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.


The Port Vale family is coming together again

Proud. That’s the word. That’s how I felt on Tuesday evening.
Eight volunteers with a bucket a piece collected £6,440 towards the Supporters’ Club’s hardship fund from fans attending the game against Burton.
They included three Stoke City fans who each threw in £20 and a young lady who emptied £12 worth of coins, sent by her nan, into my bucket.
The generosity of young and old who approached me was humbling: Young lads emptying their pockets of change. An old steward opening the gates to come outside and make a donation.
Many people had doubtless given before (and bought shares) when the vultures were circling the first time back in 2003.
But here they were again demonstrating to Stoke-on-Trent City Council that it had made the right call – a brave decision to give Port Vale another chance at life, thereby preserving 136 years of our heritage.
The last 10 minutes of Tuesday night’s game will stay with me forever.
Supporters around the ground, on their feet and singing in unison: ‘Stand Up If You Love The Vale’.
I’m convinced it spurred the players on to the barn-storming finish which included two late goals.
It was great to see so many faces who had been absent for so long.
Mark Rutter, architect of the Starve ’Em Out (SEO) campaign, went in through the turnstile by me and told me of his idea for ‘reverse SEO’ – the Feed Em ’Up campaign.
He’s right. Now is the time for us to demonstrate to the city council, the administrator and would-be investors, the enormous potential of Port Vale and its fanbase by getting ready to buy season tickets and emptying the club shop of merchandise.
In the coming weeks and months there will be many fund-raising events and initiatives to help get our club back on its feet.
I know Vale fans will do more than their share and I’ll be asking our celebrity supporters to also back us in any way they are able.
Not everyone has to give money. Some times it’s more about what you do and what you say.
Now is the time to bury our differences – irrespective of what you thought of the old board or the stay-away fans.
Now, more than ever, we must rally behind not just Micky and the lads but all of the staff at the club who are currently in limbo.
Port Vale is a family and together we will emerge stronger from the ashes of a period of terrible mismanagement and self-interest.
Here’s to that brave new dawn.

How on earth did Port Vale end up in this sorry mess?

It began with a dream and ended with a nightmare.
It started with a vision of a fan-run club – never again to be at the whim of a sole owner in the mould of Chairman Bill Bell.
It finished with a small band of desperate, embattled men who are now, unquestionably, more unpopular and reviled than the aforementioned Bell ever was.
Today, as Port Vale stands on the precipice, we can all be forgiven for asking how and where did it all go wrong?
The answer is complex – a series of near-misses, “what ifs” and “what are the odds?”
However, it can be boiled down to attempts by a small group of individuals to defy the will of the majority of their customers: The supporters and shareholders of Port Vale – the lifeblood of the club.
Over time the “For Us All” motto somehow got lost in translation to be replaced by ‘For a few of us who know better than the rest (and have put more money in).’
Let’s not forget, there was a honeymoon period: A period of grace for the Valiant 2001 regime where the future looked rosy.
We wondered how the club could fail with heroes like Martin Foyle, Dean Glover and Andy Porter around the place to guide the team like echoes of past glories.
Chairman Bill Bratt was a man of integrity. He was the man who had given up his business to save the club he loved and could often be found painting dressing rooms or building something: Mucking in to help the Vale – a club he’d supported, man and boy, for 50-odd years.
Good old Bill. He and his fellow directors didn’t have sackfuls of cash, but they would work hard to get us some investment.
More importantly they cared – just like the supporters – because they were fans themselves.
Bridges were built with everyone from the police to the city council, who had previously been viewed as hugely pro-Stoke City.
Things were looking up. So much so that the authority loaned Vale £2.25m to help towards the creation of business and enterprise units and a children’s centre.
Vale was suddenly a thriving hub of the community – and not just on match days.
Over time, however, a pattern began to emerge. Promised investment never quite materialised. It was always just over the horizon.
Potential investors were ignored or dismissed as chancers, property developers or “total fantasists”, as I was once told.
Fans and shareholders were told that none of these individuals or groups were right for our club. Not the Texans, not Mike Newton – nor anyone else for that matter.
Meanwhile, the millions promised by overseas property firm Harlequin never arrived.
Instead, we ended up with a new shirt sponsor and a few too many people with dodgy Southern accents wandering around Vale Park as if they owned the place.
Managers came and went – Foyle, Glover and Lee Sinnott paying the price for failure and soaking up some of the growing resentment fans felt towards a board seemingly taking the club nowhere.
However, Micky Adams then arrived and suddenly there were flashes of the Vale of old. Cup victories and a genuine shot at promotion seemed to be looming.
But in December 2010, the landscape changed…
Gary Speed took the Wales job and Adams was tempted away by the prospect of managing Sheffield United – the hometown club he had supported as a boy.
That was Christmas ruined, then… followed by the remainder of the season courtesy of the car crash that was Jim Gannon’s reign.
Still, better news was that Mo Chaudry was on the scene and he was offering to buy a controlling 51 per cent interest in the Vale.

