That was the week that was. So where are Vale now?

To have so much good news in seven day should hopefully have put a smile on the face of every Port Vale fan.

It has been a week of milestones which has delivered relief and happiness in equal measure.

The unveiling of the long-awaited Sproson Statue was a day for young and old alike to savour.

Eleven years in the making, involving the efforts of literally hundreds of people, the finished product is an inspirational masterpiece.

The fact that so many people were there to witness the ceremony spoke volumes about the high regard in which the Sproson family is held.

The York game itself was something of a damp squib: A poor performance and a game in which we were lucky to escape with a point, if truth be told.

However, that was swept under the carpet on Tuesday evening when news finally filtered through that the club had been bought.

Congratulations to Norman Smurthwaite and Paul Wildes and good luck to them in the coming months and years as they look to build the viable, successful business they are promising.

Having spent some time with Norman and knowing something of their track record it seems we may actually have owners who know a thing or two about customer service.

They’ve got a bargain and understand that the potential of Port Vale is massive – if they can a) increase the number of bums on seats and b) make Vale Park a thriving business venue when we are not kicking a ball about once a fortnight.

That Vale thumped sorry Bristol Rovers four-nil just hours after the takeover had been confirmed really was the icing on the cake.

So where are we now, as a club, in the cold light of day?

We are out and administration and debt free. There are no loans involved in this buyout.

The administrators will soon become liquidators of the old Valiant 2001 and some previous directors could well have to answer for their actions.

We have new owners who have pledged to take nothing personally from the club in terms of salaries or dividends.

We have a quality manager and a good squad which is perfectly capable of achieving promotion and which will now be strengthened.

The fans have a respected voice in the Supporters’ Club which the new owners have stressed they want to work with.

What’s more, local lad Tom Pope is banging in goals for fun while Roy Sproson watches over his beloved Vale Park.

Pride has been restored.

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

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Roy’s home at last. Vale supporters take a bow…

It was the completion of a project that refused to die at the club that refuses to die.

On Saturday the slate-grey skies cleared and the sun shone on Port Vale’s golden one.

Around 1,000 people were there to see his triumphant return to Vale Park.

Many in the crowd never saw Roy Sproson pull on a white shirt. Indeed, quite a few weren’t even old enough to remember his nephew Phil’s 495 appearances for the club.

Hopefully the unveiling of the Sproson Statue left them in no doubt about the importance of this remarkable family to the Port Vale story.

It took 11 years to realise the vision of a permanent memorial to the club’s greatest servant.

Along the way the project has ground to a halt through lack of funding, red tape, the intransigence of previous directors and personnel changes among the fund-raising committee.

But there has always been someone there to pick up the baton and keep the dream alive.

Even three weeks ago there were nay-sayers. When the project’s key driver Pete Williams fell ill I rang the monumental masons to be told there was no way the statue would be completed by November 17.

There were no words for the plinth, the granite hadn’t been cut, the event at the club hadn’t been organised and none of the VIPs had received a formal invite.

But Port Vale fans did what Port Vale fans do. They got their hands dirty, mucked in and made Saturday a wonderful celebration nonetheless.

Afterwards Phil Sproson told me the family thought it had been a perfect day and was thrilled that so many people had turned out to pay their respects.

It was never in doubt…

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

Time for Football League to deliver a double celebration


There is a man at the Football League who has it within his gift to make us all very happy in the next few days.

Last Thursday preferred bidders Norman Smurthwaite and Paul Wildes received verbal confirmation from the League that their bid to take-over Port Vale had been accepted.

A week later and we’re still waiting for the written confirmation which will take the club out of administration and herald a new era at Vale Park.

The money has been transferred to the solicitors, the Football League has everything it has asked for. The administrators are happy. The preferred bidders can do no more.

So let us hope that the Football League’s in-house lawyer Nick Craig completes his work before next Wednesday when the preferred bidders’ period of exclusivity expires.

After all the heartache, what we absolutely don’t want is for the administrators to have to go back to the drawing board and look for yet another new buyer.

This isn’t a Keith Ryder vanishing act/lack of money scenario. The ball is now firmly in the Football League’s court and, frankly, Port Vale and its fans have been waiting long enough.

So, Mr Craig, please help us make it a double celebration and give us the good news before Wednesday.

It will be the icing on the cake after tomorrow’s Sproson Statue unveiling.

Tomorrow, it won’t matter whether you sit in the Paddock, the Bycars End or the Lorne Street stand.

It doesn’t matter whether you were Black and Gold, Starve ‘Em Out, or still hold affection for the previous board.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a season ticket, you walk up to games or you are a lapsed fan – someone who perhaps recalls the days when either Roy or Phil Sproson wore a Vale shirt.

