Port Vale – (Yet More) Secrets & Lies
I was going to have a quiet weekend. Write some stuff about Everton. Catch up on the latest fun and frolics at Rangers, with Wilfrid Hyde-White’s distant cousin Craig “I have nothing to” Hyde-White. And watch a Gaelic Football match in North-West London. Then a certain well-informed supporters’ web-site in the Staffordshire area suggested 200% “take a look” at their latest postings… and that was that.
Clucking bell. Hardly a fortnight passes in Burslem football circles these days without something grim cropping up. Just over a fortnight ago came news that a £150,000 share purchase from potential Port Vale sponsors Blue Sky International (BS) hadn’t actually happened, for “contractual reasons.” And this week came news that a £350,000 share purchase from Vale chief executive Perry Deakin and brand-newly-elected chairman Peter Miller hadn’t actually happened…at all. Oh…and Miller was on £100,000 per annum…plus perks. Amid all the righteous (and plain right) furore that this news inspired, Miller also admitted what fans and former bidders for the club had claimed throughout the last fraught 12 months of Vale’s history – that Vale were on the brink of administration. It says something about fans’ fury at the unethical – and possibly illegal – boardroom behaviour from Deakin and Miller that such headline news didn’t, initially at least, make the headlines.
Suspicions had been gathering that Deakin and Miller hadn’t paid for their shares. Martin Tideswell, local Sentinel newspaper columnist and card-carrying Vale ultra-cynic, noted on November 16th that he had seen “no evidence of any kind” of promised new investment, adding pertinently: “Surely, even if the club only has the £350,000 invested by…Deakin…and… Miller in the kitty then we should be seeing some progress.” And after some days of such hints on Vale fan websites, the Sentinel’s reader comments section, on November 19th, contained the blunt question: “If the new chairman hasn’t paid for his shares but is driving round in a brand new car provided by the club, doesn’t that give you cause for concern?” It was a comment the Sentinel were happy not to “moderate” off its website pages. And now we know why.
For the moment, though, the focus was on the yet-to-arrive BS investment. An increasingly angry and militant supporters club demanded Deakin and Miller address one of their increasingly frequent (angry and militant) open meetings to answer their concerns, rather than making them wait until the AGM of the club’s parent company – postponed until February 8th. At the supporters club’s November 17th open meeting, their members had also voted to approach former bidders and high-profile local businessmen Mo Chaudry and Mark Sims “to see if they would renew their interest in talking over the club,” although there was no sign that Vale’s new board had any warmer feelings towards the pair than the old one.
Deakin’s response was typically bullish (and, for the moment, I have spelt that right). He declined the open meeting invite – aware of the bear pit that awaited, even before his latest admissions (“open meetings tend to put people off”). He noted that the supporters club had “declined” to “meet the chairman…so he could furnish them with the facts,” and that supporters club reps “were also invited to a board meeting, but again declined. That is their call.” And he added, a little less forthrightly, that he was “relatively confident that we will be able to sort things out amicably” with BS, before returning to the bullish table with the standard claim that “publicity about the deal was making talks more difficult,” and “this nonsense doesn’t help.”
The club also announced that “commercial results for the first quarter of the current financial year have shown a staggering increase.” It was a blatant piece of public relations spin that, whilst giving due credit to “the commercial staff’s on-going hard work and commitment,” provided no context, or specific figures, and fooled few. It also begged the questions as to where last year’s financial results were. Miller’s lengthy statement on the club website on November 24th contained some logical explanations for delaying the AGM but was met with similar disregard. And by the time the supporters club finally agreed to send representatives to a meeting with Deakin and Miller on December 1st, they too were focusing attention on Deakin and Miller’s investment, as well as resurfacing rumours that the BS deal was nearing total collapse rather than merely a delay with a small portion of it.
The Supporters Club also made it clear that they were prepared to take their disaffection up a notch, with members having “voted to take legal advice about gaining information on Vale’s finances.” It was at the December 1st meeting that all hell broke loose. In the face of fans’ anger, and welcome pressure from the Sentinel, which through various means had uncovered damning documentation, Deakin and Miller confirmed that their share purchase hadn’t taken place prior to their election and that Miller was on a hundred grand a year…plus perks. Miller and Deakin reportedly walked out of the meeting with the supporters’ club reps. But they couldn’t walk out on the problem.
