Archive is a treasure trove which reminds us where we’ve come from and who has gone before

The Sentinel microfilm archive.

The Sentinel microfilm archive.

Myself and three colleagues have just completed what, for me, has been something of a labour of love.

In case you don’t know, in less than two weeks’ time The Sentinel will relocate from its home of more than a quarter of a century to new, or perhaps I should say ‘old’, premises in Hanley.

From September 16 our new home will be the Grade II-listed Bethesda Sunday School building.

It’s in a great location for a local newspaper: Opposite the library and Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, just down from the Victoria Hall, Regent Theatre and new bus station, and over the road from the police station and crown court.

An awful lot of money has been spent transforming the interior of this impressive, ocean liner of a two-storey building into a modern media hub.

But alongside the funky furniture, brightly-coloured feature walls and the hi-tech kit you’d expect to find in any newspaper HQ, there’s plenty to remind us of what’s gone before.

This is something I, personally, am very keen on as someone who grew up reading the paper, then delivering it and now having the privilege of writing for it.

As you can imagine, a newspaper accumulates quite a lot of stuff over 159 years and my office has, for several weeks now, resembled an antique shop.

By rummaging through the MD’s office, various locked cabinets and darkened storerooms I have unearthed all kinds of treasures.

Gems such as a former Editor’s dictionary from the 1930s and a solid gold Sentinel cricket competition medal from the same decade.

Then there’s the documents relating to the company being created back in 1854 or the grubby and soot-blackened Wedgwood white ware unearthed when the foundations were laid at our present site in Etruria back in 1986 (the site of old Josiah’s former factory, of course).

Or how about the dozen or so black and white photographs of our former offices in Trinity Street, Hanley, when it first opened its doors 80-odds years ago?

Or the Royal Doulton figurines of newspaper sellers, or detritus from the press from the days of hot metal, or copies of Sentinel football annuals dating back to the 1920s.

Or the copy of the programme from the provincial premiere of the the 1952 movie The Card, based on Arnold Bennett’s novel of the same name.

Or the 100-year-old poster promoting a boxing match between Newcastle’s Billy Gerkin and Hanley’s Jack Matthews.

Some of these items will go on display in cabinets for the benefit of visitors to our new offices.

Others will be safely stored in the new home of our archive which yours truly and friends have spent the past three months auditing and indexing.

It saddens me to think that some of my colleagues have never experienced the sheer frustration of trawling through cuttings, old prints or negatives to find information and the simple joy of a successful hunt.

Many among the Google and Wikipedia generation believe the world started in the mid-1990s and all useful data is freely available at the touch of a button. Rest assured that I do my best to dispel this myth at every opportunity.

I tell people that our microfilm archive, for example, dates to 1854 and runs until around the year 2000. That’s every page of every Sentinel edition – Weekly and Evening – for 140 odd years.

Then there’s the leather-bound copies of every Sentinel produced since the day we stopped archiving editions on microfilm.

Finally there’s our cuttings and prints archive – all 195 box files. This contains everything from historic editions of the paper through to royal visits, all our coverage of the notorious Black Panther murders, all the pit closures and pottery firm redundancies as well as black and white and colour prints of Stoke City, Port Vale and Crewe Alex players dating back to the 1930s.

The importance of a newspaper’s archive cannot, in my opinion, be overstated – especially when it is as old and extensive as The Sentinel’s.

It is little wonder that historians revel in it, our readers continue to call upon it and that local lads like me, and Abbo before me, enjoy bringing some of it to light.

Our archive is an acknowledgment of who and what has gone before and a reminder that we journalists are in an extremely privileged position – simply the latest caretakers of an enduring brand.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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Majority of fans shouldn’t have to pay penalty for ignorant few

valebadge

It seems incredible that in 2013 we are still debating how to deal with racism in the stands at football matches.

The sad fact is we are, however, and every time it raises its ugly head it simply can’t be ignored.

My club Port Vale made headlines in a national newspaper a few days ago for all the wrong reasons after racist chanting during the recent home game against Bradford.

