Put our differences aside is the only thing that makes any sense

Norman Smurthwaite.

Norman Smurthwaite.

Just get it sorted. That seems to be the opinion of many level-headed Port Vale supporters as Norman Smurthwaite’s ban on The Sentinel continues.

Forget that respected football writers with a national profile have backed this newspaper.

Forget that the legend that is Robbie Earle thinks a football club banning its local paper is tantamount to self-harm.

I think a lot of Vale fans have taken the view that, whatever the rights and wrongs of this dispute, ultimately it is in the interests of both parties that we seek a speedy resolution.

They are absolutely correct which is why, behind the scenes, that is exactly what The Sentinel has been trying to do since last Friday.

We hoped this row would be resolved days ago and drafted a joint statement – as requested – in an attempt to overcome the impasse.

It seems that statement isn’t acceptable but, rather than having another go at it, we now have to wait until next Tuesday for a meeting – at which presumably we’ll go over the same old ground we did during this Tuesday’s negotiations.

Personally, I can live without it.

After everything that’s gone on during the last three or four years it breaks my heart to see Vale and the newspaper I work for falling out.

Or rather, the Vale owner and this newspaper falling out.

I guess you have to have lived through it – like all Vale supporters did – to appreciate the upheaval, uncertainty, anger and embarrassment at the time.

I certainly never want to go through anything like that again.

For the Vale owner to now fall out with the media organisation which best supported the fans and club during those troubled times seems utterly nonsensical to me.

It’s about 12 months ago to the day since I was on the car park at Vale Park in the pouring rain giving an interview to BBC Radio Stoke’s Stuart George on the breakfast programme.

I was still on the Port Vale Supporters’ Club committee at the time.

Vale was about to come out of administration and I got into an argument with a council taxpayer called Peter, from Trentham, who told me the club wasn’t worth saving and would be bust again with a year.

I told him Vale was worth saving, that the club was an essential part of the city’s heritage and that the new owners wouldn’t let it go bust.

Consequently, Peter – if you’re reading this – you owe me breakfast.

On that morning it occurred to me that the new owners had an opportunity perhaps unlike any previous chairman or chief executive to take over at Vale Park.

The club had no debts, the fans were united, Micky Adams’s team was performing terrifically well on the pitch, and the relationship between Port Vale and this newspaper was stronger than it had been at anytime during the 15 years I have worked here.

Since then our sports team has worked hard to promote the club – providing season ticket publicity and telling our readers about events and the new club shops.

I was given a personal guided tour around Vale Park by the chairman in July and wrote a very positive article for our pre-season supplement which talked up the changes taking place at Vale Park and emphasising Norman Smurthwaite’s hard work and investment.

We’ve also talked several times about problems and potential problems facing the club and I’ve done my best to help him make the club stronger. Furthermore, I’ve personally invited Norman to all of The Sentinel’s flagship community events – the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards, The Sentinel Business Awards and the recent Our Heroes Awards.

Why? Because he is an important figure in the local community and we want Port Vale to be represented at these dos which provide excellent networking opportunities.

All of this is true and the chairman knows it.

Yet here we are with the team sitting pretty in League One and in a decent run of form and the chairman and this newspaper are at loggerheads.

Over what? A perfectly legitimate story about a delay in the arrival of 1,000 shirts. (Friday’s phone message to me said the ban related to us running ‘negative stories about his club’).

Or possibly because, as the Editor was told, The Sentinel doesn’t make a direct financial contribution to the club in order to be able to cover matches (no newspaper in the UK does).

Or possibly because of the way we handled a story back in May. (The Vale chairman approved the contents of this story before it went to print and it hasn’t been brought up for five months or more).

Having devoted so much time, effort and resources to helping supporters win their battle to save Port Vale why would The Sentinel or I publish anything which we knew would harm the club and damage our relationship with the owner and the fans?

The answer is: We wouldn’t and we haven’t.

Whether you believe me or not, it is an indisputable fact that both Port Vale and The Sentinel working together is good for both the club and the newspaper and for the benefit of the city, local communities and, of course, the club’s commercial partners.

I don’t want our end of season special (hopefully a promotion special) to be canned because we have no photographs taken at home games. I’d like that Vale souvenir to put with all the others we do.

Neither do I want blank spaces or filler images in our match reports. I’d rather see a picture of a fellow Sneyd Greener celebrating his goals, thank you very much.

