OVF founder Rob Fielding says that the unity and strength of the supporters is vital in the event of future club crises. Fielding argues that the Supporters Club have shown how strong a united fanbase can be and that fans should continue to rally around it.
Supporter strength and unity is vital – just in case…
By Rob Fielding
OK, so potential owner Keith Ryder went down well at the fans forum and talked a good talk.
So far, so good, but I’d like to install a note of caution right now. It’s still relatively empty rhetoric. While I take the opinions of people I respect onboard and they certainly seem to be “keen on Keith”, I am wary that plenty of similar PR exercises have taken place before the person involved took power. Valiant 2001 talked a good game in 2003 for instance…
Hold on a minute, it’s a bit rich to criticise the man before he’s even had a chance to deliver on his promises. That’s a fair point, so let’s be positive and hope that Mr Ryder steers us to a brighter future.
But… and there’s often a “but” in my pieces. What can we do just to be “on the safe side” – is there a “belt and braces” solution to any worries over our future? *
* ”Belts and braces” is one of my favourite expressions, for those unfamiliar with it, it alludes to always having a back-up plan to avoid being caught with your trousers down.
I’d say there is – and it’s the Supporters Club (SC). The simple fact is – the stronger the SC is, the more united and stronger the fans become and the more chance there is that fans can overcome any future problems the club may encounter.
Some may still argue that the fans’ protests were nothing but troublemakers and negative critics which nearly brought the club to its knees. I would say something very different – I think that once the fans united, it was able to rapidly remove a damaging regime and play an active part in appointing a better successor.
So, that brings me to the first part of my argument – unity. Much as I understood the heartfelt and earnest appeals from the handful of groups during the initial fans’ unrest, I felt having multiple fans groups didn’t help (I even wrote an article last year calling on the groups to unite under one banner).
Why? Well, quite often fans were getting two, three, sometimes even more, statements all basically saying the same thing. It was overkill and confusing. And some fans were also put off by one group’s aims (e.g. SEO) but agreed with another (e.g. B&G) whilst there was perceived elitism and cronyism that the creation of several groups, rather than one, was down to cliques and egos **
** I hasten to add that is what other people felt, I personally don’t agree with those sentiments. I don’t think anyone was doing this other than for the love of the club and I am still grateful for their astonishing efforts.
In short, the mixed groups were giving a mixed message. And as the EGM of the summer of 2011 proved, although powerful, it wasn’t quite powerful enough to unite the fans and oust the board. It was only when the Supporters Club grew in strength and all the various groups took a backseat behind them, via a united front, that things really started to gain momentum.
So, now we clearly have a united supporter base. It’s telling that in recent months we, the fans, are getting a single well-written and thought-out statement from the SC on key issues. And the power that the SC has is paying dividends…
The administrators have worked closely with the SC (they didn’t have to) and the potential new owner met them almost as soon as his vacation was over (again, he didn’t have to).
Both are strong indications of the power of the Supporters Club.
The lifeblood of Port Vale is the fans. In good times, a united and strong fanbase can influence and engage with owners positively and in bad times it can remove owners and change the club for the better.
Following the success of removing the previous regime, Vale fans are definitely enfranchised. We know what we want and we are not afraid to rise up to get it. This new, empowered fanbase is a good thing. The new owner must know by now that the fanbase is too vocal and too important to ignore (he’s already alluded to it, in fact). He has to get the fans onboard or he will fail.
In the event that the new owner doesn’t deliver it’s vital that a strong Supporters Club is on hand to represent the fans and fight for the club’s future. It’s equally important that the Supporters Club continues to get stronger and stronger.
Well, the SC statements (delivered on a silver platter by OVF Towers’ butler) often close with a positive comment about the membership of the SC being over 1,500. And that’s what I think needs to change. I don’t think it’s time to be satisfied with that figure. Simply put, I think it needs to be higher.
Where are the other Vale fans? Why is that figure not closer to 3,000 or even 4,000. It’s free and easy to join– either online, at a game, over the phone or via the post. So, there’s no excuse for any fan that cares about Port Vale not to join.
It’s not for me, some may say. My opinion will count for nothing, others may say. Well, welcome to democracy, people. The SC isn’t about the views of one Vale fan (if you’ll pardon the pun) it’s about the majority view. But you have to be part of that democratic process if you want to engage with it. If you don’t agree with something, join, go to a meeting and make your point. Don’t be on the outside shouting, be on the inside debating.
Many fans will feel frustrated looking in on the latest development and unable to influence them. But they’re wrong – they can have an influence. As I’ve mentioned, the Supporters Club have already engaged with both the administrators and the new owners.
So get empowered, get involved and get yourself a membership of the Supporters Club. The future of our club may one day depend on it…
Rob Fielding is a Port Vale supporter of 31 years standing – and he doesn’t really have a butler, the chauffeur does those tasks nowadays…