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Minutes From Thursday's Meeting Between Club Officials and Supporters

Here are the minutes from the meeting between club officials and supporters, which was held at Banks's Stadium on Thursday, 1st February 2018.
With thanks to Ian Astbury of the Walsall Football Supporters' Trust, here are the minutes from the meeting between club officials and supporters, which was held at Banks's Stadium on Thursday, 1st February 2018.

In Attendance Were...
Jeff Bonser - Chairman, Walsall Football Club
Stefan Gamble - Chief Executive, Walsall Football Club
Daniel Mole - Secretary and Director, Walsall Football Club
Dean Neville - Representing Walsall Football Supporters' Trust
Ian Astbury - Representing Walsall Football Supporters' Trust
Matt Ellison
Dave Olly Beckett
Kevin Paddock

What Was on the Agenda?
• Jeff’s exit strategy
• The ground freehold
• Playing budget & deadline day
• Club accounts
• The Venue
• Saddlers Club
• The current manager
• The planned protest march
• Any other items

The meeting took place in the 1888 Lounge at Banks's Stadium and started at 9:32am with Ian Astbury leading proceedings. Firstly Ian thanked Jeff Bonser, Stefan Gamble and Daniel Mole for agreeing to meet with fans today to discuss issues surrounding the club.

Jeff Bonser's Exit Strategy
Mr. Bonser advised that he wants to retire and sell his shares in the club and via his and his brother’s pension fund with Suffolk Life, sell the ground. Note Suffolk Life legally own the stadium freehold. JB wants to enjoy a retirement and once more become a normal fan

In Jeff Bonser's view the best solutions are...
1) For the club to buy the freehold, either using a windfall from a sell on clause or by finance, however despite talking to numerous banks around the world, no bank will lend to a football club, even one such as WFC which is profitable with the security of a long lease. Other methods of finance recently investigated by SG are prohibitive at the moment due to high interest charges;

2) For Walsall Council to buy the stadium using prudential low interest borrowing. The rent would be then paid to the council who could then spend the money for running Walsall Borough. The present council leadership however are not interested, despite investing the Saddlers Centre at a higher costs and lower return. JB suggested that fans groups including the Trust should lobby local councillors to consider and support this option. Any agreement with the council would include the option to buy the freehold if WFC had a transfer sell on clause windfall. Council control and so their viewpoint does change frequently, so dialogue will continue.

The fans suggested that if Walsall Council are not interested in acquiring the freehold would the Council’s pension fund be interested, with the same option to buy clause. SG is to consider / investigate this.

Any third party is welcome to offer to purchase the club and the land, however they must have the interests of the WFC at the forefront. JB advised that 6 serious bids have been received for the club but they didn’t materialise as Jeff doesn’t want the club to fall into the hands of people who do not have the club's best interests at heart and who could be a detriment to the club.

JB hopes that thirty years from now we have a club in the Premier League, but mainly there is still a Walsall Football Club.

If the freehold cannot be sold before he passes away, then to pension fund containing the stadium freehold would pass to his next of kin / descendants.

The Freehold of Banks's Stadium
The fans advised that we didn’t particularly want to discuss the past history regarding the freehold as this is already in the public domain. The fans wanted to discuss the present and the future, not the past.

JB however felt it was important to discuss past events as it has a direct bearing on the situation today. JB then advised for an hour or so, the full history of the freehold starting from when Terry Ramsden got involved with the club until present day. This was done in great detail and included the involvement and investment of £3m by Jeff’s and his brother Robert’s pension fund with Suffolk Life into capital projects at the stadium which have been rentalised up but generate a commercial return to the club forever.

JB was keen to dispel the myths and the rumours regarding the freehold & the pension fund involvement and give a true record of the past events.

Following this, the fans asked why JB couldn’t attend a Focus Group meeting and personally deliver this information. JB advised that he will not do this as there is a small element of fans, who do not even attend matches, who would never accept what he said, shout him down with chaos ensuing at any meeting.

The fans then suggested that JB’s account be written up and made available on the clubs website on a history page for all to view. This was agreed to by the club and this will be done with archive supporting documents added in .pdf format.

Playing Budget and Transfer Deadline Day
The fans asked if the 50/50 policy relating to transfer income can be reviewed with more money going into the transfer budget. After all, the transfer income comes from the playing side, so why doesn’t 100% go back into it?

JB – Yes we can look at that. The 50/50 split is only a guide, we often do more, but bear in mind that we have high costs in developing that player, training ground, staff etc.

In the last accounts we repaid part of the Director’s loans. £288K was repaid to JB. In view of the current situation with the squad depth and quality could repayments be reduced to increase the playing budget?

JB – Yes we will consider this. The Director’s loans must be paid at some point however. Significant funds were available for team strengthening up until the transfer deadline.