Neither do I want a nice bloke and a terrific sports writer like Michael Baggaley prevented from doing what he does best.

I can’t say it any clearer than this: We are ready to resolve this dispute for the good of all concerned but it really does take two to tango.

Let’s talk, put differences aside, and get back to the mutually beneficial relationship Vale and The Sentinel have been enjoying since Norman Smurthwaite took over the club.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Just look at what COULD happen in our neck of the woods in 2013

Port Vale striker Tom Pope is set for a big year in 2013.

Port Vale striker Tom Pope is set for a big year in 2013.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day and a New Year to boot.
As we shrug off the hangovers and stare balefully into the slate grey skies I, for one, am determined to be positive.
You know, I think 2013 might be alright if my crystal ball is anything to go by.
Here’s what COULD happen in the next 12 months…

*Stoke City qualify for the Europa League two months before the end of the season on account of not having lost a game at the Brit since 2003.
Sir Alex Ferguson gives Tony Pulis ‘the hairdryer’ for not having the decency to sell England defender Ryan Shawcross back to him – muttering something like: “He forgets all the favours I’ve done him” and mentions Stoke being “just a wee club in the Midlands”.
Potters striker Michael Owen then wins the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award. Like his three predecessors – Tony McCoy, Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins – Owen takes the crown after spending his entire sporting year sitting down. (Joke © The Sentinel’s Sportsdesk)
*Sir Alex Ferguson is left tearing what’s left of his hair out as Tom Pope turns down a multi-million pound move to Old Trafford as a like-for-like replacement for Wayne Rooney.
Explaining his decision to The Sentinel, the Pontiff – whose 40 goals fire Port Vale to automatic promotion – said: “What’s Salford Quays got that I conna get in Sneyd Green, youth?”
Port Vale Supporters’ Club begins fund-raising for a statue of Pope, scheduled to be completed to coincide with the 27-year-old’s 40th birthday celebrations.
Meanwhile, in honour of the Burslem club’s success, the city council lifts the ban on Vale players urinating in the bushes at Hanley Forest Park.
*In a bid to save money Stoke-on-Trent City Council ditches plans to relocate its Civic HQ from Stoke to Hanley in favour of a move to neighbouring Newcastle.
Explaining the decision, council leader Mohammed Pervez said most people considered Newcastle to be in the Potteries anyway, even it was “a bit posher”.
However, councillors in the Loyal and Ancient Borough start a petition against the proposals – barricading themselves into the Guildhall until those riff-raff have gone away.
*In an attempt to improve Stoke-on-Trent’s image in the wake of the disastrous BBC documentary The Year The Town Hall Shrank, council leader Mohammed Pervez agrees to star in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
After successfully completing several Bushtucker trials councillor Pervez is narrowly beaten into third place by the pretend opera singer off the Go Compare telly adverts and a kangaroo named Dave.
Mr Pervez, however, remains upbeat – claiming he has “put the city on the map” and reveals he has persuaded Ant and Dec to appear in The Regent Theatre’s pantomime.
*Buoyed by his appearance on ITV1, city council leader Mr Pervez unveils the authority’s latest cost-cutting initiatives.
These include only four out of five council workmen being allowed to loaf about for two hours at lunchtime.
*Staff at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery are put in celebratory mood once more following the discovery of a further 700 pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard in a field near Lichfield.
After farmer Fred Johnson ploughs the earth deeper than a Rory Delap throw-in, he churns up Excalibur, the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail as well as the missing tail fin from the city’s Spitfire RW388.
The museum’s Principal Collections Officer Deb Klemperer tells The Sentinel that experts hope to have worked out what the new finds actually are before she retires in 2050.
*Staffordshire’s new Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis unveils his radical new idea to solve the force’s acute staffing shortage.
After appointing his sixth deputy, Mr Ellis tells the media he will be handing out police uniforms to anyone who wants one, adding: “This is the Big Society in action. The genius of the idea is that the crims won’t know who’s a real copper and who isn’t.”
The Sentinel’s crime reporter thinks he’s joking until he hands her a canister of CS spray some flashing blue lights for her motor.
*Local radio stations run another story claiming The Sentinel is closing down.
The Sentinel’s Editor-in-Chief responds by publishing a 148-page supplement to mark the paper’s 148th anniversary – including all the stories the paper has beaten the radio stations to during the previous week.
*Developers of the new multi-million City Sentral retail complex on the site of the former Hanley Bus Station announce they have attracted another big name store to the development.
Poundland confirms it will be employing up to six part-time staff at its new superstore.
A spokesman for the shopping complex reveals the name is also to be changed after a huge public outcry because City Sentral is “clearly a bit daft”.
Expect the new Jonny Wilkes Centre to be open in
time for Christmas.
What are your hopes for 2013?

