13th September 2021 is the tenth anniversary of the infamous “Blue Sky” investment into the football club. We remember those controversial events…
The 2011-12 season saw increasingly fractious relations between supporters and the “Valiant 2001” board. The North London Valiants group had rejected the offer of a seat on the board as “hollow and disingenuous” while “Black and Gold” protests continued.
The protests caused the resignation of Bill Bratt as chairman in July and he was replaced by Mike Lloyd. In September, Bratt announced he was also resigning as a Director due to the planned investment in the club by a third party. This news was enough to call a temporary halt to the “Black and Gold” protests as they waited for news of the investment.
In September, there was a dramatic announcement. According to the club, American sports construction firm Blue Sky International were to invest £5m into the club in the next twelve months and a further £2.5m in the following five years. The news was welcomed by the board as “securing the long-term future of the club.” Instead, it would herald one of the most controversial periods in the club’s history.
Firstly, there was a restructuring of the board. Newcomers Perry Deakin and Peter Miller both announced their intention to buy stakes in the club to the tune of £100,000 and £250,000 respectively. Miller would be the club’s new chairman. There was a ceasefire in hostilities with North London Valiants expressing a hope to “move on together.” Local businessman Mark Sims, who had been voted onto the board at the EGM withdrew and in October 2011 Bill Bratt resigned from the board and was replaced by Deakin and Miller after their apparent investment in the club.
However, far from being a smooth transition to a new era, things were about to fall apart. In November, Ameriturf, rivals of Blue Sky International, threatened legal action. Ameriturf had been looking to invest in the club the previous season. In November, doubts about the Blue Sky deal began to emerge with “contractual issues” reported in the Sentinel newspaper.
In December 2011, all hell broke lose. It emerged that neither Deakin nor Miller had paid for their shares but had still joined the board. This infamous episode would be known as the “nil-paid” shares episode and to this day the duo are still being pursued for the money they owe. It would get worse. Details emerged of Miller’s salary which included a company car and annual pay of £100,000 per year. It emerged that Miller and Deakin had used each other’s unpaid shares to vote themselves onto the board along with a further £500,000 of unpaid shares in the name of Blue Sky. This prompted fury with the Port Vale Supporters club slamming the duo and saying they should be be removed for being “elected under false pretences.”
It was to get worse for Deakin and Miller on the 8th December. Hank Julicher, the CEO of Blue Sky International, said the proposed multi-million pound deal was “pure fantasy” and the company “would not be investing in Port Vale Football club.” The CEO said the deal had merely been to invest £500,000 in plastic training pitches. Furthermore, Julicher said he knew “nothing” about the £500,000 of shares which were used to elect Deakin and Miller onto the board. Miller responded to Julicher’s statement by saying this was a “blatant misrepresentation” of the facts but it didn’t alter the reality that the new board’s headline-grabbing investment just wasn’t going to happen.
The Supporters Club voted in favour of an EGM to remove the board and on the 18th December, there were mass “red card” protests at the home game against Aldershot Town. On Christmas Eve, Deakin resigned as CEO and just four days later, it was revealed that the board had taken out a remortgage against the Vale Park stadium, despite it being against the terms of the club’s long-term loan with the city council. The next day, the other members of the board announced that Miller would leave the club after they had “carried out a review.”
In February, the printers of the club’s matchday programme threatened legal action for non-payment, the club was hit with a transfer embargo for failing to pay a tax bill, shirt sponsors Harlequin Property sued over non-payment of a £125,000 loan and Peter Miller quit the board.
In February, the club was unable to pay its players and HMRC issued a winding up petition. The club entered administration on the 9th March 2012. What was initially heralded as a bright new dawn for the club had in fact turned as one of the bleakest periods in its long history.
Luckily, thanks to the efforts of supporters, the club was able to survive and despite the trauma of the failed Keith Ryder takeover, new owners Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite took over in November 2012. Deakin and Miller continue to crop up at various football clubs and associations, most recently in the Carribean.
To date, neither have paid a penny of the money they owe for their Port Vale shareholdings.