Some football fans have short memories…

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Football managers are a funny breed. Perhaps it’s the nature of a job where the casualty rate, for want of a better phrase, is so high.

Perhaps it’s the fact that they have to deal with big personalities in the changing room.

Perhaps it’s because they come under constant scrutiny from the media – and now fans in this digital age.

Or, perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above which makes them such unusual, fragile and frustrating creatures.

During the last 25 years I’ve met quite a few and I can honestly say that only a handful would be on my Christmas card list.

Many have huge egos and seemingly low self-esteem. Some are just plain rude – wandering into rooms and talking over people. Others simply can’t take criticism and are prickly to the point that they are an interviewer’s nightmare.

A handful of those I’ve had dealings with, however, are proper gentlemen who always had time for the Press and supporters alike.

Former Stoke City manager Lou Macari falls into this bracket – as does, of course, Vale legend John Rudge.

No matter what was going on at their respective clubs they always treated people with respect and in return earned the admiration of media professionals and supporters alike.

Joe Royle is another. I remember one wet night at Vale Park in the early 90s when his Oldham side had just beaten Rudgie’s lads.

As a cub reporter I was covering the game for the national and local press and – having filed one of my match reports – saw, to my horror, the Oldham team bus pulling away.

Needing quotes from Joe, I ran after it, flagged the vehicle down and the driver opened up the door.

He didn’t look too friendly, to be honest, but I asked if the manager was able to spare me two minutes.

‘Come up lad, you’ll catch your death of cold out there,’ said Royle – his head appearing at the top of the steps.

He sat me down, gave me a coffee and made the bus driver wait for five minutes while I conducted my interview.

This was such a rare, kind gesture by a football manager that it has stuck with me for more than 20 years.

My team may have been beaten that night but Joe Royle was gracious in victory and it’s remarkable how that can dilute a fan’s disappointment.

Football managers will always divide opinions – in the same way the word ‘fickle’ will always be inextricably linked with the words ‘football fans’.

Managers can go from hero to zero, and vice versa, in an incredibly short space of time.

For example, turn the clock back a couple of months and you’d struggle to find many Stoke City fans brave enough to leap to the defence of Mark Hughes.

Many were calling for him to be sacked, some were doing the ‘I told you so’ routine and bemoaning the departure of Tony Pulis.

But chairman Peter Coates – not known for his lack of conviction – wasn’t to be swayed.

I spoke to him after Stoke had beaten Aston Villa at the Brit just a few days before Christmas and asked him how Mark Hughes was doing.

‘Oh he’ll be fine,’ said the chairman, sagely. ‘These things take time.’

He was right, of course, and as I write this column the Stoke manager’s stock has never been higher among Potters fans who can now see exactly what he’s trying to do with his players – many of whom had previously been square pegs put into round holes.

As for the supporters, let’s just say that some of my Stoke City fan friends who were calling for Mark Hughes’s head on social media in December and January have changed their tune and are now denying they ever held such views.

Over at Vale Park, however, the reverse has happened. Micky Adams – who led Vale from administration to promotion in a remarkable season last year is suddenly being portrayed as the devil incarnate in some quarters.

Despite what many observers would consider to be a decent first season in a higher league – with Vale sitting mid-table – his future is uncertain.

After being on the receiving end of what he termed ‘disgusting abuse’ from a small group of supporters on Tuesday night following a calamitous away defeat at Bristol City, Adams said he was considering his future at the club.

This has sparked a huge reaction from fans – with many pleading for the manager to stay on at Vale and others saying they aren’t bothered if he leaves or even urging him to go.

After paying their money to travel an awful long way – only to watch their team put in an embarrassing performance – it’s easy to understand the anger of Vale supporters who made the trip.

The truth is Micky is a canny operator and knows exactly how to play the fans and the media.

This has led to accusations from some quarters that he is simply ‘posturing’ as the season draws to a close ahead of contracts talks with Vale’s owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Personally, I think we Vale fans need to be careful what we wish for.

Micky and I have fallen out on a number of occasions but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what he’s done for the Vale.

As with any club, sometimes Vale supporters have short memories.

Lest we forget Micky Adams pulled together a squad on a shoe-string budget while the club was in administration and guided the team to promotion.

This season, Vale were ninth in January and handily placed for an unlikely play-offs push but the manager wasn’t allowed to bring in the players he wanted.

Since then Vale’s form has been patchy, to say the least – which has coincided with the chairman espousing his views that the club isn’t ready for Championship football – and a mid-table finish is now on the cards.

