Why a little friendly football rivalry is good for Stoke-on-Trent

Former Vale striker Tony Naylor with Stoke and Vale mascots Pottermus and Boomer.

Former Vale striker Tony Naylor with Stoke and Vale mascots Pottermus and Boomer.

As much as some people would like to hype things up, if you’re from Stoke-on-Trent you know there’s only ever been one football derby worth talking about in these parts – and it doesn’t involve Crewe Alexandra, Shrewsbury Town or another Midlands club.

If you were there on that famous FA Cup night at Vale Park in November 1992 when Stoke striker Dave Regis’s shot got stuck in a puddle a yard or so away from the empty Vale net then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the derbies in which the likes of Stein, Gleghorn and Sheron made headlines for the Potters and Cummins, van der Laan and Bogie became heroes for the Valiants.

How great it was last Sunday that the Potteries derby was resurrected at Vale Park – complete with legends from both clubs and a smattering of celebrities.

Former Vale striker Tony Naylor and his friend, local businessman Kevin Jones, organised the Legends game at pretty short notice and, in all honesty, I don’t think many people thought they could make it happen.

But on a rare sunny weekend almost 4,000 Vale and Stoke fans turned out to watch former players roll back the years in aid of charity.

The Vale team, featuring the likes of Ray Walker and Neil Aspin lined up against a Stoke team including the aforementioned Dave Regis and Micky Pejic while famous names like Jonathan Wilkes, Paddy McGuinness and darts maestro Adrian Lewis added to the mix.

Potteries football icons John Rudge and Denis Smith were there in a managerial capacity, for Vale and Stoke respectively, while top flight referee Phil Dowd volunteered to officiate.

Many Vale employees, including stewards, worked for free in the knowledge that local organisation Approach, which helps older people with dementia or mental health needs, would benefit.

The charity was chosen because Tony Naylor’s father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and he wanted to do something which raises awareness of dementia.

While we await the final figure for how much money has been raised, it’s safe to assume that more than £20,000 will be going into Approach’s coffers as a result of last Sunday’s game.

But perhaps more important than that, the event shone a light on dementia – something which affects more than 800,000 people across the UK. I think Vale and Stoke fans can also be immensely proud of how they pulled together for this worthy cause.

Yes, there was banter – with Stoke fans reminding home supporters of the gulf between the clubs these days and Vale fans enjoying ‘normal service being resumed’ as their team put eight past the visitors without reply.

In the end, however, the result was of secondary importance. The charity was the real winner and Stoke City and Port Vale fans proved they can sit side-by-side in friendly rivalry.

Barring a random cup draw, there’s no guarantee that the proper Potteries derby will happen again in my lifetime.

As a Vale supporter, I live in hope, of course.

But if it doesn’t happen then I’d settle for an annual ‘legends game’ – perhaps alternating between the Brit and Vale Park – in aid of different local charities.

Given more time to organise the game for next summer, and with the involvement of both clubs and perhaps the city council, this could become a brilliant off-season celebration – particularly as Stoke-on-Trent bids to become a ‘football city’, as championed by out-going MP Joan Walley.

Events such as this are relatively inexpensive to organise and they generate enormous goodwill.

It’s another easy way to tap into our city’s heritage and help cement football as a sport fit for a family day out.

Fingers crossed for next year and many congratulations to Tony, Kevin, Stoke City fan Angela Smith and all the volunteers for their efforts on Sunday.

They did us all proud – which ever half of the city you come from.

Did you go to the legends game? Would you like to see this become an annual event?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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Some football fans have short memories…

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Port Vale manager Micky Adams.

Football managers are a funny breed. Perhaps it’s the nature of a job where the casualty rate, for want of a better phrase, is so high.

Perhaps it’s the fact that they have to deal with big personalities in the changing room.

Perhaps it’s because they come under constant scrutiny from the media – and now fans in this digital age.

Or, perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above which makes them such unusual, fragile and frustrating creatures.

During the last 25 years I’ve met quite a few and I can honestly say that only a handful would be on my Christmas card list.

Many have huge egos and seemingly low self-esteem. Some are just plain rude – wandering into rooms and talking over people. Others simply can’t take criticism and are prickly to the point that they are an interviewer’s nightmare.

A handful of those I’ve had dealings with, however, are proper gentlemen who always had time for the Press and supporters alike.