Here was a local businessman, with plenty to lose, stepping up to the plate.
When his bid was also dismissed out of hand, it was the signal for disgruntled fans’ groups to rally to his banner.
The Black & Gold Until Sold group, North London Valiants (NLV) and Starve ’Em Out – fans who felt so disenfranchised they were making the ultimate sacrifice by staying away from their club – got behind the owner of the Waterworld leisure complex.
It seemed almost inevitable that Chaudry would win his fight and that the old guard would be swept aside at an EGM convened by NLV members.
But last-minute horse-trading meant three members of the board – Bratt and his fellow directors Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver – survived by the skin of their teeth. Vice-chairman Peter Jackson and Stan Meigh weren’t so lucky.
Three had lived to fight another day but, in truth, Valiant 2001 were finished – five blokes with more money invested in the club having stood against the wishes of the vast majority of their fellow shareholders.
Adams returned from the Steel City and took the squad on a pre-season tour to the United States and Canada courtesy of the board’s latest beau – American artificial turf manufacturer Ameriturf, whose investment in Vale was sold to fans as being worth £1.6m.
How strange then that when the players returned with a tan, the deal had changed – and Bratt was on his way out.
In fact, the deal had morphed beyond all recognition into an £8m investment with a different U.S. sports turf company, Blue Sky International.
If it sounded too good to be true, it was, and ultimately the exposure of the “Pie In The Sky” deal and all of its associated pitfalls in early December was ultimately to prove the final nail in the coffin of a board now comprising Lloyd, Oliver, the club’s newly-appointed chief executive Perry Deakin… and Peter Miller, the man who had supposedly brokered the Blue Sky deal in return for Bratt’s departure from the club.
Their credibility with the fans was shot. Who was going to invest now in a regime which was running out of money, ideas and time?
The answer, of course, was no-one.
Blue Sky boss Hank Julicher, never one to mince his words, was right to ask Miller: “Where’s the beef, baby?”
In other words, where was the money for all these schemes we Vale fans were promised – like the Robbie Williams’ suite?
The answer, of course, is that there wasn’t any money. All of us, the fans, the shareholders and club staff had been led up the garden path by a regime seemingly driven entirely by self-interest.
You can’t issue ‘nil-paid’ shares worth £500,000 and then use them to help vote yourselves on to the board when you haven’t put a bean into the club.
You can’t expect supporters in a low-wage area like Stoke-on-Trent – some of whom have invested their life-savings into Port Vale – to swallow the news that the chairman of their cash-strapped League Two club is being paid a small fortune for a previously unpaid figurehead role.
You can’t re-mortgage Vale Park under the noses of fans to some random firm in Gibraltar and expect the major creditor – the city council – to once again turn a blind eye to the fact the club had breached the terms of its loan agreement.
You can’t stop paying your suppliers, the tax man… or your own staff, for that matter.
The sad truth is that all of this could and should have been avoided.
Back on December 1, as a representative of Port Vale Supporters’ Club, I presented Deakin and Miller with a list of questions given to us by concerned fans.
They were never answered. Subsequently, the board cut off all communications with fans, treated the media with contempt, and created numerous smokescreens to hide their own incompetence.
None of it mattered, of course, because they made one simple mistake: They disenfranchised the most important people to any football club – its supporters. In doing so, they forgot Port Vale’s raison d’être.
Now, it seems the club’s fate rests in the hands of the city council, who will decide whether or not to place the club into administration, or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – a body not known for going easy on football clubs who fail to pay their tax bills.
The local authority can’t win, of course, but councillors know full well just how important Port Vale is to this city, so that remains a cause for optimism.
But it is one that must be tempered by the knowledge the taxman is unlikely to be as sympathetic.
With that in mind, I think it is worth Vale fans remembering something the late, great Roy Sproson once said: “At the time, we did not know what it was like to lose and the thought never occurred to us. We were convinced, in fact, that we could not be beaten.”
Amen to that.

