If you want to enjoy being a part-time supporter of England’s Port Vale Football Club (like I am) – the best time to do so tends to be in the early years of a decade.
I know football fans are weird about lucky pants, shirts, hats, socks etc – but what about times .
For a long time a group of us at Port Vale (based in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire) used to miss the kick-off in an apparent protest at the Saturday kick-off time being moved from 3.15pm to 3pm.
It probably actually had more to do with staying in the pub longer than protesting but it was a bit shameful the number of times all the turnstiles were shut and we had to pay a late gate and go down the tunnel as the players were coming off for half-time.
However, the 2012-2013 season proved to be one of those early decade delights (some statto will probably prove all this is nonsense) as Vale were promoted from League Two to League One (really the Fourth Division to the Third Division).
Despite these stats, as usual, Vale did not give us a smooth ride as ‘easy’ games were lost and goals given away at the death.
To keep the roller coaster going they would also win 5-2 at Fleetwood and beat Burton Albion 7-1 at home. You never knew for certain which Vale would turn up.
After topping the division and then slipping Vale secured elevation to the next division against promotion rivals Northampton Town with a last minute own goal by former Vale player Lee Collins as they drew 2-2 in the last home game of the season.
The ‘Law of the Ex’ – ex-players stop you winning (keeper’s/defenders) or score the goal that beats you (anyone really – was truly reversed by Lee and by Burton’s ex-Vale keeper Stu Tomlinson in that thrashing.
The season started with the club in administration and a mysteriously abandoned takeover leaving manager Micky Adams with uncertainty over everyone’s contracts – and even if there would be a club to finish the season.
After most players agreed new revised contracts and the ground finally got safety certificates (after hard work by the fans) the first non-friendly fixture ended in a 3-1 Capital One (League) Cup home defeat – albeit against Championship side Burnley.
Vale also lost a behind-closed-doors friendly (being played as such because of the lack of safety certificates in the chaos at the club) to Coventry City of League One.
Things looked better after a 3-0 first home win over Barnet but then there was the 2-0 defeat at Accrington corrected by a 3-1 win at Morecambe.
We were in Japan to miss a truly purple patch as Vale won 2-0 in the Johnsons Paint Trophy (we call it the underpants or Paint Pot cup unless we win it) at Tranmere, beat Rotherham 6-2 at home, won 3-1 at Plymouth and 5-2 at Fleetwood.
Of course the biggest home crowd of the season – 6,978 – turned up to see now-promotion rivals Gillingham win 2-0 at Vale Park.
Winter saw a series of wins and draws punctuated by the occassional defeat take Vale to the top end of the table with Tom Pope banging in the goals and keeper Chris Neal producing excellent form behind the defence.
October also saw the administrators name Sheffield businessman Paul Wildes and partner Norman Smurthwaite as preferred bidders to take the club out of administration.
Inbetween Vale had gone to old rivals – and bogey team – Walsall in the Paint Trophy and gone 2-0 down, come back to 2-2 and then won with a penalty converted by young rookie keeper Sam Johnson after all outfield players on both sides had taken penalties in the shootout. Amazing.
Micky Adams was named League Two Manager of The Month and Tom Pope player of the month.
Even the programme front covers looked incredibly good with fantastic retro artwork by US artist Paine Proffitt from Burslem’s Barewall Art Gallery.
The back covers were not as impressive as Vale’s small squad took up much less space than their opponents – a result of administration, lack of money and restrictions on transfers in.
It couldn’t go on could it? Yes it could. By December the Vale fans’ excellent fanzine ‘Derek I’m Gutted’ was headlined ‘Another New Era”.
Inside ‘Derek’ led off: “Second in the table, still in the FA Cup, a mere three successful ties away from Wembley in the Paint Pot Trophy (aka the JPT) , and a brave new world about to arrive in the form of Paul Wildes’ takeover.”
Actually the takeover followed the usual winding Vale road of delays for FA clearance but the small squad of players had kept up the good work and the statue of the Vale player who had played the most games for the club – Roy Sproson – was finally unveiled after many delays.
The takeover went through hours before a 4-0 home win over Bristol Rovers and then goal-machine Pope signed a one year extension to his contract.
All was not smooth sailing though as. About 3,000 Vale fans went to League One Sheffield United in the FA Cup to see Vale lose a 1-0 lead in the 90th minute and concede another to lose the tie in the 95th minute.
A second cup exit came with a 2-0 home defeat in the Paint Pot against Bradford City. To be fair City were on a bit of a cup binge – beating Premiership Arsenal, Aston and Wigan in the League (Capital One) Cup before losing to another top tier team – Swansea – in the final at Wembley.
The New Year started badly with a 2-0 home defeat to Fleetwood (yes the same Fleetwood where Vale went to win 5-2 earlier in the season) but Micky Adams started to bring in players at last – in the shape of experienced centre half Darren Purse and ex-Vale (and ex-LA Galaxy and Trinidad and Tobago international) Chris Birchall.
A 4-0 home win over Plymouth was followed by the arrival of controversial striker Lee Hughes after he was released by Notts County. Fans were somewhat ambivalent in view of him serving jail time for causing a death with his driving.
At Gillingham Vale got revenge for their home defeat with a 2-1 win before left back Danny Jones arrived from Sheffield Wednesday and the pattern continues of wins and draws punctuated by disappointing draws and defeats.
As the end of the season approached Vale fans outnumbered the home fans at Rochdale but saw Vale concede a last minute goal for a draw. The drama against Northampton followed.
There was much joy as promotion was secured but that nagging feeling that all may not be well was confirmed as Paul Wildes walked away from the club in the close season after disagreement with Norman Smurthwaite and Norman was left running the show.
Most players agreed to stay at the club and Vale fans now look forward to the higher division and games against local and local(ish) teams such as Crewe, Wolves, Walsall, Coventry and Shrewsbury.
It is still early in the decade so perhaps it might not be quite the right time for the part-time supporter to disappear.