Fans Forum: Monday, 27th March 2023 Fans Forum: Monday, 27th March 2023
Posted by: Bescot Banter

Fans Forum: Monday, 27th March 2023

Here is an update from the Fans Forum, which took place on Monday evening.
Bescot Banter - Walsall FC NewsWalsall co-chairmen Leigh Pomlett and Benjamin Boycott were joined by chief-executive Stefan Gamble as they answered a wide variety of questions from the supporters in attendance.

Taking place in the Stadium Suite at Poundland Bescot Stadium, the evening opened with Ben Boycott thanking the fans for their support and kindness as he and the Trivela Group continue to settle into life as owners of Walsall FC.

Boycott also reflected on his first experience in the stands - he watched the League Two clash with Salford City - where he went through the wringer of emotions with happiness, depression, and happiness once again.

The co-chairman also discussed how much of an impact injuries had played upon this season's playing budget, as well as admitting he's not happy to see the team battling in the bottom half of the table.

"There have been some challenges on and off the pitch. None of us are happy with where we are in the table. We have been really unlucky with injuries and they have taken up 30% of our budget for the season."

The Saddlers Club, which has been unused for a couple of seasons, was the next topic of conversation, with Boycott admitting the renovation has taken longer to get underway.

"It has taken a bit longer than I would have liked but we have a lot of focus on that now and we are ramping that up and I am excited about that."

The floor was then opened for questions, and the first was regarding club finances and how the budget compares to other clubs in the fourth tier of the English game.

Co-Chairman Leigh Pomlett went on to insist that, despite suffering its first loss in well over a decade, the club is in a stable position, despite all of the issues which the COVID pandemic created.

"Other clubs have losses of between one & three million. Our losses this year were obviously disappointing but with COVID, it was expected.

"During COVID, we were on a call twice a day, every day for a year checking the balances of the Club. Although things are tough, we are on our way back to where we were before COVID."

Boycott added that the events team have been doing a superb job in rebuilding that part of the club after having to cease operations for an extended period.

"We have a great conference and events team but we are still building that back up from the hit it took during COVID."

CEO Stefan Gamble also discussed the events team, going on to discuss how income stopped overnight, with it taking time to rebuild and reshape in the wake of COVID.

"We cut costs where necessary. The costs were immediate but the revenue wasn't. Conference and events, the full income was switched off overnight and we have had to rebuild it back to where it was. We kept on all our staff during COVID."

Leigh Pomlett went on to discuss how other clubs handled the crisis, insisting he and the board will always look to be sustainable and not throw money around in order to compete.

"Some clubs are throwing ridiculous money at the playing budget and that isn't sustainable. We are a sustainable club and just because you're that, doesn't mean you should throw money at it."

Moving on to another topic and a supporter asked about the 2023/23 Season Tickets, which have seen a significant price increase year-on-year, and whether the money raised will go to the playing budget.

"All the money that supporters are putting in is staying in the business. The goal is to grow all of our revenue streams so that we can grow the club sustainably."

A supporter then asked about the possibility of providing lift access to the Savoy Lounge at Poundland Bescot Stadium, to which Stefan Gamble insisted the club will take their concerns on board.

"We will always take on concerns of supporters who feel access is restricted and we will take away your concerns and do our best to address them."

Stefan went on to talk about income since the COVID crisis began to ease, with the CEO revealing that club revenues have increased.

"We are taking three times the amount of revenue through the bars now compared to what we were before COVID. Price rises are something we don't like to do but unfortunately, sometimes we do have to increase prices in line with our suppliers."

Back to access to the Stadium Suite, and Pomlett went on to discuss how the club opened it up to more supporters following the demise of the Saddlers Club, but he and the rest of the board will always look at how to improve facilities.

"We opened the Stadium Suite when the Saddlers Club closed. We wanted supporters who used the Saddlers Club to have somewhere to go. We are conscious of access to the bars and as a management team, we are looking into how it can be better."

