Walsall Football Club Supporters Working Party Meeting. Held via a Zoom conference call on Monday 17th May 2021, 1pm.
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
Ray Dale (RD) – Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust
Dave Beckett (DB) – Independent Saddlers Supporters Association
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. In the last few weeks, we have concluded our 2020/21 campaign which DM highlighted as being the most challenging seasons both on and off the pitch due to COVID-19. DM apologised on behalf of the football club for a very disappointing campaign on the field.
Since the last meeting, Brian Dutton (BD) who took the role of Head Coach on an interim basis has moved on to pastures new as publicised in the last week or so and work is well under way to the process of recruiting a new Head Coach.
SG began by thanking the working party groups for their co-operation due to the meeting being postponed by a week because of the news of BD’s departure. The search for a new Head Coach is well underway with Technical Director Jamie Fullarton (JF) taking this task under his wing. SG hopes to make an appointment in the not-too-distant future and highlighted that it is an ideal opportunity for whoever comes in to put their stamp on things and mould a squad together, given the busy summer that we anticipate to have. SG touched upon the retained/released list which has been publicised which has seen contracts being offered to Dan Scarr (DS) and Hayden White (HW) and is hopeful of having news on this and a new Head Coach at some point this week/early next week. SG then opened the floor for any questions on these particular matters. CS asked if the process began for a new Head Coach as soon as the decision was made to let BD go, or whether it began a few days between the two for JF to start the search. SG responded and reiterated that part of JF’s remit is to ensure that there are always options in all positions at the football club moving forward and that started from the get go since his arrival. However, SG added that when you have someone in any form of position at the club it wouldn’t be right to be actively looking for personnel to replace them and reiterated that whilst targets are always identified the actual physical process began as and when the decision was made to part company with BD.
DM spoke about the new football structure that we’re now implementing with a Technical Director providing football expertise on the Board and one thing that SG, Chairman Leigh Pomlett (LP) and him have been working on for a number of months is the strategic planning of the football club in all departments. DM stated we are working to be in a position where we are not reactive to players, coaching staff, Head Coaches etc departing the club and a position where, should individuals move on in future due to them either being successful or if things don’t work out, we have a blueprint/expectation of what we want from those individuals so that we can replace them without it being too disruptive, as was the case when Darrell Clarke (DC) left his position at very short-notice and midway through the season. DM added that by having JF on board with us to asses these things on the football front under the new model, it will be only be beneficial to us.
CS then asked on the back of this if JF was looking at the other positions that need filling and what it would mean for those that already in positions, such as Mat Sadler (MS) and Miguel Llera (ML). SG reiterated once more that JF’s role is to review the football department and make sure that everyone we have in key positions are the right people for those roles. In the first instance, this will entail bringing in a new Head Coach but SG added that is a collaborative process with the new recruit to be able to work with the coaching staff and people that can compliment each other, which in turn also includes the Academy. The Academy is slightly different in that we have people in all positions at present and SG concluded that JF will look at this area also and advise the Board on the best approach to take.
DM then mentioned that alongside the recruitment aspect of players and a new Head Coach, we are putting together our pre-season schedule in terms of fixtures which DM believes will be announced in the near future. DM stated that we will be having three home fixtures and are working on organising plans for a free pre-season ticket to Season Ticket Holders who left their money in the club at the end of the curtailed 19/20 campaign, as this was included as part of the compensation package details at the time. DM kindly asked all those in attendance to reference this to their members as they will be able to attend the first home friendly game free of charge, with plans for the remaining two home games and local away fixtures to be finalised in due course. DM then added that due to the pandemic we will not be having a pre-season tour. DM believes that this is something that could be picked up again for 2022 subject to approval at Board level.
DM stated that he has had further meetings in the last few weeks with Public Health England and the SGSA and alluded to the lifting of some restrictions which have now come into play as we continue down the roadmap to an exit of lockdown and is hopeful that we will continue to go in the right direction despite some concerns of a new Indian variant.
DM then touched upon Season Tickets and stated that the campaign will be going live in June with the sales of these to follow in due course. SG added to this and said that the campaign will tie in with the final stage of the roadmap and with the Euros and fixture release days coming up, he is hopeful that there will be a renewed optimism within football and supporters will purchase a ticket with the reassurance that they will be physically watching the games at the stadium.
DM turned attentions to the training ground work which is well underway to rectify the issues which we have had. A new drainage system is being installed at considerable cost to rectify issues that have hampered the team’s ability to train at the site throughout the year.
Works began early May and DM checks on this work a couple of times a week and he is confident that we can deliver those pitches with the new drainage system, reseeded and sanded and able to play on by mid-June when the players report back for pre-season.
Work commences on the stadium pitch this week and DM believes it will be ready by mid- July. DM also mentioned that we have organised for a deep clean of the stadium between the 7th June – 7th July in readiness for the return of supporters.
