UPBEAT manager John Askey has hailed a ‘massive turnaround’ on and off the pitch at Port Vale – and believes continuity can help their pursuit of success.
The former Macclesfield and Shrewsbury boss took the reins when the club were in a tight spot in February last year.
There had been a breakdown in relations between owner Norman Smurthwaite and the club’s fans, leading to protests, and the club were in relegation danger in League Two.
Askey steadied the ship on the pitch before new owners Carol and Kevin Shanahan took over in May 2019 to bring some calm off it.
Vale then finished a creditable eighth in League Two last term – just a point off the play-offs when the season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.
Seven points from their opening three games this season suggest they will be in the upper echelons again this term. Despite the fact fans cannot attend games, there is a positive mood at Vale Park.
“It’s been a massive turnaround at a club that looked as though it might go out of business if it hadn’t been sold – now it’s a very well-run club,” said Askey, whose dad Colin was a Vale legend in his playing days.
“We’ve had continuity and that may well have had a bearing. We finished last season off well and there wasn’t a big turnover of players. I think we’ve got the highest percentage of retained players in the league, about 85 per cent.
“It’s still early days, but it’s always nice to get off to a good start. It can make a huge difference if you haven’t won in the first three games – it seems like an uphill battle. Now we want to keep it going.”
The frustration of not being able to complete the job last season will also push the Valiants on this year.
“We had more home games to come than away games and our home record was very good – we had only lost one,” the 55-year-old told The FLP. “If the season had finished the week before we would have been in the play-offs, so it was frustrating to say the least, especially from where we were the previous season.
“It felt as though we had a really good chance, but who knows?
“Based on how we did last season, there comes an expectation that we can keep improving and we are hoping to be in and around the play-offs. Anything else would be a massive bonus.
“When you start any league as a player or manager, you want to try to win something – and that’s our aim.”
Askey is eager to build on the ‘feelgood factor’ around the club and acknowledges that it comes just as much from what’s happening away from the pitch as on it.
“The club is a big part of the community down to the ownership,” he said. “During the pandemic, over 150,000 meals were given out to local people, which is probably far higher than any other football club in the country.
“The club also put on activities for underprivileged youngsters. There’s an unbelievable amount of work going on.”
That community effort is one of the reasons it’s so important lower league clubs come through the financial shock of not having paying customers come through the turnstiles, potentially for the next six months.
“That’s a massive percentage of our revenue which we can’t survive without,” explained Askey. “We are lucky we’ve got good owners, but there’s only so long this can carry on.
“You can see clubs going out of business within a month unless they get help. That would have a knock-on effect on for those communities.
“Football is awash with money at the top end, but it’s the government as well. They have given to the arts and things like that, so why football has proven different, I don’t know.
“Something needs to be done and done quickly.”