Whatever the truth, it’s another loose end tied up and no great surprise given the amount of time that has elapsed since Sims was actually voted in.
Thus the utopian vision of a supporter-run club may be dead but the powers-that-be have offered an olive branch of sorts.
Through the Supporters’ Club, a fan-elected representative will be given a seat on the board – without having to sign up to a director’s financial liabilities.
If this happens, that would be the one positive from this whole messy civil war.
We have a great manager and a decent squad which has every chance of pushing for promotion.
I am sure everyone would agree that seeing an extra 1,000 plus fans on the home gate will be fantastic.
If we can harness the passion of those who worked for the Black and Gold group, North London Valiants and Starve ‘Em out and focus it on taking Vale forward then the supporter-base could be a genuine powerhouse for the club.
I would also like to praise NLV for donating their remaining ‘fighting fund’ cash to the Sproson Statue Fund and the Supporters’ Club. It was a wonderful gesture.
But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that all in the garden is suddenly rosy.
Make no mistake: This uneasy truce hinges on the board and chief executive’s ability to deliver on the promised investment and, crucially, to be open and honest with supporters.
Many questions remain over the details and timescale of the Blue Sky deal.
There are also those who are unhappy with the current make-up of the board and who see a conflict of interest with the club’s chief executive becoming a director.
Vale’s current regime needs to understand that they must take the rough with the smooth.
They must accept that they have made mistakes and stop being so defensive. A little humility would go a long way right now.
Supporters scrutinise what’s going on at the Vale because they care.
I would suggest that the moment they stop caring is the time that the club’s hierarchy should really start to worry.

The boardroom situation’s a farce… but Roberts still has my backing

Well, it’s been 10 days since the announcement of the multi-million pound investment into Port Vale by American company Blue Sky and we’re none the wiser as to what it all means.
We still await the response from the boardroom to questions posed by fans via the Supporters’ Club – questions that should have been answered in the original press release.
Simply put, there isn’t enough meat on the bones of the proposed investment as yet to actually make a judgement on the deal.
As we await answers, the boardroom situation remains in a confusing state of flux.
Bill Bratt and Glenn Oliver are still directors for the time being – which is preventing some supporters from paying to watch home games.
Meanwhile, the situation with local businessman Mark Sims is nothing short of farcical.
He was the only person elected to the board at June’s EGM and yet here we are, three months later, still waiting for him to take his seat.
In contrast, Micky Adams was elected a director with the speed of light.
Out of the blue this week we have the announcement that Chief Executive Perry Deakin wants to become a director and put £100,000 of his own money into the club.
My take on this is: “That’s great, Perry. But resign as CEO first because it should be one or the other.”
In the same way that some supporters were dead set against manager Micky Adams becoming a director, I don’t much fancy the idea of a Chief Executive who’s also a board member.
The potential conflict of interest is there for all to see when directors could be involved in discussions regarding their own positions.
With regard to Mark Sims – if, as has been hinted at before, he doesn’t want to sign up to directors’ guarantees because he doesn’t feel he’s seen the full financial picture, then Mark needs to come out and say as much.
Then he can step away and the Supporters’ Club could perhaps try to find another suitable candidate to be elected to the board using Robbie Williams’ proxy vote.
Robbie gave ordinary Vale fans the chance to have a voice and it is an opportunity that should not be wasted.
On the field the big story of the week is the suspension and fining of midfielder Gary Roberts who just can’t seem to shake his personal demons.
Some say he’s had his chances and we should get shot of the lad who enjoyed the full support of fans when Jim Gannon cast him into the wilderness.
Personally, I’m a long way from turning my back on arguably the most talented midfielder in the lower leagues.
This is the manager’s call, not ours, and Roberts will be getting nowt but encouragement from me.