It led Potteries-born former Stoke City striker turned BBC pundit Garth Crooks, trustee of the anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, to write to the Football Association and Football League calling for swift action.

Our Garth believes that unless the Vale is seen to root out the culprits and ban them, then the footballing authorities should step in.

This could involve, for example, a temporary closure of the Railway Paddock – the area of the ground where the offensive chanting emanated from.

In his comments, Garth cited the example of another club, QPR, which banned fans who abused England star Shaun Wright-Phillips within 48 hours of the incident taking place.

He also pointed to the action taken by authorities in Italy at the weekend who closed down a stand of Lazio’s Olympic Stadium after Juventus players were abused during a game last week.

So should the Burslem club be subject to the same sanctions if it fails to identify and take strong action against the fans who brought its name into disrepute?

I don’t think so. And no, that’s not because I’m a Vale supporter.

I think that each case needs to be examined on its merits and I think closing the Railway Paddock because of the bone-head behaviour of a handful of fans would be the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Apart from the fact that I’m not convinced it would solve the problem – should it re-occur – it seems an entirely disproportionate response.

Let’s not forget it was a number of Port Vale fans who complained about the offensive chanting.

That in itself reflects a club whose fanbase are self-aware and capable of policing themselves in terms of what is or isn’t acceptable behaviour.

The club itself has also been swift in its condemnation of the racist chanting and a statement told how officials have been studying CCTV footage in an effort to identify the trouble-makers and are looking to implement improved security measures so that a repeat of any such behaviour will be quickly dealt with.

Given that the chanting involved a tiny percentage of the Vale supporters at the game the response by both fans and the club itself seems reassuring and entirely reasonable.

Apart from potentially moving troublemakers to another part of the stadium, I dare say closing the Railway Paddock would do nothing but penalise the vast majority of decent fans who have paid to sit in a certain part of the ground because they like the view and the atmosphere.

Or because they have sat there for years and that’s where their dads and grandads sat before them.

Perhaps lessons can be learned from the problems at the Bradford game, but anyone who’s been around Vale Park in the past decade or more knows full well that this is a club with a community ethos and where the management doesn’t tolerate offensive behaviour.

What happened at the Bradford game was wrong but it was no more wrong than long-haired opposition players being labelled ‘gypos’ by home fans at grounds around the country – something which still, unbelievably, goes on – and yet the authorities don’t seem as motivated to act upon.

The fact is a football crowd is a microcosm of society and, as such, inevitably includes a minority who believe swearing in front of small children and abusing the referee, opposition players, or anyone who is different is as much a part of their Saturday afternoon as a pie and a pint.

That doesn’t make it right. That’s just how it is.

It is something which needs to be tackled education through every generation with through education and the constant reinforcement of the values of fairness and equality.

So long as the majority of fans and – crucially – the clubs themselves act with genuine intent to weed out of a minority of morons, then our national sport is in safe hands.

This will help us not to blow such incidents out of proportion while ensuring they are clamped down on.

Read my Personally speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

It’s early days and there’s absolutely no need to panic. Enjoy the ride…

A frustrated Tom Pope.

A frustrated Tom Pope.

I hope no-one’s panicking just yet. I’m certainly not.

Although we’ve yet to record our first win of this campaign, it’s still very early days.

Granted, we’ve scored only one goal and have only one point out of a possible six in the league.

We’ve also crashed out of a potentially money-spinning cup competition.

However, to play devil’s advocate, I’d say we earned a good point on the first day of season against a decent Brentford side and, although we didn’t play particularly well, were rather unlucky against Walsall when the officials rather let us down.

In contrast, against Colchester we were clearly second best and created very little in the way of chances.

In fact, the only danger was to our own supporters – and Doreen Robbins’s plaster cast is testament to this.

The gaffer simply chose the wrong formation, and perhaps picked a couple of players he shouldn’t have, and has admitted as much.

After all, you can’t really blame the forwards for not scoring if they’re not getting any service from a sluggish midfield.