Former Stoke City manager Lou Macari falls into this bracket – as does, of course, Vale legend John Rudge.

No matter what was going on at their respective clubs they always treated people with respect and in return earned the admiration of media professionals and supporters alike.

Joe Royle is another. I remember one wet night at Vale Park in the early 90s when his Oldham side had just beaten Rudgie’s lads.

As a cub reporter I was covering the game for the national and local press and – having filed one of my match reports – saw, to my horror, the Oldham team bus pulling away.

Needing quotes from Joe, I ran after it, flagged the vehicle down and the driver opened up the door.

He didn’t look too friendly, to be honest, but I asked if the manager was able to spare me two minutes.

‘Come up lad, you’ll catch your death of cold out there,’ said Royle – his head appearing at the top of the steps.

He sat me down, gave me a coffee and made the bus driver wait for five minutes while I conducted my interview.

This was such a rare, kind gesture by a football manager that it has stuck with me for more than 20 years.

My team may have been beaten that night but Joe Royle was gracious in victory and it’s remarkable how that can dilute a fan’s disappointment.

Football managers will always divide opinions – in the same way the word ‘fickle’ will always be inextricably linked with the words ‘football fans’.

Managers can go from hero to zero, and vice versa, in an incredibly short space of time.

For example, turn the clock back a couple of months and you’d struggle to find many Stoke City fans brave enough to leap to the defence of Mark Hughes.

Many were calling for him to be sacked, some were doing the ‘I told you so’ routine and bemoaning the departure of Tony Pulis.

But chairman Peter Coates – not known for his lack of conviction – wasn’t to be swayed.

I spoke to him after Stoke had beaten Aston Villa at the Brit just a few days before Christmas and asked him how Mark Hughes was doing.

‘Oh he’ll be fine,’ said the chairman, sagely. ‘These things take time.’

He was right, of course, and as I write this column the Stoke manager’s stock has never been higher among Potters fans who can now see exactly what he’s trying to do with his players – many of whom had previously been square pegs put into round holes.

As for the supporters, let’s just say that some of my Stoke City fan friends who were calling for Mark Hughes’s head on social media in December and January have changed their tune and are now denying they ever held such views.

Over at Vale Park, however, the reverse has happened. Micky Adams – who led Vale from administration to promotion in a remarkable season last year is suddenly being portrayed as the devil incarnate in some quarters.

Despite what many observers would consider to be a decent first season in a higher league – with Vale sitting mid-table – his future is uncertain.

After being on the receiving end of what he termed ‘disgusting abuse’ from a small group of supporters on Tuesday night following a calamitous away defeat at Bristol City, Adams said he was considering his future at the club.

This has sparked a huge reaction from fans – with many pleading for the manager to stay on at Vale and others saying they aren’t bothered if he leaves or even urging him to go.

After paying their money to travel an awful long way – only to watch their team put in an embarrassing performance – it’s easy to understand the anger of Vale supporters who made the trip.

The truth is Micky is a canny operator and knows exactly how to play the fans and the media.

This has led to accusations from some quarters that he is simply ‘posturing’ as the season draws to a close ahead of contracts talks with Vale’s owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Personally, I think we Vale fans need to be careful what we wish for.

Micky and I have fallen out on a number of occasions but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what he’s done for the Vale.

As with any club, sometimes Vale supporters have short memories.

Lest we forget Micky Adams pulled together a squad on a shoe-string budget while the club was in administration and guided the team to promotion.

This season, Vale were ninth in January and handily placed for an unlikely play-offs push but the manager wasn’t allowed to bring in the players he wanted.

Since then Vale’s form has been patchy, to say the least – which has coincided with the chairman espousing his views that the club isn’t ready for Championship football – and a mid-table finish is now on the cards.

To be fair, I – and I think most Vale fans – would have taken a mid-table finish at the start of the season.

Forget Tuesday night. Forget the knee-jerk reactions. I think Micky Adams is doing a terrific job at Port Vale.

I personally would be sad to see the best manager since John Rudge leave.

But, let’s be clear: If he does leave at the end of the season it won’t simply be because of a row with a small minority of supporters this week.

He will leave because of the farcical contracts situation which have left him and some of the club’s key players in limbo. He will leave because his position has been undermined on several occasions by ill-timed and ill-advised comments from the chairman.

