Will someone wake me up when Wimbledon’s finished?

The BBC's Wimbledon team.

The BBC’s Wimbledon team.

The next two weeks sort of sums up why I would never want to work full-time on a newspaper sports desk.

It’s the time when I avoid my beloved Radio Five Live and the BBC in general.

Whisper it quietly but I am not the slightest bit interested in Wimbledon, or tennis in general, for that matter.

It just doesn’t do anything for me and, if I was working on a sports desk, I would have to feign interest in tennis and all sorts of other niche sports I couldn’t care less about.

In the build up to Wimbledon we have been assailed by trails on the Beeb which dress it up to be the highlight of the British summer.

There’ll be sunshine, strawberries and cream, celebrity hangers-on, lots of grunting… and Cliff Richard. (The last two are different things, by the way).

But I don’t need to be in the SW19 postcode area or watching people who are to enjoy a punnet of strawberries.

Contrary to what Sue Barker says, strawberries aren’t the preserve of toffs because my mum can get them from Hanley market at a quarter of the price you’ll pay at the All England Club.

Wimbledon is as important to me as, say, the Monaco Grand Prix.

However, I know I’m in a minority because, for the briefest of times, huge numbers of people in the UK will become devotees and experts while I go and bury my head in a good book.

In recent years an old friend of mine has become an avid follower of Formula One and a fan of Team McLaren.

I respect his choice of pastimes, of course, and I’ve said I’d be only too happy to accompany him to a race sometime.

However, the truth is I could never get really excited about a sport where 95 per cent of media coverage is devoted to rule infringements and the winner seems to be dictated by which team has the best car/tyres/engines.

It’s kind of like knowing that the Premier League title will be won by the team wearing the most aerodynamic boots – irrespective of who works hardest or has the most skill.

No, I’m afraid I couldn’t work on a sports desk because huge events as varied as the Six Nations, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the World Snooker Championships and even Wimbledon leave me cold.

The same goes for the Tour de France and London Marathon too. While I can appreciate the endeavour in both I just can’t see their merits as spectator sports.

One features a bunch of people you’ve never heard of cycling up and down hills on the continent and the other features even more people you’ve never heard of running/walking around a place most of us try to avoid.

You see, I’ve realised that – in terms of sport – I enjoy watching football and cricket and that’s about it.

Despite the pressure exerted on us to buy into all the hype surrounding Wimbledon, I don’t feel the need to get swept along by a wave of patriotic fervour every time John McEnroe returns to take another chunk of licence fee-payers’ money.

Someone else can have my spot on Henman Hill, Murray Mount or Robson Rise – whatever it’s called this year. Granted, my involvement in tennis was rather short-lived – which probably explains my antipathy.

I had a wooden racquet when I was about 10 and attempted briefly to emulate Bjorn Borg on the sloping road outside my parents’ house.

I have painful memories of gamely chasing after a discoloured Slazenger ball as it rolled inexorably down the bank when I missed my mate’s forehand return.

Tennis is one of those sports that, despite what people tell you, isn’t really encouraged in state education – along with rugby, cricket… I could go on.

Ultimately, I think you really are shaped by the sports you are allowed to play and encouraged to take part in as a child.

For me it was football and only football.

To my horror, they took the cricket nets down at my high school and replaced them with mobile classrooms the year before I arrived.

Thus I spent five years playing footie in all weathers on concrete tennis courts – rarely even on grass – as the full size pitches were deemed to be too big for us.
I never saw a rugby ball and I never picked up an actual tennis racquet.

So forgive me if I don’t get caught up in this week’s hero-worship of the dour Scotsman.

My time will come, weather permitting, on July 10 when Jimmy Anderson takes the new ball against the Aussies at Trent Bridge for the start of The Ashes series.

Who knows, there may even be strawberries…

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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

valebadge
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.

I look forward to tweeting-up with everyone (Come on Vale…)

The Twitter home page of yours truly.

The Twitter home page of yours truly.

The Leopard Hotel in Burslem has played host to some big names during its long history.

A couple of years ago none other than the crown prince of pop music himself, Robert Williams esquire, turned up with his entourage to engage in a night of ghost-hunting at the famous hostelry.

It is not known whether our Rob communed with the spirits of guests who once frequented the ‘Savoy of the Midlands’ as The Leopard was known.