What we’re experiencing now is perhaps something of a reality check and, frankly, I’d rather we have it now than at Christmas.

We’ve stepped up a league, the opponents are better and they move the ball around more quickly.

It will take time for Micky Adams’s teams to adjust, to get used to their positions, and learn to play off lads who signed over the summer.

Being positive, the back four (and I think it should be a four) and the ‘keeper look solid.

Chris Neal and Adam Yates are playing well, in particular, and Robertson, Dickinson and Lines already look good signings.

I’d like to see Doddsy in the team, personally – playing behind the Pontiff. But perhaps that’s just me.

Let’s not lose perspective here. Ambition and aspiration is fine but it must be tempered with honest expectation.

I’d love us to repeat last season’s promotion heroics but I’m not going to kick the cat, so to speak, if we don’t.

Vale Park is looking terrific and will continue to improve. Meanwhile gates are bigger because the clubs we are up against – some of whom have infinitely bigger playing budgets – have larger followings.

It’s an exciting time to be a Vale fan and I, for one, am enjoying the stability and putting my trust in the new owner and Micky’s squad to continue to do us proud.

Lest we forget… we almost didn’t have a Port Vale to support

The Port Vale Supporters' Club meeting in January 2012 at which a letter was signed by fans calling for a police investigation into the club's affairs.

The Port Vale Supporters’ Club meeting in January 2012 at which a letter was signed by fans calling for a police investigation into the club’s affairs.

As Port Vale’s preparations for the new season continue, everything looks rosy.

Owner Norman Smurthwaite continues to please the faithful with his own unique brand of public relations.

The club has a popular new shirt sponsor in trade union the GMB and the impressive new club shop is the flagship for infrastructure improvements at Vale Park.

Season ticket sales are going well in the light of a remarkable, against-the-odds promotion to League One, and some quality additions to the playing squad have created a genuine buzz around Burslem ahead of the big kick-off.

So as an exciting new season dawns, is there any point – some will say – in dredging up the past?

Because that’s exactly what yesterday’s news about the liquidation process for Valiant 2001 and the ongoing police investigation does.

Many supporters have welcomed the announcement that insolvency practitioners Begbies Traynor have become liquidators for the company which formerly owned Port Vale.

But others may well question the merits of digging through the ashes of the most turbulent time in the club’s history.

Some may argue that it is perhaps better to let sleeping dogs lie and focus on all the positives as the club enjoys a much-needed period of stability in terms of finances and leadership.

For me, however, the situation just isn’t that simple and I am pleased that Begbies Traynor will soon be attempting to recover further monies it believes are owed to creditors.

As we all watched as the incredible promotion campaign came to a conclusion in May, a few of us still had half an eye on some unfinished business.

We knew the police investigation instigated by the Supporters’ Club into the activities of some former directors was still trundling along.

We also knew that the administrators for Valiant 2001 would very soon become liquidators and that their powers would increase dramatically as a result.

Now Begbies Traynor can throw their weight behind the task of determining whether there was any wrong-doing on the part of directors who ran Port Vale prior to March of last year.

I well remember, in the midst of the battle to remove the remaining members of Valiant 2001 from office, there was a very raw anger at the way in which fans – and especially shareholders – had been treated by the board of directors.

There was a belief, which I shared, that supporters had been misled over the proposed Blue Sky investment, misled over the issuing of so-called ‘nil-paid’ shares and not told at all about the infamous ‘Gibraltar loan’ which involved the re-mortgaging of Vale Park from under the nose of key creditor Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

I recall how Supporters’ Club members canvassed fans on the turnstiles before one home game in 2011 about the election of Perry Deakin and Peter Miller to the board of directors in the mistaken belief that they had personally invested £100,000 and £250,000 respectively into Port Vale.

Of course, it was subsequently revealed that neither man had paid for the shares which they used to vote themselves on to the board and which, effectively, devalued the shares owned by more than 900 ordinary fans.

