Even stevens up at at Vale Park on a sunny first day of the season, Shaelum Logan scores a wonder goal for Uwe Rosler’s Brentford to get Bees fans super excited for the forthcoming season. A defensive error allows Vale back into the game. A lot has happened since then.
BillytheBee catches up with Rob Fielding (@onevalefan), editor of the Port Vale fans’ website One Vale Fan and writer of the book “No Ordinary Season” and talks houseboats in Brentford, Smurf Beef and Port Vale’s close shave name-change to Stoke North End. As you do
What was your first match
Well, it was probably a good introduction to life as a Vale fan – a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Lincoln City back in 1980.
Port Vale have had a great season. Newly promoted and just 2 points off the playoffs. Good solid results against mid table sides and a great win away at fancied Walsall. But with Rotherham your only top 6 scalp, do you think you will need to up the ante against the top teams to stand a chance of playoffs?
I think this season has been a pleasant surprise for all of us. Some quality additions in the summer (Chris Lines and Carl Dickinson) have undoubtedly helped but I don’t think anyone will disagree with Micky Adams who said that we still need two high class additions if we are to challenge seriously for the play-offs.
We came up to League One playing open and free-scoring football and where I think we need to strengthen is in defence (last Sunday we conceded two really poor goals to Plymouth ) and in central midfield where we could do with another creative player.
But I think we’re all a little surprised that we’ve been able to do what we did but after last season (where we had five players under contract in the summer, were in administration for long periods and still got promoted) who knows what can happen in football as I wrote about in “No Ordinary Season”
Is the standard of football as high as you thought it would be?
Having been out of League One for some time, we wondered what the standard was like and it’s nice to know that we’re competitive.
I think the standard is not as high as perhaps we feared. However, with it being a division higher, if Vale are off their game they have been punished. Our 3-0 defeat to Milton Keynes (I refuse to allow them the “Dons” part of their name … BtB We refuse to even give them that much credit. Franchise FC will do) was an example of when a below-par Vale were put to the sword.
Mickey Adams is an ex Brentford manager. Are you happy with what he has conducted himself down at your place?
Personally, I’m a fairly recent convert. After a succession of poor managerial choices, he came in and his professionalism was a breath of fresh air.
But that was tempered a little by his directorship to prop up a thoroughly discredited former board and his exit to Sheffield United. At that point I felt he was a good manager but I didn’t find him particularly likeable.
It’s since he came back for his second spell that he’s really impressed me. His achievement last season was largely overlooked by the wider football world but it was incredible really. To take a club in administration and eighteenth favourites to promotion was some feat – possibly one of the greatest in the club’s history.
And this season, he’s cut out some of the aggression in his post-match interviews, coming across as a far more rounded figure. It’s fair to say that I’m now an Adams fan as you can see in my blog (click here).
When we went to Port Vale at the beginning of the season, your fans were delighted with the point against us and said you didn’t think you would see many better teams down there this season. Kind words. Still your thoughts?
Yes. I think there’s a general view that there’s two or three teams pushing for automatic promotion (Wolves and Orient are obviously in the mix) and they are really a class above the rest of the pack scrambling for a play-off place. I believe that’s why we feel we could just sneak a play-off place but automatic is out of our grasp.
I was at that game against Brentford and I was very impressed with the team. I used to live in Brentford on a narrowboat for a while and went to the odd Bees game while there so I do keep an eye out for your results.
Finding an away fan who lived on a boat in Brentford. I have to put my hand up and say that’s definitely a first for me. How did you find Brentford?
We used to live in a place called Town Wharf on a narrowboat. We used to go to the Brewery Tap – it had the odd bit of live music (everything from someone playing the piano and so on) and also the Magpie & Crown on the High St. The boating community is brilliant and we made some very good friends. My wife supports Brentford as a result of our stay there.
I think the only weird element was that we were able to walk to the away game when it used to be at Brentford and invite fans back onto the boat. I’m not sure of that many fans who are able to walk to their club’s away fixture from their boat!
Which teams have been a disappointment in your eyes?
Sometimes it’s difficult to look beyond your own team but I suppose you’d really be expecting Bristol City and Sheffield United not to be in the bottom group.