Tomorrow none of that matters. Tomorrow all Vale supporters can come together to celebrate one family’s special association with our club.

It was 11 years ago that a group of fans sat around first discussing the idea of a permanent memorial to the club’s greatest servant.

Yes, it’s a crime that it has taken so long for the project to be completed but we shouldn’t allow any negativity tomorrow.

So many people have been involved in the Sproson Fund and have worked on the Sproson Statue project.

Then there are the thousands more who have donated sums large and small to help realise the dream of acknowledging Roy Sproson’s achievements and his family’s remarkable service to Port Vale.

There are many statues of great and famous footballers and managers at grounds across the country – celebrating domestic success and international honours.

Now Vale Park has one which is unique in that it honours one man’s devotion to his local club and his family’s record of more than 1,360 appearances for that club.

Tomorrow is a day of great pride and a day of memories. But is also a day to look forward with renewed hope that the talismanic Sproson name can inspire Port Vale for generations to come.

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

Phil so proud of keeping Vale in the family

It has taken 11 years, an awful lot of time, effort and fund-raising, and there have been numerous headaches and hurdles along the way.

But next Saturday, at 1.45pm up at Vale Park, supporters will finally have their chance to gaze upon a permanent memorial to a unique Potteries footballing family.

The Sproson statue, orchestrated and funded by Vale fans, will be unveiled to supporters, the media and a gathering of VIPs including Roy Sproson’s widow Joyce and Gordon Taylor OBE from the Professional Footballers’ Association.

It is a magnificent sculpture showing Roy – the club’s greatest servant – in a pose he would typically have adopted during his record 837 appearances for the Burslem club.

But the granite plinth on which the statue sits, also pays homage to Roy’s elder brother Jess and his nephew Phil who both pulled on the white shirt and added their names to Vale folklore.

Sadly, neither Roy nor Jess are around to witness what will be a very special day for the Sproson family who clocked up an amazing 1,370 appearances for the Valiants.

However, Phil will be there with his auntie Joyce to represent this extraordinary footballing dynasty.

The 53-year-old, now a players’ agent, said: “I know the whole family will be incredibly proud. I hope it will give Vale fans tremendous pride too and hopefully spur on current and future players.

“They can walk down the steps, look up at this great man who did so much for Port Vale and perhaps try to emulate him in some way.

“Maybe they could touch his boot for luck before games and if a tiny bit of uncle Roy’s spirit rubs off on them then they’ll do alright.”

Phil, now aged 53, followed in his father and uncle’s footsteps by signing for Vale as a professional at the end of 1977 having graduated through the club’s youth ranks.

He went on to play for the Vale 495 times and enjoyed three promotion campaigns before a training ground injury in January 1989 ended his time at Vale Park.

Phil is third in the all-time appearances list at Vale – behind his uncle Roy (837) and Harry Poole (498).

He said: “I always loved pulling on the shirt. It gave me an enormous sense of pride. I remember when I was made captain by John Rudge. He asked me: ‘Do you want it? (the captain’s armband)’ I said: ‘Yes’. Rudgie said: ‘It’s yours. Nobody deserves it more.’ I could have exploded I was so happy.”

Phil, who lives in Church Lawton, says there was no real added pressure in being related to the man who was Mr Port Vale.

He said: “To me he was just loveable uncle Roy who lived over the road from us. It wasn’t I think until I had got a full season of 30 or 40 games under my belt that I started to think: ‘Eight hundred games!’ How the hell did anyone play so many?’

“Then I realised just how special Roy was and why so many Vale supporters held him in such high regard.

“In fact, the best compliment ever paid to me was by my uncle Roy. It was after we had beaten Spurs in the cup.

“He came over to me, cupped my chin and said: ‘You’ll do for me. You’d have made it into any side I ever played in.’ That, to me, was so important.”

Phil rates the contribution of Vale managers John McGrath and John Rudge to his own career as ‘massive’.

He said: “John McGrath made me the player I was. He took me to one side one day and asked me how much I wanted the shirt. Then he told me we had work to do and put me in the gym to build me up, sharpen me up, and make me a better player.

“In contrast Rudgie was a thinker. He wasn’t as bullish but when Rudgie spoke people listened. He certainly knew how to get the best out of people.”

Phil played in an emerging Vale side alongside the likes of Ray Walker, Robbie Earle and Darren Beckford.

He said: “If I was to pick out a couple of players who were really special from that era I’d have to go for Mark Chamberlain and Robbie.

“Mark was just a flash of brilliance. Robbie had such a great work ethic. He just loved to win.”

And what does Phil think of the current crop of Vale players riding high in League Two despite the constraints of a period during which the club has been in administration.

