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Working Party Meeting: Monday, 8th February 2021

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, 8th February 2021.

In Attendance and Minutes
Present
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

Apologies
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 talking point has been in relation to the January transfer window and the incomings and outgoings at the football club. This window culminated in Danny Guthrie leaving the club my mutual consent, Zak Jules departing for MK Dons and Elijah Adebayo signing for Championship outfit Luton Town, with Max Melbourne and Derick Osei Yaw coming in on loan from Lincoln City and Oxford United respectively all on deadline day. DM alluded to the piece to camera which followed the following day from Chairman Leigh Pomlett (LP) who explained the reasonings for all of the above and asked the Working Party groups for any queries on this front. BT responded to this and mentioned that the Chairman’s piece to camera was well received by supporters and that whilst it was disappointing to see the players depart, he understands the reasons why, given the financial restrictions that the national lockdown(s) have given to us as a football club. DM thanked BT for his comments and added that in the current climate and given the offers for both players, it was perceived as good value from both the Executive Board and by Darrell Clarke (DC). SG added on this and stated that the club wanted to keep both players but given the interest and discussions that took place, both players saw their futures elsewhere and SG hopes that supporters can understand the reasons behind the deals given the current circumstances we face.

DM then turned attentions to the club from a COVID-19 perspective and informed the Working Party members that we have had a full list of negative results from the latest round of testing. The Academy teams are also now being tested twice per week and the 16’s are back in training as DC is using this time to look at the second-year scholars by training up with the first team, which in turn allows some of the 16’s to be looked at by Miguel Llera (ML) so that he can make some decisions on the scholars, as it would be harder for both to make decisions on those who haven’t been playing regularly due to the circumstances. The 9’s and 15’s training remains curtailed while we await the next update from Boris Johnson later this month, where hopefully there will be a route of exit to discuss which would see both supporters returning to stadia, more jabs taking place and grassroots and elite academy football returning at those age groups. DM added that in regards to the return of supporters, he feels that we aren’t any closer to this happening other than the more injections that take place, the closer the end line is. DM believes the exit route from this will entail the social distancing measures and reiterated that every area in the stadium has been set up on this basis and is ready should supporters be able to return in some capacity so should the starting point be for an attendance of 3,270, we are ready to hit the green button.

Attentions then turned to the football side of things, with BT asking DM about the prospect of tomorrow’s game against Mansfield Town going ahead. DM stated that it’s been disappointing to lose some games in the past few weeks, starting with the Crawley Town fixture before losing the games between the Stags and Southend United last Saturday. In regards to tomorrow, DM added that the pitch covers have been put in place since Saturday’s Aston Villa Women’s game and will remain in place until around 3/4pm tomorrow. The issue that DM alluded to was that it’s minus temperatures throughout the day so we have to hope that the elements are kind to us, but reiterated that there are no issues with the pitch at present.

CS then asked about the state of play with the pitch at the time of the postponement of the Mansfield Town fixture on Saturday 30th January following a query from a member of the Walsall Supporters Alliance and why it couldn’t go ahead. DM explained that the pitch was vertidrained on the Monday of that week, Aston Villa Women played on the Wednesday and we bought the kick off time forward to avoid the downpour that was forecast, to which the pitch was fine after the final whistle. DM then alluded to the heavy downpour that followed on the Thursday and Friday and added that a local referee came down on Saturday morning for an inspection and deemed the pitch to be unplayable. Overnight the wet surface froze which in turn saw Aston Villa Women’s game be postponed on the Sunday and the pitch was vertidrained again the following Monday. DM reiterated that the club did everything in its power to ensure the game could go ahead but unfortunately the elements got the better of us on this occasion. DM added that we as a club don’t want to face a fixture battle ourselves as it could lead to anymore postponements leading to our campaign potentially going into May, something which he believes the EFL won’t want to take place. BT then asked as to why there appears to be an urgency to have the season completed by 8th May. DM responded and said that it centres around the Euros schedule, which in respect to League One and League Two clubs doesn’t really affect us, as well as the contractual situation with Wembley and the play-offs and the contract that the EFL have with them.

BT then asked if a date had been arranged for the rearranged fixture against Southend United, to which DM stated that a date had been sent over to the EFL and they are waiting to see what happens with the fixtures of both teams tomorrow evening before making the decision. *

*This announcement has since been publicised across our channels.

From an operational point of view, DM mentioned that we remain to be working with a number of staff on furlough and dealing with the challenges that arise from members of staff who have to self-isolate or any who have received a positive COVID-19 test, something which is no different in any other business/working environment. DM and SG praised the staff for their excellent professionalism during this time and concluded that we are all doing our bit to get through these difficult times.

DM then touched upon the commemorative Third kit for next season and mentioned that we are at a point now whereby we can put this in the public domain, with the Exec Board and Head of Commercial & Retail Alex Smith (AS) to discuss on Wednesday in terms of the overall revealing of the shirt.

UPDATE FROM WALSALL SUPPORTERS' ALLIANCE
CS had a number of questions to put forward to DM and SG and began by asking if the club could comment on whether the signings of Max Melbourne and Derick Osei Yaw were free loans or what percentage of the wage was being paid if not. DM said we wouldn’t comment on what proportion of wages and said that in previous circumstances, it was admirable of DC to put in the public domain of the good relationships we have with certain clubs, but he doesn’t want supporters to assume that every loan we now make is a free loan because that isn’t the case. DM added these deals are more akin to what supporters would see as a ‘normal loan’ and normal terms & conditions.

CS then added on this question in relation to LP’s suggestion about the potential of securing their services in the summer should they be successful. SG responded and said these loan deals gives us the opportunity to explore this option and an opportunity for the players to look at us and if they prove to be successful with us it’s certainly a conversation that can be had in the future. SG added that DC looks at these things as something that could be more long-term solutions for us so it’s a useful exercise that works for both parties.  Rory Holden being a prime example.

