Comments from manager Darrell Clarke appear to add strength to the argument that Port Vale could switch home ends from the Bycars stand to the Hamil Road End. Could the move happen?
Two “experiments” using the Hamil Road End have been enthusiastically welcomed by Vale fans. Firstly, when a “beamback” of the away game at Exeter City was shown, home fans were housed in the Hamil End, a move which received much positive feedback. This prompted the club to switch ends for the crucial play-off game against Swindon Town. The reasoning behind the move was that more fans could be housed in the Hamil End and it had better facilities. The feedback from fans after the game has been almost universal praise for the move.
What did Darrell Clarke say?
Speaking after Thursday’s match Clarke told the Sentinel newspaper:
Our supporters were absolutely outstanding, the changeover of end was magical stuff. The atmosphere was a thousand times better and I would really like the club to look for that in the future because it cranked up notches. The fans got us over the line…
The argument for making the Hamil home
- The stand has better facilities than the Bycars stand with more exits/entrances and also bars serving beer (the Bycars refreshment counter cannot sell beer as it in sight of the pitch and contravenes FA rules). It makes sense to give home fans, rather than away fans, the best facilities possible.
- With Vale Park’s reduced capacity and increased optimism under the Shanahans it’s possible there could be more big crowds at the ground. In this case, the extra capacity of the Hamil End could be useful.
- Having home fans in the Hamil End also opens up the possibility of making the Tommy Cheadle’s bar a home fans venue again.
- With both the Hamil and Railway stands as home areas, it means the whole area including the ticket office and club shop becomes a “home” area – this could allow (for example) an extension of the popular fanzone and also makes it easier for home fans to exit onto Hamil Road.
- The club want to make the unused side of the Lorne St stand into a family stand. However, there were worries it would be next to the away stand. This move would allay those concerns.
- Finally, the move has been hugely popular with fans and appears to have the backing of the manager – both of which could be big factors.
The argument against making the Hamil home
- The authorities probably like the fact that away fans are contained in a secure area, complete with fence, where coaches can be parked close to the stand. This would not be possible at the Bycars. However, fans have suggested that the Dimensions car park or even the Synectics car park could be options. The Synectics car park could even have a fenced off pathway to the Bycars built if needs be.
- Probably the most powerful argument would be convincing fans who have been Bycars regulars for many years and perhaps have a family reason for sitting there. Darrell Clarke acknowledged this when speaking to the Sentinel saying “I am thankful the fans have accepted that switch because I know there are times when people get a little bit twitchy when they don’t get the seat they usually sit in. I get that because of family things.”
- A related issue is that season tickets have already been purchased for the Bycars stand next season although fans have pointed out that the club could offer to switch these to the new Hamil End or elsewhere in the ground.
- If the club wants to sell beer to away fans, it would have to change the refreshment bar at the Bycars. However, this would equally apply if it remained a home stand too.
- A minor issue would be that home fans in the Hamil cannot see the scoreboard but we suspect that due to the age of the scoreboard a replacement is probably on the club’s list anyway. For instance, two new scoreboards sited on the old family corner and the corner between the Lorne St and Hamil Rd would mean at least one scoreboard could be seen by everyone in the ground.
- Some fans have pointed out that the atmosphere after one near sell-out in the play-offs could be misleading. Would the same atmosphere be generated in a half-full stand for a middling League fixture on a cold Tuesday night?
- Finally, there’s the issue of the cost of making changes to accommodate the away fans in the Bycars. The Hamil already has these in place (such as the fence) and there may need to be similar things added at the Bycars End to make it suitable for away fans and to satisfy the relevant authories. The cost of these things could be a key concern.
What could happen next?
- Well, firstly the club will rightly want to focus on their play-off final game. There’s no massive rush either as there will be no more games played at Vale Park this season.
- However, it may well be that the club liaise with the Supporters Club to gauge opinion on whether this switch would work.
- They would also have to speak to the relevant parties, such as the Police, to see if a permanent switch would be OK.
- One major factor could be which division Vale finish in. The Bycars could easily accommodate most League Two away followings but could it cope with demand from say the likes of say Sheff Wed in League One?
- It’s likely that the club’s view on the matter will be aired over the summer.