Port Vale, Keith Ryder and a few home truths…

I can’t quite believe that here we are, 10 days before the start of our first competitive fixture of the new season, and Port Vale is still in a state of crisis.

When Keith Ryder was unveiled as the preferred bidder for the club at the beginning of April, no-one could have envisaged that four months later we would still be waiting for his money to arrive and for the deal to go through.

Yes, there will be a few know-it-alls trying to claim some credit, pretending that they knew all along that Keef had no money.

There will also be a few still banging the drum for Mo Chaudry and saying it would all have been so different if the Waterworld owner had taken over.

So let’s set a few records straight before tomorrow night’s Supporters’ Club meeting at Vale Park.

No-one – none of us – could have foreseen that we would still be waiting for Keith Ryder’s money to come through four months after he was anointed. I include the administrators in this.

I met Keith Ryder privately three times but came away with the same impression anyone who had met him at the open forum would have had: Seems like a decent bloke. Head screwed on. No daft promises.

In the end, I was left clutching at the fact that it was the job of the administrators and, to a lesser extent, the Football League to check that the Lancashire businessman had the financial wherewithall and was a fit and proper person to own a football club.

The jury is still out on both, in my opinion.

But if Mr Ryder does now comes through with the money – and, let’s face it, it’s a big if – he has some serious explaining to do and, I reckon, some apologising to do to Vale’s fanbase who have been strung along with failed promises for weeks.

This is certainly not the new era of openness and transparency he acknowledged was needed when Supporters’ Club representatives met with him on several occasions.

As for Mr Chaudry, well it is fair to say that he hasn’t covered himself in glory this week by criticising the Supporters’ Club for not backing his bid.

We didn’t back your bid, Mo, because we were busy backing Port Vale.

We didn’t back your bid, Mo, because we didn’t see ANY of the bids. Only the administrators were privvy to that information so how could we back a bid that we hadn’t seen?

We didn’t back your bid, Mo, because suppose we had and then someone else had been named as the preferred bidder? Awkward…

No, the Supporters’ Club committee did what it has always done – certainly during my involvement – and that is to look out for Port Vale: To put ourselves in the best position to negotiate on behalf of, and represent the views of, the wider fanbase.

If Mo is a Vale fan, as he claims, then I’m sure he is sitting there as upset as the rest of us about this turn of events and wondering how he can help with his hands and his wallet.

Because scoring cheap points on radio shows does no-one any favours, does it?

Mr Chaudry had the best chance of any bidder to take over Port Vale. Fact. So we shouldn’t let anyone try to rewrite history at this stage.

I’m not going to sit here now, or tomorrow night, and pretend that everything has always been rosy in the garden since April.

The SC committee, especially yours truly, has disagreed with Keith Ryder and the administrators and often been appalled at the poor communication from both – prompting us to intervene several times.

However, and this is crucial, we have at all times set aside our own personal frustrations and put the club first – keeping all channels of communication open.

Just ask those fans on the internet who use social media or people who buy The Sentinel and who were kept informed of developments every day last week – as and when the SC was given new information.

It is easy to criticise. I’m guilty of it myself. But to sling stones at the Supporters’ Club because you’re angry and frustrated at what is happening at Port Vale is pointless and, frankly, out of order. But that’s what some people choose to do.

A few people, and it is a few who I could name, have very short memories it seems – along with their own personal agendas, of course.

What I would say to these individuals is: Tomorrow is your chance to come up to the Supporters’ Club committee members or say in public all the things you want to get off your chest.

For me, I would say that Vale supporters are strongest and have most influence when we are united towards a common goal.

Right now that should still be the very survival of our football club.

Tomorrow night we have an opportunity to come together and quiz Bob Young – the man responsible for guiding Port Vale through these choppy waters.

Whatever anyone thinks of him he has the guts to appear at the meeting. He doesn’t have to. It’s his call.

Thus I’m hoping for a constructive and positive first hour of the meeting where Bob will hopefully be able to answer a number of key questions.

This isn’t quite the Supporters’ Club meeting we had all hoped for.

We were hoping to get together to discuss how the remaining funds donated by fans could be spent and to release details of the Sproson Day.

I guess that will have to wait.

