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Working Party Meeting: Monday, 7th December 2020

Club officials and representatives of fan groups have taken part in their latest Working Party Meeting, via the wonders of Zoom.
Here are the minutes from the latest working party meeting between club officials and various supporters groups, which was held via video chat at 3.00pm on Monday 7th December 2020.

In Attendance and Minutes
Present:
Daniel Mole (DM) – Walsall Football Club
Stefan Gamble (SG) – Walsall Football Club
Rob Harvey (RH) – Walsall Supporters Alliance
Graham Whittaker (GW) – Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer
Neil Ravenscroft (NR) – Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust
Ian Buckingham (IB) – Walsall Football Club Disabled Supporters Association

Minutes: Sam Hadwen (SH)

OPENING
DM and SG began by thanking everyone for attending the Zoom meeting.

CLUB UPDATE
DM began by giving an update about the club to the Working Party members. Since the last meeting, the main update has been in regards to the grant which has been agreed by both the EFL and the Premier League. SG spoke on this topic and said the grant due to be received is welcomed by the football club, but was keen to reiterate that whilst this will be helpful it doesn’t completely cover the loss of revenue over the last 12 months. SG expects the granted amount to be with us sometime this week/next week with another amount due based on amount of loss on gate receipts, something which the EFL are calculating for each club in the EFL. SG stated that this comes out of a £30m grant and therefore not repayable in any shape or form. Beyond that, there is another £20m as part of a monitored grant and if applied for, it would come with some significant trading restrictions attached. SG stated this particular grant is something that would be beneficial for the Club to apply for, but the first grant is welcomed given the amount of revenue lost over time from tickets bought on a match-by-match basis. SG concluded on this by also stating that given the measures that have been put in place and with the fantastic support shown by supporters within the last 12 months, we should have no issues in getting through to the end of the season, with the view of resuming as normal for the 2021/22 campaign.

DM then touched upon the recent updates from Government and the tier system which Boris Johnson has put in place, with Walsall currently in Tier 3, subject to review on 16th December. DM stated that the club met with the Safety Advisory Group last week to go through the plans and was joined by Public Health for the first time, who are now across all of our plans and these were signed off by the relevant parties. The SGSA have been bought in by the EFL to audit both the training grounds and stadiums, to which we received positive feedback for both based on their visits a few weeks ago. DM added on this stating that the Season Ticket booklets have been ordered and are expected to arrive at the end of the week/next week to then get ready for distribution should the Government put us into Tier 2 on the 16th, to which this distribution would then be immediate. If this isn’t the case, we would look at advising Season Ticket Holders to personally collect them from the stadium during the two-week window before the next review of tiers. DM did mention that should Walsall be placed in Tier 2 in the following decision on the 30th December it may be difficult logistically to mobilise the casual staff, albeit the stadium would be ready for our home game on 2nd January due to obvious reasons. GW then asked whether the Season Ticket booklets would display supporters’ new allocated seat as opposed to their original seat. DM responded and stated that this would be the case and said we would be able to grant access to all Season Ticket Holders once we enter Tier 2, with all four stands being in use. NR then asked if the club have any communication planned to go out as part of this as a form of clarity to supporters. DM responded and advised all parties to relay the information back to their members when it is distributed and stated that a letter will be sent out to accompany those booklets which will include our spectators Code of Conduct, something which SGSA and Safety Advisory Group have asked us to put together; although DM believes it will be a case of the individual physically collecting these for us to have those details on file so we keep in touch with any EFL regulations. DM concluded stating that bar a few expenditure purchases such as outdoor toilets, heras fencing etc we will be ready whatever the outcome is and that when supporters do return to the stadium, they will gain access via the gates as opposed to the turnstiles, with staggered arrivals and departures. NR then asked if we are going to/are able to facilitate non-Season Ticket Holders to attend games when possible. DM said that we wouldn’t be able to for Tier 2 but should we hit Tier 1 we could in some capacity and whilst Tier 1 would be ideal for us, with additional revenue coming to the club from the non-Season Ticket holders to then cover the costs of hosting a game, DM feels that we may be in Tier 3/Tier 2 for a period of time.

SG reiterated DM’s points and stated that we will write to supporters accordingly as and when we receive updates and advise those who have any queries in the meantime to email Laura Greenhouse (LG) in the Ticket Office.

IB came back to the spectator Code of Conduct info and asked DM and SG whether they would circulate anything directly to the relevant parties to distribute on their own accord. DM responded and stated that once the map of events becomes clearer and we are able to email supporters and publish a website story with the attached Code of Conduct, he encourages all parties to share amongst their members to get the message across.