Investment must be better than what Vale turned down

As Chairman Mike Lloyd and Chief Executive Perry Deakin head across The Pond hoping to secure new investment, Vale supporters could be forgiven for experiencing a sense of déjà vu.
We are told that the proposed deal would be ‘worth millions’ to the club and, mercifully, doesn’t involve loans.
Nothing would please me more than to see that kind of money coming into the Vale but I can’t help but feel we’ve been here before.
It wasn’t so long ago that shirt sponsors Harlequin were the club’s great white hope.
Fans were told the overseas property firm were going to invest a substantial sum into Port Vale, take a couple of seats on the board, and bring their business know-how to the table.
Needless to say we’re still waiting.
Hopefully, this trip to the States will pay dividends but – however you dress it up – supporters are once again being asked to take a leap of faith.
Why? Because the truth is we know so very little about at least one of the companies on which the board is pinning its hopes.
The Ameriturf Global Sports (AGS) deal was announced with great fanfare on May 23.
I kept the Press Release. ‘New £1.6 million deal for Port Vale’ was the headline.
But, in terms of hard cash, the investment/sponsorship agreement (depending on who you spoke to at the time) amounted to just £500,000 – of which around £100,000 would be a loan.
The remaining £1.1 million involved sending the first team squad on pre-season tours to America for the next 10 years and creating artificial football pitches at ‘Port Vale’s new training ground complex’.
Now, we could argue the merits of committing ourselves to a decade of pre-season tours to the States. Suffice to say most Vale fans won’t be able to afford the trip.
As for the synthetic training pitches – it’s a fine idea in principle but wouldn’t be top of my list of priorities and right now it seems like pie in the sky.
I also find it deeply disturbing that despite repeated requests, The Sentinel has been unable to secure an interview with anyone from Ameriturf. Why is this?
Under normal circumstances, sponsors would be only too happy to talk to the local media about their investment in a football club – especially once the deal has been announced publicly.
After all, the million dollar question remains: Why would any overseas company wish to invest in a debt-ridden League Two football team?
Given that the board has been vilified for its lack of transparency, I would suggest they have a quiet word with the powers-that-be at Ameriturf in order that they start to be more open with fans.
This is particularly important if Ameriturf representatives are to take seats on the board and have a direct role in policy-making.
Peter Jackson and Stan Meigh were removed from the board at the EGM and both Bill Bratt and Glenn Oliver have agreed to step down from their role as directors in the near future.
However, the fear among the several hundred stay-away supporters is that any deal with Ameriturf would strengthen the hand of the old regime.
This would give them a block of shares large enough that they could effectively ignore the hundreds of smaller shareholders who wanted rid of them in June.
It is only thanks to the generosity of Robbie Williams that – through a proxy via the Port Vale Supporters’ Club – ordinary fans continue to have a voice.
Having spurned a multi-million pound investment from local businessman Mo Chaudry (seemingly on the grounds that they didn’t like the bloke) the board is now relying on investment from overseas.
I only hope the overseas companies will be subjected to the same rigorous checks as previous potential investors.
Just ask Mark Sims who was elected to the board at the EGM but is still waiting to become a director having been asked to jump through more flaming hoops than Evel Knievel.
Let’s not forget that Sims was the only candidate for a directorship who actually received the backing of a majority of Vale shareholders at the EGM.
Like all true Vale supporters, I want an end to the civil war which has turned fan against fan.
I want to see The Roy Sproson Statue – entirely funded by Port Vale fans – taking pride of place outside the club’s main entrance (preferably before I draw my pension).
I also want our first class manager to be given serious money with which to strengthen his squad and I’d like the Lorne Street stand to be completed.
But what I desire more than anything is a new era of transparency in which shareholders and supporters aren’t treated like second class citizens.
Vale’s board spent an awful lot of time and money fighting off the bid from Mo Chaudry and Mark Sims.
The bottom line is that they must ensure that any deal which comes out of America is more valuable than what was on the table from a North Staffordshire businessman and a lifelong Vale fan because anything less won’t wash with many supporters and shareholders.

