In this fictional account, our correspondent imagines a desperately gloomy situation for our club in a couple of year’s time…
Written by the Predictive Paddock Dweller
You can hear the single open turnstile creak as the last few supporters enter the stand. There is no need to be here early they think – never a queue these days!
This is a work of fiction. No-one can predict the future with certainty. However, considering our current predicament it may serve as a very real warning to what may happen to our beloved club in the near future if things do not change for the better.
It’s August 2021 and 1,100 Port Vale fans are sat, scattered on red and white seats in the lower tier of the recently renamed “Peter Coates Stand” at the Bet365 stadium. In the away end 50 hardy supporters have travelled to cheer on Sutton United as both sets of supporters dream of promotion at the end of the season.
After an abysmal end to the 2018/19 season which saw mass protests against its owner, Port Vale fans have seen the harsh reality of relegation from the Football League. Only two of the players from the relegation season remain and the back room staff have been halved. “I have to cut costs and we can only keep essential staff,” said the memo from the owner. “But we are seeking volunteers from the local community and investigating if we can complete deals with HMP Dovegate to utilise former offenders on a day release as a part of the ‘back in the community scheme’ along with students from Stoke College who are studying sport management and are keen to learn the ropes as a part of their course.”
“Doesn’t save my bloody job though!” think the back room staff, “We’ve all been stitched up here.”
The ticket office, rarely needed or used now, is staffed by volunteers and this season’s “new collection” of merchandise has not yet been delivered to the club shop. Still we think, who needs a Port Vale pencil sharpener when we have a new season to look forward to?
The constant tightening of budgets and the stubbornness of the owner who continues to alienate supporters in his constant drive to deliver his hidden agenda and “maximise revenue from his portfolio of investments” (according to a glossy new brochure sent to a reporter at the local newspaper) has seen investment in the club reduce year-on-year and Vale are now at an all-time low.
At home an ageing Stoke City owner sips on a class of wine, quietly laughing at the irony of charging lowly Port Vale to play in his ground and adding to his fortune. Times haven’t been great for Stoke City either, he laughs that, one day, when the time is right, the Vale owner will sell and I’ll be there. It will be a good investment to have our youth team playing at this level – a nice bit of experience for the lads. And if he doesn’t sell, well, this lot are no competition and we can carry on attracting the school kids of the city to watch Stoke. Kids will do anything for a free shirt and a SCFC pen.
Meanwhile, in a hotel in Birmingham, the Vale owner giggles as he leaves a final meeting with St Modwen to finalise plans for the development of ‘Vale Mews’. He won’t be checking Twitter for score updates and Radio Stoke has no coverage here. As for the BBC – they don’t cover teams at that level so there is no point in checking their news feed. It’s been a tasty free lunch and he can see his vision for a range of affordable houses soon to be available just off Hamil Road, Burslem starting to take shape. It took longer than he expected to tear down the Railway Stand, but the developers plans look great.
He has no plans to attend today’s game in Trentham. He has bigger fish to fry and since the supporters don’t want him there, he has no intentions of risking his health and his car in watching that shower. He hasn’t been to a football match in two years and in reality, what little love for the game that he ever had has long since evaporated. But the money! He could buy a new hotel in Torquay and a Bentley with the profits!
Back in Trentham it’s 2:50. Several crisp packets and a lone black bin bag drift across the pitch in a cold wind as the two teams walk from the corner of the stadium to a deafening tannoy playing 80’s soft metal. It echoes through the virtually empty stadium. You can hear the single open turnstile creak as the last few supporters enter the stand. There is no need to be here early they think – never a queue these days!
Times have changed from the highs of 25 years ago for Port Vale.
Money is tight, but the supporters club have managed to organise a close season bucket collection to allow the new player manager (a veteran forward who has stayed on from the League days through his love for the club) to get the team a new kit to play in. They still have to supply their own training gear though – 1,500 locals can only chip in so much and after the prices haven’t come down since the football league days, their pockets aren’t deep enough.
After financial support from the owner has been withdrawn, the local hero player-manager has been instrumental in bringing in four new players from lower leagues and even though his knees are causing constant pain, he is determined to bring experience to a young side. He really shouldn’t be playing but still feels the embarrassment of relegation from the league and is determined to get them back to where they belong. He had a few old contacts that would play for him, but they need to earn a wage and playing for petrol money won’t cut it for them. After a brief phone call with the owner’s secretary (the owner won’t take his calls these days) it was clear that there was no more money available for those signing and he would have to stick with what he already has.
It’s a dull game in an old rival’s stadium with no atmosphere. “goo arn Vale” a few of the old guard shout while a few of the younger supporters try to get a song going. The football hasn’t been great for a few years, but this could be our year! The team look promising according to the Sentinel and even though FC United were sniffing around some of the younger prospects a few months ago, their dads still remember the Rudge years and local loyalty runs deep. They will give it another year and see if they can make it here. Besides, no one is sure if they are really good enough. Even they don’t believe in themselves despite the encouragement from their veteran player-boss.
25 minutes in and the player-manager wins a trademark flick on, Smith, the new signing from Dover, sees the chance and takes the shot first time. He is a big burly lad, not much skill but will run and try all day. He scored five goals last season and there is hope he could make double figures this year. It’s not bad for a lad who only trains twice a week and travels from his day job in Manchester.
The ball flies toward the goal but misses the target by a good 15 feet smashing against an empty seat 10 rows back in the Boothen end. The Sentinel reporter makes a note in his match report. “Vale miss out by the odd goal in tense opener to the season” will be the headline – he can see how the game will pan out already.
As the ball boy runs from the corner flag and clambers up the steps to retrieve it the reality sets in for the faithful. This is how far we have fallen. This is what the owner has done to us. He has his business, his car and his mansion. What have we got? Memories and over a hundred-odd years of history down the pan.
It’s a bloody long way back from here.