By the way, I’ve just rung Keith. He didn’t answer (quelle surprise) and so I left a message inviting him to tomorrow night’s meeting. You never know…


Now is time for all Vale supporters to finally set aside their differences

I don’t know about you but I will be glad when the curtain comes down on this season.
Next week the retained list will be published and I expect decisions that may surprise a few supporters because I think Micky Adams may have a different view of some fans’ favourites.
But in all honesty I’m not that bothered about the comings and goings this summer.
Yes, I’d like us to keep Rico, Griff, Doddsy and Rob Taylor and I’m chuffed that Lofty is under contract.
But others will have a different view and I’m not going to lose any sleep either way.
What I really want is for us all to be able to draw a line under the most divisive period in the club’s history.
I see tomorrow’s home game against Oxford as a genuine watershed.
The worst part about what has gone in the last couple of years is that it has turned Vale fan against Vale fan.
Even now we see and hear it in the stands on match days, in the club shop, and all over the internet.
People with axes to grind. People with agendas. People who still believe Bill Bratt walks on water or that Mo Chaudry deserved to be given a chance to run Port Vale.
Let’s just stop it, eh?
Right now it doesn’t matter whether you were Black & Gold, Starve ’Em Out or fiercely against the protesters.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a member of the Supporters’ Club or you don’t like me or what I write.
The point is: We’re all Vale aren’t we?
Now really is the time to set aside all our differences, stop making excuses for not attending and get back to supporting the team and the club in general.
This summer is a glorious opportunity for healing and rebuilding.
If, as seems likely, Keith Ryder receives Football League approval for his bid and takes over next month then that should be the signal for us all to unite behind the common cause.
We have a weird, six-week limbo period now but, having spoken at length to the preferred bidder, he certainly understands the need to make Vale affordable for its fans so expect new offers and incentives.
What’s more, we already know Micky Adams will have an increased budget for players and that will mean new faces.
To top it all, in July we have Sproson Day to look forward to – when the statue of the club’s greatest servant will finally be unveiled in a manner befitting the man and his family.
Make no mistake, things are finally looking up.

Reversing dwindling attendances is Keith Ryder’s main priority

Sighs of relief all round then after a full meeting of the city council voted to write-off a large chunk of the Vale debt and accept Keith Ryder’s bid and the CVA was secured.

Grateful as I am, in the end I would like to think the decision was something of a no-brainer for officers and councillors alike.

I can’t imagine anyone was seriously advocating liquidating the business which is the heart-beat of Burslem.

By the same token, going back to the bids process because two men and a dog were picking holes in Keith Ryder’s offer (which had previously been agreed by the council’s cabinet) was presumably not tempting neither.

All in all, I think the local authority is worthy of praise as it has managed to walk that fine line between balancing what is best for the public purse and the long-term future of Port Vale.

Having met Mr Ryder privately for the first time this week I have to say I was impressed with both his candour and his willingness to listen.

There is more to this unassuming businessman than meets the eye and I am starting to feel quietly optimistic that he has the will, the expertise and the financial clout to turn things around at Vale Park.

What is clear is that Keith Ryder understands what has gone on in recent years and his priority is, quite rightly, to get more bums on seats in our 20,000-seater stadium by restoring some pride in the club.

We have to face facts: Port Vale has lost a significant number of fans in recent years due to a) the quality of the product and b) the conduct of previous boards of directors which has led to supporter unrest.

It is this loss of customers which is the single most important issue facing our club at present.
Forget which players stay and go this summer. Leave that to the manager.

We should be discussing the fact that we have a club which, despite being in deep financial crisis, is only managing to attract crowds of 4,000 for home fixtures – even after the despised previous board has left the building.

That tells me we have a hardcore of around 3,800 fans who will be at Vale Park come hell or high water and that is a figure which we must look to increase dramatically in the near future to make the club sustainable.

It is high time that we all united behind the preferred bidder and started pulling in the same direction.

That includes Mo Chaudry whose comments of late have been unhelpful and, I would suggest, more about saving face than saving the Vale.

If you want to invest, Mo, then I am sure Mr Ryder will be keen to listen to your proposals.

But now really is the time to put up or shut up.

All we are saying… is give Keith a chance

Keith Ryder. “Who? Never heard of him.”

That was the reaction from most people when I left the Press Conference at Vale Park this lunchtime.

As one of the unnamed bidders, Mr Ryder has ghosted in and snaffled the preferred bidder status for Port Vale Football Club.

He couldn’t be at the Press Conference as he had ‘business in the south of England’.

This immediately led some to denounce him as not being committed to the club and ‘a joke’.

Or it could just be that the Press Conference date and time was set by the administrators and he, er, had business in the south of England. Make your own mind up.