He will leave because he will be offered what I think he considers to be a ‘relegation’ budget to work with.

No manager, player or owner for that matter, is bigger than a football club.

But, as Tom Pope said yesterday, I hope Micky Adams does stay at Vale and I honestly think he deserves a bit more respect for what he has achieved.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Why Freedom of the City honour would never stop The Sentinel doing its job

The Sentinel's offices in Hanley.

The Sentinel’s offices in Hanley.

We like to think we’re reasonably well informed at The Sentinel but I have to say the announcement that the newspaper we work for is set to be honoured with the Freedom of the City came as something of a shock to our newsroom.

That doesn’t mean to say everyone who works here isn’t thrilled at the prospect, of course.

It’s simply a reflection of the fact that it wasn’t something any of us envisaged. Such honours, rare as they are, tend to be given to other organisations or notable individuals and we dutifully tell everyone about them and record the news for posterity.

It’s a rather exclusive club we may be joining if councillors approve the idea.

Members include Lucie Wedgwood, the North Staffordshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s) – as was, Sir Stanley Matthews CBE, Stoke City FC and – very soon, hopefully – Robbie Williams esquire.

That the Freedom of Stoke-on-Trent is set to be conferred on The Sentinel as we mark our 160th year is a huge honour, a welcome boost to its employees, and a timely acknowledgment of the newspaper’s place in the city’s history.

Who knows what the aspirations of the founding fathers were when they launched The Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial and General Advertiser on January 7, 1854?

However, I dare say that if you had told them the product of their invention would still be chronicling local life in 2014 they would have been pleased at the thought.

The format may have changed, it may have evolved into something markedly different to the original offering, it may have a website currently generating 50,000-plus visitors each day, but the basic function of this newspaper remains the same as it ever was. To inform, educate and entertain the people of North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.

Do we make mistakes? Sure we do. When you’re producing the equivalent of a small novel every day you’re bound to – no matter how many pairs of eyes you have scanning the pages and web uploads. But hopefully people can see we do far more good than harm and I like to think most Sentinel readers trust the paper, rely on its integrity, and understand that its journalists do things in all good faith for the right reasons.

Which brings me neatly on to what being given the Freedom of the City actually means for an organisation like the local newspaper.

Does it mean, as some mischievous commentators may claim, that we’re too close to the city council?

The suggestion is patently absurd given that The Sentinel is unquestionably the most passionate advocate of Potteries folk and the only organisation locally with the resources or the know-how to consistently hold decision-makers to account.

I don’t believe any self-respecting councillor would want The Sentinel to be anything other than a critical friend of the local authority and an organisation they, like anyone else, can turn to for help and support.

After all, if you remove us from the equation who else would attend all the meetings, quiz elected members, speak to residents’ associations or let people vent their spleen to tens of thousands of taxpayers six days a week through well-thumbed letters’ pages?

No, there’s absolutely no danger of this fantastic honour somehow equating to an unseemly, cosy relationship between The Sentinel and the city council – or anyone else for that matter.

The truth is, certainly during my time with this newspaper, the organisations have worked together on many intrinsically positive initiatives and yours truly has been involved with most of them.

Those that spring to mind include the Staffordshire Saxon project; the annual City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards (now in their 39th year); The Sentinel Business Awards (now in their 20th year); the recent Robbie Williams tourist trail, exhibition and charity fans’ festival and the bid for a HS2 hub station.

We work with our colleagues at the city council on these projects because they are hugely positive, they champion local people and they help our city aspire to better things.

Now add those projects to The Sentinel’s campaigns for a new North Staffs Hospital and for the cancer drug Herceptin to be made available to all women on the NHS or our fight to save Port Vale FC and the name of our county regiment.

Then there’s the Young Journalist Awards, the Stoke’s Top Talent variety competition and the Our Heroes community awards.

You start to build up a picture of how, over time, this newspaper is a genuine force for good and can hopefully understand why a local lad like me who used to deliver The Sentinel in Sneyd Green during the mid-1980s is enormously proud of working for it.

Of course, these are just some of the campaigns and projects which this newspaper has been involved with during my 15 years here.

Think of the good The Sentinel has done over 160 years, the help it has given, the information disseminated to generations of families through good times and bad, and the role the newspaper has played and continues to play in local democracy.