We had agreed a 6 figure fee with a club for a player and terms with a player who was driving to WFC to sign, however that player received a phone call from another club while on route who offered him a better package and the player diverted his journey and signed for the other club.

SG stated that the club has also made a number of other bids to pay a transfer fee to acquire the permanent registration of players but these were rejected by their clubs.

Transfer deadline day was a stressful, long day for the club. Many players that the club had been courting for several weeks left their options open until the last day.

The club wanted to sign more experienced players, but circumstances dictated that only younger players could be brought in. The club conceded that this was not ideal, but they needed more players / more bodies and although young, the players brought in are highly rated.

Permanent signings were desired, but the deals just didn’t materialise.

The club pays “Low to middle of the table” in terms of player wages compared to other clubs in our league. However, it is difficult to compare budgets between clubs as all clubs include different components when talking about 'Player Budget'.

The club had turn offers for 4 of our players in the last month or so, including 2 former Academy players. The fans asked why the club hadn’t shared this with the fans as positive PR and the club acknowledged it would have been worth doing this, however there is a lengthy piece written by SG in relation to the Transfer Window in Saturdays match programme.

The 2016/17 Club Accounts
In 2016 / 2017 accounts Intangible assets were up by £110K (Zero the year previously) – This covered registration fees for players.

A new unsecured loan of £200K from JB– This covered new display screens for the large advertising structure. £150K of which has already been paid back from the profit the sign generates.

Turnover from match receipts is down 28% when attendances only down 18 %. – SG advised that this was due to WFC having lucrative matches versus Chelsea and the 2 leg play off semi-final versus Barnsley. The Chelsea match brought in over £100K of revenue alone.

The club also advised that their accounts comply with Companies House requirements and the full detail of the trading account will not be disclosed as this is commercial sensitive.

Also Walsall Football Club has been voted as one of the top ten well run clubs by Deloitte (Financial services firm).

The Venue
The club advised that this is going from strength to strength and this that part of the business supports the football side of the business which is and always will be the primary part of the business. The Venue activity is always invoice by The Walsall Football Club Ltd and will not be segregated or hived off.

The Saddlers Club
WFC is the landlord and is owed a lot of rent. This has affected the playing budget. The Saddlers Club is a separate business to WFC and it is up to the SC to resolve their issue. The club are watching the situation, but at this stage cannot get involved.

Jon Whitney
The fans expressed their unhappiness with the current manager and our slide towards the second division.

The club acknowledge that we are in a relegation battle and that the manager’s position is regularly discussed. It is a results driven position. The work in the transfer market yesterday was necessary to help alleviate the threat of relegation.

JB supported the appointment of Jon Whitney 100% at the time and felt Jon deserved his chance of managing the club due to his 15 years’ service. Jon had been around the club for a long period and has experienced the dressing room during this time.

JB admitted that we may have lost our way a bit with regards to the clubs philosophy but reiterated that the club will be getting back to that philosophy very quickly.

JB stated the club would cope with relegation but we definitely don’t want it. He then reiterated his desire to get the club back into the Championship and said everyone must pull together.

The Planned Protest March on Saturday, 3rd February.
First question to JB was why do you think the fans are protesting?
JB “I was going to ask you that. I don’t know why. Is there a hidden agenda?”

Fans advised that it was to do with the uncertainty surrounding the club which had come more vociferous following results on the pitch.

JB suggested that the performances on the pitch may change on Saturday with the new signings brought into the club yesterday. JB reiterated that he was always doing the best for the club and the football would always be his 100% focus. JB gets angry with what he sees on the pitch just like any other fan.

The club said whilst it could not stop supporters protesting it hoped that the protest does not go ahead, highlighting the negative consequences of continuing the protests. Whilst they understand the frustration of the fans and appreciate that fans are the most important part of any football club. A protest now will affect the confidence of new and existing players and put off any investors who may be interested in the club. We’re in a relegation battle. Saturday’s match is a 6 pointer. We need to all pull together and support the team.

Other Items
The Walsall Football Supporters' Trust - Dean Neville asked if there could be trust representation on the board as the Trust is the 12th largest club shareholder. Jeff said he would always welcome a trust member on the board as long as investment to the club, that matched the other Directors, was made through that representation.

Dan Mole feels that the Trust is currently split. The Trust acknowledged there are faults at present but are working on them.

Dean also asked if the club and the Trust could run a promotion on a match day which would improve the atmosphere during this relegation battle period. The club are open to suggestions on this.

Dan asked for more structured meetings to continue between the Trust, other fans groups and the board at regular monthly intervals.

Banks's Stadium - Fans asked questions regarding the stadium infrastructure and improvements. The club are to undertake work during the summer in the toilets and the Bescot Bar to improve these facilities.

The fans thanked Jeff, Stefan and Daniel for attending and the meeting came to a close at 12:16pm.
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