These supporters dipped into their savings and used their hard-earned wages to buy shares in the belief that they were helping their club and would forever own a little piece of their beloved Vale.

To have those shares – hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds’ worth – wiped out when the club was placed into administration by the city council was a bitter pill to swallow.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Supporters’ Club was right to ask Staffordshire Police to investigate the running of Port Vale by a board discredited in the eyes of many fans.

I am convinced that, if financially viable, the liquidators should use all powers at their disposal to chase up monies owed to Valiant 2001 – thereby recouping as much cash as possible for out-of-pocket city council taxpayers.

In my opinion this genuinely is a case of justice being seen to be done in the eyes of those who lost out and were treated so shabbily by some former Port Vale directors.

It’s about making sure that every single penny that can be recovered for creditors is recovered and perhaps ensuring that fans of other football clubs don’t suffer the same losses and humiliations inflicted on Vale supporters.

We can, of course, all look forward to the new season but it does us no harm whatsoever to remember how close we came to not having a Port Vale to support.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel and my Vale columns every Friday, during the season, in The Sentinel

New building, new gaffer… but The Sentinel carries on

Former Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi.

Former Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi.

Last week was a momentous one for Sentinel staff with the announcement of the impending move to the city centre and the departure of our Editor-in-Chief.

We had known about both decisions for some time and, while they were tinged with sadness, they also mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the newspaper’s history.

They remind us that while buildings and people may change, the newspaper itself continues inexorably – constantly adapting and evolving to suit its readership and patch.

Relocating to Hanley, where The Sentinel has been based for most of its 159 years, represents a return to our spiritual home.

The move makes absolute sense as we no longer have a print works here at Etruria and, happily, it coincides with the multi-million regeneration of the city centre.

Our new home from the Autumn, the former Bethesda Sunday School, is steeped in history and we couldn’t have chosen a better base for a company which has been part of the fabric of life in this neck of the woods since 1854.

Handily located next to the Cultural Quarter and the proposed Central Business District, it means shoppers and anyone working in the area can nip in for a chat with a Sentinel reporter.

We’ll also only be a stone’s throw away from Hanley Police Station, Hanley Community Fire Station, the crown court and our contacts at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, The Regent Theatre and the Vicki Hall – among others.

That’s not to say that moving won’t be a wrench. The Sentinel has been at Festival Park since 1987 and many of us have fond memories of colleagues, past editions and countless hours spent here at this sprawling site next to the canal where the last remnants of Josiah Wedgwood’s original factory stand as a reminder of the city’s proud industrial heritage.

For exactly half the 15 years yours truly has been with my home-town newspaper, the man who has just vacated the big chair has been my ‘gaffer’.

I knew Mike Sassi before he arrived in North Staffordshire, having previously worked with him at the Derby Telegraph.

No two Editors are ever the same and, believe me, the appointment of the top man, or woman, is still a matter of great significance – and not just for the writers and photographers who report to them.

To my mind a newspaper, partisan or non-partisan, will always reflect the personality and passions of its Editor.

In that respect, I think we dropped lucky when Mike Sassi took over in December 2005 (I can say that without being accused of fishing for a pay rise because he’s gone).

I think it’s fair to say that he was at the helm during some of the most turbulent years that the newspaper industry has faced – given the economic situation and the way in which the internet has changed the game.

However, rather than retreating, Mike had us reaching out to our readership in new and innovative ways, staging major public events and forging partnerships with a variety of organisations.

The Our Heroes awards, the Class Act campaign which gave away tens of thousands of pounds to local schools, the Young Journalist Awards, and the hugely-popular Stoke’s Top Talent variety competition all happened on his watch.

These weren’t events intended to make us money or flog papers. Rather they were intended to cement The Sentinel at the heart of the communities it serves.

The campaigns we ran were the same: From Save Our Staffords which successfully fought to preserve the name of our local regiment with a 17,000-strong petition, through to the battle to bring the Staffordshire Hoard at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

But perhaps what I will remember most about Mike’s tenure was a night in December 2011 when yours truly was up to his neck in the troubles engulfing Port Vale.