Ignore the trolls who will inevitably pour scorn on this column on our website. It’s easy to mock and disparage which is why the internet remains the virtual equivalent of the Wild West.

The Freedom of the City is an honour that would be gratefully and graciously received by The Sentinel’s current generation of journalists on behalf of everyone who went before and everyone who comes after.

Here’s to keeping people informed for the next 160 years… whether that be through film, the internet, via phones and tablets, or by you getting good, old-fashioned print on your hands.

We’ll still be The Sentinel: Local and proud.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

If Banksy wants it here in the Potteries, statue should stay put

The Gordon Banks statue.

The Gordon Banks statue.

I was genuinely saddened this week to read about the possibility of our wonderful statue of World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks potentially being moved from Stoke-on-Trent to Leicester.

When I say ‘our’ statue, I know full well that it actually belongs to the Gordon Banks Monument Committee. which was started and funded by Irish author and Banks fan Don Mullan.

However, I say ‘our’ statue because I honestly feel the wonderful sculpture – crafted with the help of Stoke City fans by Potteries-born artist and friend of mine Andrew Edwards – belongs here in our city.

As I understand it, the statue was originally intended to be one of three likenesses of England’s greatest goalkeeper – echoing the sculptures of Sir Stanley Matthews CBE at the Britannia Stadium. Like Stan’s statue, they were intended to sit on a plinth at the home of Stoke City but, for whatever reasons, the other statues never materialised and neither did the plinth.

Having failed to reach an agreement with Stoke City, Mr Mullan has held talks with Banksy’s other club – Leicester City – about the possibility of it moving to the Foxes’ King Power Stadium.

Local newspaper the Leicester Mercury is backing this option, along with former Leicester City players, while The Sentinel is campaigning to keep Banksy’s statue in the Potteries.

As Mr Mullan rightly points out, it does seem ludicrous that the statue of one of the world’s best-ever goalkeepers isn’t taking pride of place at a football stadium.

Well, there’s one just off the D-Road, Don, and the team there plays in red and white.

That’s where the Gordon Banks statue was intended for and that’s where it should end up, in my humble opinion.

Over the last 15 years, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Gordon Banks, who has attended many of the major awards ceremonies The Sentinel stages each year.

No matter who else is in the room, irrespective of whichever sporting VIPs are there to present the prizes – the biggest cheer of the night is always reserved for this giant of our national game.

If you sit and chat to Banksy, he is a lovely, warm and friendly bloke – always happy to reminisce, give his opinion on current teams and players, have his picture taken with awe-struck guests or sign autographs (I’ve got one in my office).

The people of the Potteries, not simply Stoke City fans, hold him in the highest regard which, I suppose, isn’t surprising when you think he has lived here for so long. How disappointing, then, that a venture which aimed to honour the brilliance of this Stoke City and England legend should result in an unseemly tug of war between the Potteries and Leicester.

For goodness’ sake, I reckon the cost of sorting this mess out is about the equivalent of your average Premier League player’s weekly wage.

The people I feel most sorry for here are sculptor Andy and Banksy himself – both of whom agree the statue ought to remain in Stoke-on-Trent.

That in itself is surely a pretty powerful argument.

Andy, the man who sculpted Sir Stan’s statue and the wonderful Staffordshire Saxon in the foyer at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, has made his feelings clear.

He points out that Stoke City fans, of which he is one, helped to craft the statue and that Banksy himself is now very much an ‘adopted-Stokie’.

Andy proposes a simple solution and one which would surely be acceptable to all parties – that of a second cast of the sculpture being made and this one being placed outside the home of Leicester City.

He’s even said he’ll work on the project for nothing.

But perhaps the last word should go to Banksy himself. He said: “When the statue was being made. I was told by the guy who was paying for it and people at Stoke City that it would be placed outside the ground. I don’t really know what’s happened since then. That is where I’d like it to be, as this is where I’m living.”

Who are we, then, to argue with the bloke who made THAT save? Now, how do I sign The Sentinel’s petition?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

My hopes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014

Frankie Allen with her mum Karen and Vale legend Peter Swan.

Frankie Allen with her mum Karen and Vale legend Peter Swan.

As we approach December 31, it’s a time to reflect but also to look forward to what 2014 may bring.

Top of my wish list for the New Year is a hope that a little girl from Burslem will move further down the road to recovery.

