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Fans Forum: Monday, 8th November 2021

There was a Fans Forum event held at Banks's Stadium on Monday evening.
Bescot Banter - Walsall FC News
Taking place at the Stadium Suite, fans were in attendance as Chairman Leigh Pomlett, Head Coach Matt Taylor, Technical Director Jamie Fullarton, CEO Stefan Gamble, and Supporter Liaison Officer Graham Whittaker were on hand to answer their questions.

The event got underway a little after 7.00pm, and there was a healthy audience in attendance as fans looked to grill their club's owners and officials on what's happening in WS1.
 
PORTIONS OF THE FOLLOWING HAVE BEEN REPOSITIONED FOR CLARITY

The first topic of the evening was the state of Banks's Stadium during the opening stages of the 2021/22 campaign, and chairman Leigh Pomlett admitted there were issues but sought to remind fans that the club lost some seventy members of staff during the pandemic, but are continuing to work on rebuilding the conference and events side of the operation.

The chairman went on to insist the club made lots of changes at the beginning of the campaign, which put them under plenty of pressure, especially as the situation was changing on a regular basis.

Pomlett further confirmed that club director Richard Tisdale was the one who helped with the green dots which were added to seats in order to help Season Ticket holders find their seats if and when they were allowed back into the stadium.

Leigh also stated that director Roy Whalley was working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure things were in place for when supporters returned, whilst COO Dan Mole was also influential over the last eighteen months in keeping things moving forward.

Technical Director Jamie Fullarton was next up and went on to discuss his role within the club, where he confirmed there wasn't a scouting network in place before he arrived, but there is now, something both he and Leigh Pomlett are very happy about.

Jamie said; "Regarding recruitment and scouting, there was nothing in place. Now, we have a network out there. The first three months were a real review, while getting the squad of players we needed."

Fullarton, who is the club's very first Technical Director, went on to says that all aspects of the club's Academy system are under review to ensure more players are produced in order to add to the first-team.

Jamie said; "The only person who'll probably be calm if we lose any players in January will be me, because we know the plans we have in place. The role is all about reducing risk and having a plan B and plan C."

Matthew Taylor was next up, and the former midfielder admitted leaving Tottenham Hotspur in favour of a switch to the club was a risk, but he saw Walsall as a club which could help him to advance to the next level.

Taylor admitted his team endured a tough start to the season, but insisted it helped everyone at the club, staff and players, improve as a group. The gaffer believes there is a good group of players at the club and believes they are starting to perform to a level he is pleased with.

Taylor said; "Have I enjoyed it? Maybe not as much as I thought I would do. And I don't mean that as a negative, but you're always thinking about the next game and improving. I'm certainly enjoying it more than the beginning of the season as we're picking up results."

SLO Graham Whittaker went on to address various issues including car parking issues at the club and says that they are working to improve the situation before calling upon supporters to raise any further issues with him.

Leigh Pomlett also confirmed that he and Stefan Gamble have spent many days trying to sort out the ongoing issues with the Saddlers Club, which continues to sit empty after suffering from financial issues.

Pomlett insisted that they are working hard to try and return it to its former glory and the club are hoping to bring the facility back to a useable state, which he believes will cost around £300,000.

The chairman admitted the pandemic cost the club two years worth of progress, and the Saddlers club wasn't at the forefront of his mind as many other more pressing issues came to the fore.

Back to on the field matters as the potential permanent arrival of on-loan Barnsley man George Miller, where the chairman and Jamie Fullarton are willing to consider a deal but admit Championship wages far outstrip those in League Two.

Matthew Taylor also spoke about Miller, where he insisted the forward is happy in his current environment, but he still has a lot to prove. He said; "We've had those conversations because that's the job. Is he happy here? Yes. We know he's in the last year of his contract. He still has a huge amount to prove. George is thoroughly enjoying his time here."

Taylor also said that he and Fullarton have countless conversations every week and believe that the network and system which is now in place now means the club won't be so vulnerable.