It was Mike’s brave decision to run with the stories exposing how supporters had been misled by the then board of directors which led to the resignation of the club’s chief executive and the subsequent sacking of its chairman.

Any journalist will tell you that having the support of your Editor when the big calls are made is absolutely priceless.

Mike Sassi worked extremely hard to try to learn what makes North Staffordshire and its people tick.

He was as excited as anyone with Stoke City’s appearance at Wembley and the club’s adventures in Europe; Chuffed to bits with Vale’s recent promotion and genuinely proud to see the Staffordshire Saxon statue unveiled at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

I think our loss is genuinely the Nottingham Post’s gain but, as Mike will tell you himself, any Editor is simply the custodian – the caretaker, if you will – for the brand. He’ll hate this fuss but he’s earned it, in my opinion, and I’d like to wish Mike all the best in his new job.

Meanwhile, the original Neverending Story that is The Sentinel continues…

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Good luck to Smurf but it should be business as usual at Vale Park

Norman Smurthwaite.

Norman Smurthwaite.

So the worst-kept secret at Vale Park since Robin van der Laan’s love of crisps has finally been revealed.

Paul Wildes has departed Vale Park after just seven months as Chairman.

It is a shame that the partnership which helped to see the Vale to promotion has ended.

However, the cracks have been there for some time and the only reason they weren’t public knowledge before this week is that nobody wanted rock the boat – certainly not while the team was scrapping for automatic promotion.

When Norman Smurthwaite first spoke to me it was a telephone call to my mobile. I remember it vividly: I was at Staffordshire University and the call came out of the blue one morning.

It was last October and during that first conversation he told me that Port Vale had been bought with his money.

While I don’t think Paul Wildes ever actually said: ‘It’s my money’, by the same token he did publicly state on a number of occasions that he and Norman were fifty/fifty partners in the deal.

As a result of this, I’m certain that many fans would have believed it to have been a joint initial investment which bought the club out of administration.

If this was any other football club, then perhaps nobody would care where that money came from.

But, given what’s gone on in recent years, it was clear that the knowledge that the initial investment came from Norman Smurthwaite could actually cause Port Vale fans to question the motives and intentions of the new owner/s.

I didn’t want to rock the boat and neither did anyone else who was privvy to that information, including my colleagues on the Supporters’ Club committee, and so nothing was said or done.

Everyone instead stayed positive and focused their efforts on trying to help the club achieve automatic promotion.

Since that first conversation I’ve met with ‘Smurf’, as he’s affectionately become known, on a number of occasions and spoken to him regularly.

Everything Norman has told me has happened how he said it would happen. At no point, thus far, has he given me any reason not to trust him.

He does, by his own admission, occasionally shoot from the hip – but I think supporters would rather have heart-on-the-sleeve honesty than polished flannel, especially given what’s gone before.

It’s been clear for some time that Norman and Paul’s relationship had broken down and that there was a power struggle going on within the club.

For me, the over-riding fear was that the man with the money, the passion and the genuine rapport with supporters would get fed up and walk away.

Thankfully that hasn’t happened and, instead, we have a situation where the man who bought the club, funded our January loan signings and steadied the ship after the Bristol defeat with sensible comment and a rallying call to fans (when some wanted to sack the manager who had put us second), is finally taking over as Chairman.

Presumably he will now bring in an experienced CEO who will report directly to him and surround himself with his own team.

I’d like to thank Paul Wildes for his contribution to Port Vale’s success in the last seven months – not least because it was him that persuaded Norman Smurthwaite to invest in Port Vale in the first place.

On Monday night supporters will be able to quiz ‘Smurf’ at Vale Park and hopefully that will help to allay any fears they may have.

At Port Vale, as with any club, there will always be rumours and conspiracies but I’m convinced the vast majority of fans just want what’s best for the club – even if they express it in different ways.

It’s business as usual at Vale Park so let’s just enjoy the summer.

Let’s stick together, support Norman, buy lots of season tickets and look forward to new signings in the coming weeks as we prepare for life in League One.