DM concluded from a club perspective with an update regarding retail and new kit. DM is expecting the delivery of kit (home, away and third) to arrive with us before the end of May and be on sale in early June whilst also marking out the fans who left their money in the club with two permanent plaques at the stadium as a thank you for their gesture, of which are being supplied by Sign Specialists.
Update from Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust:
RD raised a query which was bought up by members in his group in regards to COVID-19 and the number of people who have passed away in recent months and was wondering if we could look at a memorial service before one of the pre-season games. DM responded and said we will look into this and have the conversation offline as to how best facilitate this. RD then asked if Rev. Lance Blackwood (LB) was still the club’s Chaplain to which DM stated he was and mentioned that we could arrange something whereby he says a few words before the game/performs some form of service. DM added that he will speak to LB about this in due course.
RD then mentioned that Steve Davies, Secretary of the Trust, will contact the Club in the near future with any other options they are currently discussing, to which DM said we are more than happy to receive and will feed back once they are with us.
Update from Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer:
GW stated that he has been made aware of some results that have been made public by Fan Index of reviews of clubs based on three categories; governance, dialogue and transparency with the WPM being an example of this. GW informed all that these results placed us 25th out of the 92 clubs in the football league and advised that there are areas that can be improved to rank even higher in the coming years so requested those with any ideas/queries to contact GW direct. DM thanked GW for bringing this to his attention and requested that the link be shared around for further reading. DM added that we will be tasking ourselves with ways to improve these rankings over the next 12 months but reiterated that it’s a good platform to build on.
GW then touched upon the flags around the stadium that were used for display during games that were played BCD and advised the supporters groups that should any of their members still have flags located at the stadium, they should contact Stadium Manager Bryan Taylor (BT) and arrange to pick up.
Update from Walsall Supporters Alliance:
CS gave a quick update to all those in attendance and mentioned that in readiness for the next meeting, he will collate some plans from his members on what they are doing within the local area and borough and how people can support them moving forward.
CS then had a few questions to put to DM and SG and began by referring back to the retained/released list and asked whether the majority of the decisions were made by JF. SG stated the decisions were a combination of recommendations going all the way back to DC with BD, JF and Mat Sadler also involved in the process.
CS then asked if it would be possible to announce the contract length of Sam Perry (SP). SG indicated that the decision to publicise contract lengths as undisclosed were decisions made by both DC and BD when in charge. SG added that he didn’t personally see the benefit in doing this as those who wanted to find out would do so ultimately but SG has no objections for letting this be known in the public domain and confirmed that SP signed a two-year deal (rest of the 20-21 season and 2021-2022 season), with another year’s option (22-23 season) in the club’s favour. DM added that by now having a change of direction with how we run the football operation, it brings a host of benefits to both parties and should fans want to know this sort of information we would feel happy to disclose.
Update from Independent Saddlers Supporters Association:
DB asked a question regarding the Saddlers Club and asked if we are having to pay the rates while it stands empty and if there have been any decisions as to whether it will open up to supporters again in the future. SG responded and mentioned that we are not picking up the rates at present but stated that it will more than likely be a matter of time before we do. In regards to the second part of the query, there has been no further decisions as to what will happen with the Saddlers Club moving forward. Having it available to fans on a matchday is an option we have looked at, but SG added that we have to make it work for us commercially throughout the week also. SG mentioned that we were moving towards expanding our exhibition space to compliment our own facilities, but the effects of Covid has delayed this by 12 months. SG said hopefully we can get this online over the next 12 months and make available for fans to utilise. SG did mention that conversations have been had in the last few weeks for the potential of renting the area out as office space, but stated that in the first instance we need to establish what we are going to do with the area before seeing what work needs to be done.
DB then mentioned that they are now half-way through the first month of sales under the official licencing agreement that the football club granted to ISSA and DB believes the club will be pleasantly surprised with how much will be coming through at the end of the month.
DB also announced that ISSA have now launched their own football team and had their own kit produced and mentioned that the playing area at the Railway Club is going to be renamed as the Chris Nicholl playing arena in Chris’s honour. From this DB said that they are looking to get some signage produced and asked if SG could get him in contact with Sign Specialists for this. SG agreed to this and requested DB to email across what they are looking for and he will pass on.
DB also mentioned that this playing area could be of use to Walsall Ladies, a conversation which he states he has had with DM previously. DM responded and said this is something that can be looked at. DM then gave the groups a quick update on WFC Ladies. In recent weeks they have utilised the 4G pitch at the stadium on a Friday and currently train at Walsall E-Act Academy on Tuesdays. DM stated that he will ask Nick Adshead (NA) to speak to Donna Ash (DA), Secretary of Walsall Ladies, then put DB in contact with her to see if there is any availability for them to use the pitches.
The meeting closed at 13:40.
Next meeting to be held on Zoom on 7th/14th June 2021.