Leaving the stadium after a game was also discussed, with Pomlett revealing that the club are pushing for improved access to the train platform.

"We have spoken to our local MP about access to the train station and we are pushing for better access." - Leigh Pomlett

Whilst Stefan Gamble confirmed that the club had sought to have the lights at the junction of Bescot Crescent stopped for a period after the game, much like other grounds, but have been unable to get permission, though they continue to work on it.

"We have been informed that we can't change the lights at the crossroads but we are trying our best. It is a well-documented issue about getting away from the ground and we are working hard to try and resolve this."

Stefan was also asked about the decision to end the use of cash in WS1, with Gamble confirming the club has no plans to change course, with electronic payments continuing.

"It isn't our intention to return to using cash in the stadium. We are a cashless stadium and we intent to stay that way."

Back to the Saddlers Club and Ben Boycott confirmed that work is underway, with the Canadian hoping it will be in use by the end of the year.

"Progress is being made in there. Hopefully, before the end of the calendar year, we will be able to have a grand reopening of it."

Leigh Pomlett went on to discuss community outreach, where he confirmed that he has been working with SLO Graham Whittaker in identifying different groups to bring to WS1.

"I have been working with Graham our Supporters' Liaison Officer to branch out into the community to welcome different groups to the stadium.

"At our recent school partners game, there was an increase in those groups and we are working with the community programme to welcome them back to the club."

Onto the topic of players making the leap from the youth system to the first-team and Ben Boycott insisted there is plenty of potential in the system before praising Ronan Maher, who has impressed during his fleeting opportunities in the team, and academy boss, Rob Williams.

"There have been some bright spots. Ronan Maher has been with the first team all season and has great potential. Rob Williams has been doing a great job.

"Matt Jordan has been working with Rob and has been providing individual player programmes. Matt Jordan has been here for nine months and things don't happen overnight. They are working hard but it does take time.

The subject of Premier League prospects coming in on loan was up next, and whether the club has to meet certain playing time agreements in order to keep the player.

Stefan Gamble admitted that some players arrive with conditions attached, but not always.

"We are sometimes dictated by the bigger clubs when it comes to young players who we have on loan. We have to agree to their terms and sometimes that gets taken out of our hands."

Leigh Pomlett sought to praise current loanee Joe Low, who has been on international duty with Wales, before discussing Cambridge United defender Liam Bennett and former Saddler, Rico Henry.

"Joe Low has been away with the Wales Under-21s squad and we have been really impressed with him.

"Liam Bennett was one of the best young full-backs we have seen, I would even say the best I have seen since Rico. He will have a really bright future."

Stefan Gamble answered a question about Mansfield Town striker Danny Johnson, where he once again confirmed that the initial agreement was a permanent switch before the Stags backtracked.

"The initial discussions were for a permanent deal but then it backtracked and we could only get a six-month loan deal. There are always two parties in a negotiation."

On the subject of loanees and Danny Johnson, Leigh Pomlett added, "Michael obviously saw real talent in Liam Bennett. He is a really talented player and we were disappointed to lose him in January.

"Ben and I tried to bring Danny Johnson back in January. We spent time with him one on one. It's frustrating & annoying, we couldn't have tried harder."

Ben Boycott went on to discuss how much change occurred over the summer before admitting the injuries and Danny Johnson's scuppered deal dented the momentum which was being made in the first-half of the campaign.

"Last summer we signed nineteen players. In April, Conor Wilkinson did his knee and we were looking down the barrel.

"The initial deal for Danny Johnson was permanent but the goalposts were constantly moving. The departures in January did hurt us and stopped our momentum.

Leigh Pomlett added; "We worked really hard to bring Matty and Jamille Matt in during January. Deadline day was a real pressure cooker and it's not something I really want to experience again."

Stefan Gamble went on to add that DJ was keen to stay with the club, and they thought they'd be able to get a deal done, but had to move on when they were met with an unwilling partner in Mansfield Town.