It’s just a matter of time until board are ousted

I’ve never protested against anything in my life. I’ve covered more demonstrations and marches than I care to remember but I’ve never taken part in one.

However, tomorrow I’ll be joining the hundreds of Vale fans who will be giving a very public show of disapproval against the club’s board of directors for their reprehensible conduct in recent months.

So sick am I of the misleading information, the broken promises, the factual innaccuracies, the smoke and mirrors and the failure to hit deadlines that I am taking a stand.

So appalled am I by the fact that the chairman is receiving an eye-watering salary and benefits while the club apparently cannot afford to feed VIP guests at the unveiling of the Roy Sproson statue that I feel duty bound to take action.

Many supporters won’t join the protest – irrespective of their views on recent revelations.

They may well be horrified at Peter Miller’s remuneration package and the fact that the chairman and chief executive were elected to the board by stealth through the use of ‘nil paid’ shares.

I suspect they are feeling just as let down as I am over the Blue Sky fiasco – having been promised a multi-million pound investment which never was.

However, some supporters will just want to watch the game tomorrow because they don’t wish to get involved in the club’s politics or are too embarrassed to be associated with any public protest.

All I would ask of these fans is that they respect the actions of volunteers and fellow Vale supporters who are motivated enough to stand in the cold and show their feelings.

The chairman has dismissed our concerns about the club’s finances and the issuing of shares and ignored our incredulity at the fact that the Blue Sky deal is dead and was never what it was cracked up to be anyhow.

At the same time, Messrs Miller and Deakin are refusing to answer questions posed by The Sentinel and the Supporters’ Club – preferring instead to play semantics and attempt to butter-up shareholders.

The fact is they know the game is up. They have been rumbled. It matters not whether they demonstrate that they have borrowed a few hundred grand off someone and stuck it into the Vale. Their credibility is shot. Fans and shareholders don’t believe what they say anymore.

Whatever Mr Miller claims to have put into the club since he was elected to the board, the fact is he will be taking more out in salary and perks within the first two years of his contract.

My message to Messrs Miller and Deakin – and the equally culpable Mike Lloyd and Glenn Oliver – is simple: Go now because it is just a matter of time before you are removed from office.

All the fans’ groups – Black and Gold, the North London Valiants and Starve ‘Em Out – are united under the umbrella of the Supporters’ Club which is now calling for an EGM with the specific aim of getting shot of directors who have proven to be totally self-serving.

I can assure Mr Miller that it isn’t just ‘two people who don’t have all the information’ who are demanding that he and his fellow directors to step down.

I have not spoken to single Vale fan who believes the board’s spin or who wants these people in charge of our club for a minute longer.

What a shame it is that, in fighting so hard to prevent local businessman Mo Chaudry from taking over the club ‘on the cheap’, the previous regime have actually handed the keys to people whom I believe have put the Vale in an even worse position than it was six months ago.

