Norman Smurthwaite

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Norman Smurthwaite
Born Norman Smurthwaite
(1960-08-08) 8 August 1960 (age 58)
Coventry, England
Nationality British
Occupation Businessman
Title Port Vale F.C. Chairman
Term 2013–2017
2018–
Predecessor Paul Wildes
Tony Fradley
Successor Tony Fradley

Norman Smurthwaite (born 8 August 1960) is an English businessman who has owned Port Vale Football Club since November 2012.

He qualified as an engineer and built a successful business career and property portfolio before retiring at the age of 50. He took over as chairman of Port Vale in 2013, having been a key figure in the boardroom as the club secured promotion out of League Two in 2012–13. He resigned as chairman following relegation back to League Two in 2016–17. He bought the Liberty Way stadium off Nuneaton Town in July 2018.

Early life[edit]

Smurthwaite was raised in Radford, Coventry, and bought his own home in the area at the age of 16 after receiving compensation from an industrial accident at Dunlop in 1977.[1] He qualified as an engineer and inherited an engineering firm in Holbrooks at the age of 21 from a friend who was a "father figure" to him.[1] He sold the business two years later and moved to Nottingham, where he bought a chain of estate agents that he later sold on to the Halifax. He went on to invest in dozens of properties and retired at the age of 50.[1]

Ownership of Port Vale[edit]

Smurthwaite was part of the investment group, led by Paul Wildes, that took Port Vale out of administration in November 2012.[2] After promotion from League Two to League One was secured, Smurthwaite said that "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."[3] On 18 May, Paul Wildes made a shock decision to resign as chairman and sell his 50% stake to Smurthwaite, who became the club's chairman and sole owner; Wildes stated that "From many conversations with Norman, it's clear we have conflicting ideas on how to take Vale forward".[4] It was revealed that Smurthwaite had funded the initial takeover, and that the pair had a disagreement following defeat to Bristol Rovers in March, with Smuthwaite insisting on a more public approach to take pressure off the manager and players.[5]

In October 2013 Smurthwaite controversially banned local newspaper The Sentinel from all press events after taking objection with the newspaper's reporting a lengthy delay in producing specially presented third-kit shirts to fans who had pre-paid for the items in May.[6] Smurthwaite responded by stating that the newspaper had been banned for contacting him personally for comment on the story rather than the club's media team, and that he was also frustrated with a Sentinel reporter for attempting to report facts which Smurthwaite had disclosed to the journalist "in confidence".[7] More worry came in December, when The Sunday People revealed that Smurthwaite had e-mailed agents pleading poverty over the club's finances.[8] He later issued a statement saying that the wage bill budget set by the club in the summer was over-ambitious and that he had been forced to meet the £1 million budget deficit out of his own pocket.[9] The concern in January was over the future of manager Micky Adams, and the apparent reluctance of Smurthwaite to offer a contract despite the positive results on the field as the manager's contract came close to its expiry at the end of the season; once a contract was promised Adams stated that "He has talked about it, now he has to deliver. I have never expressed a desire to leave. If everything is right I don't see there being a problem, but once again Norman is talking about things instead of doing things."[10]

PVFC Limited, the club's holding company, was hit with a winding-up order by HM Revenue and Customs in July 2014; Smurthwaite insisted this would not affect the club and that a funding error caused the problem and expected the order to be withdrawn.[11] Smurthwaite continued to affect changes at the club, controversially axing the system of door-to-door lottery collectors and banishing the Port Vale Community Trust out of Vale Park.[12][13] Smurthwaite invested £500,000 into the playing budget in order to help Micky Adams strengthen the squad.[14] Despite not wanting him to resign, once Adams left the club Smurthwaite initiated a policy of experimenting with young players in the hope of turning a profit from player sales in the future.[15] He appointed Adams's former assistant Rob Page as first team manager in October.[16] He later claimed that he had considered appointing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as manager, but decided against it partly because he believed that a racist minority of the club's supporters would make appointing a black manager a bad idea.[17] Smurthwaite caused controversy by telling a reporter that supporters who only attended away matches (due partly to Vale Park's high ticket costs) "disgusted" him and that they should "go and support another club".[18] In February, the home game with Doncaster Rovers was put into doubt after Smurthwaite refused to pay extra policing costs that Staffordshire Police had demanded following intelligence that there would be troublemakers instigating violence at the game.[19] Smurthwaite denied Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis's claim that Smurthwaite threatened to close the club down during the dispute, but retracted his threat to bar police officers from entering the ground during the match.[20] He further had to deny claims that he was picking the team, stating that first team matters were purely down to Rob Page.[21] In April 2015 an email from his account was sent to a group of supporters stating that he wished to sell the club, though he denied sending the email, claiming that he had been hacked.[22]

"I will never allow the experience of another Exeter in my ownership of the football club. I will never allow a manager to tell me that's football and I should accept it. That ain't going to happen at Port Vale, because if it does, Plan B will be around the corner." – Speaking in July 2016, Smurthwaite was still angry about the defeat to Exeter City seven months previously.[23]