Apparently Mr Ryder has tried to invest in Port Vale before. Then again, who hasn’t been turned down by the previous regime?

We were told he made his money in financial services and property development.

This prompted me to receive text messages pointing to the fact that Mr Ryder is obviously interested in the land so he can flog it for housing.

Not so. He’s not allowed to do that because the main debenture holder – Stoke-on-Trent City Council – requires the preferred bidder to sign a bit of paper which ensure football continues to be played at Vale Park.

We have also been assured that Mr Ryder, based in Lancashire, has no links to previous directors. Bonus.

He’ll be meeting the fans at an open forum on April 18 and, hopefully, before then the Supporters’ Club will hook up with him to offer help and support.

It’s a brave new world and no-one should underestimate the task ahead of us.

Vale is on its knees. The fanbase has dwindled to a real hard core and some divisions among supporters remain.

We have to get the CVA approved which means we can avoid a further points deduction and we have to get to a position where Micky Adams can start making plans for the new season.

However, there is hope. In recent months that hard core of loyal fans has worked miracles and shown boundless generosity.

That’s why Peter Miller, Perry Deakin, Glenn Oliver and Mike Lloyd are history. That’s why we have an opportunity for a fresh start.

Now is the time for us to set aside any personal agendas or favouritism. Those in the pro-Mo Chaudry camp must set aside any disappointment too.

On April 18 we can meet the preferred bidder, ask the questions we want to ask and see what his vision for the future of Port Vale is.

He will be subject to the same scrutiny as all those who have gone before and, by the same token, should be able to call on the support of everyone who wants the best for Port Vale.

Mr Ryder deserves a chance. So before we vilify him, jump to conclusions or automatically assume the worst, let’s show a little patience and good grace.

We’re Vale aren’t we?

Let’s stop bickering and focus on helping our club

There’s lots of nonsense being talked at the moment about the bidding process and a fair bit of bickering between Port Vale fans.
I wish it would stop and we could all just focus on supporting the team and help them to another couple of wins.
We’re still not mathematically safe and, while it is unlikely that we will be dragged into a relegation scrap, I won’t breathe easily until we can’t go down.
A couple more wins and the Company Voluntary Agreement – which avoids us having to take a points deduction next season – are what’s important right now.
I’ve been very disappointed with the attendances.
Yes, times are tough. Yes, the administrators may have annoyed people by sticking their oars into the match pricing structure. Yes, the football isn’t great.
But if ever a football club needed its fans then it is now at Vale Park.
I’ve heard people say (and seen them post on the internet) that this season is a dead rubber and we have nowt to play for.
On the contrary, I think it is more important than ever that fans do whatever they can to help Port Vale right now.
Whether that is attending games, getting behind the makeshift team, buying merchandise, pledging towards season tickets or donating to the hardship fund – it all helps.
It demonstrates to the city council that they were right to back Port Vale and shows potential buyers that we have a club worth investing in.
Frankly, not ‘being arsed’ – as one person quaintly put it – isn’t good enough. If the other 4,000 who turned up yesterday took that approach then Port Vale would be finished.
Let’s stop the bickering, the point-scoring and the hypothetical discussions which have fragmented our grand alliance which was instrumental in removing the previous, discredited board of directors.
For what it’s worth, my view is that it wouldn’t be right for the Supporters’ Club to endorse any prospective buyer as we won’t be seeing any of the bids.
The administrators and the prospective buyers are all ‘playing the game’ – so to speak.
There may or may not be half a dozen interested parties. Mo Chaudry may or may not be the only show in town.
We just don’t know and thus we should remain critical friends of Port Vale – ready and willing to support the new owner/owners in any way we can while scrutinising their actions and intentions.
You may not agree with me and that’s absolutely fine. Ultimately, it’s not our decision anyway.
To be honest, I’m not bothered who is pro-Mo or who is annoyed with the administrators. I just wish people would put Port Vale first.
Whoever the next owner of our club is (so long as it is not someone connected to previous failed regimes) they should expect – and get – 100 per cent support from the fans.
They will be inheriting a wonderful piece of Potteries heritage and, if run properly, they could soon have a successful business and the gratitude and loyalty of thousands of local people.
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has attended recent games and bought t-shirts, mugs, money boxes and postcards and thereby donated to the Supporters’ Club’s hardship fund.
Your generosity has been genuinely humbling and reminds us all that Port Vale is a key part of the local community.
Long may that continue to be the case.

Stop moaning, set aside personal agendas and support Port Vale

I guess we have to accept that some Port Vale fans will never be happy.

