The Culture Of Mistrust At Port Vale
This weekend, Port Vale’s board are due to publish answers to 141(141!) questions from fans about a proposed multi-million pound investment by American ‘sports construction’ firm ‘Blue Sky International.’ A full Vale article on this site will follow that publication. But there was a Vale vignette this week, demonstrating the mistrust which pervades the club and looks likely to do so for a while yet, whatever the investment. At first glance, it was a strong show of faith. Vale CEO Perry Deakin and acting chairman Mike Lloyd returned from an August trip to America busting to tell everyone what they did on their summer holidays. Vale needed investment. The board claimed they were looking for it. And Lloyd and Deakin believed they’d found it – “strings-attached” direct and indirect investment which could add up to £8m in a certain light. This investment arrived ahead of schedule – due by the thirtieth of September, outlined in a press release dated the thirteenth of September. Deakin was particularly pleased. So, on the twenty-first of September, he announced his candidacy for a seat on Vale’s board and a personal £100,000 investment into the club. And there was a bonus. Reviled former chairman, CEO and current director Bill Bratt had given written pledges to resign from the board completely, something for which Vale fans had long-campaigned, once the Blue Sky (BSI) investment was confirmed.
Bratt’s resignation would leave the board with three members and constitutionally unable to function. But one of the strings attached to the investment was that BSI could nominate a board member “in the near future.” As soon as we got to that indeterminate point, Bratt could – and would – go. However, if Deakin’s candidacy was successful, the CEO would be able to join the board even sooner and Bratt could leave even earlier. Celebrations all round then? Not one bit of it. The forum on the consistently excellent fans’ website, OneValeFan, has been a focal point for disaffected Vale fans and a centre of thoughtful debate. But Deakin’s announcement could not have been less welcomed if he’d said he’d arranged a merger with Stoke City to form a new club called…Stoke City. “I didn’t think Vale could sink any lower, obviously I’m wrong,” said one fan. “This is yet another nail in the coffin as regards any chance of serious future investment,” declared another. Others suggested it was “all bull***t, the same idiots playing fantasy football with different aliases,” that “I do not like this at all,” and “something isn’t right.” The term ‘BS investment’ became both abbreviation and cynicism.
Deakin was called “a cheeky chancer” for not investing his money until shareholders approved his candidacy (“You invest the money first, matey boy, then we will vote”). Fans saw a “conflict of interest” in Deakin being both CEO and a director. And other senses were aroused: “all this stinks to high heaven…more lies, more deception” and “it sounds to me like another plot by the current board…I smell a rat, (they) are taking fans for a ride.” Some were bemused at this vitriolic cynicism. One suggested there was “no way (Deakin) would be throwing his money into a venture if it was all going belly up” and explained, with examples, that there was nothing new about a company CEO also being a board member. But more people appeared to believe that “there is something seriously wrong at PVFC” than to welcome Deakin’s faith, or even just to “wait and see.” One reason for this is a misunderstanding of Bratt’s position. Bratt delighted the masses with his written pledge to leave once BSI invested. But these masses believe he is somehow going back on this pledge by leaving if Deakin joins the board.
“We were told that Bratt would be gone as a result of the new investment, not Deakin’s investment,” noted one fan. “Exactly,” agreed the next contributor. “It’s gone from Bratt quitting after the investment was signed, sealed and delivered, which it is, to now being only if Perry Deakin joins the board. How ridiculous is that?” Subsequent contributors quoted from a supporters’ open meeting held in August at which Lloyd confirmed that Bratt’s resignation “has been agreed by the board when new investment is in place.” At the same meeting, Deakin said: “I have no plans to be a director. However, in the future, I may well apply to shareholders to be voted onto the board.” Deakin’s apparent “abrupt change of direction from exactly a month ago” made one contributor “concerned that some power struggle is happening…which may scupper the Blue Sky deal.” “Is this deal going tits up?” was a, well, more “directly” expressed concern.
Another accused Lloyd of misleading the supporters’ meeting: “We all assumed that (the new investment) would be what has transpired to be Blue Sky. But now it seems it is Perry’s investment.” The same poster concluded that “this is yet another example of not stating things clearly enough for people to understand.” Clearly, people hadn’t understood. Another poster claimed he put Deakin forward at the open meeting “in connection to us stating that we wanted Bratt…removed now, not some time in the future.” But even they didn’t “understand” that this was now happening. Bratt could only leave when he could be replaced. At the time of the supporters’ meeting, new investors looked likeliest to do so. Now Deakin looks likeliest. Ergo, Bratt could leave if and when Deakin arrived, with no lies, plots rats or rides. Just giving supporters what they wanted, a little earlier than promised, without disrupting the functions of the board. The cynicism comes from a fanbase which has long campaigned intelligently for the removal of Vale’s ‘old’ board. This will be all-but-complete once Bratt goes. But fans are wary, to the point of denial, of believing that anyone in Vale’s boardroom could, or would, do the right thing by the club for the right reasons.
Deakin says he is: “The investment from Blue Sky International was a significant step towards change for Port Vale Football Club,” he announced. “I strongly believe that we are heading in the right direction and am investing my own money into the club to underline that belief.” He couldn’t have been more explicit. Yet one poster had “it on very good grounds that not one penny is Perry’s own money, it’s been sponsored by a mystery person who has very strong connections to the previous board.” This cynicism sounds daft. But it is understandable. For three years, the Vale board have announced potential investment opportunities, which have come to nothing – and have worked hard to undermine others. So although the board have offered supporters the opportunity to question the BSI deal – an opportunity taken up 141 times – fans’ default position is “something’s not right.” And although Deakin has said he will put £100,000 of his personal money where his mouth is, he is no more believed than the boy who cried ‘wolf.’ It is a desperate situation for any club to be in. But Vale fans aren’t to blame. If they have usually been lied to in the past, fans are going to assume they are being lied to again, whatever the truth is. That is a lesson Perry Deakin is learning this week, whatever his “belief” in Blue Sky International.
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