To be fair, I – and I think most Vale fans – would have taken a mid-table finish at the start of the season.

Forget Tuesday night. Forget the knee-jerk reactions. I think Micky Adams is doing a terrific job at Port Vale.

I personally would be sad to see the best manager since John Rudge leave.

But, let’s be clear: If he does leave at the end of the season it won’t simply be because of a row with a small minority of supporters this week.

He will leave because of the farcical contracts situation which have left him and some of the club’s key players in limbo. He will leave because his position has been undermined on several occasions by ill-timed and ill-advised comments from the chairman.

He will leave because he will be offered what I think he considers to be a ‘relegation’ budget to work with.

No manager, player or owner for that matter, is bigger than a football club.

But, as Tom Pope said yesterday, I hope Micky Adams does stay at Vale and I honestly think he deserves a bit more respect for what he has achieved.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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My hopes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014

Frankie Allen with her mum Karen and Vale legend Peter Swan.

Frankie Allen with her mum Karen and Vale legend Peter Swan.

As we approach December 31, it’s a time to reflect but also to look forward to what 2014 may bring.

Top of my wish list for the New Year is a hope that a little girl from Burslem will move further down the road to recovery.

I’ve not met Francesca Allen but I’m one of the hundreds of people locally who’s done a little bit of fund-raising for her.

In August she was diagnosed with leukaemia and since then her courage and beautiful smile have inspired many of us.

Whatever 2014 brings, let’s hope it is a happier and healthier one for a three-year-old who has touched the hearts of people across the Potteries.

In February pop superstar Robbie Williams turns 40 and here in his home city we’re having a bit of a do to celebrate.

RWFanFest is a month-long festival which honours the achievements of Britain’s top-selling music artist and someone who has given £5 million of his own money away to worthy causes here in North Staffordshire.

There’ll be an exhibition of never-before-seen memorabilia and photographs at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley, a charity gig in aid of the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice, a fans’ art exhibition at Burslem School of Art and bus tours around the ‘Robbie trail’.

That’s not all. Expect a lot more too as Stoke-on-Trent finally embraces its celebrity son. Watch this space…

This year Sentinel readers campaigned hard to help save the name of their local regiment.

The Staffords, or 3Mercian as they are now known, had been under threat from Ministry of Defence cutbacks.

But a 17,000-strong petition taken to 10 Downing Street showed the strength of feeling locally and Army top brass gave a commitment to preserve the name.

Our boys are currently on active service out in Afghanistan so spare a thought for them as you tuck into your left-over turkey and mince pies.

Here’s hoping they can complete their final tour as 3Mercian successfully and ALL return home to their loved ones safely.

Sticking with the military theme, 2014 promises to be a big year for commemorating conflicts.

It marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War and events and initiatives are being planned all over the country.

The Sentinel has a number of special supplements planned – including the re-publishing of interviews with First World War veterans as well as letters from The Front.

We will also be working with a variety of organisations to ensure that the county’s rich military heritage is celebrated.

On that note, June marks 70 years since D-Day and world leaders, veterans and tourists will gather in Normandy to pay tribute to the fallen of arguably the greatest invasion the world has ever seen.

The Sentinel has interviewed surviving veterans from all three branches of the services – both for the newspaper and on film for our website – and will be producing a souvenir pull-out to coincide with the anniversary.

Regular readers of this column will know I’m a big believer in celebrating our heritage and so I’ll be supporting Fenton residents in their campaign to save Fenton Town Hall and its unique Great War Memorial.

The fight has already received the backing of celebrities including Stephen Fry, and thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the building to be returned to public ownership rather than sold off to a private buyer by the Ministry of Justice.

Let’s hope justice prevails and the people of Fenton are allowed to retain this civic gem in 2014.

I’ll also be doing my bit in the New Year to help raise the profile of RW388.

That’s the serial number of the city’s Mark XVI Spitfire, housed in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, which is in urgent need of some tender loving care.

Here in the birthplace of its designer Reginald Mitchell, I think it’s vital we do all we can to help restore and conserve this wonderful aircraft for future generations.

Expect plenty of coverage of the battle to save RW388 in The Sentinel and, if you want to make a contribution, you can pick up a copy of a fund-raising Spitfire calendar comprising terrific archive photographs from our reception, priced at £7.99.

If you do pop up to Hanley you’ll notice that work on the much-maligned Central Business District continues apace.

Given that I can’t see the powers-that-be at the council changing their mind about plans for the city centre, I just hope the CBD progresses quickly and there is movement on the long-awaited City Sentral shopping development.