The Wonder of You: Victory and relief at last for Port Vale fans

When Norman Smurthwaite sent a text on Monday to say all was good and that the takeover of Port Vale would be completed the following day I felt an enormous sense of relief.

Yesterday marked the end of a very long and, at times, incredibly dark road for Port Vale, its staff and its long-suffering supporters.

For me, personally, the takeover means I can now step down from the Supporters’ Club (SC) committee knowing that we have achieved what we set out to achieve.

The self-interested few who were running Port Vale into the ground 12 months ago are history and will very soon be hearing from the liquidators of the old Valiant 2001.

Crucially, Port Vale is out of administration and under new ownership.

I’m proud to say that during the last 12 months the SC has grown in membership from 200 to more than 1,600.

And, after 11 years, the Sproson Statue is finally in-situ and looks magnificent.

It is about 18 months ago that I stumbled from the EGM, shell-shocked that the will of the vast majority of ordinary shareholders in Port Vale had been denied.

Hopefully, I’ve kept a promise to a supporter called Caroline who was standing outside on that day.

Fast forward a few months – December 1, 2011, to be precise. That’s when the SC committee members had their first spectacular falling out with Perry Deakin and Peter Miller.

What began as a cordial discussion descended into a slanging match when Messrs Miller and Deakin were presented with evidence of the issuing of half a million pounds worth nil paid shares.

Then they locked us out of Tommy Cheadle’s. The gloves were off.

What followed was several months of digging, arranging meetings, seeking legal advice and protests.

We exposed the fact the Blue Sky deal was dead and unearthed the sorry saga of the re-mortgaging of the club and the Gibraltar loan.

We even went as far as to create an interim board in preparation for a second EGM which never happened.

Of course, the SC was able to draw on a reservoir of goodwill formed by years of unhappiness and unrest.

It was able to bring together groups like North London Valiants, Black and Gold and the Starve ’Em Out campaign under one umbrella.

Let’s never forget it was these people who started the fight. They laid the foundations for change.

Ultimately, together, these groups and the SC were to prove an irresistible force – one which put paid to the likes of Miller and Deakin, Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver.

When the club went into administration earlier this year there was absolutely no guarantee that Port Vale would survive.

But thanks to the city council we were given a lifeline that we clung to for grim death.

Fans collected money in buckets, bought mugs and t-shirts and showed the local authority that they were right to help save our unique local heritage brand.

Then the Keith Ryder affair almost derailed everyone’s good work.

However, yesterday we crossed the finish line. Together.

I can’t give any guarantees about the future. Football is football. Owners and fans alike are fickle. Circumstances change. Players and managers come and go.

But I think Port Vale is now in a better position than it has been for many years and its success or otherwise is now down to the business people who run it – not the SC, not shareholders, not the administrators nor the cretins who used to be in charge.

Port Vale will be run by some blokes who know full well the importance of making it a customer-focused business.

Who knows, we may even have a shot at promotion this season with the Sneyd Green Pontiff leading the line. At least now we can focus on what’s happening on the pitch rather than off it.

During the last 12 months I have fallen out with everyone: My colleagues at The Sentinel; my friends on the Supporters’ Club committee; various bidders; the administrators and even club staff.

My friends and I on the SC committee have been called all the names under the sun by keyboard warriors who haven’t been prepared to say it to our faces or lift a finger to help.

They include supporters of failed bidders for the club, former club staff, former directors and even disgruntled ex-SC committee members.

Some people still maintain we were wrong to campaign for change. Some people will never admit when they’re wrong.

I’ve witnessed unbelievable self-interest from people who really ought to have known better.

I’ve been abused while collecting money in a bucket at the Bycars turnstiles and on The Sentinel’s website by some wag who now refers to me as ‘the mob’s favourite journalist’.

How my gaffer must love that. Not.

Frankly, being involved with Port Vale Supporters’ Club has been a thankless task.

We’ve often doubted ourselves. There have been countless hours spent on the telephone and in meetings. Many a sleepless night because of what we’ve learned.

