Fans Forum: Tuesday, 29th August 2023 Fans Forum: Tuesday, 29th August 2023
Posted by: Bescot Banter

Fans Forum: Tuesday, 29th August 2023

Here is our update from the Saddlers' latest Fans Forum event that took place on Tuesday, 29th August 2023.
Bescot Banter - Walsall FC NewsTaking place in the Stadium Suite at Poundland Bescot Stadium, the event saw co-chairman Benjamin Boycott, chief executive Stefan Gamble, and first-team head coach Mat Sadler answer questions posed by some of the fans in attendance.

Please note that portions of this evening's Q&A have been reordered for clarity.

Ben Boycott was the first to talk and sought to open the night in a positive, though informative fashion by insisting there is plenty of hard work taking place behind the scenes, before admitting the team hasn't started as well as they hoped, but it's still very much early days.

The co-chairman went on to admit he is happy with the summer recruitment along with the re-signing of Isaac Hutchinson to a new deal, but agreed Mat Sadler's side is conceding too many goals and it’s frustrating for all involved, though work is being done to stop conceding so many goals.

Whilst seeking to keep things in perspective, he also admitted the team's positive, attacking performances - which are a massive improvement on last season's displays - have to start to turn into points, and soon.

Boycott was also asked about the freehold of Poundland Bescot Stadium where, despite claims it is owned by an American investment company, BB confirmed it is, in fact, owned by the club itself.

A question has been raised regarding away supporter behaviour, following reports of issues ahead of the Saddlers' recent away clash with Wrexham.

To which Stefan Gamble insisted the club is working with the authorities but cannot comment on individuals during a live investigation. He also went on to stress how the club prides itself on being a family club and the importance of maintaining that reputation.

Mat Sadler was asked that, with this being the lowest the club has been in the league for a while, what does he have that Michael Flynn, Matthew Taylor, and Darrell Clarke, don't, and how can he fix things they couldn't.

Sadler responded by saying that he is a different person, before going on to thank Darrell Clarke for the opportunity to coach. He insisted he has learned something from all managers he’s played under during his lengthy career and is keen to bring elements of them all to his style of coaching whilst also working closely with the staff in WS1.

He went on to share his belief that things are slowly improving from that of last season and insisted he will continue to play his style, with the full support of the boardroom.

Sadler was also asked why he often substitutes Danny Johnson and Freddie Draper in the second half of games...

The gaffer sought to remind fans that Johnson missed part of pre-season following the birth of his daughter, and he was keen to ease him back into full-time action whilst also hoping to use some of the other options currently at his disposal, including Douglas James-Taylor, and Jamille Matt who can offer a different threat to the opposition.

Sadler also went on to discuss Jamille Matt following a question about his place in the team with some supporters feeling he offers little to the team as a whole.

The gaffer responded; "He's an unbelievable person, somebody I have the utmost respect for. He is desperate to get to where he wants to be.

"He has my full backing and I believe he will score goals at the football club."

On the subject of loaning players from clubs in and around the West Midlands, Sadler highlighted the arrivals of Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Jackson Smith, Harry Williams from Alvechurch, and Ryan Stirk from Birmingham City, and admitted that while he uses his contact book, many players simply prefer to go higher up the pyramid.

The question also sought to find out whether the club currently has a scouting network, to which Boycott confirmed the club is currently working with an analytics firm to help with recruitment.

Ronan Maher's recent loan move to Rushall Olympic was also discussed, with the midfielder's father taking the mic and confirming he and Ronan feel it is the right thing for RAM to be out playing.

Ronan has already played more than two hours of football for the Pics and is keen to make the most of his short-term stay at Dales Lane.

Sadler added that he wants to see Ronan get as many games as possible, before highlighting the success of Joe Foulkes' two spells with Kidderminster Harriers, which have seen him force his way into the first-team.

Looking back at the loan market, and the club's descision not to rely on it for short-term gains, Boycott said; "We want to use it well but we don't want to get hurt by it as we did last year.

"I'm happy with where we're at, we currently have two loans. He also highlighted how we have also recruited good young players with options on their deals."

Stefan Gamble added that while loan deals are generally twelve months, parent clubs often have a break clause after six in order to allow them to assess their player's progress and/or find them another club.

Mat Sadler recently confirmed his desire to add another defender to the ranks, and, after another question about recruitment, said; "We're looking, we're definitely looking.

"Priestley's been out, Harry has come in and has been great when he has played. I've always felt we've needed one more in that area and hopefully we get one over the line."