It wasn’t so long ago that the vast majority of supporters were united behind the common goal of removing the parasitic board of directors.

Now they’ve gone and the club is in administration I would have thought that everyone would realise there is still a need for us all to be pulling in the same direction.

However, there is unquestionably a minority of fans for whom moaning and whining has become a way of life.

You see, I found Wednesday night’s fans’ forum with the administrators quite useful.

We were back at Vale Park where supporters should be meeting and having an open discussion about the future of our club. Lest we forget, we simply couldn’t have done this six weeks ago.

We found out bits ‘n bobs of information we didn’t know before – although surely no-one in their right mind thought the three mystery bidders would be unveiled.

However, those with an agenda other than simply putting Port Vale first were out in force.

Those pushing for Mo Chaudry to be the next owner of Port Vale seem appalled that any other bids are even being considered.

Some can’t understand why other potential bidders would want their identities to remain a secret.

I can. It’s common sense.

Unless they feel you have something to gain by revealing their name then why on earth would any individual or company out themselves at this stage?

Unless they are named as the preferred bidder there’s simply nothing in it for them – apart from aggravation and vilification by a small minority for whom it seems to be ‘Mo at any cost’.

I am not for or against any bid. Ultimately it’s not a decision for ordinary fans like me and we will have to back whoever comes in.

What’s more, if you’re a Vale supporter who has lambasted the previous regime for ignoring offers to buy the club you can’t now start castigating the administrators for considering all legitimate offers.

There was also anger at the fans’ forum over the £1 increase on match day admissions.

Let’s be honest and say that £22.50 is an awful lot of money to pay to watch League Two football. Truth be told, what is served up sometimes is worth a tenner at most.

However, the commercial reality is that Port Vale is a business struggling to balance its books – particularly with such poor crowds at present – and if a new owner thinks admission prices are too steep then they can always be changed.

Right now Port Vale needs every fan to stop moaning, set aside personal agendas and get behind the team and the club as a whole.

We’re not safe yet and, at this stage, surely nothing else matters.

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

How on earth did Port Vale end up in this sorry mess?

It began with a dream and ended with a nightmare.
It started with a vision of a fan-run club – never again to be at the whim of a sole owner in the mould of Chairman Bill Bell.
It finished with a small band of desperate, embattled men who are now, unquestionably, more unpopular and reviled than the aforementioned Bell ever was.
Today, as Port Vale stands on the precipice, we can all be forgiven for asking how and where did it all go wrong?
The answer is complex – a series of near-misses, “what ifs” and “what are the odds?”
However, it can be boiled down to attempts by a small group of individuals to defy the will of the majority of their customers: The supporters and shareholders of Port Vale – the lifeblood of the club.
Over time the “For Us All” motto somehow got lost in translation to be replaced by ‘For a few of us who know better than the rest (and have put more money in).’
Let’s not forget, there was a honeymoon period: A period of grace for the Valiant 2001 regime where the future looked rosy.
We wondered how the club could fail with heroes like Martin Foyle, Dean Glover and Andy Porter around the place to guide the team like echoes of past glories.
Chairman Bill Bratt was a man of integrity. He was the man who had given up his business to save the club he loved and could often be found painting dressing rooms or building something: Mucking in to help the Vale – a club he’d supported, man and boy, for 50-odd years.
Good old Bill. He and his fellow directors didn’t have sackfuls of cash, but they would work hard to get us some investment.
More importantly they cared – just like the supporters – because they were fans themselves.
Bridges were built with everyone from the police to the city council, who had previously been viewed as hugely pro-Stoke City.
Things were looking up. So much so that the authority loaned Vale £2.25m to help towards the creation of business and enterprise units and a children’s centre.
Vale was suddenly a thriving hub of the community – and not just on match days.
Over time, however, a pattern began to emerge. Promised investment never quite materialised. It was always just over the horizon.
Potential investors were ignored or dismissed as chancers, property developers or “total fantasists”, as I was once told.
Fans and shareholders were told that none of these individuals or groups were right for our club. Not the Texans, not Mike Newton – nor anyone else for that matter.
Meanwhile, the millions promised by overseas property firm Harlequin never arrived.
Instead, we ended up with a new shirt sponsor and a few too many people with dodgy Southern accents wandering around Vale Park as if they owned the place.
Managers came and went – Foyle, Glover and Lee Sinnott paying the price for failure and soaking up some of the growing resentment fans felt towards a board seemingly taking the club nowhere.
However, Micky Adams then arrived and suddenly there were flashes of the Vale of old. Cup victories and a genuine shot at promotion seemed to be looming.
But in December 2010, the landscape changed…
Gary Speed took the Wales job and Adams was tempted away by the prospect of managing Sheffield United – the hometown club he had supported as a boy.
That was Christmas ruined, then… followed by the remainder of the season courtesy of the car crash that was Jim Gannon’s reign.
Still, better news was that Mo Chaudry was on the scene and he was offering to buy a controlling 51 per cent interest in the Vale.

