Posted on 17/02/2019
THE NORMAN MYSTERIES
A Tale of Intrigue in Darkest Burslem
“I’ve never had any hobbies to speak of but buying Port Vale has given me a passion.
The club has reinvigorated me – it has saved me really, given me a new purpose.”
These were the words of Norman Smurthwaite in April 2013 with Vale on the verge of promotion to League One under Micky Adams. In view of events since then, the question which must be asked is – what exactly is your new purpose, Mr Smurthwaite?
CHAPTER ONE – What’s the History?
· Norman Smurthwaite was the financial backer behind the takeover of Port Vale in November 2012 by the Paul Wildes investment group. The total cost of buying the debt free club and ground was a reported £1.25 million. The new company was PVFC Limited.
· Within six months Wildes had sold his share to Smurthwaite and resigned his interest in the club stating a conflict of ideas on how to progress the club.
· In February 2014 a new company was incorporated – Port Vale Football Club Ltd – which took control of the football club. PVFC Ltd was dissolved soon afterwards.
· In September 2014 Micky Adams resigned after five consecutive defeats and Smurthwaite appointed his assistant, Rob Page, as his successor. Page had no experience managing in the Football League. His first season in charge saw Vale struggle but pull away from the relegation zone.
· Page’s second season saw Vale finish in the top half of League One and supporters believed the club was perhaps three or four decent signings from challenging for the play offs in the next season. Vale had suffered an FA Cup defeat at Exeter in Round Two, however, with Smurthwaite saying he had been hugely embarrassed by the result even though it could hardly he considered a giant killing. After the game he charged onto the Supporters’ coaches outside the ground and promised they would have a new manager in place the following week. That didn’t happen but at the end of the season the owner created a situation which could almost be construed as constructive dismissal. Page saw his playing budget severely slashed with the consequent departure of a number of experienced players. Page left for Northampton Town. Smurthwaite tweeted, “I lowered the budget knowing Rob and all (the players) would not accept and leave.” It is to be wondered what effect that statement had on the club’s reputation with players and agents.
· 2016 The summer of sheer stupidity. After boasting in the media of how astonished he was with the quality of those applying for the manager’s role, he appointed the unknown Bruno Ribeiro. Not only did Ribeiro have no experience managing in the Football League, he had little experience anywhere. He began his career managing semi-professional teams in his native Portugal before being appointed manager at Vitoria Setubal. Three wins from seventeen games saw him leave a few months later at the end of this contract. He moved to Bulgarian champions Ludogorets where he was sacked after two months and two wins. He then moved back to Academico de Viseu in Portugal and resigned after no wins in five games. It was an extremely sketchy managerial record but Smurthwaite said on the new appointment, “It has been a long, extensive process but I’m absolutely certain we have the right man for the job”.
· The player recruitment that summer was the work of someone playing Football Manager on a computer with a serious software fault. Players arrived from all points of the compass, clearly none of whom had been seriously scouted by anyone at the club and appeared to be the work of a rogue agent. Most proved to be not up to the job and Ribeiro found himself out of work again in December, six months after his appointment. Smurthwaite claimed he had been “a little bit hoodwinked” by Ribeiro’s friends in the game. A quick look at Wikipedia rather than listening to whispers in his ears may have avoided that problem.
· At a time when Vale were in a slump and desperately in need of an experienced hand at the tiller to guide them to safety, Smurthwaite gave the caretaker manager’s job to player Michael Brown, a man with no experience at all in the role. The decline continued with Vale winning only five of Brown’s twenty three games in charge before relegation was confirmed.
· Rather than taking responsibility for his crazy decisions and attempting to rectify the situation, Smurthwaite announced he was stepping down from his role as chairman, handing the running of the club to CEO Colin Garlick. He later claimed he had nothing to do with extending Brown’s contract after relegation but then changed his mind on his hands off role and stepped back to sack the manager in September with Vale in the relegation places in League 2.
· Next on the Smurthwaite chopping block was Vale playing legend, Neil Aspin. His managerial experience, whilst quite extensive, was all in non league football. Like Page and Brown before him he had never managed in the Football League. After an initial upturn in results, failure to strengthen the squad in January saw a further slump with Vale being fortunate to escape relegation by a single point.
· The current season has seen the arrival of only two experienced league players, Leon Legge and Scott Brown, alongside a few lads from non-league. The bright moments, like the away wins at Crewe and Yeovil, have been few and far between. Smurthwaite told “The Sentinel” in November that Aspin would have around £400,000 to spend in January. During that transfer window five players were brought in, all on loan and with a total of 40 League appearances between them. The attempt to sign a much needed experienced goalscorer came to nothing when Marc Richards, who was on his way from Swindon late on Deadline Day to sign, was told not to bother because they wouldn’t be able to get the paperwork done on time. Aspin had resigned the day before. His results had been poor but he probably realised he had no more hair to pull out!
· John Askey arrived. Of all the out of work managers who could have been attracted to the club with a decent short term contract and safety bonus, Smurthwaite went for the least experienced. Rumours that Askey will be earning less at Vale than he could probably get with a decent paper round are probably not that wide of the mark.
Welcome to Norman Smurthwaite’s Port Vale
Also known as Poundland FC
Chapter 2 What’s the story with the Accounts, Norman?
Chapter 3 Where’s the money gone, Norman?
Chapter 4 Why won’t you sell, Norman?