Walsall Football Club Supporters Working Party Meeting. Held via a Zoom conference call on Monday 1st March 2021, 3pm.
Daniel Mole (DM) – Walsall Football Club
Stefan Gamble (SG) – Walsall Football Club
Chris Saunders (CS) – Walsall Supporters Alliance
Graham Whittaker (GW) – Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer
Bob Thomas (BT) – Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust
Ian Buckingham (IB) – Walsall Football Club Disabled Supporters Association
Minutes: Sam Hadwen (SH)
DM and SG began by thanking everyone for attending the Zoom meeting.
DM began by giving an update about the club to the Working Party members. Since the last meeting, Darrell Clarke has moved on to join Port Vale with Brian Dutton being appointed Head Coach until the end of the season, with Mat Sadler as his assistant. Chairman Leigh Pomlett (LP) addressed supporters the day after with a piece to camera to give further updates on this, to which DM thought covered all bases but was happy to take any further questions to which there were none.
DM then explained recent changes to our fixture schedule (Barrow and Tranmere Rovers) and wanted to add some clarity as to why these games had been rearranged. The Barrow game was moved due to Tranmere being involved in the final of the Papa John’s Trophy on the Saturday, which in turn saw them move the game between ourselves to a later date. Barrow contacted us about moving the game from the Tuesday and both clubs agreed for Friday 12th to fulfil this game, so that both teams get one more day of preparation for the following Tuesday games. DM spoke on the rearranged Newport game and highlighted that they were mandated to move the fixture as they played on the Sunday beforehand and that whilst both coaches wanted to kick off slightly earlier, we had to strike a happy medium whereby the recovery time was still there for the players in aid of preparation for the next fixtures but also so that as many people could watch the game via iFollow at 5.30pm. DM apologised for any inconvenience this had caused.
DM then updated the WP on the Government roadmap to exit from lockdown, with key dates being 12th April, 17th May and 21st June. DM gave an insight to the working party members in that with kids returning to schools from 8th March, we’re looking at a full working week at the stadium from next Monday with skeleton staff in every day e.g. Sales and Comms team and the stadium returning to being open on a business front. DM then said that the retail aspects of the club will be able to reopen from 12th April with Conferences & Events to soon follow all being well and also supporters returning to stadia. DM added that the 17th May and part capacity would see us to the end of the season, unless an upturn in form resulted in us reaching the play-offs, so we would be looking into our pre-season games and into the new season to seeing supporters returning to the stadium which would theoretically see a full capacity based on the roadmap. This in turn formed part of the club’s thinking in delaying the sale of 21/22 Season Tickets, something which LP touched upon in his latest communication to fans.
GW spoke of the uncertainty of whether it will be a full capacity when we re-open the stadium and asked whether we would be leaving the stadium as it is socially distanced or whether we would open it up as normal. Whilst the club do not know any more information at this point, DM responded and said based on the guidelines if we meet each 5-week period, from the 21st June we could potentially remove any social distancing or COVID protocols. DM did reiterate however that it would be remiss of he and SG to give the go ahead to get rid of all the green stickers on seats and social distancing protocols now, because that sadly might not be the case and there is a possibility that some targets raised by the Prime Minister might not be met. DM added that in regards to the Season Tickets as touched upon earlier, we would look to launch these during May/June as if we could sell to a full capacity but we will caveat that in our terms and conditions of sale that we reserve the right to return to social distancing if Government restrictions require us to do so. DM concluded and said the club will assess this further down the line but stated that we are ready to go should it be a socially distanced crowd and will be able to turn round the stadium should we able to open to a full capacity e.g. removal of any green stickers, cable-ties to seats etc.
DM then came back to LP’s comments in his latest update about the Early Bird Season Tickets and asked BT and GW for their thoughts. Both agreed that it was the right call and following this GW asked whether the club would be looking to give any added incentives as part of these to those who left their money in the club for this season. DM responded and said that whilst those supporters who left their money in the club have been compensated in a sense, with their names featuring on the commemorative third kit next season and their names on a plaque, we’ve got to be mindful of one season moving to the other but stated that this is being considered as part of the sales mix. SG then added that he would ideally like to run the Season Ticket launch in June and coincide this with fixture release day but stated that we will assess as the weeks go by and keep supporters updated on this as well as everything else regarding the football club.