Phil said: “The way they have started the season is testament to Micky Adams and the coaching skills of Rob Page and Mark Grew.

“The only problem I can see is injuries and suspensions. It’s not rocket science: The squad has very little depth but if they are able to strengthen it then they’ve got a good chance of promotion.”

He added: “As for Tom Pope (17 goals already this season), he’s a throwback to my era – he really is. Popey’s a local lad, a Vale fan, who is in the form of his life and loving the game – scoring goals for the team he supported as a lad. You can see it all over his face and it’s wonderful to watch.”

Phil’s 23-year-old son Warren is currently serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) out in Afghanistan and so will miss next Saturday’s celebration.

His dad said: “He will certainly be with us in spirit. He’s taken a Vale shirt out there. We’re all exceptionally proud of him and thinking of him.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Plenty of reasons to be optimistic as Roy’s big day looms


Today preferred bidders Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite will be being put through their paces by the Football League.
From the noises we are hearing this should just be a formality but it’s anyone’s guess how soon after this process the deal will finally be approved.
Hopefully it will happen within a few days because the one fear that’s been nagging at many of us during a terrific start to the season has now materialised.
A few injuries and the suspension of key players has exposed just how thin Vale’s squad is and the lifting of the transfer embargo/limit of 20 registered players can’t come soon enough.
There’s no need to panic just yet, however, as players like Doug Loft are close to a return and, as much as the manager may feel the need to dip into the transfer market to bring in one or two new faces, there’s a lot to be said for the spirit of a tight-knit squad.
It’s very sad when anyone suffers a bad injury, as happened to Northampton’s Alex Nicholls last Saturday.
While wishing the striker a speedy recovery I’d like to echo Micky Adams’s sentiments and say there’s never been any malice in John McCombe’s play and clearly what happened was an unfortunate accident.
Boom is a firm but fair player who has formed a decent partnership at the heart of the defence and we’re going to miss him while he serves his suspension.
We are indeed down to the bare bones now in terms of defensive options but the core of the team remains and there’s no reason why we can’t win our FA Cup tie and get three points against Rochdale on Tuesday night.
I don’t know what I was more surprised about last weekend. The fact that we got beat or the fact we didn’t score.
Thankfully we had put enough daylight between us and the chasing pack that even after a draw and a loss we’re still sitting second with a two point cushion and a goal difference of plus 17.
We’re in a fantastic position: Thirty points on the board at the end of October is a heck of a start and gives us a great platform for the rest of the season.
Once the takeover is approved then Micky Adams’s hand can only be strengthened and I’m certain we will be in the mix come the final reckoning in May.
What’s more, very soon the current crop of players will have their very own club talisman watching over them every time they arrive at the ground on a match day.
At 1.30pm on November 17 Roy Sproson’s statue will finally be unveiled after 11 long years of fund-raising and campaigning by too many people to mention.
It is the never-say-die spirit of this project, and indeed the club’s greatest servant himself, that they should seek to emulate as they push for promotion.
The Sproson statue day is important on so many levels and symbolically draws a line in the sand after a terrible few years for Port Vale.
As we all look to the future, the completion of the Sproson statue project will underline the fact we are a club with a proud heritage. One that was worth fighting for.

Dear Keith Ryder…

Dear Mr Ryder, welcome to Vale Park.

If you’re wondering what that stone plinth is for at the bottom of the steps outside the main entrance, well, there’s a story there.

That’s where the statue of our greatest player – Roy Sproson – is going stand one day soon. Hopefully.

It was all paid for by the fans and should have been unveiled, well, ages ago – but there were, er… complications.

To be honest, it has been a dreadful few years for everyone connected with Port Vale.
I’m not sure where to begin, really.

There was this dream, you see, of a ‘fan-run club’ but that turned into a nightmare when some ‘fans’ decided they were more equal than others.

Vale’s shareholders (the bulk of whom were ordinary fans) lost their investment because the previous board of directors lost the plot – along with the goodwill of a majority of supporters.

The fans were lied to and treated with contempt. They were promised a multi-million pound investment which never materialised.

They watched in horror as Vale Park was remortgaged, bills went unpaid and a promotion campaign was torpedoed by a points deduction.

It was touch and go whether or not the club would survive at all, to be honest, such was the mismanagement of the previous regime.

But we’ve got the chance of a fresh start now and that’s where you come in.

It goes without saying, Mr Ryder, that you are inheriting a football club with a long and proud history.

The simple truth is that, in order to make a success of Port Vale, you need certain ingredients.

You need a plan and you need to have the cash to realise that vision – on and off the park.

But, crucially, right now you need to embrace the fanbase.