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

Several hundred life-long fans are worth more than 3 directors

All is quiet on the western front. Isn’t it telling that the chairman has kept a remarkably low profile since the travesty of an EGM?
This is clearly a deliberate tactic. You see, no news is good news for a board which no longer has a mandate to run Port Vale Football Club.
Bill Bratt has been conspicuous by his absence – preferring instead to leave the media statements to the club’s PR guru or the chief executive.
What’s more, the players are in the States which makes for a rather limp build up to the season from a fans’ perspective.
However, it’s seemingly business as usual down at ST6 1AW – despite the fact that we all know that the Starve ‘Em Out (SEO) campaign IS having a hugely-detrimental effect on the club’s finances.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the close-season has been the acquisitions made by Micky Adams.
I hope every one of the players the gaffer has brought in proves a success but, in all honesty, they are all young players with a point to prove.
The advantages are that they are hungry, hopefully talented and presumably relatively cheap in terms of wages.
However, the blunt truth is that, at present, Port Vale isn’t a club which can look to higher divisions when recruiting players and that is a reflection on where the current board has led us to – rather than any reflection on Micky Adams’s ability or ambition.
We simply don’t have the financial clout to compete with even some other clubs in League Two.
After the hollow victory of the EGM, which didn’t quite deliver the killer blow to the old regime, there was understandably a lot of soul-searching and head-scratching among the various elements of the campaign for change.
The close-but-no-cigar situation left the Black and Gold team, North London Valiants and SEO wondering what their next moves were.
Some wondered whether it had all been for nothing. Worse still, there has been friction between supporters within the pro-change camp as frustrations boil over.
Mo Chaudry has been forced to wait in the wings – little more than an interested spectator at this juncture.
Meanwhile, Mark Sims – the man who many, including myself, feel is key to ultimately removing Messrs Bratt, Oliver and Lloyd – has yet to be given the information he requires for him to feel comfortable signing guarantees as a new director.
Malcolm Hirst, of NLV, is in the same boat and I understand fully their predicament.
However, both men have proven by their actions to genuinely have the best interests of Port Vale at heart and so I am prepared to put my faith in them and wait.
In September of last year I wrote something which I have since come to regret.
I wrote: “Bill Bratt has now stepped down as chief executive, but will remain as chairman. This is a good move. Bill’s steady hand will remain on the tiller, but this move allows the club to appoint a new CEO – fresh blood with new ideas.”
Sadly, I have come to realise that so long as Bill Bratt’s hand remains on the tiller and the good ship Port Vale is crewed by the likes of Glenn Oliver and Mike Lloyd we can never hope for great footballing adventures and are limited to pootling back and forth across Westport Lake.
The time has come for the board to acknowledge what they are doing to a substantial chunk of the supporter base.
Several hundred life-long Port Vale fans are voting with their feet. They simply won’t be at Vale Park which is perhaps the greatest tragedy of this whole sorry saga.
I will be there but I will be wearing a Black and Gold scarf and doing my utmost to affect the change which means the people who have been forced to make the ultimate sacrifice can come home again.
*NB: My Vale columns return to The Sentinel on August 5.

I’ll be there… no matter who is in charge

Well it seems our season will be going into extra time after all.
Sadly, I’m talking about off-the-field shenanigans rather than the play-offs.
Last week’s 7-2 drubbing of Morecambe cannot be viewed as anything other than a glimpse of what might have been.
There is no satisfaction to be gleaned from thrashing a team the week after you limply surrender any chance of promotion.
Against Morecambe there was no pressure whatsoever and suddenly we found our shooting boots.
That tells me a great deal about the character of this bunch of players because they couldn’t do it when it mattered.
All of which, barring an avalanche of goals in several games tomorrow, will leave a team that was second top at Christmas outside the play-offs zone.
The forthcoming EGM will be a pivotal moment in the club’s history and I’m only disappointed that it has been arranged at such an inconvenient time.
I am one of the lucky ones who will be able to attend. But there will be many more who have to travel some distance or who are unable to attend a daytime meeting and thus will have to rely on proxy votes.
The EGM should have been called for an evening and certainly not on a week when the kids are off school.
Try as I might I just can’t read the runes and predict what will happen with regard to the current board and whether or not they will be able to retain power.
However, they cannot in all good conscience ignore the 1,000 or so people who took part in last week’s march. After all, they can’t all be crackpots, troublemakers and people with an axe to grind.
At present we are managerless at a time when we should have the pre-season already planned and should be looking to strengthen the squad.
We are also facing a very lean summer as many fans have pledged not to renew their season tickets while the current board remains in charge.
How damaging the Starve ’Em Out campaign will actually be remains to be seen and it is pointless hypothesising at this stage as much will change in the coming weeks.
I suspect the appointment of a new manager with a decent pedigree would tempt some fans to renew their season tickets.
Others will get to the end of July and not want to miss out on seeing their team play at home every other Saturday.
I’ll be there because Port Vale remains my club – irrespective of who is in charge.