OVF editor Rob Fielding reflects on the club’s lowest position for 36 years and thinks the long-suffering fans deserve better.
Rob Fielding writes…
I was first taken to the Vale Park stadium in the 1980-81 season. My first game, almost inevitably, was a disappointing home defeat to Lincoln City on Boxing Day. Yeah, merry, blinking Christmas new Vale fan! One month after I started supporting them the club were five points adrift at the foot of the League. “Don’t worry,” I was told, “things can only get better.” I believed those words as first John McGrath and then John Rudge delivered entertainment and progress in equal measures. Surely those terrible days in 1981 would never be revisted? Until now. The appalling start to this season has equalled that 36 year lowpoint with Vale sitting joint-bottom of the table. And crucially, unlike 1981, this season the relegation trapdoor to non-league is well and truly open.
My support of the club will continue – regardless of where it is in the league. But that support doesn’t mean blind acceptance of the current situation…
I don’t know how many games I have been to in 36 years but it’s a lot. I do know that the five promotions I have cheered to the rafters have been cancelled out by five relegations. I will remember cup wins over the likes of Spurs, Everton, Stoke till the end of my days, I will cherish visits to Wembley and the Millennium stadium and I will still shudder at the uttering of the words “Canvey Island”, “Chasetown” or “QPR comeback”… But most of all my support of the club will continue – regardless of where it is in the league. But that support doesn’t mean blind acceptance of the current situation.
I’m by no means alone in this – there are many more fans who have been supporting the club much longer than me, who have travelled to many more games each season than I do, who have invested more time than me and who all care deeply about this club. There’s a lot of anger at Vale’s situation and there’s a lot of hurt.
In my experience, Vale fans do not complain online or on radio phone-ins because they are trouble makers, because they are ill-informed or “moaners” no… by and large with only a few exceptions, Vale fans get angry because they CARE. The fans may differ in the solution to the problem (Brown out, Brown more time, for instance) but they all want the same result – a more successful club.
How do we get out of this mess? Well, I’m not going to sit here and accept bottom of the League – here are my thoughts on how Vale can improve:
In the short-term and looking at the events pitch-side, Michael Brown has an awful to do to convince lots of fans like me that he’s the right man for the job. He’s brought in a lot of players (too many, some may argue) but the squad still looks badly unbalanced. For me, Brown has mere weeks to save his job. He needs to make changes and one for me would be to adopt a more attacking formation with some support for Tom Pope. However, if he fails to do so then, sorry Michael, the club must act decisively. If a new man is needed it needs to be someone with experience of the lower leagues. In my opinion, John Coleman or Keith Hill would fit the bill.
In the long-term, the club desperately needs an owner with a long-term vision, the ability to communicate it and the passion to deliver it. I don’t think we have any of those three things right now. I would hope that as he seems to be failing with his promise of leaving the club in a better state than when he took over, that Norman Smurthwaite cuts his losses and sells to owners who have the drive and vision to take the club forward.
If the club can do these then I do believe we will look back at September 2017 and say “Remember then? Well, it’s only been up since hasn’t it?” However, if, as I suspect, there are no changes of manager or owner then I suspect there could be more troubled times to come.
I hope not. The long-serving and long-suffering Vale supporters deserve better.