Former Saddler, and current Luton Town man, Elijah Adebayo was the next subject for discussion and a fan asked about the possibility of a future sell-on clause, which chairman Leigh Pomlett admitted there 'might be'.

The currently struggling youth team was discussed and Fullarton admitted the system is currently under review, and agreed that recent results show the current state of the academy.

Fullarton said; "We're doing a full review of the academy. Results, as you touch on, are an indication of the health of the academy. We want to develop winners."

A supporter then asked about youth team striker Shay Willock, who joined the club from Solihull Moors, and asks why he is yet to feature in a first-team matchday squad.

Jamie Fullarton was the one to answer and admitted the forward has been unlucky with injuries and needs more training and match minutes before potentially linking up with the first-team.

When asked about his hopes for the current campaign, Leigh Pomlett replied; "I wanted us to improve hugely on last year and strive for play-offs and promotion. If I'm honest, I gave them a two-year window for promotion - not one year. We need to allow some time to rebuild."

Matthew Taylor went on to admit it was always going to take a bit of time for he and his backroom team to get their ideas across to the players but insisted things have started to come together and the players are learning day by day. Taylor admitted he is pleased with where the group is at the moment.

Looking at attendance and Stefan Gamble insisted the club are always looking at ways to attract more fans to the club before confirming they are expecting an additional 1,500 supporters inside the stadium for the WFCCP's school partners day against Rochdale.

The potential for new investment into the club was also discussed and Leigh Pomlett admitted the search stalled during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he is still looking to find the person who fits the club's ethos and not just someone looking to make money.

Leigh said; "During Coronavirus, we had no chance. We can now see relative normality. Those discussions are being had. Finding people wanting to invest isn't difficult, but finding the right people is extremely difficult."

Former academy prospect Jayden Campbell was next up and Jamie Fullarton insisted the winger, who was a surprise departure last summer, was offered a professional contract, but opted to turn it down, with the player wishing to make a new start. Jamie went on to admit that Jayden could have been a good option, but ultimately decided to leave.

The possibility of the club's current crop of loanees departing in January was next up and while Fullarton admitted they could depart, he also belies that their playing time, progress, and happiness are also a factor in whether they stay or go.

He said; "Having a player on loan is no different to having a player on a one-year deal. Clubs have call-back options, but we're always in contact with parent clubs and talking about progress."

Both Leigh Pomlett and Matthew Taylor insisted they don't foresee any of the loan players being recalled. Hopefully not famous last words!

Leigh went on to discuss club finances and insisted they are in a very stable financial state at the moment and that are in a position to challenge their rivals with a competitive budget, but went on to insist that it's not all about budget, it's also about the team and how they're playing.

Jamie Fullarton added; "It's about spending wisely and getting value. That's where my Scottish heritage comes in - it's all about value."

The recent decision to go cashless was discussed and Leigh Pomlett confirmed it took place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the chairman insisting that by going cashless he wanted to make the club as safe as possible for supporters when they returned at the start of the season.

Recruitment was up next and Matthew Taylor said that he spends a lot of time putting a profile together when he is looking to add to his squad and believes that by taking his time, he has brought the right people into the club. The gaffer believes that character and personality plays a big part.

Taylor said; "What we look for is very in-depth. It takes quite a lot of time and energy, but it's served us well. Players have to fit a specific profile. Character and personality are so important."

On his relationship with Jamie Fullarton, Matthew added; "Me and Jamie don't always agree. I'm very clear on what I want from players. We want to play in the right way. Hopefully, you can see we have a clear identity as well."

Returning to on the field matters and Taylor, who has led his team through eight games unbeaten, said that the club have a clear philosophy when in and out of possession but says that there is still room for improvement all over the pitch.

He said;  "We're still nowhere close to where we want to be, but we're moving in the right direction."

Taylor went on to thank Leigh Pomett for making a significant investment in the club's Essington training ground, as it gives him and the players the platform to better themselves.