CS asked if the club could release a 5-year plan alongside the Season Tickets with the club’s aspirations and if the Season Tickets will continue to be paper based or if we are looking at a different solution. SG responded firstly to the booklets and said that the club are looking at a digital solution and something similar to a membership card via a turnstile access system for next season. SG added that whilst this is not currently in place, all the site surveys have been done and our colleagues at TicketMaster are looking to provide all the hardware for this and he is hopeful that all this can be implemented before the start of next season. In terms of a 5-year plan, SG said he will feed this back to LP and come back to CS at the next meeting.
Update from Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust:
BT asked DM and SG what the financial situation is like at present at the club, what’s happening in regards to the flooding at the training ground and if the Academy is a waste of money. SG responded firstly on the financial state of the club and reiterated that we are in a good position and this is shown by us being able to postpone the launch of Season Tickets until the summer. SG alluded to the occasions whereby LP has commented on these things and how tough it is in the current climate e.g. the Bescot Sunday Market not being able to be facilitated, the Conference & Events sector remaining closed and the M6 advertising signs taking a hit due to businesses currently not being open. SG reiterated that whilst it is challenging times, we are in a good position to get us through to the summer. In regards to the training ground, DM said that this issue has been on the agenda for the last 18 months as there have been some issues with the drainage. In the summer of 2020, the club planned to do all the work in its entirety to resolve the issues we have experienced. However, because of the Pandemic this work had to halted. However, DM confirmed that the item remains high on the agenda for when it is financially realistic to carry out the works.
In regards to the Academy, DM mentioned that we had 4 academy graduates in the starting eleven for our game against Newport which would likely have been 5 if Liam Kinsella wasn’t suspended, which shows the success of the work behind the scenes within the Academy setup and that these players are gaining opportunities to be in a first-team environment. The recent Academy results have been disappointing but DM wanted to add some context to this in that of the few positive Covid-19 cases we have had thus far, all of them have been within the Academy and not the first-team. This in turn has resulted in instances where players from the scholarship programme are having to self-isolate whilst we are having to fulfil the fixtures meaning that cover has had to be provided by any means necessary (e.g. a 14 year old goalkeeper playing in the FLYA). DM stated there is room for improvement in this sector of the football club and that in the last month we have appointed a Head of Recruitment, with SG adding that we have done well in recent years in bringing players through to the first-team and that it has been a valuable resource for us. However, the Academy is under review at Executive Board Level.
BT then raised a query raised by a member of the Trust and asked why the club at present have not looked at appointing a more-experienced assistant coach to assist BD with the funds received from DC’s departure, given the fact that MS is currently playing regularly in the team. SG responded and stated that as a football club we will continue to support BD as much as possible and that whilst MS is his assistant but playing in the eleven regularly due to injuries to other players, Maik Taylor (MT) is an experienced individual as is Mark Bradley (MB) on the touchline to provide additional support. SG did stress however that should BD speak to the board and ask for such support, we will back him by all means.
BT then asked what the purpose of Peter Gilman was on the WFC Board of Directors. SG responded and stated that PG has been on the Board at Walsall FC for a number of years having previously served as Director and Vice Chairman of Leeds United Football Club from 1980-96. SG added that PG brings experience and business acumen and is regarded highly at the club.
Update from Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer:
GW began by asking DM and SG about how the current scouting system works on a first-team basis, after he received this query from a number of supporters. SG stated that at present we don’t have a First Team Chief Scout and we haven’t for many years and stated that every manager likes to do it differently. SG added that we have scouts go out to watch opposition and that we have a lot of scouting software programmes that they use to analyse the opposition but reiterated that at present the Head Coach and other coaches form the majority of the recruitment side of things. SG explained that a wider review of the football operation is taking place at present.