We’re Vale aren’t we?

Pick up Saturday’s Sentinel for in-depth Vale, Stoke and Crewe news, analysis and comment

How Vale’s goal-den boy made history (and made his dad proud)

Tom Pope with his daughter Mollie Mae.

Tom Pope with his daughter Mollie-Mae.

There is an alleyway behind Buxton Street in Sneyd Green. This is where our story begins…

It’s where Tom Pope, his brother, and his mates would spend hours kicking a ball about like any young lads the length and breadth of the country.

By his own admission, there was nothing at that stage to indicate he would go on to become an icon at the club he has supported since he was a boy – one of only two Vale players since the war to score more than 30 goals in a season.

Tom, a former pupil of Sneyd Green Primary and Holden Lane High School, said: “If you’d have asked any young lads back then I guess loads of them would have wanted to become footballers.

“There’s not so many these days because they’ve got other distractions but all I honestly ever wanted to do was play football.”

Born into a Vale-supporting family, young Tom was taken to home games by his grandfather and stood in the Lorne Street.

“I’d have been about five when I first started going,” he said. “Dad wouldn’t let me go in The Paddock because he didn’t think it was for children so I spent my first few seasons kicking a can about in the Lorne Street.

“My dad went on the buses to every Vale away game for about 15 years I think and he only stopped to come and see me when I was playing for Crewe.

“My fondest memories as a Vale fan are of the early to mid-nineties and the team John Rudge put together – the likes of Martin Foyle, Neil Aspin, Dean Glover, Ian Bogie and Bernie Slaven etc.

“I guess players like Neil Aspin will always have a special place in the hearts of Vale fans. I used to love his mazy runs from the edge of his own penalty area which never amounted to anything. He would have run through walls for the Vale.

“Then there was Foyley. He wasn’t the biggest of strikers but he was good in the air, strong and such a great finisher. His record speaks for itself.”

Despite his love of the Vale it was Crewe Alexandra’s highly-acclaimed youth set up which nurtured young Tom’s skills between the ages of six and 13.

He wasn’t, however, offered a contract by the Alex and so turned his hand to window-fitting while playing for Biddulph Victoria.

It was his performances (and goals) in the Midland Football Alliance which finally persuaded Crewe boss Dario Gradi to sign him.

Tom turned pro in 2005 at the age of 19 after two unsuccessful trials with, you’ve guessed it… Port Vale.

He spent four years with the Alex and was the club’s top scorer with 10 goals from just 17 starts during the 2008/9 season.

That season, however, Crewe were relegated from League One and Tom signed for League Two rivals Rotherham for a then joint club record fee of £150,000.

His time in Yorkshire wasn’t a particularly happy one and goals were few and far between.

He missed out on a trip to Wembley because of a broken metatarsal and when he returned to fitness found himself behind Adam Le Fondre and Ryan Taylor in the pecking order.

By his second season with the Millers the then Rotherham boss Ronnie Moore was quite prepared to sell Tom to the highest bidder as he hadn’t been scoring regularly.

Several clubs expressed an interest but it was Jim Gannon who tempted Pope to Vale Park.

“It was about the only thing Gannon did right, wasn’t it?” I ask.

Tom smiles. “You could say that. I was grateful of the opportunity Ronnie Moore gave me to get out on loan, to be honest. I think he just wanted to get my confidence back up.”

In August 2011 Tom joined the Vale on a free transfer, having been released by Rotherham.

He said: “There were five or six clubs interested in me at that time and Vale’s offer was by far the lowest on the table, to be honest. I took a huge pay-cut. I’m not just talking a few hundred quid either. But there’s more to your career than just money.

“This is where I’m from and my family and friends are here. In the end it was an easy decision for me.”

He played 45 games last season but scored just five goals as Marc Richards went on to become Vale’s leading scorer for a fifth season running.

Tom said: “We were a different team last year. We didn’t really have any wide players to speak of. Lewis Haldane was out injured and Rob Taylor kept having little niggles.