However, he certainly followed in the footsteps of some illustrious names that night.

Names like Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley who met in the Burslem hotel 248 years ago next month, to be precise, to discuss the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Yes, some of the great pioneers of the industrial revolution once supped at The Leopard and tonight their modern day equivalents will be doing just the same. Sort of.

The Sentinel’s digital staff – the people in charge of our online operation – have organised ‘a tweet-up’ this evening.

OK. I’ll admit I had to look up what it meant. Basically, a ‘tweet-up’ is a face-to-face gathering of people who use Twitter.

In this instance, it’s a chance for users of the social network to meet up with their favourite/most annoying Sentinel journalists and, crucially, other influential Twitter users from our neck of the woods.

I can’t promise that the conversations will be as deep and meaningful as the one had by Wedgwood and Brindley in March 1765 but we’ll give it a go.

Tonight’s meeting of ‘tweeps’ (check me out with the lingo) underlines just how much The Sentinel has changed since I first arrived at Etruria 15 years ago.

Back then email was in its infancy, this newspaper didn’t have its own website and there was no such thing as Twitter or Facebook.

Nowadays our ‘digital audience’ (people who visit The Sentinel’s website) is more than 513,000 a month and this figure is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.

The immediacy of the internet trumps newspapers, television and even radio reporting and it’s something that even Luddites like me have had to embrace.

Indeed, most journalists would be worried if it weren’t for the fact that so much of what’s written on the web is nonsense and, thankfully, people still rely on trusted brands for their information.

Sentinel newspaper. Sentinel website. It’s all still The Sentinel, I guess.

What’s interesting to me is the kind of people from our patch who use Twitter to communicate with their friends/colleagues/contacts/fans and the wider world.

You’d be suprised at who’s tweeting and perhaps, more so, by who isn’t.

Stoke City and Port Vale players, darts maestros Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis, England cricketer Danielle Wyatt, mobile phones billionaire John Caudwell, the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, Vale chairman Paul Wildes, stage star Jonny Wilkes, your MPs, local councillors, and the chief executives of some major employers locally, to name but a few, are all at it.

What’s more, some of them even write their own tweets. (You can usually tell by the spelling mistakes).

Tonight a fair few of them will be meeting up at The Leopard.

In a pub that’s more than 250 years old a bunch of people, some of whom have only ever met ‘virtually’, will be brought together by the wonders of modern technology and the promise of a pint.

Yours truly (@MartinTideswell) is even being forced to miss watching Vale beating Wimbledon just up the road in order to be there.

Hacked-off because there’s too much Stoke City and not enough Port Vale in the paper? Or vice-versa? Our Sports Editor Keith Wales (@SentinelSportEd) will be having his ear bent about that old chestnut.

Want to talk campaigns or have an issue with one of our stories? The Sentinel’s Editor-in-Chief
(@MikeSassi) will be explaining his thinking.

Have a question about The Sentinel’s Business Awards? Our Business Editor (@annking) can probably help.

Fancy venting your spleen about the city council’s plan to relocate its civic HQ from Stoke to Hanley? Our local government reporter Alex Campbell (@CouncilReporter) will be only too happy to listen.

Then there’s our star turn – my columnist colleague and ascerbic TV critic John Woodhouse
(@jwoody67), who will be doing a Twitter-related stand up routine. I kid you not. (He’s quite good, actually).

I just have one request: If you’re one of the Twitter users who’s going along to The Leopard tonight, go easy on my colleagues, won’t you?

Most of them don’t normally leave the safety of The Sentinel’s bunker to meet their followers/readers in person.

In fact, it might be better at the start if you limit your conversations to 140 characters until they all get the hang of this talking lark.

Mine’s a Diet Pepsi and a bag of dry roasted peanuts, by the way. Cheers.

*To sign up for tonight’s tweet-up email: chris.hogg@thesentinel.co.uk or david.elks@thesentinel.co.uk

*A video of tonight’s tweet-up will be posted on The Sentinel’s website at 9am tomorrow.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

The Leopard in Burslem.

The Leopard in Burslem.

Happy New Year to all Vale fans. We’ve earned it

valebadge
I will admit to spending the last 10 minutes of the Rotherham game pacing up and down fearing that we were going to let another two points slip.