Here was a local businessman, with plenty to lose, stepping up to the plate.
When his bid was also dismissed out of hand, it was the signal for disgruntled fans’ groups to rally to his banner.
The Black & Gold Until Sold group, North London Valiants (NLV) and Starve ’Em Out – fans who felt so disenfranchised they were making the ultimate sacrifice by staying away from their club – got behind the owner of the Waterworld leisure complex.
It seemed almost inevitable that Chaudry would win his fight and that the old guard would be swept aside at an EGM convened by NLV members.
But last-minute horse-trading meant three members of the board – Bratt and his fellow directors Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver – survived by the skin of their teeth. Vice-chairman Peter Jackson and Stan Meigh weren’t so lucky.
Three had lived to fight another day but, in truth, Valiant 2001 were finished – five blokes with more money invested in the club having stood against the wishes of the vast majority of their fellow shareholders.
Adams returned from the Steel City and took the squad on a pre-season tour to the United States and Canada courtesy of the board’s latest beau – American artificial turf manufacturer Ameriturf, whose investment in Vale was sold to fans as being worth £1.6m.
How strange then that when the players returned with a tan, the deal had changed – and Bratt was on his way out.
In fact, the deal had morphed beyond all recognition into an £8m investment with a different U.S. sports turf company, Blue Sky International.
If it sounded too good to be true, it was, and ultimately the exposure of the “Pie In The Sky” deal and all of its associated pitfalls in early December was ultimately to prove the final nail in the coffin of a board now comprising Lloyd, Oliver, the club’s newly-appointed chief executive Perry Deakin… and Peter Miller, the man who had supposedly brokered the Blue Sky deal in return for Bratt’s departure from the club.
Their credibility with the fans was shot. Who was going to invest now in a regime which was running out of money, ideas and time?
The answer, of course, was no-one.
Blue Sky boss Hank Julicher, never one to mince his words, was right to ask Miller: “Where’s the beef, baby?”
In other words, where was the money for all these schemes we Vale fans were promised – like the Robbie Williams’ suite?
The answer, of course, is that there wasn’t any money. All of us, the fans, the shareholders and club staff had been led up the garden path by a regime seemingly driven entirely by self-interest.
You can’t issue ‘nil-paid’ shares worth £500,000 and then use them to help vote yourselves on to the board when you haven’t put a bean into the club.
You can’t expect supporters in a low-wage area like Stoke-on-Trent – some of whom have invested their life-savings into Port Vale – to swallow the news that the chairman of their cash-strapped League Two club is being paid a small fortune for a previously unpaid figurehead role.
You can’t re-mortgage Vale Park under the noses of fans to some random firm in Gibraltar and expect the major creditor – the city council – to once again turn a blind eye to the fact the club had breached the terms of its loan agreement.
You can’t stop paying your suppliers, the tax man… or your own staff, for that matter.
The sad truth is that all of this could and should have been avoided.
Back on December 1, as a representative of Port Vale Supporters’ Club, I presented Deakin and Miller with a list of questions given to us by concerned fans.
They were never answered. Subsequently, the board cut off all communications with fans, treated the media with contempt, and created numerous smokescreens to hide their own incompetence.
None of it mattered, of course, because they made one simple mistake: They disenfranchised the most important people to any football club – its supporters. In doing so, they forgot Port Vale’s raison d’être.
Now, it seems the club’s fate rests in the hands of the city council, who will decide whether or not to place the club into administration, or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – a body not known for going easy on football clubs who fail to pay their tax bills.
The local authority can’t win, of course, but councillors know full well just how important Port Vale is to this city, so that remains a cause for optimism.
But it is one that must be tempered by the knowledge the taxman is unlikely to be as sympathetic.
With that in mind, I think it is worth Vale fans remembering something the late, great Roy Sproson once said: “At the time, we did not know what it was like to lose and the thought never occurred to us. We were convinced, in fact, that we could not be beaten.”
Amen to that.