Who are your key players?
Chris Neal is probably our best goalkeeper of the last ten years, Doug Loft gives energy and inspiration as captain and Jennison Myrie-Williams and Tom Pope can both be unplayable for different reasons when on top of their game.
But the key is Chris Lines, who may recover from injury to make the Brentford game. Lines is a proper midfield playmaker – something we’ve not had at Vale for some years – and his form could be key if we are to push for the play-offs.
Lee Hughes signing. Was always going to be controversial because of the crime he was convicted for. He’s off to Forest Green now. Forgive and forget? Or did it always play with your conscience supporting him?
A little bit of both with myself. Initially, I would not celebrate his goals but I kept hearing such good things about him that I started to mellow. Yes, Hughes did a really stupid thing but he does appear to have realised what he did.
I understand he spoke to the family of the victim and he has been doing a lot of “good” work to try and atone in some way.
While at Vale, he took part in several charity events and by all accounts was charming off the pitch. In fact, many Vale fans spoke of how nothing would be a problem as he posed for photos, chatted to fans and generally came across as a decent bloke.
I suppose you’d argue that it would be the same with fans of all the clubs that Hughes played for – that you hate him when he’s in the opposition but you tend to forgive him when he’s your player.
However, after hearing so many good things about him from fellow fans, people I trust, it makes you think – yes, he made a terrible mistake but should we really hold that against him for the rest of his life?
Striker Tom Pope has asked Vale to sort out their leaky defence. You have just signed one of Marcello Trotta’s Fulham U21 team mates defender Jack Grimmer. Is he the answer?
He could be. We have a defender that big, strong but not that mobile. That was corrected when Richard Duffy switched from full-back to centre-half but he’s now injured.
So, we’re really looking for a more mobile defender to link-up with our more physical defenders. That could be Grimmer or it could be youth team graduate Joe Davis who has just returned from a successful loan spell at Luton.
Anyone else signed or lined up?
Micky Adams has talked of two “quality” additions ideally but with owner Norman Smurthwaite having put more money in this season than he expected and looking to balance the books, Vale could opt for a tightening of belts and make do with the squad we have.
Another reason why Vale could stick rather than twist is because of the way the squad depth has helped us this season. So far, we’ve witnessed a surprising number of players come out of the cold and do a job for the team.
We’ve had Duffy come into the central defence, rookie keeper Sam Johnson deputise in goal when Neal was injured, winger Rob Taylor scoring on his return from long-term injury and probably best of all, Jordan Hugill, a barman last season, come into the first-team from our development squad. Hugill, raw, but a real prospect has two goals already.
What is your style of playing?
Vale’s style is simple but often effective. Micky Adams prides himself on his team’s fitness so we favour an all-action, 100%, fast approach to the game. That’s not to say we’re long-ball merchants (although we do go route one to Pope from time-to-time) but it’s more about not allowing the opposition time on the ball and trying to dictate the speed of the game.
The downside is that if Vale start slowly they can struggle.
We hear the return of your local derby with Wolves was a rather fruity affair
It’s a controversial subject. There was violence after the game but owner Norman Smurthwaite is still refusing to pay police bills because he argues that the match itself was peaceful and the trouble took place outside the ground.
Vale, like a lot of clubs, has a core of loyal, peaceful and law-abiding fans but these “big matches” unfortunately encourage a tiny minority of idiots to think they can engage in violence. I just wish they’d stay away.
It’s getting rather congested derby-wise for you now with Stoke, Crewe and Shrewsbury more recently seen as rivals
Yes, although I still think Stoke is the only real derby (and although we haven’t played each other for a while, Vale remain unbeaten in their last six Potteries derbies).
Don’t you feel a bit uneasy with a chairman with the name Smurf?
Not really. I think with all the off-field problems we’ve had in recent years (two administrations, board protests, investors pulling out and so on) the owner’s nickname is the least of our problems!
So is he the daddy?
It’s fair to say there is a division amongst the fans over his ownership.
He certainly has more funds than previous regimes (the new club shop, ticketing system and high-profile signings like Hughes, Dickinson and Lines demonstrate that) so in my views it’s communication and PR that need improving.