CS then asked if there were any add-on clauses included with the transfers of Zak Jules and Elijah Adebayo. SG commented that the Agreement is private and confidential between the two parties but there are add-ons but these would remain confidential and will not be publicised.

CS then touched upon a question raised regarding Rico Henry’s transfer back in 2016 and asked whether the club have benefitted from any clauses being triggered up to now, how much has been yielded, the overall potential value of the transfer and any sell-on fees included in between. SG responded by saying that a lot of the details were disclosed at the time it was publicly announced and said that we have benefitted from knock-ons that have been triggered and that there is a sell-on fee which in turn could increase the overall sum, but this will also not be disclosed for commercial reasons.

CS then alluded to LP’s comments in the past following a query from a supporter about how the pandemic will prove to be a great leveller for clubs and that we are in a better position than others and asked why things have gone wrong, following social media comments and communication following the January transfer window outgoings. SG responded and advised supporters the club is being managed efficiently to ensure its financial stability and that the sales in January came as a much-needed benefit to us in a difficult time. SG advised that the Club had originally budgeted to have supporters back in the Stadium by October which did not materialise and the Premier League ‘Rescue Package’ was anything but.  As such, this changed the financial landscape significantly.  SG reiterated that, as a Board, we had to act responsibly as to not put the football club’s future under any threat and that those sales enabled us to plan strategically for the future given a loss of revenue in other areas of the football club.

CS then asked about the activity of the digital and physical advertising signs and whether these are doing okay from a revenue point of view. DM responded and stated that in regards to the pitch perimeter boards, the vast majority of those will be extended to next season and we are working with those on a commercial point of view to keep these on board, given the fact that some benefits as part of their agreement haven’t been facilitated due to the current climate. The M6 advertising signs has seen a downturn, but has been mitigated somewhat with new businesses coming on board and businesses who have an affiliation with the club using them to advertise.

CS then touched upon transfer fees and asked why these are publicised as undisclosed and whether there is any scope to appoint a Director of Football. DM touched on the transfer fees query first and highlighted that every transfer is commercially sensitive and is standard practice across the whole of football for them to be undisclosed. DM understands that supporters would want to know the exact figures for transparency but from a football club point of view, releasing such information would have an effect on us when it comes to looking at players as clubs will be wary of the figures we have and therefore increase their asking price. In regards to a Director of Football, DM said that since LP became Chairman, he has looked at the club as a whole from an operational point of view and has put in new lines of management. DM said that it’s a different model to what we normally operate under but stated there’s always scope to look at new positions although this isn’t a model that the club currently adopt.

CS concluded with another query regarding the January transfer window based on questions asked by members of the Alliance and asked why we replaced the likes of Elijah Adebayo with a less-experienced forward and what the ambition and plan of the club is moving forward. DM responded and argued that it was a fair argument to bring up given the fact that we sold our top goal scorer as well as one of our left-sided defenders almost at the 11th hour. DM mentioned that there had been interest throughout January for both players which came to fruition on deadline day in the end and that DC had identified a number of targets when initial interest was shown on the chance that they would depart. DM reiterated that these types of deals tend to take even longer than usual and therefore affect the availability of players late on in the window but believes that the incomings during this period will have a positive effect on the team as a whole, both on and off the pitch

UPDATE FROM WALSALL FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS' TRUST
BT asked DM and SG whether the club were looking at arrangements for Early Bird Season Tickets for the 2021/22 Season following a query from a supporter. SG responded and stated that we will be communicating to supporters in due course as the months of February and March are traditionally utilised to promote these. SG added that the next update from Boris Johnson on Monday 22nd in terms of a roadmap out of lockdown will be important and help influence how we approach this in line with Government advice and in line with supporters. SG mentioned that we are conscious however of the unbelievable generosity previously shown by Season Ticket Holders to leave their money in the club and that whenever we present an Early Bird campaign, we want to do it where we can present supporters with some certainty that they will be able to watch live football.

BT also asked if there are any ways in which supporters could help financially other than direct cash donations. SG responded and advised that once we are informed of a roadmap out of lockdown, we can plan and communicate to supporters on ways they can help the club should they wish to do so. BT added to this and asked if the club could comment on what percentage of income is down as a result of the pandemic across the board. SG said it was at least 50% but reiterated that we still get football league distribution linked to the broadcasting and we do have other small streams of revenue through the Market as and when that is running and the digital advertising signs, but nothing through crowds and Conference & Events. SG noted that we will only be able to fully assess the impact of the Pandemic at the end of the financial year, 31st May.

BT then asked if any dates had been in place for the AGM and accounts update. SG responded and said that the auditors normally come in July but due to the stadium having to close, we rearranged for them to come in in November. This was also then pushed back due to a second national lockdown so the auditors came to the stadium for two days straight after Christmas in January and they only lasted these two days before the latest lockdown was announced. As a result, the audit is yet to be completed which has consequently pushed back the AGM and the finalising of the accounts date. SG added that we are now having to do the audit via an online portal and this will be concluded in the next few months and the result for the year (to 31st May 2020) will be communicated in due course.

UPDATE FROM WALSALL FOOTBALL CLUB SLO
GW touched upon the Saddlers’ Lottery and asked if all supporters groups could pass on this information, with GW to in turn pass over details of the WSA fundraiser. DM thanked GW for this and alluded to the generosity and good will of all groups and thanked them all once more on behalf of the club for their continued support and understanding.

The meeting closed at 16:10. The next meeting to be held on Zoom on Monday, 1st March 2021 at 15:00.

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