Lessons mustn’t be forgotten: Here’s to a brighter future for Port Vale

The waiting has, at times, been excruciating. If I had a quid for every time someone had asked me when Port Vale would be able to move forward under a new owner I would, by now, have enough money for… well, a season ticket at least.

First there was the placing of the club into administration and the 10-point deduction which wrecked Vale’s chances of making the play-offs.

Then there was the heartbreak of redundancies and the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of shares owned by ordinary supporters.

Next we crossed our fingers and hoped the city council would underwrite the costs of the administration process – rather liquidating the club.

After that there was the lottery of Port Vale being up for sale which left us hoping that whoever came in had the club’s best interests at heart and wasn’t just out to make a quick buck – like some of the previous incumbents.

All the while, Vale’s long-suffering fans have watched, powerless, as some of the club’s better players have moved on to pastures new during the transfer embargo.

Thankfully, if all goes according to plan Lancashire businessman Keith Ryder will this week finally be given the necessary Football League approval to take control of the Burslem club.

It has been a long and tortuous road for Vale’s employees and supporters alike and, even now, I’m pretty sure most people don’t realise just how close the club came to oblivion earlier this year.

What went on at Vale Park over the last couple of years must never be forgotten.

Now the dust has settled, it is a tale so utterly bizarre and convoluted that when retold it stretches credulity.

It is the story of how the self-interest and bloody-mindedness of a handful of individuals brought a business to its knees.

It is a salutary lesson in economics and public relations for all who follow the likes of Bill Bratt, Glenn Oliver, Peter Jackson, Graham Mudie, Mike Lloyd, Perry Deakin and Peter Miller.

In layman’s terms, the customer is king and you neglect him or her at your peril when running a football club.

Any owner of a football club has to realise that they are simply the privileged custodian of something which, hopefully, will carry on long after they have shuffled off their mortal coil.

When the mismanagement of the previous boards of directors was exposed for all to see it made Port Vale a laughing stock.

At times, certainly when I was writing stories in November and December of last year, it felt like an episode of Only Fools and Horses – only less believable…

*We had the issuing of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of ‘nil-paid’ shares;

*We had people using those shares to vote themselves on to the board of directors;

*There was a fantasy deal with a U.S. sports pitch firm which was never what it had been cracked up to be;

*We had the family of Vale’s greatest servant snubbed over the unveiling of a statue in his memory;

*We had fans locked out of their own pub out of spite;

*We found out the Chairman was being paid an offensive amount of money for a previously-unpaid figurehead role;

*We had a manager promised a January transfer window war chest which never existed;

*We had Annual General Meetings postponed time and time again because the club’s accounts were in such a state;

*We were promised a fantastic new Robbie Williams Suite in the Lorne Street Stand which never materialised;

*We had the ludicrous situation of fans’ car registrations being noted down by security guards drafted in to keep those nasty, trouble-making customers away from senior club officials;

*We had supporters being fed lies and misinformation on an almost daily basis;

*And, finally, the absolute nadir – we learned of the remortgaging of Vale Park.

Even now many Vale fans cannot agree on who was to blame for what and cannot forgive some of what went on during what was akin to a civil war.

Back in March when I was rattling a collection bucket at the top turnstile in Bycars End a supporter came up to me.

“Would you like to donate to the hardship fund?”, I asked.

“You must be joking,” he spat. “You’re the reason we’re in this mess and not in the play-offs.”

He’s entitled to his opinion, of course.

I, for one, am very grateful that ordinary supporters at Port Vale rose up against the self-serving few who were pillaging our club and treating its customers with contempt.

I am glad of the petitions, the demonstrations, the red card protest and the stay-away fans who defeated the contemptible directors.

No-one in their right mind wanted administration but many realised it was the only way Port Vale could have a future.

Hopefully, that future begins this week with a completed takeover, an influx of new signings and a spike in the number of season tickets sold.

There are now no reasons for Vale fans not to support their club.

I believe there’s plenty of room in Stoke-on-Trent for two successful professional football teams – whatever level they may play at.

Long may that be the case.

Up the Vale!

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

It’s only right we ask questions of this dream investment in Vale

The charm offensive continued this week with Vale Chief Executive Perry Deakin’s first live web chat.
If only through its own website, the club seems to be attempting to engage with supporters in a manner and on a scale not seen before.
Of course, not everyone would have been online and available to take part in a web chat at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
I suppose it is a start, however. The first step, one would hope, towards developing a genuine dialogue with ordinary fans who for so long have been treated with contempt by those in charge of the club.
The next step ought to be an open meeting with supporters at the Vale where Perry Deakin and Mike Lloyd make themselves available in the flesh to outline their vision with regards the largest investment in the club’s history.
I’ve been criticised for being too negative in recent weeks towards to the Blue Sky investment and the Vale board.
On the contrary, I think the deal sounds fantastic and if £8 million does indeed come to the club over the next few years as a result of the recent trip to the States then I’ll be as delighted as the next man.
Finishing off the Lorne Street stand, completing the Robbie Williams Suite – this is stuff we’ve been banging on about for years so it’s all good.
But I make no apologies for not yet putting the bunting up.
After all, large carrots have been dangled before – just think Harlequin and Ameriturf – only to never materialise.
Last night it was announced that £400,000 of new shares had been purchased in the club by Blue Sky and Perry Deakin’s contact Peter Miller.
I’m sure we are now all looking forward to the remainder of the investment that has been promised.
However, in spite of the lengthy question and answer session via the club’s website, I think there is still much we don’t know about the proposed Blue Sky deal.
For example:
What exactly are these ‘community outreach facilities’ which £2.5 million will be spent on and what is the timescale for this part of the deal?
This isn’t me being negative. This is me asking the kind of questions other Vale fans are and should be asking.
I am sure Chairman Mike Lloyd is only too aware that he we have been down this road before and the proof of the pudding with regard to any investment is in the eating.
At this juncture, it is worth taking stock of just what has been accomplished in the last couple of years through the efforts of ordinary fans and shareholders.
As a result of the work of Black and Gold, Starve ’Em Out and North London Valiants, among others, the old guard has been ousted.
Stan Meigh and Peter Jackson have been removed from the board. Bill Bratt and Glenn Oliver will soon be gone.
The fear among some supporters, however, is that the while some of the faces at the top may have changed, the club’s modus operandi remains the same.
Only time will tell and it’s only fair that those currently running the Vale are given the chance to prove themselves.
If nothing else, we will know within 12 months whether or not the Blue Sky deal they’ve negotiated is all it’s cracked up to be.
Meanwhile, it is looking increasingly like the shareholders’ choice from June’s EGM – Mark Sims – will not be taking up a director’s seat.
If that is the case then, perhaps with the help of the Supporters’ Club, Port Vale could look to accommodating the Robbie Williams’ proxy shareholding in another way.
How about removing the obstacle of a director’s financial liabilities and allowing a supporter-elected director on to the board with full rights and privileges?
I can’t think of a better way of showing that the new regime is serious about consulting with the fanbase, healing the rift between supporters and demonstrating the kind of transparency we would all wish to see.

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.