If I can give you any advice it would be: Prepare to have everything you say and do scrutinised to the nth degree.

I just hope you have a thick skin because you’re going to need one.

To be fair, most supporters are sick and tired of the in-fighting and the bickering and just want to get back to supporting the team.

But, in order for them to do that wholeheartedly, you must be honest with them and not mislead them or fill them with delusions of grandeur.

We’ve had enough false dawns at Vale to last a lifetime.

Let’s face it, Micky Adams – if he remains as manager – will be putting together an almost entirely new squad over the summer.

Next season, therefore, is likely to be one of consolidation and, fingers crossed, healing – rather than a nailed-on promotion push.

But I’ll settle for that after what’s gone on recently and I’m sure I won’t be alone.

This goes beyond tribal loyalties. Come and be Vale with us tonight

In years to come people will remember where they were and what they did in the coming days and weeks.
An old friend of mine is in trouble, you see. Deep trouble.
One of Stoke-on-Trent’s grandest institutions is on its knees and the prognosis is bleak.
The situation is so desperate and so unfair that it has caused many of us months and months of sleepless nights.
Emotions are running high. None of us can rest easy until we know for sure that our friend is going to pull through.
But I am keeping the faith. We all are.
As a result, something momentous is happening: Something at once inspirational and humbling which makes me extremely proud of my home city.
Port Vale Football Club is being resuscitated.
The community club with a 136-year history that has had its name dragged through the mud and been left for dead, is slowly but surely being revived.
Not by outside investors, your understand. There isn’t an oligarch or a sheikh to be seen around Boslem.
No, this rebirth is being driven by the people of the Potteries who are demonstrating that the city council is right to bail the club out by underwriting the costs of the administration process.
They are the same people who dipped into their pockets less than a decade ago when Port Vale went into administration the first time around.
They are the same people who chucked coins in buckets or used their hard-earned savings to buy shares. Often both.
They are the same people who bought bricks for the plinth on which a statue of Port Vale’s greatest player will one day sit.
They are the perennially disappointed and downtrodden – the let down and the misled.
But they are steadfastly loyal and they care so much about the financial basket case that is Port Vale that I defy anyone to ever write the club off.
They’re making donations, planning fund-raisers and working their socks off.
What’s more, this time around the ordinary fans – the lifeblood of the club – are not alone.
What has happened at Vale Park in recent months has touched a chord with many people, some of whom never even attend football matches.
Even die-heard Stoke City supporters living the Premier League dream and dining out on European adventures are shaking their heads at the catastrophe that has befallen their poor cousins down the A500.
This goes beyond tribal loyalties. You don’t have to be a Port Vale fan to realise that some things are just plain wrong. Like telling supporters £8 million is being invested into their football club when it isn’t.
Like issuing shares that haven’t been paid for to people who then use them to vote themselves on to the club’s board of directors.
Like remortgaging Vale Park from under the noses of its fans and the club’s shareholders – thus breaching the terms of its loan agreement with the city council.
The list of misdemeanours goes on and on – so much so that, if I wrote them all down and submitted the story on spec to ITV as an idea for a drama based around a struggling northern League Two football club, the producers would undoubtedly reject my pitch on the grounds that it was too far-fetched.
As a result of months of poor stewardship and a complete disregard for the club’s fanbase by the board of directors, Port Vale is on the brink of extinction.
Ordinary, hard-working employees at Port Vale have been left in limbo – not knowing where their next pay packet is coming from.
Manager Micky Adams was only able to take four substitutes to Saturday’s game because there was no money to cover the fifth player’s travel expenses from Sheffield.
I kid you not.
The players, who are unbeaten in six matches, are performing for free. Respect is due.
This is why tonight I’m hoping we’re going to have the largest home attendance at Vale Park this season.
In its hour of need, I’m hoping lapsed Vale fans and those who have deliberately boycotted the club will return and be joined by a few of their mates who normally make all the noise down at the Brit.
I’ll be there in the Bycars End rattling a collection bucket.
I’ll be accompanied by a Manchester United season ticket holder and a lapsed Vale who hasn’t been regularly since He Of The Flat Cap was in charge.
More used to the Theatre Of Dreams, my Man Utd fan mate was at Sunday’s emotional Supporters’ Club meeting at Baddeley Green Workingmen’s Club and was swept up in the emotion of the occasion.
Tonight, he’ll be in the presence of the ghosts of Aveyard and Sproson, Rudge and Earle, Foyle and Ainsworth at a ground echoing with memories of FA Cup giant-killings and glorious, heart-stopping promotion campaigns.
Tonight he’ll be Vale and he’ll be very welcome. Please join him.