A decent start, but healing still needed

Four games, two wins, two draws and a healthy goal difference of plus five.
I’d have taken that if someone had offered it to me at 3pm on August 6.
Yes, we have given away a few soft goals – something which Micky Adams will no doubt be working to eradicate in training.
However, the encouraging thing is that the goals we are scoring are being shared around rather than us having to rely on a couple of players to earn us the points.
In recent seasons our Achilles heel has been a simple inability to hit the net because of an over-reliance on the strikers.
Without wishing to put a hex on the lads, the fact that the midfield is already chipping in with goals bodes well for the rest of the season.
It’s clear to me that, even at this early stage, having Micky back at the helm and working alongside Mark Grew has made a huge difference. Long may he reign.
The only fly in the ointment is the fact that several hundred Vale fans are still refusing to go to home games as the boardroom saga rumbles on.
This is something that no-one attending tomorrow’s game against Southend should forget.
For these supporters, nothing less than the removal of Bill Bratt and Glenn Oliver as directors will suffice.
While both men have stated that they will be stepping down, neither has done so thus far, and the stay-away fans won’t be putting any more money into the club so long as they remain in post.
I spoke to Mike Lloyd recently and told him that it was within his gift to heal the rift between the board and supporters.
Simply put, if he could persuade Bratt and Oliver to stand down and get Mark Sims on to the board then I felt the majority of fans would be prepared to draw a line in the sand.
To be fair to the new chairman, some progress has been made towards the removal of the unpopular directors and he has met with supporters publicly.
However, I am left scratching my head as to why Sims – the only man wanted on the board by a majority of shareholders at June’s EGM – still hasn’t been appointed to the board.
What’s more, I remain sceptical about this coming investment involving Ameriturf which is said to be worth ‘millions to the club’.
Having turned away local millionaire Mo Chaudry and while Mark Sims still languishes on the sidelines, once again the Vale board is gambling on overseas businesses to ride to our rescue.
I remain to be convinced that this is the silver bullet for our club’s ills.

Vale fans should spare a thought for absent friends

Here we are on the eve of a new season and while supporters of other clubs are eagerly awaiting the big kick-off I’m afraid things aren’t so rosy in the garden at Port Vale.
I suspect we are the only club affected by a demonstration march before the game tomorrow.
No matter what noises come out of the board room or the chief executive’s office, make no mistake: Port Vale is a club at war with itself.
It’s now just over two months since the travesty of an EGM when, despite losing a vote of no confidence, the three board members who weren’t ousted refused to step down.
Since that time, just as I feared, the offer of a seat on the board to fans’ group North London Valiants has been exposed as mere posturing to placate fans desperate for change.
Meanwhile, Mark Sims’ attempts to join the board have been frustrated by the simple lack of co-operation he has received from the club.
It shouldn’t take two months to become a director but I can fully understand Mark’s reticence to sign up to guarantees when he hasn’t been fully appraised of the club’s financial situation.
Last year, according to the club at the time, we sold 4,300 season tickets.
We will be substantially down on that figure which will make for a pretty poor atmosphere at home games – even accounting for fans who pay at the turnstiles.
I know an awful lot of people who have renewed their season tickets and try to stay out of the politics – preferring instead to focus on what happens on the park.
But my thoughts tomorrow will be with several hundred Vale supporters who won’t be attending a home game again while Messrs Lloyd, Bratt and Oliver remain on the board.
They know full well that Mike Lloyd replacing Bill Bratt as chairman equates to a shuffling of deck chairs on the RMS Titanic.
Supporter John Amos is one of the missing. He has created a virtual ‘Wall of Discontent’ – with each brick containing the name of a fan who isn’t renewing his or her season ticket and the amount of years they have been supporting the club.
It makes for heartbreaking reading when you see all those names – some of whom have been supporting the Vale for 30, 40, 50 or even 60 years.
The ‘wall’ equates to almost 11,000 years of support which will be lost from Vale Park this season. It is an eye-watering figure.
So as we wish Micky and the lads all the best for tomorrow against Crawley, spare a thought for absent friends who are making the ultimate sacrifice for the club they love.