That evening’s increasingly angry and militant supporters club open meeting was moved a different venue after they found themselves “locked out” of their usual Vale Park meeting place, which can’t have improved the mood. Those attending, over 100 by most counts, voted unanimously for a vote of no confidence in the current board and further voted to contact local MPs “to seek their assistance with regard to the revelations” and to push for a shareholders meeting to organise “resolutions to be tabled at the AGM.” And, not surprisingly, there have been calls for Deakin and Miller to resign, with supporters club chairman Peter Williams claim that they should be “removed from the board” echoing the thoughts of an increasingly angry and militant fanbase, many of whom wanted more immediate action than that suggested by the supporters club.
Deakin and Miller now claim, in their own ways, that the £350,000 has now been invested. And while no Vale fan can be expected to believe a single word either of them will ever say ever again (ever), their responses hint at more complex times ahead. Deakin claims that he paid the money over “seven days ago”, having introduced many of us to the concept of “nil value shares” which he’d “signed a promissory note to pay for” when they were issued to himself, Miller and BS in late September. Whether this gave him the voting rights associated with that size of shareholding needs to be clarified, especially as he, presumably, voted for Miller’s board candidacy.
Miller, meanwhile, started his explanations with the dreaded words “for absolute clarity,” which usually leads into a fearful muddying of the waters. He did seem clear that “these sums have been lodged and £350,000 has been received by Port Vale Football Club for our respective shareholdings.” But he also stressed that his and Deakin’s shareholding “has been paid for,” which is clearly not the same as “we have paid for our shares.” The claim that Vale have received the money, from whatever source, does tie in with Micky Adams making a late triple-dip into the loan market in the wake of Vale’s dismal FA Cup exit at the hands of Blue Square Bet Premier Grimsby Town. But Vale had been in need of such a squad strengthening for some weeks, as their good early form largely fell away.
The lack of earlier investment coincided with numerous reported “economies” around the club. And this, in turn, tied in with Miller’s secondary revelation, that “our collective investment” had “allowed” Vale to “avoid administration,” and that “the club’s previous board” had “made (this) clear”, after spending months denying such claims when they were being made by hostile bidders for the club. The enormity of this statement is, at the time of writing, beginning to dawn on the fanbase. But for the moment, it is Miller’s salary and perks which have caused the biggest stink. Aside from the inevitable jibes about how much “reasonable sustenance expenses” will cost for a man of Miller’s extended girth, £100,000 is a lot…no…make that a LOT of money for a League Two chairman.
“Peter is worth his remuneration,” Deakin has already declared. But no-one can know this already, even if, as Miller now claims, “further investment” is due “in the very near future.” And it seems very hard to believe that an operation the size of Port Vale needs a well-remunerated full-time chairman alongside a well-remunerated chief executive. Their job descriptions would make fascinating reading. But supporters do need to be both wary and wise in their calls for change. If the supporters club are to ask for legal advice, they have to remember that disgustingly unethical behaviour – which this has undoubtedly been – is not necessarily against the company law which governs such behaviour.
For example, Peter Williams said that Deakin and Miller were elected to the board “under false pretences,” citing fans’ assumption that Miller “had paid money to the club for these shares at the time.” Whether Miller would not have been elected if he hadn’t paid this money may be difficult to prove. It must be remembered, for instance, that both Deakin and Miller were declared elected before the supporters club had voted (as proxy for shareholder and popular music crooner Robbie Williams). Whether or not fans were misled may not have had any material effect on the result. And that would almost certainly need to be proven if Deakin and Miller’s elections were to be challenged. And even if The Sentinel’s “investigations proved beyond doubt that Mr Deakin and Mr Miller were elected to the Vale board without putting any money into the club,” this may not technically or legally conflict with Miller’s subsequent claim that “the nature of the transaction was standard – and accepted – business practice.”
I recently read a phrase applied to another new owner of a British football club that he was “not short of advice on where the edges of the law exist.” Deakin and Miller may know where these edges are too. It is difficult for an outsider to fully understand how Vale fans feel about this board’s bid to outdo its predecessors for sheer brassneckery. Even someone like myself, who was very prepared to give Deakin and co’s new regime the full benefit of any early doubt, has been winded by these latest revelations. Of course, Vale may yet receive the promised Blue Sky investment. Miller may earn his money, car and free grub. But the trust required, between management and fans, for a club to fulfil its potential, has already been irreparably broken. And the board’s grubby behaviour has only made their task harder, and surely destroyed forever the belief that they are the people for that task.
Research for this and previous Port Vale articles on 200% has been helped enormously by Rob Fielding and the “OneValeFan” website. Many thanks.
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