But when the final whistle blew it really was the perfect Christmas present from an honest set of lads to Vale fans everywhere.

The easier of the three games over the festive period – Wimbledon at home – was a washout.

But Micky Adams’ charges battled hard for a point at rivals Cheltenham and then went and completed the double over the Millers at their place on Boxing Day.

The win leaves us in a great position – just two points off the top spot and with a game in hand over the teams lying third and fourth.

The restoration of Louis Dodds to the starting line-up alongside the Pontiff, a combination which served us so well at the start of the season, is certainly paying dividends.

Both strikers scored and it was great to learn that the Doug Loft had been reinstated to the midfield which is clearly where he is most influential.

That we are in such a superb position going into the New Year is testament to the players and coaching staff who weren’t given much of a prayer by the bookies in April.

This time last year things were so very different.

Fans were still reeling from revelations about nil paid shares and the remortgaging of Vale Park from under their noses.

A vast majority of supporters felt completely disenfranchised by the self-serving individual running the club.

The future looked bleak. Vale were struggling to pay bills and administration seemed an inevitability.

Those who campaigned for change may indeed have taken a gamble with Port Vale’s future.

But, for me, it was far less a gamble than leaving the club in the hands of those who quite clearly didn’t have Vale’s best interests at heart.

The Port Vale of 2013 will live or die by decisions made by businessmen like Norman Smurthwaite who genuinely believe they can make the club profitable and therefore successful.

The club’s debt has been cleared, we paid the 10-point penalty for going bump, and the Vale is now in a far healthier position than it has been for many years.

This is a time of hope and optimism where we can devote our time to discussing the merits of players and formations rather than discredited directors.

A Happy New Year to all Port Vale fans and employees. We’ve earned it.

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

Three points there for the taking against struggling Dons

valebadge
It’s crunch-time then. A must-win game in the eyes of most of us at home tomorrow against struggling Wimbledon.

We’ll be told no games are easy and that the Dons are ‘scrapping for their lives’ near the foot of the table.

Spin it anyway you want to: It’s three points for the taking in my eyes – especially has Micky Adams has a pretty much full-strength squad to choose from.

Our form over the last five or six weeks certainly hasn’t matched the blistering start we made to the start of the season.

Injuries and suspensions have played their part, for sure, but it is also fair to say that a few key players have been somewhat below par.

They include wingers Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams who will doubtless be champing at the bit to feed the Pope and get back on the score sheet tomorrow.

Over the course of a season very few players are able to maintain the same levels of enthusiasm and performance. (The Sneyd Green Pontiff being the obvious exception to that rule at the moment).

Hopefully the gaffer will simply point at the league table before kick off and show anyone who may be feeling a little low on confidence our goal difference of plus 21.

I was delighted to see Louis Dodds back in the team last weekend – especially when he repaid the manager’s faith with a goal which earned us a terrific point away at Cheltenham.

If you go back to the start of the season it was the partnership of Pope and Dodds, supported by the rampant wingers, which got us off to a flyer and it is good to see us returning to that formula.

The centre of the park remains a concern to me, however, because I feel we miss Doug Loft’s energy and all-round play when he is stuck as make-shift left back.

Wherever Lofty plays, however, we’ve surely got enough quality and creativity to turn over tomorrow’s visitors.

As an aside, there’s been much speculation over whether or not John Rudge may return to Vale Park in some capacity once his contract expires at Stoke City in June.

Very sensibly, Rudgie refused to be drawn on such questions when he rang me earlier this week.

I reckon whatever the future holds for the great man, his legacy as a true great of Potteries football is secured and I’m sure there will always be a warm welcome for him in Burslem.

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

There’s no need for panic. We’re second for a reason

valebadge
It’s squeaky bum time, then. Three defeats in a week has left some people wondering whether or not we have misread the omens.

Fans are asking where the free-flowing football has gone.

Supporters want to know what has happened to the team that put 11 goals past promotion rivals in two games.

Have we been found out? Are we perhaps not as good as we think we are?

Is this where the wheels come off?

Despite the recent poor run of results I’m still optimistic.

We’re second for a reason and there’s absolutely no need to panic at this stage.

I’m not denying that there are issues, however.