"DJ leaving here was the last thing he wanted to do. We thought we were going to be able to get a deal done.

"We had to be realistic and have a plan B for if it didn't happen. We were able to bring in Matty on deadline day & that deal was going on during the Salford game."

Back to on the pitch and a supporter asked what Ben Boycott has been thinking whilst the team has been going through an extended winless run.

Boycott admitted he was frustrated, but believes progress is being made, however slowly.

"It has always been about steady, incremental improvements. I have the same level of frustration as you guys when we are on winless runs.

"I am looking for as much positivity during those baron runs. We have one of the best defensive records in the league. We are all tired of draws.

"We are a hard team to beat and there is a foundation there for us to build on and it's about building on that."

Leigh went on to insist that the club hasn't given up on securing a place in the Play-Off's, with the former Blue Coat boy going on to reveal a bit of team news!

"We haven't given up on the Play-Offs but we know it's one hell of a long shot. With a bit of patience, it will be great to see what Jamille Matt can do for the team and hopefully, he will be involved in the eighteen tomorrow against Wimbledon."

Back to Danny Johnson, Stefan Gamble spoke of his belief that the club made a very good offer for him, but the Stags board had made up their mind.

"Pound for pound, we made a very good offer to keep him at the Club."

Ben Boycott added; "The goalposts were constantly moving and we did everything in our power to keep him here.

"We were working late into deadline day to get it done but it just wasn't there to be done."

Finances were back on the list of topics with Leigh Pomlett discussing how much injuries had impacted what Michael Flynn had to spend,

"We have a competitive budget but this year, 30% of our budget has been on a stretcher. McEntee is a warrior now he is back.

"Liam Gordon's injury was truly horrible when it happened. I think Jack Earing is a smashing young player but we have lost him for nine months. He has had his operation now but he is out for a long time."

Ben Boycott followed up with; "We lost Robbie Willmott to injury, Jamille Matt suffered an unfortunate injury. We have had no luck."

Continuing the finance topic, Ben Boycott discussed how the agreement to purchase 90% of the club happened much earlier than planned, before going on to praise co-chairman, Leigh Pomlett.

"We injected a significant amount of equity into the Club earlier this season which enabled us to purchase the freehold.

"We secured phase two much earlier than we intended. Leigh has been a great mentor to me & he has become a very close personal friend. It has been a fast learning curve for me and I couldn't have done it without Leigh."

Leigh discussed his desire to help the Trivela Group get to grips with the day-to-day running of the club and was never going to just leave them to it.

"This Club means so much to me and for me to throw it over the fence and say 'good luck Ben', it wouldn't have been fair of me. I will be there to support Ben in the transformation.

"I will be around for as long as the Club needs me and for as long as Ben needs me. If I take a step back, I will be back in the stands with you guys the supporters."

Ben Boycott added; "I have been really inspired by what the town has done to get behind the club. I have watched a video of us beating West Brom on the opening day back in 2003 and I still watch it a lot.

"If we did end up buying another Club during our period here, it may be very beneficial for us as a Club."

The Summer Transfer Window was the next topic of conversation and Ben Boycott sought to praise the team's defence before admitting he is keen to add attacking strength in the summer.

"It's no secret defensively we have been very good. Defensively I am happy and we have something to build on.

"The front part of the pitch is something we will be looking at but I am really pleased we have Jamille Matt here."

Stefan Gambe went on to add that he doesn't expect to see wholesale changes ahead of the 2023/24 campaign.

"I can't see us having wholesale changes in the summer this season as who we have are Michael's players."

The prospect of Walsall FC Women playing in WS1 on a regular basis was posed, and Leigh Pomlett praised club secretary Dan Mole, who has been hard at work improving the infrastructure of the Women's team.

"Dan Mole has been fantastic in the development of the Women's side of the Club. We are continuing to build and there is still work to do."

Ben Boycott also admitted he was looking forward to seeing them take on Port Vale Women at the Bescot, he added; "I am excited about them playing here."
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