The nadir may seem minor but the club royally messed up with a limited edition third shirt containing fans’ names. Fans shelled out £50 (not a small amount for an impoverished area like Stoke) but had to wait months for it to be delivered.
Many fans would not question his commitment and investment in the club but do worry that he’s trying to do too much himself. I think he could benefit from the appointment of two or three key staff so he could delegate more but he appears reluctant to do so.
But taking a step back from all this, compared to the previous regimes that had no cash, were involved in some highly controversial activities (the police are still investigating some of them) and ran up massive debts, Norman Smurthwaite is a massive improvement.
All I personally want is stability after years of turmoil of the pitch – so if Norman can continue to back the club financially and learn from the PR and communication issues then I hope his reign can allow us all to concentrate on matters on, not off, the pitch.
We hear Papa Smurf had some beef with the local paper The Sentinel earlier this season where he banned them from the ground. Seems bonkers. Smurf-rage. What was that all about?
It was one of those situations where both sides believed they were right and refused to budge. Neither side came out of it brilliantly and I’m just glad it got resolved.
Lots of talk about Tan trying to change Cardiff’s name to Cardiff Dragons and Allam changing Hull City to Hull Tigers. I bet many people have no idea that Port Vale tried to change their name to Hanley Port Vale and Stoke North End. Are you glad it never happened?
Ah, you’re talking about the one vale fan story “How Port Vale Nearly Became Stoke North End”
I guess it shows just how close Vale came to having a “standard” geographically-based name. I’m personally glad they didn’t. Unusual names like Port Vale add to the unique culture and history of the English game. I don’t want to be anything other than “Port Vale” even if we still don’t know where that name came from *
* There are plenty of theories on our name but the most realistic is that it comes Porthill, a district of Burslem where the club is currently based. There’s several theories about how the club came into existence – probably the most believable is that it could have been an offshoot of local side Porthill Victoria.
As for the choice of name? The players lived near such places as: Port Vale Wharf, Port Vale Street, Port Vale Corn Mills, Port Vale House and a brickworks whose ware was emblazoned with “Port Vale”.
Also, with nearby Porthill Victoria having played upon a hill (the reason given for the offshoot was some of the players objected to climbing a steep hill to the pitch) the team of the valley below meant that the name Port Vale was a natural choice.
Your chairman at the time didn’t say he hoped the fans “died as soon as they want” because they didn’t agree with the name change did he?
No, he tried to get the name changed for four years but finally quietly gave up in 1939. I bet Cardiff and Hull fans are hoping for something similar!
Brentford fans still haven’t forgiven you for for beating us at Cardiff on that horrible rainy day in 2000 in the LDV title. We were massive favourites that day but once again didn’t turn up. One of your top days out?
Yes, from a Vale perspective it was a terrific day out. However, we’ve been through a similar experience as well. In 1993, we finished with 89 points – one of the highest point tallies not to achieve automatic promotion. But thanks to a sending-off we lost the Wembley play-off final to West Brom.
Head to head, Port Vale are shading it winning 25 games to the Bees’ 22 with 7 games drawn. However, at Griffin Park Brentford have won 18 of thos matches to Port Vale’s 3. Do you reckon you can turn that away jinx around?
I think it’s going to be very difficult as I’m not just being polite when I say that I think Brentford will be a very tough test for us.
So it would be rude not to …. Give us a score prediction
Well, this is heart ruling the head but Vale do have a habit of bouncing back after disappointment (and a 2-2 draw at home to lower placed opponents in the cup was definitely that) and we rarely keep a clean sheet so how about… a honourable 1-1 draw.
And give us a 1st, 2nd, playoff winner prediction
I think it’s going to be Brentford and Wolves to go up. As for the play-offs, if Vale are not in it, I’d like Orient to win as I think they’ve been a revelation this season.
Cheers for Rob for taking time to talk to us about North Stoke End … sorry I mean Port Vale out. Take time out to check the excellent Port Vale fans’ website One Vale Fan. You can also catch him on twitter – @onevalefan
And if you fancy a read, check out “No Ordinary Season” about Port Vale’s astonishing promotion in 2012/13.