Vale reach for the skies

PORT Vale may not be flying high at the moment but they are hoping a new sponsorship deal will soon see them shooting down the opposition. The Valiants' lateral-thinking chairman Bill Bratt is hoping to tie-up a deal renaming Vale Park the Reginald Mitchell Stadium in memory of the man who invented the Spitfire.

By Derek Davis

PORT Vale may not be flying high at the moment but they are hoping a new sponsorship deal will soon see them shooting down the opposition. The Valiants' lateral-thinking chairman Bill Bratt is hoping to tie-up a deal renaming Vale Park the Reginald Mitchell Stadium in memory of the man who invented the Spitfire.

Bratt went all guns blazing when he read that American billionaire Sidney Frank, 85 - one of the world's wealthiest men - said he believed Mitchell should be honoured for designing the Spitfire.

Frank is prepared to pay for a statue of the Stoke-born inventor in London, so Bratt contacted the benefactor with a proposal for a deal which would see the Stoke club receive a financial injection in return for changing their name to Port Vale Spitfires and renaming Vale Park the Reginald Mitchell Stadium.

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A statue of Mitchell and a Spitfire museum and visitor centre would also form part of the proposal, but Bratt stresses discussions with Frank are still in the early stages - and no figures have yet been mentioned.

Mitchell was born in 1895 in Stoke and died in 1937 and his invention went a long way in saving the nation during World War Two.

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There is no record of him being a Vale fan, although he was born within a couple of miles of Vale Park.

I GOT an angry phone call from a Suffolk-based Derby fan who was not happy at the way George Burley was being linked with a move away from Pride Park to West Ham because he was unhappy at Tom Huddlestone being sold to Spurs.

The caller claimed Burley was fine about Huddlestone's move and accepted it as part of Derby's financial rebuilding.

Not so.

Burley is now starting a new rolling one-year contract with the Rams today and that should put paid to speculation about him leaving for West Ham, or anywhere else, in the summer.

But it doesn't change the fact that Burley is still clearly unhappy about Huddlestone's sale and he has publicly stated he wants the England Under 21 back on loan from the London club next season.

Burley rates Huddlestone as the best youngster he has ever worked with, quite an accolade given the talent he had at Ipswich, and describes himself as one of the best managers at developing players.

As such, he feels the move to Spurs is too early and he would be better off in the Championship with Derby learning his trade.

I wonder what would happen if Burley achieved a nigh-miracle and actually got the Rams promoted.

ANOTHER manager signing a new deal after a long time waiting was QPR boss Ian Holloway, who declared himself the happiest man alive after committing himself to the club until June 2008.

The 41-year-old has finally signed a new three-and-a-half-year deal and restated his aim of leading the club to promotion.

The former Bristol Rovers manager led Rangers to promotion from Division Two last season after taking over at Loftus Road in 2001.

Meanwhile, QPR have extended the loan spell of Charlton goalkeeper Simon Royce by a second month.

But Royce, who has only conceded one goal in his three appearances, will be on a 24-hour recall should Addicks boss Alan Curbishley require his services.

YET again the England friendly match did not disappoint me. I was so sure it would be a rubbish, meaningless game put on merely to exploit gullible fans happy to splash out hard earned cash to see second-rate fare.

Fair enough the big names were on show, Michael Owen, David Beckham et al, but how did that game help our chances of winning the World Cup.

What did we learn, apart from Shaun Wright-Phillips misses easy chances but is still a bright prospect?

We didn't see enough of Stewart Downing and he hardly had a chance to assimilate into an unbalanced side playing a formation we probably never see in a competitive match.

And what on earth was going on with Andy Johnson? Anyone that saw him for Palace in the Championship, and now in the Premiership, knows he is a direct, speedy, good finisher who plays down the middle.

So why play Owen and not Johnson, except for financial gain from the sponsors?

While we are in a cynical mode, I found myself agreeing with Gary Neville, who risked the wrath of his club's kit suppliers Nike to question the motives behind their support for an anti-racism campaign.

Like Neville I totally endorse the anti-racism initiatives taken by England and Holland during the friendly at Villa Park but am sceptical that commercial companies are in danger of using such campaigns for free publicity.

Nike have a £300million, 10-year sponsorship and merchandising deal with United but that has not prevented Neville from speaking out about the sports goods giants, who helped launch Thierry Henry's high-profile anti-racism campaign 'Stand Up, Speak Up' along with United defender Rio Ferdinand two weeks ago.

Neville said: “We don't have a big problem with racism in this country, you can think of probably one or two incidents in the last five or 10 years.

“We have to make sure that it the campaign is conducted in the right manner and not done just for PR like some of the sports companies seem to be doing at the moment.

“The FA and the England team have always campaigned against racism very well, we have just got to be aware that it is not cheapened slightly by companies like Nike getting a lot of PR out of it for nothing.”

Neville was one of only four players not to wear a training top with a 'Stand Up, Speak Up' message at the Arsenal versus United match at Highbury last week - and his comments have illustrated the reasons why he chose not to.

The campaign was first mentioned at the World Player of the Year gala in Zurich just before Christmas when both Henry and Ronaldinho gave Nike several mentions during a interview session that was broadcast live around the globe.

The England-Holland match was an historic occasion for the campaign against racism in the game. England wore red shirts with a slogan on the front and the Kick It Out badge - the campaign the FA support - on the sleeves. It was the first time in 133 years of international football the kit has carried anything on the front other than the three lions badge and manufacturer's logo. Holland meanwhile wore a black and white kit instead of their traditional orange.

FIFA gave the two FAs special permission to wear the shirts and fans also held up cards spelling out 'No To Racism' during the national anthems.

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