The club's academy was next on the chopping block, with Ben Boycott insisting the club is focused on developing and growing it, he said; "It's something we are focused on. Matt Jordan is working with Rob Williams.

"We have just hired a full-time Head of the Recruitment for the academy for the first time so that's a real upgrade.

"Also, the Under 18s are now at the training ground. It's an area that needs to improve but there are good signs."

Mat Sadler added; "They train on the next pitch to us, at the same time as us so that synergy is the best it's been since Dean (Smith) was here."

On how high he feels the team can finish, Sadler said; "We've got a really good squad of players that will be a match for anyone in the division.

"We've got to find that consistency and the season will be defined by those small margins that we need to fall the right side of. We're going to give it a right good go."

The subject of the club's injured players came up, with Sadler confirming Priestley Farquharson is close to making his debut and even took part in training ahead of the Forum.

Rollin Menayese, who picked up a severe injury whilst on loan with Hartlepool United, is less likely to feature any time soon, with Sadler confirming; "Rollin had a really bad injury. He's training now but he's still 6-8 weeks away from being match-fit.

"He's going to have as many chances as well to show what he's got and fight to get into the team."

The club recently decided to stop accepting cash at the stadium, and the subject was raised for the panel, with CEO Gamble responding; "It's a one-way trip.

"Two reasons we introduced it are is it is a more efficient way of taking payment and it has significantly increased sales.

"We also introduced it in the post-covid era so it was a more hygienic way to move forward. There are no plans to go back to taking cash."

On the mentality of all at Walsall FC, Boycott insisted that are taking nothing for granted and are all working hard to help the team move forward and, hopefully, make its way up the pyramid, he said; "We're not happy to be in League Two, we want to get the club into League One.

"We want to build a positive winning culture. From the owners to the players, to staff - we're all here to win."

Sadler admitted there will be tough times ahead but wants everything to be pulling in the same direction, with the former defender insisting there will be good times ahead, he said; "The thing for me at the moment.

"I understand the past of this club, I'm also aware of how powerful being together is. It's the most powerful thing we can do collectively."

The subject of transfers continued to be pondered, though this time with the prospect of signing from abroad - maybe the next Jorge Leitรกo - to which Boycott admitted that, post-Brexit, it became somewhat difficult to get through the red tape, but says things have now eased and they will explore any options at their disposal.

With the current deal between the club and Errea due to end at the conclusion of the season, the subject of a new manufacturer was discussed with Boycott confirming; "The Errea contract is up at the end of the season.

"We are working with our Head of Retail. Nothing is confirmed yet but hopefully, we'll have something exciting and a great design."

Many fans had hoped to see Cambridge United defender Liam Bennett signed on a permanent deal following last season's loan spell, however, Sadler insisted there is enough cover in that position, he said; "On the right wing-back side, we've seen Tom Knowles is getting back up to speed but we'll see some front foot performances from him and I believe he can fulfill that role.

"Joe Foulkes has done really well and Joe Riley can also fill that role as well."

With rumours of Trivela Group's impending purchase of Drogheda swirling, Boycott unsurprisingly refused to answer a question.

However, on the subject of Ticket initiatives, Stefan Gamble was much more forthcoming and confirmed the club is in the process of recruiting a Head of Marketing and Fan Experience, whose remit will be to drive attendance through such initiatives.

Matchday fan experience was next up and, after Stefan Gamble confirmed the club is working to secure sponsors for the suites at the Bescot, went on to discuss fan experience in WS1, where he insisted he and the team are striving for excellence, especially when compared to other clubs he said; "The standard for us is excellent so if it's not excellent, it needs to be excellent.

"We want to improve it every match, every season and we're working on that."

Gamble then went on to clarify that the role of Supporter Liaison Officer is different to that of the Head of Marketing and Fan Experience. Graham Whittaker is with the club on a voluntary basis, and is focused on dealing with supporter concerns while the Head of Marketing will oversee all communications and marketing the club does.

The twice-yearly question about the club's stake in any future transfer of Luton Town striker Elijah Adebayo, to which Boycott insisted any deal is confidential, though the club does continue to monitor his situation.

A possible overseas pre-season tour was brought up, to which Boycott said; "Stay tuned for more than that, it's certainly in the realm of possibility."

Boycott closed the evening by saying; "I have the Walsall kit from the COVID year with all the supporters' names on framed on the wall in my office.

"This town, this community is why we do this. So keep together, keep supporting us and thank you very much for coming out tonight."

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