RH then returned to the topic of supporters returning to stadiums and asked what would happen with the iFollow service as and when fans are physically back attending. DM mentioned that iFollow will continue as normal all being well, whilst SG added that as of yet the EFL have not officially confirmed this. SG believes that the service will continue as normal for the remainder of the current season and return to pre-COVID service for the 21/22 campaign, providing all restrictions have been lifted.

DM then relayed that the main focus at present is the day-to-day operation of the football club and keeping the club stable. DM thanked all the relevant parties and its members for their continued support in what continues to be unprecedented times and is hopeful of a return for fans in the near future.

UPDATE FROM WALSALL SUPPORTERS' ALLIANCE
RH had a number of questions to put forward to DM and SG and began by asking whether the club are able to release information on iFollow purchases via our social media channels. SG responded and stated that whilst the last few games have tailed off, the general total has been extremely positive, both home and away for purchased match passes (these numbers exclude Season Ticket Holders who have automatic access as part of their donation to the club.) DM agreed and stated his delight of the numbers at present and again thanked supporters for their continued support in this particular format.

DM stated that Media Officer Paul Joannou will touch base with the EFL regarding figures to see if this is something that can go out in the public domain in any capacity.

RH then asked about whether there would be any room for manoeuvre in the January transfer window given the bailout from the EFL and Premier League, something which was touched upon in the previous meeting in November. SG responded to this and stated unless there are players going out, he can’t envisage players coming in and reiterated that the bailout from the EFL and Premier League is solely to cover for the loss of revenue and ensure the Club’s survival, not to be used to bolster the Playing Squad.

RH then asked how supporters can help the club in the scouting of players and if this is possible. DM responded and said from an Academy point of view we have a number of volunteer scouts which is put through and organised by Nick Adshead (NA). In the first instance, DM proposed that fans should contact GW who would then collate those messages and pass over to the club and relevant personnel. DM concluded stating that should any supporters who have a keen interest in volunteering as a scout want to know any more information, they are advised to contact NA via [email protected]

RH then touched upon Chairman Leigh Pomlett’s (LP) aims of promotion this season and with the club currently sitting 14th in the table, he asked what the club think of the season so far. SG responded and stated that Liam Keen (LK) from the Express & Star asked LP this question in a socially distanced interview which took place at the stadium last week and both he and DM advised supporters to keep an eye out for this which is due to be publicised on their channels this week.

RH then enquired about the training ground pitches which he understands have been waterlogged at times and therefore not usable for the first team and asked whether this was something that is being looked at and if the club have any recourse for a rent reduction from the council. DM responded that this was bought to his attention by Darrell Clarke (DC) last Winter and that the club rectified this to an extent previously but are committed to making those changes in their entirety as and when possible. SG added to this and said that any rent reduction at the training ground wouldn’t make any material difference.

RH then touched upon the freehold and asked how long the agreement was in place to purchase this. SG responded to say that there is still a significant amount of time left on the option to purchase but this is not something that will be shared in the public domain as it is commercially sensitive.

RH then touched upon the black goalkeeper top and asked how many of these were sold and if there was a reason as to why they didn’t release the shorts and socks for the kid’s kits. SG stated that we ordered 35 in total and based off the latest figures which SG received last week, 30 had been sold, something which he believes will have most likely sold out now. SG added and stated that based on discussions with the Head of Commercial & Retail, we are looking at potentially having a black goalkeeper kit as the main kit for next season. DM advised RH to email Alex Smith (AS) about this query to see if there is enough appetite for a re-order.

RH then touched upon the recent brick Wall of Fame scheme and asked what the uptake has been on this. DM responded and stated that given the fact that the club had to close from March to July, it’s something that we haven’t been able to gage at present. DM concluded and said that we would have a better idea on this once the festive period is out the way.

RH then asked about the Maz Kouhyar article and asked if there were any updates on this. DM responded and said that the club invited Maz to the stadium and spoke to him and his representatives at great length to gage a better understanding of the situation. DM also said that Maz has been invited to speak to some of our younger players which he will be doing in the new year. SG added that whilst this wasn’t highlighted at the time or known of to any of the senior management staff at the club, Maz has made it public of his enjoyment of being a part of Walsall Football Club and we as a club have a zero tolerance to any form of discrimination and are working with him moving forward.