On-loan Mansfield Town defender Rollin Menayese was also discussed and the potential of securing him on a permanent basis was brought up, where Leigh Pomlett admitted he would like to make a deal.

Leigh said; "Menayese is a very good player. He's been an extremely important player for us at the back with Manny Monthe. He's one we'd try and bring into the football club."

Jamie Fullarton went on to discuss his role at the club and said that being in this job means you have to think outside the box and do things that keep you ahead of the curve, before admitting the club are constantly making sure they are getting value for their money.

Jamie said; "There's scouting and recruitment, two different things. Scouting is finding players, recruitment is getting them over the line. We're working to be ahead of the curve."

The next question was for Matt Taylor, and he was asked if there was a one-day transfer window, and you could sign someone for one position tomorrow, where would it be?

The gaffer initially sat on the fence before eventually answering; "If everyone's fit, I wouldn't sign anyone. Full-back may be where we could look at something. If I'm greedy, another striker."

We moved on to the possibility of reuniting the club with the freehold of Banks's Stadium, to which Pomlett responded; "The plan is to wholly own the stadium. That's where I want us to get to. It's the right thing to do. Those plans don't have an impact on playing budget."

Stefan Gamble added; "At some point in the future, we want to secure the freehold. The money we now pay in rent can then go into the playing budget."

We returned to the youth team and Jamie Fullarton confirmed that that all of the scholars are being exposed to at least one full training session at the training ground every week. This gives Matthew Taylor an opportunity to have a look at how they are developing.

Taylor went on to talk about Mat Sadler, where he admitted the veteran defender doesn't join in with every session but, because he has been with the club for a period of time, it allows him to get across what the club is all about to the rest of the coaching staff.

Taylor also confirmed that Sadler is still a part of the playing staff but also has three or four other roles, something which the manager is keen to make the most of.

On to injuries and Rory Holden's knee injury. Matthew Taylor admitted it was incredibly tough for Rory to spend so much time on the sidelines, but the club have found what the issue is, and it is now down to him to follow his rehab programme. He said; "Rory Holden had a complex knee injury. He had the operation. We're hopeful he'll be back in training in the next four to six weeks."

Conor Wilkinson, Liam Kinsella, and Zak Mills were also discussed, with the latter set to undergo a procedure in the next week. Matthew added; "We should have Conor and Liam back training in the next couple of weeks. Zak Mills, he's got a procedure on Wednesday and should be back in the next few weeks. We hope to see them all back before Christmas."

Young defender Joe Foulkes, who recently spent a short time with Kidderminster Harriers, was also discussed where it was confirmed that the prospect suffered an ankle injury but recently returned to training and will hopefully be rejoining Kidderminster when he returns to full fitness.

Attacking midfielder Emmanuel Osadebe was also up for discussion and Taylor sought to praise the former Macclesfield Town man, where he said; "He has some fantastic traits. He's got better. We're asking him stuff he hasn't been asked to do previously. His performances are more consistent now. But he's still got to deliver more consistently."

Fullarton insisted the club acted early during the summer transfer window allowing them to avoid making panic decisions on Deadline Day, something Leigh Pomlett said was a key tactic.

When discussing summer recruitment, Leigh Pomlett said; "We moved quicker than we have done previously." with Fullarton also saying; "We had our ducks in a row. We're planning for January now."

Attention turned to the differences between Matthew Taylor and former Walsall managers Darrell Clarke and Brian Dutton, where the chairman insisted there is more dialogue.

On to the fanbase and Leigh Pomlett said that the away support has been the best he has seen at the club for a number of years, including the near 700 who made the trip to see the Saddlers face King's Lynn Town at the weekend. He said; "The support we've had this season has been the best I've had in my time as chairman so far."

On to the prospect of introducing safe standing at the Banks's, and Pomlett said; "I'm not against it. If the will of the fans is to return to it, we'd certainly look into it. I have no issues with that at all."

The evening comes to an end with Matthew Taylor thanking the fans for their support before insisting we're all in this together!

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