Former Port Vale owner and chairman Bill Bell has died at the age of 81, it has been reported.
Bell was chairman from 1987 until 2002. He was largely credited with the modernisation of Vale Park in accordance with the Taylor Report and his regime was also associated with the management of John Rudge.
Bell joined the board at Port Vale in May 1984, and became the club’s second-highest shareholder in April 1986. He then battled with chairman Jim Lloyd for control of the club, and won this battle on 14 May 1987. Bell was chairman for the next 15 years with John Rudge, who Bell had inherited from the previous regime, manager for many of them.
Bell’s business acumen was much to the fore while Rudge wheeled and dealed in the transfer money. Profits from player sales were used to gradually improve the Vale Park stadium including Bell’s ingenious purchase of Chester City’s former main stand roof to provide cover for the Hamil End terracing. Other Bell initiatives included the club’s first electronic scoreboard and the first purpose-build disabled stand at an English football stadium.
The club also did well on the pitch during Bell’s tenure. In 1993 the club won the Autoglass Trophy final at Wembley and in 1996, the club finished in its highest league position for over 50 years.
However, Bell sparked also controversy as he clashed with the council over the closure of the lucrative Port Vale market and rejected the chance to move to a new council-funded stadium, in preference to remaining at Vale Park. But perhaps Bell’s most controversial moment came when he dismissed Rudge in 1999.
Post-Rudge, the club went into decline. Changes to the football transfer market, as a result of the Bosman ruling and the absence of the wily Rudge saw the club plunge massively into debt as they tried to complete the overly-ambitious Lorne Street stand project.
Bell threatened to walk away or even close the club as fans started to protest, but ultimately a near half-a-million pound demand from the Inland Revenue saw the club go into administration in 2002. Bell was replaced as the club’s owner by Charles Machin’s and Bill Bratt’s Valiant 2001 consortium.
Current Port Vale chairman Paul Wildes commented via Twitter that: “Very sad news former Chairman Bill Bell has passed away. I have some big shoes to fill and hope to do him proud over the coming years.”
As a mark of respect, the Port Vale Supporters Club will be holding a minute’s applause before their meeting on Tuesday evening while the club have lowered flags to half-mast.
At Saturday’s game against Morecambe, the players will wear black armbands and there will be a minute’s silence.
OVF would like to express our condolences to the Bell family.