Introducing our new, exclusive and behind the scenes series - The Renaissance.
Over the following weeks various members of the backroom staff will be explaining to us what life is like inside the walls of Vale Park, and how the club has transformed over the past 12 months under the guidance of new ownership. There will be highs, lows, and a pocketful of untold stories.
For Episode 1: We celebrate Carol and Kevin.
On this day in 2019, Carol and Kevin Shanahan completed the takeover of Port Vale Football Club- a monumental moment that sparked the resurrection of a crestfallen football club and its surrounding community. Today the club is bouncing again- full of vigour and life, but how did it end up here?
It was February, 23, 2019. “We were driving back from Cheltenham after watching the Vale play, and I turned to Kevin and said ‘sod it, we’ll do it, we’ll buy it,” Carol said. True to her word, less than three months after that moment Port Vale was all theirs. Finally; they had their hands on the football club that they had dreamt of owning for four long years- dusting themselves down after a couple of unsuccessful endeavours, and proving that ‘third time lucky’ isn’t just an old, hackneyed cliché.
The Shanahan’s had always possessed a burning desire to buy Port Vale Football Club- an aspiration that began the moment Carol and Kevin decided to move their Synectics Solutions headquarters from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Burslem. The Co-op’s old offices on Hamil Road proved to be the perfect location for the switch, as it had the space to accommodate the 360 members of staff that would be transferring over from the old facility. Their move to Hamil Road made them Vale Park’s new neighbours- but rather than hosting a ‘new to the neighbourhood’ dinner party or whipping up a batch of home-made cupcakes, the couple decided to support the Port Vale team home and away. Together they travelled across the country, proudly wrapped in their black and white scarves watching a club that they had become emotionally attached to.
“Since we set up the business in 1992, we had always had this philosophy about being a people-based organisation; that is how we have always ran our businesses. When we operated from Newcastle [under-Lyme], we were a charitable organisation but very insular. We had never really got involved in anything outside of what we were doing.
“When we arrived in Burslem though, something really triggered with me. I quickly realised that both Synectics and myself had a role to play in the community.
“I had been working with the Port Vale Foundation and doing various other things in the community before I got to a point where I said to Kevin, ‘if we really wanted to help Burslem and the area, we would have to make Port Vale successful’”.
When they swung open the heavy glass doors at Vale Park this time last year- they were faced with the arduous task of piecing back together a jigsaw puzzle that had long been dismantled. There was an array of problems that needed to be addressed behind the scenes, but Carol and her daughter Kate, found many positives beneath the surface. Carol brought Kate in to work for her along with 15 other Synectics staff, and Kate was quick to hail the attitude of the existing employees that stood by the Valiants through thick and thin:
“We learnt so much from the people that were already there. Of course some things needed tweaking, but all the staff adapted amazingly to what we were trying to do. They are a kind-hearted and genuine group. They are people that have been through some tough times, yet have always had Vale’s best interests at heart,” Kate said. “When my mum took over, it wasn’t a case of her wanting to be the knight in shining armour, it was more a case of just doing what we felt was right for the football club and community, and bringing what we had always done at Synectics to Port Vale- simple things like being kind and treating people with respect. I think as a successful leader in business, they are used to making big, difficult decisions and want success in everything that they do, but the thing with my mum is that she knows to also focus on the little things. I think it’s those that can matter the most to people,” she added.
Carol’s first move was to pacify the copious amount of aggrieved supporters and customers that had become disgruntled over the years, and get them back on board. “I spent most of my time saying sorry to everyone in the first two months. In the end I found myself saying sorry to passing strangers. We had to build relationships back up gradually, the first being with the fruit and veg man, and the pie man,” Carol said. “The fans struggled to trust us at first too. We were literally starting from scratch in that sense,” she added.
Those relationships have been reconciled, and Carol has since managed to put her own stamp on things to ensure that those types of relations are prioritised and held in high regard. Her values have revolutionised the way in which a football club thinks, and in particular how it treats its players, fans and community.
“People often say to me, ‘that’s not what you do’ or ‘that’s not how you speak to a manager or players; you don’t build up relationships with those people’, but I do, I don’t care what the other 91 clubs do, this is what we do, this is what works for us, this is what works for Port Vale,” Carol says fervently.
The biggest challenge in Port Vale’s cultural renaissance has been implementing the ethos that had been so successful at Synectics, and applying it to an entirely new environment and industry. The fast-paced and unpredictable nature of football offers no reward to those that build solid foundations however. That is the harsh reality of the game and something that separates it from any other business, but Carol believes preparation combined with persistence can eventually bring success to Port Vale. “Whilst luck is inevitably a part of any club’s future success, we want our luck to be preparation meeting opportunity,” she announced in a statement earlier this year.
Before the shutters were brought down on football across the globe, the team sat eighth in League Two- hot on the heels of Northampton Town and performing with a swagger that oozed confidence. As impressive as the league campaign has been though; it is the club’s tremendous off the field efforts that have really made a splash in the world of football. There is a sense of unity between the ‘Port Vale family’. Fans and players feel connected. Relationships have been formed- real one’s, not just the routine nod in the car park or the lazy squiggle on an autograph book that often becomes a habitual routine. During today’s era they greet each other by name and ask how one another are. It is unique, and something that Carol is extremely passionate about. I could hear the animation in her voice when we discussed the topic of togetherness, the type of passion that you only hear from somebody that truly believes in what they are trying to achieve. She explained how the players have been checking up on fans during recent weeks and taking the time to get to know them as human beings- the epitome of the communal concord that has been formed during her tenure.
“We have brought everyone together. More recently, the players have been phoning up the fans and checking up on them. The manager has made calls too, as well as myself. It’s a way for us all to connect on a deeper level. It has moved away from being this mass of people that arrive on match days to individuals and what Port Vale really means to them. John and the players know more about the person behind the faces that cheer them on each week, and that makes a huge difference. For them to look over to the Lorne Street or the Bycars and see people that they know- I think that’s amazing. I think we are all understanding a lot more about who we serve”.
It is fair to say that the link between supporters and the first team sits in stark contrast to the one of yesterday’s era, something that John Askey has continuously praised over the course of the season. He also lauded the impact of connecting with fans; particularly during such difficult times: “It’s brought us closer together. The players feel part of the club and the supporters feel the same, which was not the case before. The club is becoming a club that supporters can be proud of again, and the city can be proud of,” he said.
It is not just the playing staff that are flourishing under the new regime either, the staff behind the scenes have also prospered. Over the past year, they have been given a platform to work freely without the fear of criticism. “I don’t do moaning, I only do encouragement”, Carol said beneath a chuckle. It seems simple, but adjusting the mentality amongst the group has brought powerful results- most of which stems from the rich profusion of cordiality that Carol has introduced to the workplace. Former defender Adam Yates now works underneath her at both Synectics and Port Vale, and described her “as a down to earth person that genuinley cares”, and it is that relativeness that people inherently value. It has been pivotal in the creation of a warm working environment for those inside Vale Park. It is now a place to smile; a place to learn and grow, a place to be valiant.
Over the coming weeks we will catch up with a variety of Port Vale staff from different areas within the football club. From the dressing room to the kitchen; we will be bringing you a detailed insight into those that you cheer for, those that you may not know, and those that don’t receive the accolades that they so richly deserve.
Stay tuned for Week 2 of ‘The Renaissance’…