Smurthwaite was rumoured to have planned to sack Page live on BT Sport if the club lost an FA Cup First Round replay to Maidenhead United, though he dismissed the rumour as untrue.[24] There was controversy however following the club's defeat to mid-table League Two side Exeter City in the Second Round on 6 December 2015, after which Smurthwaite stated he felt "humiliated, ashamed and embarrassed" and said that plans to sign a striker in the January transfer window would be scrapped.[25][26] The following day he officially put the club up for sale.[27] He set an asking price of £4.25 million, stating "I have never lost money on a transaction in my adult life and I am not starting now".[28] He continued to reveal that he had been physically assaulted by three Vale supporters in April 2014, though Staffordshire Police could find no record of Smurthwaite's complaint.[29] He also admitted that he had been planning on buying Torquay United before being told by the Football League that he would not be allowed to own two clubs.[30] He was also criticised by Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion organisation, after admitting that he had denied Hasselbaink the opportunity of being Port Vale manager due to his concern that a black manager would be abused by some supporters.[31] Some of the club's biggest name players rejected new contract offers and left Port Vale after Northampton Town paid compensation to Port Vale to sign Page as manager in May 2016; Smurthwaite claimed that he purposely set a low wage budget so as to drive Page and the players out of the club, thereby leaving room in the 2016–17 budget for a new manager to sign his own players.[32]

Smurthwaite renewed his dispute with The Sentinel by banning the newspaper from attending the club's press conference where the successor to Page was named.[33] Upon appointing Portuguese manager Bruno Ribeiro, the club's first manager from outside Britain, Smurthwaite stated that: "It has been a long, extensive process but I'm absolutely certain we have the right man for the job."[34] Smurthwaite then improved the club's budget to allow over ten new, mostly foreign, signings, and stated that he expected Vale to be challenging for the top six and warned his staff that he would enact "plan B" if the club were not in the top six by Christmas.[23] With Vale occupying 17th-place at Christmas, Smurthwaite declared that 'Plan B' had been triggered, meaning the signing of "seasoned, higher grade" players, whilst he admitted he felt "a little bit hoodwinked" as Ribeiro's friends in the game (José Mourinho, Aitor Karanka, and Carlos Carvalhal) had provided him with glowing references but had thus far failed to lend any of their players to the Vale.[35][36] Ribeiro resigned as manager of Port Vale on 26 December, hours after witnessing his side lose 1–0 at home to Walsall; Smurthwaite put Michael Brown in temporary charge.[37] He also installed Colin Garlick as the club's CEO, and in January stated that "I'm only really involved now when it comes to prising open the sweetie jar for the money".[38] Two months later, Smurthwaite used the OneValeFan fansite to ask supporters to vote whether he should sell the club to one of two hedge funds that he said had met his asking price for the club.[39] He later issued a statement to apologize for his decision to appoint Ribeiro and expressed regret with his own attempts to communicate with fans and "keyboard warriors" over social media.[40] Brown remained as caretaker-manager for the rest of the season, but was unable to save the club from relegation back into League Two.[41] Smurthwaite issued a statement on 2 May apologising for relegation, and stated that he would be stepping down as chairman and would no longer attend games as he looked to sell the club.[42] Three days later he received a bid of £1.25 million for the club, matching his original purchase price in 2012.[43] A rival consortium also offered the same figure, but Smurthwaite rejected both offers.[44]

With Port Vale lying bottom of the English Football League, Smurthwaite sacked Brown on 16 September and claimed that he had been against giving Brown the job on a permanent basis in the summer but left the decision to Chief Executive Colin Garlick.[45] Smurthwaite appointed Neil Aspin as the club's new manager on 4 October, and also brought in John Rudge in an advisory role.[46] Aspin steered the club away from relegation by the end of the 2017–18 season, and in June 2018 Smurthwaite revealed that he had rejected another offer to buy the club from an unnamed bidder.[47]