“All our play came through the middle of the park and when you’re a bloke who likes to get on the end of crosses there wasn’t much in the way of service for me.

“To be truthful I think there were quite a few Vale supporters who would have been glad to see the back of me during the summer. Thankfully, Micky Adams gave me a one-year deal and I’ll always be grateful for the faith he showed in me at that time.”

So what’s been the difference this season? Why is Tom Pope, at the age of 27, now breaking records and picking up awards?

He said: “Believe it or not this summer was my first pre-season in a while when I’ve been able to train properly.

“I would go running round Forest Park and up to Bradeley and I felt good.

“I remember we went to Ireland for the pre-season tour and I started scoring a few goals and the gaffer (Adams) took me to one side and said he’d never seen me looking so sharp. That really gave me a boost. I was ready to go.”

Of course, Vale started the season in administration and there were no guarantees there would even be a club in 2013.

It was a worrying time for fans but also for the club’s staff and players who – at one time – went unpaid.

Tom said: “It was extremely difficult for us all. We could see and hear what was going on and I think it was obvious that the club needed a new board and a change of direction.

“Of course, as employees, you can’t speak out. You’ve got a job to do and you just have to get on with it – no matter what you think.

“Thankfully, we had a great set of lads in the dressing room and in Micky Adams we had a strong leader to hold everyone together and I think he deserves enormous credit for that.

“Do I think the supporters were right to campaign for change? Yes I think they were. We’ve got a good set of fans and they usually know when something’s not right.

“The club is certainly in a better place now than it was 12 months ago. It’s a happy ship.”

This season’s heroics have seen Tom, nicknamed The Pontiff and The Sneyd Green Sniper by the Vale Park faithful, named League Two Player of the Year – among other accolades.

Barring a barren spell around March-time he’s been prolific all season and his goals are effectively Vale’s goal difference of plus 30-something.

He said: “It makes such a difference for a striker like myself having good, creative wide players in the side.

“Jeno (Jennison Myrie-Williams) and Ashley Vincent will always cause problems for defences because of their trickery and pace.

“I’ve tried to stay more central – rather than doing lots of chasing around – and I’ve had good crosses coming in. Fortunately I’ve been able to put quite a few of them away.”

Does he think players in the current squad could step up to the level required to survive and thrive in League One?

“Definitely,” he said. “We’ve got some very talented lads in the dressing room. You look at skilful players like Doddsy (Louis Dodds) and you think that actually playing at a higher level might suit them.”

Whats it like to be a Vale fan, though, playing for the club you love and scoring goals?

He said: “To be honest I try to keep my feet on the ground. I know I’m very lucky but I don’t tend to get carried away.

“Of course I can hear the supporters – I used to be one of them shouting for Foyley and the like – so I know what that’s all about.

“It’s hard to believe they are shouting for me, to be honest, and I try to block it out and concentrate on my game. I know it’s special for me but now isn’t the time to start thinking about records and awards and personal targets.

“I’m not someone who thrives on praise. If I score a hat-trick then the manager will shake my hand and that’ll do.

“My dad is very like Micky Adams in that respect. I’m sure he tells all his mates how proud of me he is but he wouldn’t tell me. If I score a hat-trick he’s more likely to pick me up over a mis-placed pass. Him and the gaffer know how I tick.”

What about the future, then, for a bloke who is enjoying the form of his life while juggling the responsibilities of being a dad?

“I’ve said before I’d like to see out my career here. I’ve probably got four or five good years left and I love the place.

“The new owners made me an offer which was respectful and it ties me to Vale for another two seasons. I’d love to think I could stay beyond that too and score a lot more goals.

“Let’s put it this way – it would take an offer of silly money to tempt me away at this stage and, if that were to happen, then I’d obviously have to think about my family and see what’s right for us.

“At this moment in time, however, I’m enjoying my football and I want to be able to look back in five, 10, 15 years’ time and have people say to me: ‘What a season that was. What a team we had back then’.”

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.