RH concluded and gave an update on the Crowdfunder which has since been raised to £5,700+ and also mentioned that the Alliance have partnered with Walsall Outreach to raise funds for their Christmas Meal Appeal. The initial target set was £300 but this has since increased to £825.

UPDATE FROM WALSALL FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS' TRUST
NR had no other updates from the Trust’s point of view based on previous discussions. DM mentioned that the 50/50 draw will continue to be pushed via the Media team in light of the next upcoming draw and also alluded to the food bank donation which has been publicised on our media channels, stating that any donations are much appreciated and will be heading to two local based food banks on the 18th December.

UPDATE FROM WALSALL FOOTBALL CLUB SLO
GW had no other queries to put forward to DM or SG but reminded all parties of the food bank donation set up by the football club and highlighted that donations can be delivered to the stadium on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the week and asked each representative to relay this information back to their members.

UPDATE FROM WALSALL FC DSA
IB began by asking about parking fees and whether those who kept their money in the club will be guaranteed a parking space next season, to which SG responded and stated this would be the case.

IB then asked a question in regards to Season Ticket Holders who requested a pro-rata refund/full refund and asked whether these set of supporters would be able to apply for the same seat that they had before requesting the refund, to which SG also said would be the case.

IB then asked if fans are allowed to return and a Season Ticket holder is classed as being vulnerable, would they be granted free access to our iFollow service as opposed to physically attending the matches. SG responded and believes this would be the case, however this is something that needs clarifying from the EFL.

IB then went back to the topic of lost revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic and asked whether the club would still be able to meet its financial obligations in the near future. SG responded and reiterated that with the funding that we have in place, alongside the funding from the rescue package, we don’t envisage any issues for the remainder of this season.

IB then asked if games are going to be played in front of 2,000 fans should we drop into Tier 2 and the additional costs for operating those games may lead to further losses, does the club consider it as a responsibility to minimise those losses and potentially play games behind-closed-doors. SG responded and stated that Season Ticket Holders have purchased their tickets to attend games and should we fall into Tier 2 in the near future then this is exactly what they will be able to do and that the club will simply have to find a way in one form of another to cover the associated costs. SG is hopeful that some of those losses may be covered by more iFollow passes being purchased.

IB then went back to the matter of supporters who requested a refund on their Season Ticket in some capacity and asked how many have asked for this to be processed. SG responded and stated from the last set of figures, around 11% have requested a form of refund. SG and DM both reiterated how much this has helped the club and thanked all supporters and Working Party groups for their generosity and continued support.

IB then asked if our commercial partners have supported the club during these difficult times in the same manner as before. SG commented saying that almost all commercial partners/enterprises have left their money with the club this year, however the only caveat to this is that they will take their rights up next season. SG adds that because of this we will have to budget accordingly next season, we won’t get the money twice.

IB then touched upon the commemorative third kit for next season which will see the names of all Season Ticket Holders who left their money in the club implemented onto the shirt and asked whether the club have looked into the possibility of allowing those supporters to have this kit for free. SG responded and stated that this isn’t something that has been considered at present, but is an idea that we will be relayed back to LP at an Executive Board level.

IB then asked for the Executive Board’s comments on how the season has panned out so far, to which SG reiterated to the interview with LP did with LK and due to be released this week.

IB then asked a question in relation to the January transfer window and whether any impact would be apparent on the club with potentially no incoming transfers for the remainder of the season. DM responded and stated that at present we have 26 senior pros contracted at the club and have competition around the field for places in every position and mentioned that Saturday’s win against Tranmere Rovers highlighted what the squad is capable of, so DM believes that we are in a good position in this regard. SG added that it’s important to understand that people have made significant concessions during this time, such as supporters leaving their money with the club and first-team personnel and office staff taking pay reductions/deferred wages and stated that should it should be these areas that are addressed in the first instance. DM added saying that whilst supporters and staff have shown great generosity at present, he believes that then utilising that money to buy more players wouldn’t be an ideal route considering the depth of the current squad, as alluded to previously. SG reiterated that everybody is playing their part, from the office staff and first team personnel to all commercial partners and other stakeholders.

IB then enquired about the memorial wall and asked whether any maintenance is due for this to freshen it up, based on an individual query from a supporter. DM commented and stated that any individual requests relating to this should be directed to the Club Shop team but reiterated that this area is well maintained from his and the club’s perspective.

The meeting closed at 16:20. Next meeting to be held on Zoom on 11th January 2021 at 15:00
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