I’ve not met Francesca Allen but I’m one of the hundreds of people locally who’s done a little bit of fund-raising for her.

In August she was diagnosed with leukaemia and since then her courage and beautiful smile have inspired many of us.

Whatever 2014 brings, let’s hope it is a happier and healthier one for a three-year-old who has touched the hearts of people across the Potteries.

In February pop superstar Robbie Williams turns 40 and here in his home city we’re having a bit of a do to celebrate.

RWFanFest is a month-long festival which honours the achievements of Britain’s top-selling music artist and someone who has given £5 million of his own money away to worthy causes here in North Staffordshire.

There’ll be an exhibition of never-before-seen memorabilia and photographs at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley, a charity gig in aid of the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice, a fans’ art exhibition at Burslem School of Art and bus tours around the ‘Robbie trail’.

That’s not all. Expect a lot more too as Stoke-on-Trent finally embraces its celebrity son. Watch this space…

This year Sentinel readers campaigned hard to help save the name of their local regiment.

The Staffords, or 3Mercian as they are now known, had been under threat from Ministry of Defence cutbacks.

But a 17,000-strong petition taken to 10 Downing Street showed the strength of feeling locally and Army top brass gave a commitment to preserve the name.

Our boys are currently on active service out in Afghanistan so spare a thought for them as you tuck into your left-over turkey and mince pies.

Here’s hoping they can complete their final tour as 3Mercian successfully and ALL return home to their loved ones safely.

Sticking with the military theme, 2014 promises to be a big year for commemorating conflicts.

It marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War and events and initiatives are being planned all over the country.

The Sentinel has a number of special supplements planned – including the re-publishing of interviews with First World War veterans as well as letters from The Front.

We will also be working with a variety of organisations to ensure that the county’s rich military heritage is celebrated.

On that note, June marks 70 years since D-Day and world leaders, veterans and tourists will gather in Normandy to pay tribute to the fallen of arguably the greatest invasion the world has ever seen.

The Sentinel has interviewed surviving veterans from all three branches of the services – both for the newspaper and on film for our website – and will be producing a souvenir pull-out to coincide with the anniversary.

Regular readers of this column will know I’m a big believer in celebrating our heritage and so I’ll be supporting Fenton residents in their campaign to save Fenton Town Hall and its unique Great War Memorial.

The fight has already received the backing of celebrities including Stephen Fry, and thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the building to be returned to public ownership rather than sold off to a private buyer by the Ministry of Justice.

Let’s hope justice prevails and the people of Fenton are allowed to retain this civic gem in 2014.

I’ll also be doing my bit in the New Year to help raise the profile of RW388.

That’s the serial number of the city’s Mark XVI Spitfire, housed in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, which is in urgent need of some tender loving care.

Here in the birthplace of its designer Reginald Mitchell, I think it’s vital we do all we can to help restore and conserve this wonderful aircraft for future generations.

Expect plenty of coverage of the battle to save RW388 in The Sentinel and, if you want to make a contribution, you can pick up a copy of a fund-raising Spitfire calendar comprising terrific archive photographs from our reception, priced at £7.99.

If you do pop up to Hanley you’ll notice that work on the much-maligned Central Business District continues apace.

Given that I can’t see the powers-that-be at the council changing their mind about plans for the city centre, I just hope the CBD progresses quickly and there is movement on the long-awaited City Sentral shopping development.

I’m not holding my breath for the latter, given the delays and curious lack of communication from the developers but perhaps we will see a scaled-down version of the original plans. Anything would be better than nothing at this stage.

Turning to sport, I’d like to wish Peter Coates and Stoke City all the best for the remainder of the season.

Potters manager Mark Hughes is lucky to have such a passionate and reasonable bloke at the helm – one who will give him the time and resources to mould his own team in the hope of taking them to the next level.

Meanwhile, at my beloved Port Vale my only wish is for a period of stability – or rather, an end to any financial uncertainty.

Fingers crossed Micky Adams signs a new deal, anyone who is owed any money by the club gets paid, and Vale fans are given closure with regard to the activities of certain individuals who brought the club to its knees in 2012.

I know I speak for The Sentinel when I wish chairman Norman Smurthwaite and his team all the best for a successful and prosperous 2014 – hopefully free of media bans and full of goodwill to all fans… and journalists.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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

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

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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