I’m not holding my breath for the latter, given the delays and curious lack of communication from the developers but perhaps we will see a scaled-down version of the original plans. Anything would be better than nothing at this stage.

Turning to sport, I’d like to wish Peter Coates and Stoke City all the best for the remainder of the season.

Potters manager Mark Hughes is lucky to have such a passionate and reasonable bloke at the helm – one who will give him the time and resources to mould his own team in the hope of taking them to the next level.

Meanwhile, at my beloved Port Vale my only wish is for a period of stability – or rather, an end to any financial uncertainty.

Fingers crossed Micky Adams signs a new deal, anyone who is owed any money by the club gets paid, and Vale fans are given closure with regard to the activities of certain individuals who brought the club to its knees in 2012.

I know I speak for The Sentinel when I wish chairman Norman Smurthwaite and his team all the best for a successful and prosperous 2014 – hopefully free of media bans and full of goodwill to all fans… and journalists.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

The city’s football clubs need their fans now – for very different reasons

Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite celebrates the 7 - 1 home win over Burton Albion.

Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite celebrates the 7 – 1 home win over Burton Albion.

Turn the clock back 12 months and you would have been given very good odds on the current state of affairs at football clubs in The Sentinel’s patch.

Alternatively, you may have been sectioned for suggesting such things.

At the time Stoke City were heading for another comfortable, if unspectacular, mid-table finish in the Premier League.

The icing on the cake was that Potters fans had enjoyed a Europa League adventure courtesy of the previous season’s heroics in reaching the FA Cup Final.

The football may not have been pretty at times but pundits were describing Stoke as an established Premier League team.

Such was his relationship with owner Peter Coates, it seemed that only an unthinkable fall from grace would place Tony Pulis’s position as manager in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, over in the Mother Town, things were looking grim for the Potteries’ other professional club.

In administration for a second time in 13 years, players and staff at the club were going unpaid and Micky Adams’s team were set to miss out on promotion thanks to a 10-point deduction inflicted by the Football League.

To this day, very few people realise just how close Port Vale came to oblivion which makes the events of recent months such a blessed relief for me.

The renaissance began with the (second) takeover announcement which was followed quickly by the long-awaited unveiling of the statue to the club’s greatest servant – Roy Sproson – funded entirely by Vale fans.

Perhaps a little bit of Sproson magic has rubbed off on the current squad because what has happened since has been nothing short of incredible.

Nobody, including Tom Pope himself, would have dared suggest that a bloke from Sneyd Green, a life-long Vale fan at that, would become only the third player since the war to score more than 30 goals for one of the Potteries clubs.

No-one who followed the Vale, least of all me, would have predicted that a squad mainly comprising free transfers was capable of challenging for automatic promotion.

Of course, the season’s story isn’t yet complete and I, for one, won’t be counting any chickens until it is mathematically impossible for Vale to cock it up.

However, the Lazarus-like revival of the club in the north of the city will, I trust, give some hope to our cousins down the A500 as they face a daunting six games to stave off relegation.

I mean it most sincerely when I say that I hope Stoke City get the points they need to survive in the Premier League.

It’s good for the city’s profile that they’re up there and it’s good for my long-suffering Stoke fan mates who remember only too well third tier football and attendances of less than half what they get nowadays.

The truth is I’ve mellowed. Perhaps it is the events of recent years have changed my perspective on things.

Yes, If Vale were playing Stoke in the cup tomorrow It goes without saying that I’d want Vale to murder them.

But right now the two clubs are poles apart – so much so that Stoke City aren’t on the radar of most Vale fans and vice versa.

Yes, there are some supporters on both sides who would be only too happy to see the other club go out of business.

Honestly, there are.

But I’m not one of them. Apart from anything else, I thoroughly enjoyed the Vale/Stoke derbies and would love to see them return some day.

I genuinely believe there’s room in this city for two successful professional football clubs.

I appreciate the fact that last Friday night, when cheap admission prices swelled Vale’s attendance to almost 11,000 for the first time in years, there were a number of Stokies in that crowd.

I also recall during the dark days of last March, April and May how some Stoke City fans attended games and gave generously to the Save The Vale collection buckets.

Stoke’s current crisis – one win in 13 games and the serious risk of being dragged into a relegation scrap – is one of a footballing nature. One that two wins would sort out.

However, as we know, the financial implications of dropping out of the top flight are enormous and everyone connected with Stoke City – from the owners to the fans in the cheapest seats – are feeling the strain right about now.

