Walsall supporter Gary Ellison attended Monday nights 'Fan's Focus Meeting' at The Banks's Stadium, and kindly agreed to send us his report on what matters were discussed;
There were around 60 people in attendance and the meeting lasted around two hours and twenty minutes. In attendance were Dan Mole and Stefan Gamble.
Overall, the nature of the meeting was quite friendly with Mole and Gamble answering questions wherever possible. However, Gamble would not be drawn into speaking on behalf of Jeff Bonser and other members of the directorship.
I’m going to split my report into three sections: Backroom for all the things regarding the running of the club; Bonser for all the rent and pension fund fun and games and possibly the most important thing: Team for all things footballing.
Budget wise, we are down by around a quarter on last year due to the new TV deal. While for bigger clubs in the division it will not make a lot of difference, for us it will, as it represents a higher percentage of our revenue. This has made a hit on our playing budget. On the other hand, any extra footballing income made goes towards Smith’s budget. So the SKY money for the Shrewsbury game and any cup run (?) cash would go to him and not the debts.
On the subject of cup runs, the board are as annoyed as everybody else about the lack of them. As we do, they long for a round three trip to Manchester United. The manager and the board meet formally every three months to talk about the “footballing side of the business” and discuss targets, budgets, matches and anything else. Stefan Gamble has said that Smith hopes to have at least 5-6 new faces in before the start of the season and that he is actively and rigorously looking at getting targets to sign.
Scouting is focused on youth, but non-league and further afield is looked at as well. If a scout gives a report on a talented player, then Smith will observe him personally. Smith also attends all reserve games and turns up to watch Villa reserves when at Bescot. Our relationship with local clubs is alright, but Villa have never really helped us out with regards to the wages of their youth team players. This has been stated as the reason why they have not been signed, rather than a lack of effort on our part.
We do seem to have a good relationship with Stoke (seems weird to type that!) as they are the ones who approached us over Flo Cuvelier. On the signing of non-league players, we tried this with Gnapka and even went over budget for him, but he did not come to fruition. His release, though, did manage to pay a lot of the way for Mantom, Ledesma and Cuvelier.
Contract offers were made by Smith and what Smith thought of that player. Somebody tried using Beevers as an example to say Mansfield were on par with us, but he was given short shrift, with Gamble saying that we’d offered him what we thought he was worth and Mansfield had simply thought Beevers was worth more to them.
Smith’s budget is set at the start of the season and can be used for fees and wages, of course, if Smith signed a £50,000 player, £50,000 would be scrubbed from the wage budget. All very Football Manager, but understandable. Youth team players are allowed to circumvent the transfer window to go on “work experience” and Walsall are hoping to get kids into clubs like Redditch and Rushall to “toughen them up.”
As mentioned in the team summary, the TV money has been cut and has encroached onto the budget for this season and seasons in the future. As always, the rent cheque is the first one paid.
The board have faith in Smith and hail his youth policy as something to believe in. They see Smith’s former job as youth director as a very useful asset in his management of the club and want to use this “youth first” policy as a beacon to tempt more fans in.
Season ticket sales are 0.3% down on last season, so there is no worries from the club, in fact, I think most of that stems from the other half’s side of the family not renewing! The children’s season tickets have taken well. While not knowing the numbers for under 12 renewing into under 18 season tickets, Gamble did say that half of the children who have moved on from under 18 season tickets to full season tickets, have taken up the offer of full season tickets. A good thing, I’m sure. Home printing of tickets was mentioned but we we have not got the technology at the moment, however, it is something worth looking into according to Mole and Gamble.
Somebody asked the question about moving some home fans into the opposite stand and moving the away fans into the side stand more often, but Dan Mole gave a very detailed account into how policing for a game works, stating that if he can have a match with stewards only, he will find a way to make it happen. A police presence at a game can cost into “high five-figures” and a Tuesday night game with no front-seat meshing is the worst kind. Imagine Leeds at home when Troy Deeney scored of Wolves at home when we lost 3-0.
With regards to player acquisition, the board is disappointed we do not have more players in, but bemoans it as player power rather than Smith’s doing. The example given was Sadler wanted a one-year deal as it puts him on the map and gives him an easy escape should a better (or richer) club come in for him.
Over the last six months a large cost-cutting exercise back of house has happened and as a result of this, we have a very small full-time staff. Debts have been mentioned with Bonser’s £2m and other directors having up to £700,000 owed by the club. Of all the creditors, only Clive Welsh adds interest to his loan and the directors have to give a large notice (Asps on UTS mentioned two years) to have the club start repaying the money back.
Debts were accrued during the ITV Digital fiasco and we are still paying for our forays into Division One. Nice of Whalley, at the time, to tell us we wouldn’t be touched by the whole thing, but hey, as a fellow teacher, I can relate to his lack of foresight. Going off on a tangent, I think this is what miffed me the most. Gamble and Mole, whenever I have seen them, have always been open and as honest as they can be. Compared to the Whalley and Bonser show, they are quite a credit to the club and hopefully gain more of a foothold in it as their tenure gets longer.
The shirt sponsor was secured in February so the kit was made nice and early, hopefully avoiding any peeling that was the bane of many people’s lives last year. The club have outsourced the large hoarding near the M6 to a company who pays a set fee over two years. If the hoarding gets past a certain amount of revenue over the two years, Walsall FC get a percentage, though the numbers were not discussed.
Video screens were mentioned, but with the amount of advertising space we have around the ground, finding advertisers to offset the cost of the screen (£100,000 new, £70,000 reconditioned) would be too hard of a job in League One. The mantra on advertising seems to be based on filling what we have got, then looking at new forms of advertising and sponsorship.
The kit will be sold by the club only for the first year of our deal, but can then be sold by related companies (JD, JJB etc) in the second and third years. However, if it is not sold by the club, not all of the money for the shirts will find its way back to the club.
Firstly, Bonser was excused for not being there by Mole and Gamble. This did not go down well throughout the night as he was lambasted for his approach to the club. When the crowd were told JB was at the club every day, Gamble and Mole were told that he should have stayed and answered questions as Gamble and Mole were doing.
Many times, Bonser was derided for his attitude towards the club and the fans. While his business deals and ownerships are private, football is not a private business and his approach is not taken kindly by the supporters. Mole and Gamble promised that they would talk to Bonser and see if he could attend January’s fan’s meeting.
As mentioned in the backroom section, only Clive Welsh has taken the interest option on his loans and no directors have called back their loans. The rent is the first thing paid and budgets are worked around that and money coming in. After saying that he has no control over his pension fund investment, apart from to sell it, Bonser was said to have not added RPI to the rent for the last two seasons. Which to be quite frank, is strange.
After this, fans further criticised the owner’s attitude saying that something like this could have been spun into a positive and that the club has missed a trick not realising it in a summer of virtually all player exits.
The freehold is still up for sale, though no number was given. The preferred bidder last year was Walsall Council, but the political make up of the council made it impossible for a purchase.
Dan Mole seemed frustrated with the Bonser situation and every time he was asked about “the elephant in the room” he would become slightly frustrated. This is not a slight on him as he said that he could only control the controllables and I agree with him.
Overall, I think the night went well and a lot of questions were answered about what could be answered. Unfortunately, as we all know, the rent issue is the biggest and was not discussed at any length. Hopefully a miracle can occur and JB can be coerced, forced, or kidnapped into the next meeting. Wouldn’t fancy being him though if it happened.
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