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


Now is time for all Vale supporters to finally set aside their differences

I don’t know about you but I will be glad when the curtain comes down on this season.
Next week the retained list will be published and I expect decisions that may surprise a few supporters because I think Micky Adams may have a different view of some fans’ favourites.
But in all honesty I’m not that bothered about the comings and goings this summer.
Yes, I’d like us to keep Rico, Griff, Doddsy and Rob Taylor and I’m chuffed that Lofty is under contract.
But others will have a different view and I’m not going to lose any sleep either way.
What I really want is for us all to be able to draw a line under the most divisive period in the club’s history.
I see tomorrow’s home game against Oxford as a genuine watershed.
The worst part about what has gone in the last couple of years is that it has turned Vale fan against Vale fan.
Even now we see and hear it in the stands on match days, in the club shop, and all over the internet.
People with axes to grind. People with agendas. People who still believe Bill Bratt walks on water or that Mo Chaudry deserved to be given a chance to run Port Vale.
Let’s just stop it, eh?
Right now it doesn’t matter whether you were Black & Gold, Starve ’Em Out or fiercely against the protesters.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a member of the Supporters’ Club or you don’t like me or what I write.
The point is: We’re all Vale aren’t we?
Now really is the time to set aside all our differences, stop making excuses for not attending and get back to supporting the team and the club in general.
This summer is a glorious opportunity for healing and rebuilding.
If, as seems likely, Keith Ryder receives Football League approval for his bid and takes over next month then that should be the signal for us all to unite behind the common cause.
We have a weird, six-week limbo period now but, having spoken at length to the preferred bidder, he certainly understands the need to make Vale affordable for its fans so expect new offers and incentives.
What’s more, we already know Micky Adams will have an increased budget for players and that will mean new faces.
To top it all, in July we have Sproson Day to look forward to – when the statue of the club’s greatest servant will finally be unveiled in a manner befitting the man and his family.
Make no mistake, things are finally looking up.

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.

Our Roy deserves so much better

The word disgrace is over-used these days but it is the perfect way in which we should describe the Sproson statue fiasco.
Literally thousands of Port Vale fans, including yours truly, have forked out to have a statue erected in honour of the club’s greatest servant – Roy Sproson.
This should be an issue on which there is no dissension. All true Vale fans should simply want this tribute in place as soon as possible.
Yet here we are again with the club throwing spanners in the works.
Contractors turned up today to be told they wouldn’t be allowed to start work.
Why’s that then? If the powers-that-be at the club had any problems with the plans (which the board has approved) then these issues should have been raised last week when representatives of the Sproson Fund visited the chief executive and updated him on the progress of the scheme.
Let’s be clear: This statue should have been erected last summer.
The board and everyone else at Port Vale should be bending over backwards to get this statue up as soon as possible.
Instead, the powers-that-be are again throwing obstacles in the path of something which will be a source of great pride to all supporters.
They should stop dishonouring Roy’s memory and pull their fingers out. They should stop hindering and start helping.
And why they are at it, they should do everything they can to enact the will of the majority of shareholders and get Mark Sims on to that board of directors as soon as possible.