He bought the Liberty Way stadium off Nuneaton Town in July 2018 after the club entered financial difficulties.[48] He returned formally to the role of Port Vale chairman the following month.[49]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Turner, Andy (13 December 2012). "Millionaire Coventry City fan who has just bought Port Vale". Coventry Telegraph. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  2. ^ "Port Vale takeover: 'Fans are key to the future prosperity of club'". The Sentinel. 21 November 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  3. ^ "Smurf won over by the passion of supporters". The Sentinel. 23 April 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Port Vale: Chairman Paul Wildes steps down after six-month reign". BBC Sport. 18 May 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  5. ^ Pearson, Guy (18 May 2013). "Paul Wildes walks from Port Vale". The Sentinel. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  6. ^ Baggaley, Michael (28 October 2013). "Sentinel reporter Michael Baggaley banned from the press box at Vale Park". The Sentinel. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  7. ^ "Club statement from the Chairman". port-vale.co.uk. 28 October 2013. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  8. ^ "Club finances under scrutiny after chairman Norman Smurthwaite gives plea of poverty to football agents". The Sentinel. 23 December 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  9. ^ Baggaley, Mike (23 December 2013). "Smurthwaite responds after Port Vale's finances come under spotlight". The Sentinel. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  10. ^ "Micky Adams won't rush new contract deal". The Sentinel. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  11. ^ "Winding-up petition will not harm club, says chairman". BBC Sport. 18 July 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  12. ^ Baggaley, Mike (6 August 2014). "Port Vale axe season tickets for lottery agents". The Sentinel. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  13. ^ "Port Vale community scheme moves to Hanley after row with football club". The Sentinel. 6 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  14. ^ "Manager Micky Adams in the market for two more players". The Sentinel. 14 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
  15. ^ "Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite plans to bring in more Premier League youngsters". The Sentinel. 30 September 2014. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  16. ^ "Port Vale appoint interim boss as manager". BBC Sport. 29 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  17. ^ "Chairman turned down Hasselbaink amid racist fan chants accusation". The Sentinel. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  18. ^ Baggaley, Mike (25 October 2014). "Chairman says away-only Vale fans might as well support Stoke City". The Sentinel. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  19. ^ Baggaley, Mike (20 February 2015). "Port Vale: Claims that Norman Smurthwaite 'threatened to close club' over police row". The Sentinel. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  20. ^ Baggaley, Mike (20 February 2015). "Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite stands by decision to refuse police bill". The Sentinel. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  21. ^ Baggaley, Mike (13 February 2014). "Norman Smurthwaite makes clear that Rob Page runs the team". The Sentinel. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  22. ^ Baggaley, Mike (22 March 2015). "Chairman not planning to sell club and believes email was a hoax". The Sentinel. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  23. ^ a b Baggaley, Mike (13 July 2016). "Chairman warns of Plan B if Ribeiro's team aren't challenging for top six by Christmas". The Sentinel. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  24. ^ Baggaley, Mike (22 November 2015). "Norman Smurthwaite says Rob Page didn't face TV sacking at Maidenhead". The Sentinel. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  25. ^ "Port Vale: Norman Smurthwaite puts League One club up for sale". BBC Sport. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  26. ^ "Chairman scraps plans to sign striker after FA Cup exit". The Sentinel. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  27. ^ Baggaley, Mike (7 December 2015). "Norman Smurthwaite puts club up for sale". The Sentinel. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  28. ^ Baggaley, Mike (9 December 2015). "Buyer will need more than £4m for club and ground". The Sentinel. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  29. ^ Baggaley, Mike (8 December 2015). "Norman Smurthwaite says he was beaten up by three Vale fans". The Sentinel. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  30. ^ Baggaley, Mike (8 December 2015). "Norman Smurthwaite plays down rumours of buying Torquay". The Sentinel. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  31. ^ "Chairman criticised by anti-racism group over Hasselbaink decision". The Sentinel. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  32. ^ "Port Vale: Norman Smurthwaite says he wanted Rob Page out". The Sentinel. 14 June 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  33. ^ "Valiants reveal press conference to unveil new manager". The Sentinel. 20 June 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2016.
  34. ^ Baggaley, Mike (20 June 2016). "Valiants confirm Bruno Ribeiro is new manager". The Sentinel. Retrieved 20 June 2016.[permanent dead link]
  35. ^ Baggaley, Mike (20 December 2016). "Port Vale: Norman Smurthwaite says Plan B has been triggered". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  36. ^ Baggaley, Mike (20 December 2016). "Port Vale: Ribeiro's future may rest on Mourinho and contacts". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  37. ^ "Bruno Ribeiro: Port Vale manager resigns after Walsall defeat". BBC Sport. 26 December 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  38. ^ "Michael Brown: Port Vale caretaker boss judged on results, says chairman". BBC Sport. 11 January 2017. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  39. ^ Baggaley, Mike (2 March 2017). "Port Vale chairman says bidders have met asking price for club". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  40. ^ "Chairman Statement". port-vale.co.uk. 6 March 2017. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  41. ^ Baggaley, Mike (30 April 2017). "Port Vale relegation COMMENT: Fans let down by woeful decisions". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  42. ^ Baggaley, Mike (2 May 2017). "Norman Smurthwaite stands down as Port Vale chairman". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  43. ^ Baggaley, Mike (5 May 2017). "WATCH: Burslem-based IT firm makes £1.25m bid to buy Port Vale". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  44. ^ Baggaley, Mike (8 May 2017). "Norman Smurthwaite rejects both local bids for Port Vale". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  45. ^ Baggaley, Michael (16 September 2017). "Port Vale's Norman Smurthwaite says he was against appointment of Michael Brown". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  46. ^ "Port Vale: Gateshead manager Neil Aspin returns to former club as manager". BBC Sport. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  47. ^ Baggaley, Michael (5 June 2018). "Norman Smurthwaite reveals talks to sell Port Vale have fallen through". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  48. ^ Baggaley, Michael (18 June 2018). "Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite completes deal for Nuneaton Borough's ground". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  49. ^ Baggaley, Michael (1 August 2018). "Norman Smurthwaite replaces Tony Fradley as Port Vale chairman". Stoke Sentinel. Retrieved 1 August 2018.