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.

It’s just a matter of time until board are ousted

I’ve never protested against anything in my life. I’ve covered more demonstrations and marches than I care to remember but I’ve never taken part in one.

However, tomorrow I’ll be joining the hundreds of Vale fans who will be giving a very public show of disapproval against the club’s board of directors for their reprehensible conduct in recent months.

So sick am I of the misleading information, the broken promises, the factual innaccuracies, the smoke and mirrors and the failure to hit deadlines that I am taking a stand.

So appalled am I by the fact that the chairman is receiving an eye-watering salary and benefits while the club apparently cannot afford to feed VIP guests at the unveiling of the Roy Sproson statue that I feel duty bound to take action.

Many supporters won’t join the protest – irrespective of their views on recent revelations.

They may well be horrified at Peter Miller’s remuneration package and the fact that the chairman and chief executive were elected to the board by stealth through the use of ‘nil paid’ shares.

I suspect they are feeling just as let down as I am over the Blue Sky fiasco – having been promised a multi-million pound investment which never was.

However, some supporters will just want to watch the game tomorrow because they don’t wish to get involved in the club’s politics or are too embarrassed to be associated with any public protest.

All I would ask of these fans is that they respect the actions of volunteers and fellow Vale supporters who are motivated enough to stand in the cold and show their feelings.

The chairman has dismissed our concerns about the club’s finances and the issuing of shares and ignored our incredulity at the fact that the Blue Sky deal is dead and was never what it was cracked up to be anyhow.

At the same time, Messrs Miller and Deakin are refusing to answer questions posed by The Sentinel and the Supporters’ Club – preferring instead to play semantics and attempt to butter-up shareholders.

The fact is they know the game is up. They have been rumbled. It matters not whether they demonstrate that they have borrowed a few hundred grand off someone and stuck it into the Vale. Their credibility is shot. Fans and shareholders don’t believe what they say anymore.

Whatever Mr Miller claims to have put into the club since he was elected to the board, the fact is he will be taking more out in salary and perks within the first two years of his contract.

My message to Messrs Miller and Deakin – and the equally culpable Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver – is simple: Go now because it is just a matter of time before you are removed from office.

All the fans’ groups – Black and Gold, the North London Valiants and Starve ‘Em Out – are united under the umbrella of the Supporters’ Club which is now calling for an EGM with the specific aim of getting shot of directors who have proven to be totally self-serving.

I can assure Mr Miller that it isn’t just ‘two people who don’t have all the information’ who are demanding that he and his fellow directors to step down.

I have not spoken to single Vale fan who believes the board’s spin or who wants these people in charge of our club for a minute longer.

What a shame it is that, in fighting so hard to prevent local businessman Mo Chaudry from taking over the club ‘on the cheap’, the previous regime have actually handed the keys to people whom I believe have put the Vale in an even worse position than it was six months ago.

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

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.

Vale board’s hollow offer exposed. No great surprise then…

Well, I’m disappointed but not in any way surprised.
When North London Valiants were offered a seat on the Vale board after the EGM I smelled a rat and said as much on this blog.
I couldn’t quite get my head around how it would work. For starters, I couldn’t see how NLV could have a seat on the board without the backing of a single sponsor with 50,000 shares behind him.
You certainly would have got long odds on the only man who could have sponsored them – Peter Jackson – swallowing his pride and putting the fans first.
It always seemed like a hollow offer to me because I didn’t think the board could or would deliver on it.
I always felt it was a sop to the supporters in the wake of an EGM at which the board lost the moral authority to run our club.
Perhaps the directors thought supporters could be hoodwinked into buying season tickets on the basis that they thought they would have a voice in the board room.
NLV say they were told the shareholders’ board representative would require new investment of £50,000.
Why should this be the case? If the directors were serious about having a fans’ representative on the board then they could have allowed the pooling of existing shares to pave the way.
The NLV statement claims one director stated during discussions that the fans have ‘never had it so good’ as they do now.
I beg to differ. In contrast, I dare say we’ve never been so divided and unhappy.
Where is the vision to unite the supporter-base? Where is the acknowledgment that the vast majority of shareholders don’t want the current directors anymore? Where is the investment required to get us up the leagues?
In the same way that the directors have continued to frustrate Mark Sims’ attempts to join the board, they have given with one hand and taken away with the other with regard to NLV.
They have demonstrated beyond doubt that they have no real interest in engaging with ordinary supporters. You’re OK so long as you toe the line, pay your money and show up.
God forbid you actually criticise the current regime or have any aspiration beyond League Two mediocrity and hopes pinned on a decent cup run.
I will back the lads 100 per cent from August 6 and I won’t be falling out with Vale fans whose opinions differ from mine.
But neither will I stop banging the drum for real change which removes self-service and nepotism Port Vale Football Club.
Black and Gold, NLV and Starve ‘Em Out won’t go away. Neither will I.
We have to believe that democracy will prevail despite the head in the sand attitude of a board which has run out of places to hide.

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…