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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


One game at a time. And let’s win tomorrow for Mr Bell

I wasn’t too disappointed with the goalless draw against Barnet.

It was a classic case of a game where league positions were irrelevant with a team near the bottom scrapping for their Football League existence.

We were lucky to come away with a point, by all accounts, but the fact is we did and, who knows, that point – or the point we rescued away at Wimbledon – may just prove crucial.

If nothing else, last Saturday reminded the players, coaching staff and fans that we can’t take anything, or any game, for granted.

It is, and always has been, a case of one game at a time and a matter of changing up the formation and tactics depending on the opposition.

Forget the 10 point cushion between Vale and the play-off positions: If we win at least six of the remaining 15 games and pick up two or three draws that should see us promoted automatically.

There’s every chance we could go up as champions, which would be terrific, but as I’ve said before – promotion without the lottery of the play-offs – is all that matters.

What is particularly encouraging about recent results is that we have tightened up at the back and the influence and experience of Darren Purse is clearly paying dividends.

The Sneyd Green Pontiff will doubtless return to the scoresheet tomorrow as the club and fans look to pay a fitting tribute to former Vale Chairman Bill Bell who died this week.

There will be flags at half mast, black arm bands and a minute’s applause which will echo the gesture made at the Supporters’ Club AGM on Tuesday night.

Always a divisive figure, there is no denying Bill Bell’s shrewd investments and his partnership with John Rudge delivered the best period in Port Vale’s history to date.

His legacy is a stadium to be proud of which puts others in the lower leagues to shame and the foundations of what will hopefully soon be a Championship club.

As someone said to me earlier in the week: “Billy Bell may have been a rogue, but he was our rogue.”

Who knows, very soon the new owners of our club may see fit to honour ‘our rogue’ – and possibly even his partner in success JR – with some sort of lasting tribute.

Something perhaps for the new Supporters’ Club committee to work towards as we all look forward to a bright new era while paying a respectful nod to our past.

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

We mustn’t let apathy kill the Supporters’ Club

Two terrific home victories have left us in a position we could scarcely have dreamed about this time last year.

He will say, of course, that we haven’t done anything yet.

However, the achievement of Micky Adams and his coaching staff in creating a squad which has put us top of the league cannot be overstated.

Yes the new owners have spent money to bring in additional players to strengthen us across the park.

Yes Darren Purse, Daniel Jones and Lee Hughes are excellent recruits whose experience and quality are there for all to see.

Their arrival was perfectly timed but they knew they were joining a squad who had already laid solid foundations for this promotion push.

The likes of Chris Neal, Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams and the superb Tom Pope continue, quite rightly, to be singled out for particular praise but the truth is it has been a genuine squad effort thus far – with all players contributing to the cause at different times.

Having said that, if there is a better midfielder than Ryan Burge in the lower leagues right now then I’m not aware of him.

Burge is a class act and I’d love to see him join Tom Pope in pledging his future to a club that finally seems to be awakening from a post-John Rudge slumber.

Things are progressing well both on and off the field and the new owners deserve great credit for the steady stream of improvements.

I hope that on Tuesday their efforts are rewarded with the election of a quality new Supporters’ Club committee that is champing at the bit to help take the Vale forward.

The entire committee which fought to save the club last year is standing down which is the right thing to do in my opinion. It is time for new faces not tarred with the time of troubles and some fresh ideas.

I hope to see as many Vale fans as possible at Tommy Cheadle’s from 7pm onwards as we look for a new Chairman; Vice-Chairman; Treasurer; Secretary/Membership Officer; Press and Publicity Officer; Webmaster; Liaison Officer and Fund-raiser.

With 1,600-plus members, money in the bank and a good reputation, I’d hate to see the Supporters’ Club now wither on the vine because we don’t have our backs against the wall anymore.

I really hope the new-look Supporters’ Club can remain a critical friend of the new owners while returning to its raison d’être – helping the Vale in any way it can.

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

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.

All we are saying… is give Keith a chance

Keith Ryder. “Who? Never heard of him.”

That was the reaction from most people when I left the Press Conference at Vale Park this lunchtime.

As one of the unnamed bidders, Mr Ryder has ghosted in and snaffled the preferred bidder status for Port Vale Football Club.

He couldn’t be at the Press Conference as he had ‘business in the south of England’.

This immediately led some to denounce him as not being committed to the club and ‘a joke’.

Or it could just be that the Press Conference date and time was set by the administrators and he, er, had business in the south of England. Make your own mind up.