Tony Pulis – the man who got them into the Premier League and took them to their first FA Cup Final – is being almost universally vilified by fans on forums and radio station phone-ins.

Supporters have hesitated to renew their season tickets and Fortress Britannia suddenly seems far from impregnable.

The next few games will sort the wheat from the chaff and perhaps sort the hard-core of fans from the band-wagon jumpers of the last five years.

Both clubs need their supporters right now – for very different reasons.

I hope some of the 5,000 extras who turned up at Vale Park on Friday night will return to help usher in a successful new chapter in the club’s history.

I also hope Stoke City’s infamous twelfth man is enough to drag them over the line to safety.

Whether or not that will be enough to save the manager’s job remains to be seen.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

I don’t begrudge Stoke fans their Wembley trip

Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and give credit where credit is due. Sunday was such a day.
What I am about to write will see me slated in certain quarters – possibly even excommunicated.
Giving succour or praise to ‘the enemy’, as one Port Vale fan termed it in the wake of Stoke City’s FA Cup Semi-final heroics against Bolton, is considered by some in the wilder parts of Boslem to be an act of high treason.
They are no different to some Stoke fans who won’t rest until Vale Park is a car park.
Nonetheless, even I must take my black and white hat off to the red and white half of the city for a magnificent victory.
Well done Stoke City on reaching the final. I hope you now go on and win the Cup.
There. I’ve written it. That wasn’t so bad, actually.
You see, I can adopt this stance because I have plenty of mates who are genuine, long-suffering Stoke supporters and I wouldn’t dream of begrudging them their moment in the sun.
After all, I’m sure I can’t be the only Vale fan who fondly recalls passing under a bridge on the D-road on the way to the Autoglass Trophy Final at Wembley and spotting a group of Stoke fans with a banner wishing us all the best.
How times – and both clubs – have changed.
Certainly part of the reason I’m able to view Stoke’s achievement philosophically is that, as a middle-aged hack, I recognise it for what it is: a truly remarkable story.
In 1997, starved – as the club was – of success, you would have struggled to find many Potters fans who had a good word to say about the then chairman Peter Coates.
He stepped down with great dignity amid supporter protests and few would have dared predict him returning to the club he had supported since he was a boy.
However, having made a mint – and, no doubt, against the advice of some – he again invested in Stoke City and appointed a manager whom very few fans actually wanted.
Promotion to the top flight of English football ensued and now a place in the final of football’s oldest and grandest Cup competition.
A European adventure may follow.
What a tale. You couldn’t make it up. It’s Boy’s Own stuff, it really is.
Another reason that a Valeite like me can view Sunday’s result with a degree of objectivity is that I know that at least one of the teams that will contest the final won’t be from the ‘big four’.
I can’t abide the hype that surrounds our national game – particularly the big-money teams with their bone-head players who are fêted like rock stars.
Thus I take a crumb of comfort from knowing that, for once, average Joes from Stoke-on-Trent will be enjoying the Cup Final – rather than viewing it, as fans of some teams do, as a divine right and an annual day out.
Yes. I’ve heard all the well-rehearsed criticisms levelled at Stoke City by Vale fans jealous of the both the investment the club has enjoyed and the success it has bought. Criticisms such as:

  • Half the people who now go to the Britannia Stadium are ‘glory-hunters’ who only started supporting Stoke City when they made it into the Premier League.

(What did we expect? That’s the nature of sport – success attracts fresh interest)

  • Stoke have had an easy route to the final.

(Well, you can only beat the team put out in front of you)

The bottom line is that Stoke supporters are now reaping the benefits of a substantial cash investment by a bloke from Goldenhill who was prepared to stick his head in to the lion’s mouth for a second time.
A rare man indeed, Peter Coates brought in a good management team, enjoyed a slice or two of luck – which any team needs if they wish to ascend to the dizzy heights of regular Sky TV coverage – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The contrast with my own club couldn’t be more stark.
While Stoke have ascended, Vale have fallen and stagnated and I predict that the next three or four months will be crucial to my club’s very survival.
Yes, it really is that serious.
I have no problem congratulating Stoke because they are not Stevenage, Morecambe or Barnet – i.e. they no longer have a bearing on us.
The truth is it’s pretty grim being a Vale fan at the moment.
Through thick and thin, they say. Well this is decidedly anorexic, I can tell you.
Thus, I wish the Potters well.
Unless, of course, we draw Stoke City in the cup next season – in which case I will, of course, be hoping we stuff them.