EXCLUSIVE: OVF editor Rob Fielding speaks to Chairman Norman Smurthwaite about the recent round of rumours hitting the OVF forum.
“I am not looking to sell” Norman Smurthwaite tells me during a searingly honest and wide-ranging phone conversation on Sunday evening.
I spoke to the chairman following some rumours from those “in the know” had caused another OVF meltdown. With all the unsubstantiated rumours flying around, where better to seek answers than the man who owns and operates Port Vale FC.
The first question on the agenda was – has work on the Lorne St stand stopped? And as with all his answers, Norman was refreshingly honest and straightforward with his answer – “Yes, I’ve made the decision to stop funding the completion of the Lorne Street.”
What he had to say:
- Club is not for sale
- Lorne St postponed due to police bills
- IT problems caused some late payments
- Boomer’s future is secure
It really boils down to police bills. The bill for policing was agreed in the summer after relegation/promotion issues determined which clubs would be in League One. But following the stupidity of a tiny minority of fans at Bradford, the “police met the club again” and four matches were raised to the “second category of policing” – resulting in several hundred thousand of pounds more in policing bills. All due to the actions of a minority of idiots.
The extra costs of the police bills caused Norman to re-assess the priority of completing the Lorne Street this season as the chairman was already investing significant amounts into the club. He strongly feels that the his decision after the Bradford “nonsense” shows that “fans’ actions can have severe repercussions.”
Next, I moved onto the issue of late payments and the chairman was honest enough to admit that there had been some teething problems.
When the club was in administration, a new system of making payments was imposed and that has caused problems. When this system was combined with some staff moving on and a severe IT problem, it did mean that the club were late with some invoices which should have been settled. However, the club and even Norman personally are diligently working through the issues and will resolve to sort this out as quickly as possible.
But when I raised the key issue of whether the club was for sale, Norman was unequivocal – “I am not looking to sell” he told me. He was honest enough to comment that sometimes “I ask myself why I am sitting here” and that it can be a “thankless task.”
Mr Smurthwaite is also refreshing straightforward with regards to his experience of being a football chairman. He told me that he knows he is a relative “novice” and that while not looking to sell, he would listen to anyone with a “football knowledge who was a genuine investor” and would be willing to come into the club as an “equity partner.”
There were two further issues that Norman wanted to discuss with me. One was his decision to show solidarity to Coventry City fans – whose club is currently in dire straits. The chairman felt that his actions were more than justified especially as fans of other clubs had rallied to Vale’s cause when the Valiants had hit rock bottom. Lamenting that “some Vale fans have short memories” he has no regrets for showing support to his ailing hometown club and I personally agree 100% with his sentiments.
Finally, we moved onto the final question – that concerning the future of Boomer, the popular Vale Park mascot. Again, Norman did not mince his words. To the chairman, the mascot is “part of the fabric of the club” and his role is “not under threat.” He ended our conversation with a sentence that all fans can surely agree on – “Long live Boomer!”
And long live straight-talking chairman! Thanks to the Port Vale owner for taking time out of his weekend to speak to OVF.
This is Rob Fielding’s account of a phone call with the chairman – any errors made are his alone.