Apparently Mr Ryder has tried to invest in Port Vale before. Then again, who hasn’t been turned down by the previous regime?

We were told he made his money in financial services and property development.

This prompted me to receive text messages pointing to the fact that Mr Ryder is obviously interested in the land so he can flog it for housing.

Not so. He’s not allowed to do that because the main debenture holder – Stoke-on-Trent City Council – requires the preferred bidder to sign a bit of paper which ensure football continues to be played at Vale Park.

We have also been assured that Mr Ryder, based in Lancashire, has no links to previous directors. Bonus.

He’ll be meeting the fans at an open forum on April 18 and, hopefully, before then the Supporters’ Club will hook up with him to offer help and support.

It’s a brave new world and no-one should underestimate the task ahead of us.

Vale is on its knees. The fanbase has dwindled to a real hard core and some divisions among supporters remain.

We have to get the CVA approved which means we can avoid a further points deduction and we have to get to a position where Micky Adams can start making plans for the new season.

However, there is hope. In recent months that hard core of loyal fans has worked miracles and shown boundless generosity.

That’s why Peter Miller, Perry Deakin, Glenn Oliver and Mike Lloyd are history. That’s why we have an opportunity for a fresh start.

Now is the time for us to set aside any personal agendas or favouritism. Those in the pro-Mo Chaudry camp must set aside any disappointment too.

On April 18 we can meet the preferred bidder, ask the questions we want to ask and see what his vision for the future of Port Vale is.

He will be subject to the same scrutiny as all those who have gone before and, by the same token, should be able to call on the support of everyone who wants the best for Port Vale.

Mr Ryder deserves a chance. So before we vilify him, jump to conclusions or automatically assume the worst, let’s show a little patience and good grace.

We’re Vale aren’t we?

Let’s stop bickering and focus on helping our club

There’s lots of nonsense being talked at the moment about the bidding process and a fair bit of bickering between Port Vale fans.
I wish it would stop and we could all just focus on supporting the team and help them to another couple of wins.
We’re still not mathematically safe and, while it is unlikely that we will be dragged into a relegation scrap, I won’t breathe easily until we can’t go down.
A couple more wins and the Company Voluntary Agreement – which avoids us having to take a points deduction next season – are what’s important right now.
I’ve been very disappointed with the attendances.
Yes, times are tough. Yes, the administrators may have annoyed people by sticking their oars into the match pricing structure. Yes, the football isn’t great.
But if ever a football club needed its fans then it is now at Vale Park.
I’ve heard people say (and seen them post on the internet) that this season is a dead rubber and we have nowt to play for.
On the contrary, I think it is more important than ever that fans do whatever they can to help Port Vale right now.
Whether that is attending games, getting behind the makeshift team, buying merchandise, pledging towards season tickets or donating to the hardship fund – it all helps.
It demonstrates to the city council that they were right to back Port Vale and shows potential buyers that we have a club worth investing in.
Frankly, not ‘being arsed’ – as one person quaintly put it – isn’t good enough. If the other 4,000 who turned up yesterday took that approach then Port Vale would be finished.
Let’s stop the bickering, the point-scoring and the hypothetical discussions which have fragmented our grand alliance which was instrumental in removing the previous, discredited board of directors.
For what it’s worth, my view is that it wouldn’t be right for the Supporters’ Club to endorse any prospective buyer as we won’t be seeing any of the bids.
The administrators and the prospective buyers are all ‘playing the game’ – so to speak.
There may or may not be half a dozen interested parties. Mo Chaudry may or may not be the only show in town.
We just don’t know and thus we should remain critical friends of Port Vale – ready and willing to support the new owner/owners in any way we can while scrutinising their actions and intentions.
You may not agree with me and that’s absolutely fine. Ultimately, it’s not our decision anyway.
To be honest, I’m not bothered who is pro-Mo or who is annoyed with the administrators. I just wish people would put Port Vale first.
Whoever the next owner of our club is (so long as it is not someone connected to previous failed regimes) they should expect – and get – 100 per cent support from the fans.
They will be inheriting a wonderful piece of Potteries heritage and, if run properly, they could soon have a successful business and the gratitude and loyalty of thousands of local people.
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has attended recent games and bought t-shirts, mugs, money boxes and postcards and thereby donated to the Supporters’ Club’s hardship fund.
Your generosity has been genuinely humbling and reminds us all that Port Vale is a key part of the local community.
Long may that continue to be the case.