Sims remains key in the war of attrition at Vale

Spectators of the Port Vale pantomime can be forgiven for wondering why it has all gone quiet on the boardroom/takeover front.
Questions are being asked…
*Is Mo Chaudry still interested in buying the Vale?
*Why hasn’t Mark Sims joined the board yet – given that the club now has Robbie Williams’ written proxy?
*What is happening with the offer of a seat on the board for North London Valiants?
*Why has the chairman been so anonymous since the EGM?
*Just what is the state of the club’s finances?
The list goes on and on.
The truth of the matter is that things are happening – albeit at a snail’s pace.
Mo Chaudry is monitoring the situation at Vale Park and hasn’t gone away.
However, there is very little he can do at present given the shabby way in which he has been rebuffed by the board at every turn.
In truth, Mark Sims remains the key in all of this.
A little birdie tells me he will be meeting with club representatives on Thursday in an attempt to speed up his appointment to the board.
Mark isn’t dragging his heels. However, he is being asked to sign guarantees which would financially obligate him to the club – without being able to do his due diligence.
I can understand full well his reticence to put pen to paper when he doesn’t know just how bad the club’s finances are.
Make no mistake, the board have done nothing but throw obstacles in the path of Mark Sims because, like Mo Chaudry, they never wanted him to be a director of our club.
With regard to North London Valiants, the situation remains confused.
The club offered NLV a seat on the board but no-one has yet explained how this would work and who would sponsor Malcolm Hirst to the tune of £50,000 worth of shares.
Call me cynical, but unless Peter Jackson is prepared to sponsor the very people who were instrumental in his downfall at the EGM, the only way this could work is if the board allowed shares to be pooled in order for NLV to be sponsored.
I shall be watching this situation with interest to ensure that this is exposed as a hollow offer if the board fails to honour its promise.
As for the state of the club’s finances, I suspect we won’t know the real truth until Mark Sims or NLV get themselves on to that board.
However, no matter how the chief executive tries to paint it, an awful lot of people (my guess is 800 plus) won’t be renewing their season tickets.
People like a bloke who has emailed me with the names of nine family members who are refusing to renew while Bill Bratt, Glenn Oliver and Mike Lloyd remain in post.
Given that last season (and I’m sticking with the figures The Sentinel was given) we sold 4,300 STs, then we could be looking at a sale of around 3,500 STs this year.
That will have a huge impact on the club in the short to medium turn.
So I would ask this question: What is more important to Bill, Glenn and Mike – their own positions or the money and support from hundreds of genuine Vale fans who are making a sacrifice for the club they love?

Blame for last season’s failure must be shared

I was pleased when I read in today’s Sentinel that Micky Adams had forced the players to look no further than themselves for last season’s wretched capitulation.
The gaffer has pretty much echoed what many of us were saying towards the end of the 2010/11 campaign.
There is still a part of me which can’t quite believe that a team which was second at Christmas and looked to be cruising towards promotion finished up in 11th place.
However, we did… and the truth of it is that the wheels came off the moment Micky Adams left to chase his dream of managing the team he had supported since he was a boy.
Yes, it was important yesterday for the gaffer to spell out to the survivors of last season’s squad that they must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the club not at least making the play-offs.
The fact is many of our ‘better players’ were anonymous for the last two months of the campaign. We didn’t create enough chances, we didn’t score enough goals and we suffered too many defensive lapses.
But it is only fair that we remember the other factors which contributed to our poor form from January through to May – namely the appointment of the divisive and inept Jim Gannon by a divisive and inept board.
It is always good to see new players come in and I wish Ben Williamson and Ryan Burge all the best for the new season.
Extra flair, pace and power in the final third is something we have been sorely lacking and I hope these boys will go some way towards remedying that.
Whilst it is nice, for a change, to focus on the playing side of things we should not be distracted from events off the field.
The success of Port Vale Supporters’ Club – or rather its indefatigable representative Dave Felstead – in gaining Robbie Williams’ proxy vote for the foreseeable future is a major step forward for the pro-change campaign.
This enables Mark Sims, the man duly elected by shareholders at that travesty of an EGM, to take his rightful place on the board of directors at the Vale.
How good it will be for the average supporter to have a man on the inside at last – someone who is genuinely batting for them.
Surely even the discredited board can’t refuse Mark a seat at the top table now. It would be like sticking two fingers up at our most famous celebrity fan.
While they are at it, the board should also make good on their offer of a seat on the board to North London Valiants.
The question is, of course, who will sponsor the NLV representative?
Answers on a postcard, please…