GW then touched upon the Saddlers Lottery and stated that following the end of the WSA fundraiser, this is another good way of helping the club financially. DM agreed with this and informed GW to continue to liaise with the Comms team on promoting this on a regular basis.
GW then mentioned our partnership with the Terrace as seen in the matchday programme and via our social media channels and questioned if all supporters were aware that these are official licensed products. SG said that this was publicised at the time and has been every so often on our channels over the least few months but said he will speak to Head of Commercial Alex Smith (AS) about getting this out there again in the public domain in due course.
Update from Walsall Supporters Alliance:
CS had a number of questions to put forward to DM and SG and began by asking whether there could be any scope for a Virtual fans focus meeting/Q&A with LP. DM and SG responded and said they will speak to LP on this but would see no issue in something of this nature and both praised the Chairman for his communication to supporters in recent months. Both added that this is something that has been done in the past with Darrell Clarke and James Clarke and would explore this with LP.
CS then fitted multiple questions into one and asked if the board acknowledge the threat of a possible relegation, if the club would survive should relegation occur and if there is a contingency plan for it. SG responded and reiterated that regardless of what happens and what division we find ourselves in, we will survive as a club. SG added that everybody is acutely aware of the position we find ourselves in in regards to league position and whilst it is not where we want to be, everybody involved is working hard to ensure we move up the table.
CS then mentioned the fundraiser set up by members of the Alliance which has since closed at circa of £7,000 and CS added that this sum will be transferred to the club within the next 10-14 days. DM and SG thanked CS and all supporters for their incredible generosity to the fundraiser. CS then asked how the club intends to use these funds and SG stated that these will be used towards the cardio screenings for the Academy, something which was agreed at a previous WP meeting. SG added that at the time of this agreement, we mentioned that we would publicise this on our channels and highlight our praise to the group and supporters who have contributed, something which will be facilitated in due course.
CS then stayed on the topic of funds and asked if now would be an idea to look at the club becoming a community club and thus funded and ran by the fans and what other options there are to firstly ensure the financial stability of the club but to also to compete at the top of end of League Two. CS also asked what fans can do to increase the budget. SG reiterated that we are in a good financial position and that fans have already been significantly generous throughout this difficult period and stated that the best way for supporters to assist would be to continue to purchase iFollow passes, merchandise from the Club Shop etc and attend games in person as and when it is feasible to do so.
CS then touched upon some rumours which he had come across in regards to Rico Henry and add-on clauses, to which SG stated that we don’t comment on speculation. SG did confirm the Club received an amount for every appearance Rico made up to 100 appearances.
CS then asked about the 50/50 split for a transfer fee between the youth and first-team and asked if this was still the case or whether this has since changed. SG said that this no longer remains in place for every transfer fee that comes in and that there is no hard and fast rule on this split and that LP allocates this as he sees fit at any given time in line with the needs of the business.
CS then turned attentions to the manager/squad area of the club and asked that given the number of players being out of contract in the summer and the fact that BD is taking Head Coach until the end of the season, what issues would occur with the recruitment side should things change. SG responded and said that BD is under contract for another 18 months and has taken the Head Coach role on until the end of the campaign whilst the club reviews its options and that having BD in charge brings continuity to the players and staff and that we are in a good position at present on this front to start negotiations on contract extensions. SG added that there are ongoing conversations with certain players and securing their long-term futures but added that some will need to be reviewed when the time comes.
CS stated that there were a number of questions from supporters that were directed to LP. The Working Party gave SG and DM the remit to discuss these offline with LP and report back at the April Meeting. [This conversation has subsequently taken place and LP has agreed to attend the next Supporters Working Party meeting to answer these questions in person.]
DM concluded by referring to an email he received from ISSA Representative Dave Beckett which in short stated the request for ISSA to return to the WP meetings. DM explained that the WP Meetings were for the supporters and asked the various Supporters Groups to discuss this matter with their Committees ahead of a formal vote by the Supporters Groups at the April Meeting on ISSA’s return from May.
The meeting closed at 15:00.
Next meeting to be held on Zoom on Tuesday 30th March 2021 at 14:00.