We’ve been party to discussions which have left us genuinely gobsmacked and been given information which has been dynamite. Much of it still is.

But we’ve only ever acted in what we consider to be the best interests of the club. That is the truth.

Just ask the administrators or Norman Smurthwaite if you don’t believe me. Just ask Phil Sproson and the wider Sproson family.

There’s a book in this and one day soon, perhaps, I will sit down with Gary Benson and write it.

Or maybe not.

Again, it depends what’s in the best interests of Port Vale and, sometimes – as we have learned, it’s better not to rock the boat.

It has been a privilege working with Gary and Pete Williams, my other colleagues on the SC committee and our solicitor Stephen Inglis.

It has also been a genuine pleasure to meet so many decent, honest and passionate Port Vale fans – many of whom I’m now proud to call friends.

Whatever the future holds I’m confident that Vale will be alright precisely because of people like Gary and Pete and the hundreds more who have fought this fight with us.

Today we can all be proud. Now we really can look forward and not backwards.

We’re Vale, aren’t we?

A cautious welcome to Vale’s (new) preferred bidders


This time there will be no counting of chickens. The champagne will remain well and truly on ice for several months yet and that is no bad thing.

Today’s public confirmation of Paul Wildes and his business partner Norman Smurthwaite as the new preferred bidders for Port Vale Football Club is, however, a welcome step in the right direction.

Whether or not the deal will actually happen and whether or not Mr Wildes and Mr Smurthwaite have the money to lead the troubled League Two club into a bright new era remains to be seen.

They’ve certainly got their work cut out to win over a fanbase which has been lied to, misled and spectacularly let down in the last few years.

After the previous anointed one, Lancashire businessman Keith Ryder, did a Lord Lucan there was a lot of head-scratching and a good deal of finger-pointing.

A minority of Vale fans blamed the administrators and the Supporters’ Club for being ‘taken-in’ by Ryder.

In fact, Bob Young from administrators Begbies Traynor, subsequently admitted that he had perhaps given the first preferred bidder too much time to come up with the cash.

But hindsight is a wonderful thing and, in fairness to the administrators and the Supporters’ Club, no-one can deny that Ryder had given every indication he wanted to do the deal.

After all, why would he give up his non-refundable deposit of £60,000, and shell out tens of thousands of pounds more in paying for things like half of the monthly wages bill if he didn’t intend to go through with the takeover?

I met Keith Ryder privately three times and found him to be a perfectly decent, plausible and candid bloke.

As did the vast majority of the 500 plus Vale supporters who listened to him speak at a fans’ forum event.

Yes, I had my reservations about a man who didn’t seem to exist on the internet and who didn’t have what I would call ‘a proper job’.

But despite what conspiracy theorists and know-it-alls might say after the event, there really was nothing to indicate that Ryder would do an 11th-hour vanishing act.

The lesson that many of us have learned by closely following the Port Vale saga is that football clubs tend to attract opportunists, egos and eccentrics.

Unfortunately, the likes of Stoke City Chairman Peter Coates – a local man with a passion for his boyhood club and, crucially, the brass to match his ambition – are extremely rare.

Thus, after the unmitigated disaster of the fan-owned club experiment, the Vale is forced to take its chances with businesspeople who see potential in the club and believe they can turn a profit down the line.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Indeed, most supporters will tell you that what Vale is actually crying out for is hard-nosed business people with some commercial know-how.

I hope Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite are two such blokes and I know the majority of fans will give them a fair hearing and a cautious welcome – irrespective of what has happened in the last couple of years.

One of the positives to come out of this troubled time is that Vale fans have, for the most part, pulled together and become critical friends of their club.

Many are well-read, well-informed and care enough to devote countless hours to scrutinising developments at Vale Park – both on and off the field.

However, this is a double-edged sword and internet forums inevitably attract a minority of attention-seekers, troublemakers and people with axes to grind.

Thus Mr Wilde’s character, business interests and personal wealth have already been debated to death before he’s even been unveiled to the media.

The fact is, whether we like it or not, Port Vale is a club in administration and we’ll get what we’re given by the administrators whose job it is to seek the best deal for the creditors.

I actually think Begbies Traynor deserve enormous credit for agreeing with Stoke-on-Trent City Council to cap their fees – effectively working for several months for no additional money.

Had Port Vale not been dealing with administrators who are local to the area and had it not been for the support of the council I dare say we wouldn’t have two professional clubs in the Potteries anymore.

