Malcolm Hirst: Rudderless Port Vale are suffering from a lack of leadership

Malcolm Hirst: Rudderless Port Vale are suffering from a lack of leadership

Columnist Malcolm Hirst says that the rudderless club are in danger of having just non-league football to look forward to.

Malcolm Hirst writes…

I was chatting to a Gillingham supporting colleague of mine the other day. We were both bemoaning our respective poor league positions. His comment on Vale resonated with me. “I’ve been following your predicament for a couple of years and you have really suffered from a lack of leadership”.

On and off the pitch we have no inspirational leader to give the fans hope. Norman’s lack of clarity on the sale of the club is the single largest issue…

His thought echoed the feelings I’ve had for while. Vale seem like a rudderless ship heading for the rocks, with Norman Smurthwaite as the captain intent on going down with his ship.

On and off the pitch we have no inspirational leader to give the fans hope. Norman’s lack of clarity on the sale of the club is the single largest issue. The Clash song title “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” seems quite apt for our current owner. Is he just indecisive? Or does he really not want to sell and is just trying to confuse the situation by making contradictory statements? I, and many more fans like me, will testify that this “indecision is bugging us.”

Whatever the reality beyond the unreality in the world of Smurf-land, there is one we can be sure of – Vale are leaderless. Norman by his own admission is “numb” about Vale. Not so “numb” that he can’t go to Crawley, Leeds and Chesterfield to enjoy the free hospitality? ‘Numb owners’ are only going to be ‘dumb leaders’, unable to make good critical decisions when required to do so.

The lack of leadership is having a detrimental effect on the club, players and fans alike. There is a malaise around caused by an indifferent owner. There is no direction for the club. There are small pockets of positivity such as the new Fans’ Zone and a better social media presence. However, I would struggle to say what direction the club is going in. Norman’s lack of leadership and indifference has seen us lurch from the heights of promotion to the depths of relegation. We stagger from one PR disaster to another. I would say that our current predicament of languishing toward the foot of League Two and heading towards the abyss of non-league football lies primarily at the door of one man, Norman Smurthwaite.

Why do I feel this is the case? Norman inherited a club well on its way to promotion. Since then we have seen a series of blunders that have led to the demise of our great club.

  • Alienating fans by trying to effectively cajole or force fans to games with the promise of new players if we turn up in significant numbers.
  • Embarrassing fans by admitting to cutting the budget to get rid of Rob Page, a manager who took us to 12th in League One.
  • Further embarrassing fans with his comments on why he did not employ Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbank, racially slurring some Vale fans in the process.
  • Appointing a technical director of football and the appearance of several footballers from European lower leagues on what some would say were rather generous terms.
  • Allowing the players’ salaries to be put into the public domain.
  • The disastrous appointment of Bruno Ribeiro as manager despite a more than indifferent track record.
  • Appointing another unproven manager in Michael Brown, who ultimately took us down a division and looks out of his depth.

It should come as no surprise that other football fans see Vale as being in a mess due to lack of leadership…

On the sale of the club, all we seem to get is “constructive ambiguity”, to use a current Brexit phase. He says the club is up for sale but refuses to put a sensible price on it. It should come as no surprise that other football fans see Vale as being in a mess due to lack of leadership.

Sadly, we have no mechanism to get rid of our deeply unpopular owner. I guess all we can look forward to is non-league football and ever dwindling crowds.

This column represents the columnist’s personal views and not necessarily those of the Port Vale Supporters Club.

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