Hard to not get carried away as Vale juggernaut rumbles on

It’s hard not to get carried away right now. It really is. I just can’t help it.

As much as I try to keep things in perspective, Vale’s performances on the pitch of late have me dreaming of promotion parties and trips to Wembley.

It’s been so good, so riveting and so surprising that I’ve managed to put the fact that we are still in administration to the back of my mind.

We’ve been starved of success or even decent football and worn down by off-the-field woes for so long that the team’s heroics are simply the perfect antidote.

That a side stitched together on a relative shoestring budget against a backdrop of turmoil can be sitting second in the league and with 23 points already on the board in the middle of October is truly remarkable and genuinely inspiring.

That we have dumped not one but two League One teams out of the Paint Pot Trophy is testament to the new-found confidence in the dressing room.

I dare say a Vale side going two-nil down away from home last season or the year before would have gone on to lose three or four nil.

Not this lot. They don’t seem to know when they’re beaten.

Even when Sir Micky of Boslem rests half the team our fringe players come in and play a blinder.

There are so many positives that it’s hard to know where to start.

The win away at promotion hopefuls Exeter showed the rest of the division that there’s a new sheriff in town and it ain’t Jamie Cureton.

That the top striker in England is a lad from Sneyd Green who grew up supporting the Vale is just the icing on the cake.

I couldn’t be more pleased for Tom Pope who has worked his socks off and looks leaner and sharper than any striker Vale have had for years.

The clanger at home to Dagenham aside, in Chris Neal we have a top drawer ’keeper who underlined his ability with a terrific one-handed save which protected our two-goal lead and prevented an anxious climax to Saturday’s game.

Then there’s teenage goalie Sam Johnson – drafted in to fill Neal’s rather big boots on Tuesday night.

His debut away at Walsall was Boy’s Own stuff, it really was.

To save three penalties then have the bottle to step up and score the winner is a hell of thing to have on your CV at 19.

But my final praise this week must be reserved for Vale’s astounding away following – by far the best in the division – which is a much-underrated 12th man.

Thanks in no small part to them, the juggernaut rolls on.

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

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I don’t begrudge Stoke fans their Wembley trip

Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and give credit where credit is due. Sunday was such a day.
What I am about to write will see me slated in certain quarters – possibly even excommunicated.
Giving succour or praise to ‘the enemy’, as one Port Vale fan termed it in the wake of Stoke City’s FA Cup Semi-final heroics against Bolton, is considered by some in the wilder parts of Boslem to be an act of high treason.
They are no different to some Stoke fans who won’t rest until Vale Park is a car park.
Nonetheless, even I must take my black and white hat off to the red and white half of the city for a magnificent victory.
Well done Stoke City on reaching the final. I hope you now go on and win the Cup.
There. I’ve written it. That wasn’t so bad, actually.
You see, I can adopt this stance because I have plenty of mates who are genuine, long-suffering Stoke supporters and I wouldn’t dream of begrudging them their moment in the sun.
After all, I’m sure I can’t be the only Vale fan who fondly recalls passing under a bridge on the D-road on the way to the Autoglass Trophy Final at Wembley and spotting a group of Stoke fans with a banner wishing us all the best.
How times – and both clubs – have changed.
Certainly part of the reason I’m able to view Stoke’s achievement philosophically is that, as a middle-aged hack, I recognise it for what it is: a truly remarkable story.
In 1997, starved – as the club was – of success, you would have struggled to find many Potters fans who had a good word to say about the then chairman Peter Coates.
He stepped down with great dignity amid supporter protests and few would have dared predict him returning to the club he had supported since he was a boy.
However, having made a mint – and, no doubt, against the advice of some – he again invested in Stoke City and appointed a manager whom very few fans actually wanted.
Promotion to the top flight of English football ensued and now a place in the final of football’s oldest and grandest Cup competition.
A European adventure may follow.
What a tale. You couldn’t make it up. It’s Boy’s Own stuff, it really is.
Another reason that a Valeite like me can view Sunday’s result with a degree of objectivity is that I know that at least one of the teams that will contest the final won’t be from the ‘big four’.
I can’t abide the hype that surrounds our national game – particularly the big-money teams with their bone-head players who are fêted like rock stars.
Thus I take a crumb of comfort from knowing that, for once, average Joes from Stoke-on-Trent will be enjoying the Cup Final – rather than viewing it, as fans of some teams do, as a divine right and an annual day out.
Yes. I’ve heard all the well-rehearsed criticisms levelled at Stoke City by Vale fans jealous of the both the investment the club has enjoyed and the success it has bought. Criticisms such as:

  • Half the people who now go to the Britannia Stadium are ‘glory-hunters’ who only started supporting Stoke City when they made it into the Premier League.

(What did we expect? That’s the nature of sport – success attracts fresh interest)

  • Stoke have had an easy route to the final.

(Well, you can only beat the team put out in front of you)

The bottom line is that Stoke supporters are now reaping the benefits of a substantial cash investment by a bloke from Goldenhill who was prepared to stick his head in to the lion’s mouth for a second time.
A rare man indeed, Peter Coates brought in a good management team, enjoyed a slice or two of luck – which any team needs if they wish to ascend to the dizzy heights of regular Sky TV coverage – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The contrast with my own club couldn’t be more stark.
While Stoke have ascended, Vale have fallen and stagnated and I predict that the next three or four months will be crucial to my club’s very survival.
Yes, it really is that serious.
I have no problem congratulating Stoke because they are not Stevenage, Morecambe or Barnet – i.e. they no longer have a bearing on us.
The truth is it’s pretty grim being a Vale fan at the moment.
Through thick and thin, they say. Well this is decidedly anorexic, I can tell you.
Thus, I wish the Potters well.
Unless, of course, we draw Stoke City in the cup next season – in which case I will, of course, be hoping we stuff them.

I wish Stoke well – through gritted teeth

Fate has a funny way of slapping you in the face from time to time. As a Vale fan I was none too chuffed to be the bloke whom the rota dictated was editing The Sentinel on the weekend that Stoke City gained promotion to the Premier League. Through gritted teeth I chose the images of smiling, waving and cheering supporters in red and white and wrote an editorial paying tribute to the club’s achievement. Not my best weekend. Guess who’s editing the paper tonight, then – just hours after Stoke secured a place at Wembley in the semi-final of the FA Cup? To be fair, even I can see how the Potters’ achievements are good for the city and making an awful lot of people smile. So I’m going to cross my fingers – for the sake of my Stoke City fan mates – that our arch-rivals make it to the final. It’s only a game, after all.