Today Paul Wildes, the man who wanted to take control of Darlington not so long ago, will be presented to Vale supporters experiencing a whole range of emotions – from hope to fear and suspicion all over again.

I am sure he and his business partner are well aware that their would-be customers have had a really rough time in recent years.

Fingers crossed, the first thing they will do is reassure ordinary Vale fans of their intentions regarding the club the supporters have fought so hard to save.

I have to say I was heartened by yesterday’s statement about holding a fans’ forum as it shows they clearly understand the need to invest time and effort in building up trust.

I hope they also realise that it would be commercial suicide for them to become friendly with any previous members of the board of directors at Port Vale or for these individuals to be seen swanning around the ground again as if they own the place.

Thankfully, they have already had the good sense to distance themselves from previous bidders for the club which is a smart move.

The new men will know that the current squad is doing a remarkable job under difficult circumstances and I hope Messrs Wildes and Smurthwaite will work to tie players down on proper contracts as soon as possible.

I think most of us reckon this Vale side has a genuine shot at promotion if we can protect what we’ve got and strengthen in key areas. Investing in the squad is a sure-fire way of the preferred bidders earning the goodwill of fans who have been starved of success for so long.

Presumably, Mr Wildes and Mr Smurthwaite realise that Micky Adams is a good manager who, together with his back room staff, is doing a tremendous job while the club remains in administration.

Micky and his team were led up the garden path by previous directors and badly let down by the first preferred bidder.

That being the case, I hope the new men don’t mess the gaffer around.

Finally, when I meet them today, I will tell Mr Wildes and Mr Smurthwaite that on Saturday, November 17, a statue honouring Port Vale’s greatest servant – Roy Sproson – will go up at Vale Park.

I am sure they will understand that this is an important day for many reasons and that the unveiling of this sculpture, funded entirely by Vale supporters, symbolises that this is a club with a proud heritage and an extremely passionate and loyal fan base.

I would simply ask, therefore, that the preferred bidders help us make it a day to remember.

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

The ‘We are where we are’ poll

I’ve been as positive as anyone about Vale and urging people to pull together for the good of the club and set aside any differences they may have.
But I can’t escape the fact that there’s still a lot of discussion over the current state of affairs off-the-field at Vale Park.
Keith Ryder’s disappearing act has thrown a spanner in the works and left the club in limbo (administration) and whilst it is great to be watching football again at Vale Park we can’t ignore the fact that the future remains uncertain.
Many are pointing their fingers at the administrators for failing to do their homework. Others blame the Supporters’ Club for being ‘taken in’ by Keith Ryder.
For what it’s worth, I think everyone who campaigned for change was right – irrespective of whether or not Keith Ryder let down the administrators.
I certainly wouldn’t change a thing about the way the Supporters’ Club conducted itself. We’e always done what’s best for the club – something which can’t be said for many people involved in this pantomime.
I think it’s very easy to throw stones from sidelines.
But what do you think?
Tell me whether or not you think the fans/Supporters’ Club/and yes, yours truly, were right to campaign for the removal of Valiant 2001 and the old board.
Or tell me why you think we were better off under Bill Bratt, Glenn Oliver and Mike Lloyd and co.
Comments on the actions of the administrators and the Supporters’ Club are very welcome!

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…

Port Vale’s employees and fans deserve better than this

Enough really is enough. Port Vale’s employees and supporters deserve much, much better than the farce that is being played out in public at the moment.

The ongoing saga of preferred-bidder Keith Ryder’s takeover of the club is once again turning Port Vale into a laughing stock and undermining his reputation with the very people he ultimately needs to win over.

For weeks and weeks now, just like the Supporters’ Club, I have kept my powder dry. I have answered fans honestly when they have rung me, emailed or contacted me via Twitter or Facebook.

At the same time I haven’t wanted to fuel the rumours and speculation or doing anything to rock the boat.

I am just desperate for our club to be out of administration and avoiding a 10-point deduction.

But now, two weeks from the start of the new season, I am forced to ask: What the hell is going on at Port Vale?

Even if we accept that ‘draconian’ conditions are being attached to the takeover by the Football League and that their lawyers are going through the deal with a fine toothcomb, the current delays are frankly intolerable and, in my opinion, are seriously jeopardising the future of Port Vale.

Whilst not expecting to be privvy to every dot and comma of the negotiations, I believe that we fans (I include the Supporters’ Club in this) have been treated very shabbily in recent weeks and months.