It worries me that our defence is so slow. It concerns me that if teams double up on our wingers then we don’t seem to have a Plan B going forward.

Clearly some players are below par at the moment and, for whatever reason, their confidence has dipped.

The reaction of a section of the home crowd to last Saturday’s dismal performance against Chesterfield was perfectly understandable.

Vale fans will take defeat if the team give it their all and look like they want to win the game.

Away against Sheffield United in the FA Cup no-one could fault the endeavour shown.

But against both Bradford in the JPT and, more disappointingly, the Spireites in the league we were second best.

They were the better-organised teams who, crucially, looked like they wanted the win more.

It is for Micky Adams to decide whether or not the players who are under-performing require the carrot or the stick.

There are some – like Tom Pope and Chris Neal – whose inclusion on the team sheet is a no-brainer.

But how many others, at present, can claim they deserve a guaranteed start?

We’ve not seen much of Calvin Andrew yet but I would prefer to see Louis Dodds reinstated into the attack alongside the Pontiff.

Although he hasn’t scored many goals this season, Dodds’s link-up play and tracking back is crucial, for me.

We’ll miss Jennison Myrie-Williams tomorrow but should still have enough quality and attacking options to get a result against Cheltenham.

The away trip to Rotherham will provide a stern test but the home games against Wimbledon and Dagenham and Redbridge are eminently winnable.

You see, it’s not all doom and gloom. Last week I told Popey he’d score 35 goals this season and I’m sticking with that prediction.

It’s a time for cool heads, a little faith and some encouragement for the lads as the tough December fixture list continues.

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

Memories of the ‘Black Pearl’: A Vale legend who still gives me hope…

This is my favourite Sentinel photograph from the 1980s.

No matter how bad things get at my beloved Port Vale (and right now it’s pretty bloody grim) it is an image which reminds me that there will always be hope.

The picture was taken on June 3, 1989, and shows Robbie Earle shedding tears of joy as he rests in the players’ tunnel at Vale Park after scoring the winner in the old Third Division play-off final (second leg) against Bristol Rovers.

It is a wonderful image that, for me, is evocative of a special time in sport – a time before the internet and 24-hour TV and radio ruined the mystique surrounding many of our heroes.

Robbie – or the ‘Black Pearl’ as he was affectionately known in Boslem – was the best player I ever saw in a Vale shirt.

He had it all: Skill, good in the air, a burst of pace and a never-say-die attitude which is sorely lacking in many modern-day pros.

The fact that he was a local-lad-made-good just added to his aura and he was adored by Vale fans. He still is.

Robbie played almost 300 games for the club between 1982 and 1991, scored 77 goals and is inextricably linked with the most successful period in Vale’s history.

He achieved similar cult status with Wimbledon fans and went on to represent Jamaica 33 times – famously scoring the country’s first ever goal at a World Cup Finals.

One of the few footballers to make a successful transition from the game to punditry, Robbie is – in my opinion – one of the most charming, articulate and insightful commentators on the modern-day game.

But for some storm in a teacup in 2010 over the misuse of World Cup tickets by someone else, his star would still be rising with ITV.

As it is, he is currently plying his trade in the U.S. (as well as being a columnist for The Sentinel, of course).

Robbie hasn’t ruled out a return to Vale Park some day – perhaps even via a foray into management.

However, with the club in disarray and a financial basket case, that possibility seems remote at present and I’m more than happy to remember him as one of the best attacking midfielders in the country who just happened to wear black and white.

I first met Robbie properly when I sat next to him at a Sentinel awards event in 2008.

Having arranged the seating plan I will confess that I deliberately sat him next to me and spent all night like a kid in a sweet shop forcing him to reminisce about his time at Vale.

He was charming and patient and took my endless prattling in good humour – sharing dressing room anecdotes and more recent stories relating to his former team-mate turned Hollywood star Vinny Jones.

A few months later, when I was diagnosed with cancer, a parcel arrived at my home.

Inside was a signed t-shirt. The message read: “From one Vale legend to another. Best wishes, Robbie Earle x”.

It was the best tonic I could have wished for.

Meet Robert Fitzgerald Earle MBE in the street and you will find him a warm, self-effacing and engaging bloke who still has a genuine passion for the club where he made his name.

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