There was a time, not so long ago, when myself and Supporters’ Club chairman Pete Williams sat on a panel at Vale Park with manager Micky Adams and the administrators to show solidarity for what we hoped would be a new era at Port Vale.

Back then we were useful to the administrators. We were necessary to bring the fans onside for the tricky period that lay ahead.

I can assure you that since that time the Supporters’ Club’s committee has worked tirelessly to build bridges, forge relationships and ask questions of all the relevant parties on a regular basis.

At no point has anyone sat on their laurels, been soft-soaped or fobbed off. However, we have been – at times – conveniently ignored and I, for one, am sick of it.

We at the Supporters’ Club (SC), and in the local media for that matter, can only work with the information we are given by the administrators, by the Football League and by Keith Ryder himself.

As of last Friday the deal was still on and Mr Ryder assured the SC that he was just one signature away from securing the necessary Football League approval for his takeover – which would hopefully be given on Monday (today).

Now, according to my colleagues on The Sentinel’s sportsdesk, it seems we face yet more delays. Why? Why on Earth would there be any more delays? How can Mr Ryder and Bob Young be so spectacularly wrong again and again on their assessment of where the deal is?

The Football League, administrator Bob Young and Keith Ryder himself know damn well that we are running out of time and that many fans have long since run out of patience.

Many now, rightly or wrongly, suspect that Mr Ryder either a) doesn’t have the money to buy the club or b) isn’t prepared to sign up to conditions which the Football League requires of him.

Having met him privately three times in very amicable meetings where we talked about future plans for the club I’m still none the wiser. I know very little about Mr Ryder because that’s the way he chooses to play it.

Therefore we are forced to rely on our own impressions of the man and, more importantly, the administrators who did their homework and chose him as the preferred-bidder for Port Vale.

The incredibly poor handling of this takeover by all three parties from a public relations perspective, in terms of deadlines set and broken and the non-existent communications with Port Vale’s fans, has severely damaged their reputation and is in danger of derailing our season before it begins.

Mr Young hasn’t helped by making himself a hostage to fortune by giving hoped-for completion dates that have been missed time and time and time again.

I remember Mr Young having the gall to criticise the newspaper I work for when he first took over, as I sat there in the audience, for running a story about players not being paid.
He was condescending and dismissive and accused the local rag of getting its facts wrong.

Well touché, Bob.

The facts now are that season tickets have yet to be issued, we have no new kit, we have no new sponsors.

On a day-to-day basis it seems Port Vale is a rudderless ship. Who exactly is running our club? Who is calling the shots during this weird limbo period?

You would think it would be the administrators, wouldn’t you, but by their own admission they are not always at the club.

I have consoled myself in recent weeks with the logic that the administrators must have done their homework. I have reassured myself that if there was a major problem with the deal then they (or the Football League) would have pulled the plug on this takeover by now.

Let’s put it it this way: If the deal goes pear-shaped now then there is very little time to get a new buyer in and sort out the many and varied issues any football club faces going into a new season.

I sincerely hope Keith Ryder gets the approval he needs in the coming days. I sincerely hope he is the real deal and that the faith invested in him by Port Vale fans in recent weeks and months hasn’t been misplaced.

By the same token I hope the administrators and the Football league know what they are doing. They ought to, surely.

Whatever the truth of these latest delays, then in the near future all three parties will have a lot of questions to answer over the shambles of recent weeks which have led to unnecessary fear, anger and yet more mistrust.

I feel for the club’s employees – including Micky Adams and his staff – who are attempting to prepare for a new season with one hand tied behind their backs.

There will be some who, for their own reasons, would like to see this deal fall through. They’d like to be proved right. They’d like to say ‘I told you so’.

I, for one, hope they are wrong. I have no vested interest in any individual and, like the SC, never believed in taking sides.

I hope the deal goes ahead as soon as possible and that two of the three parties involved show some humility and some much-needed transparency in the coming weeks.

Port Vale supporters fought tooth and nail to rescue their club from a corrupt regime last year and deserve better than to be led a merry dance by the very people entrusted to secure its future.

If the deal does go through it still leaves many questions unanswered and people will want to know just what exactly were the stumbling blocks which turned a complex takeover into a recurring nightmare.

That’s before we even begin chasing up the administrators and Staffordshire Police over alleged wrong-doing by members of the previous board of directors.

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