Walsall Football Club Supporters Working Party Meeting. Held via a Zoom conference call on Tuesday 30th March 2021, 2pm.
Daniel Mole (DM) – Walsall Football Club
Stefan Gamble (SG) – Walsall Football Club
Leigh Pomlett (LP) – Walsall Football Club Chairman
Chris Saunders (CS) – Walsall Supporters Alliance
Rob Harvey (RH) – Walsall Supporters Alliance
Graham Whittaker (GW) – Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer
Bob Thomas (BT), Ray Dale (RD) – Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust
Ian Buckingham (IB) – Walsall Football Club Disabled Supporters Association
Minutes: Sam Hadwen (SH)
DM, SG and LP began by thanking everyone for attending the Zoom meeting.
LP began by addressing those in attendance in regards to the current state of play at the club and where we find ourselves based on the last few weeks. LP stated that at present he is concerned about the results of late and that he, as much as the fans, has become more frustrated given the position we find ourselves in in the league standings. LP alluded to his previous address to supporters and said that he has since been loyal based on his reasons and remained committed to the cause because Head Coach Brian Dutton (BD) has shown this since being at the football club. LP reiterated that he likes BD as a coach and believes he will endure much success given time but stated that in his first 11 games in charge we haven’t seen a winning performance and that he will be looking for an immediate response in the next few games to ensure we don’t face any troubles at the lower end of the league. LP met with BD in the last few weeks and he knows where he stands.
LP then touched upon the process of appointing a Director of Football who would oversee a large majority of the football side of the club. LP again reiterated that as Chairman he has the power to change a manager, although he would prefer not to and whilst it might solve something in the short-term, the football side of the club needs to be looked at from top to bottom e.g. the recruitment, the Academy and its links to the first team and the overall set style of football being played hence the process which is currently taking place. LP stated he will appoint someone who can facilitate all of the above and more and indicated that we have had over 100 applications for the job, with a set of these being invited for interviews which he and SG are conducting this week. The appointed DOF will then provide support to whoever is the Head Coach at the time. LP added that the Head Coach role takes a lot of work and BD is working 14-16 hours a day on average to rectify the problems we have encountered recently on the pitch and that this given support will benefit and help him in the long-run. LP reiterated that he understands the frustration of the fans after numerous emails and letters, BD understands them more than anybody at present but LP states that plans are in place and he is hopeful that BD and the team can turn things around in the next few games as he firmly believes that the club is punching below its weight.
SG then touched upon the list of questions which were sent over by the WSA after the previous WP meeting which included questions on Season Tickets/funds/ fans forums etc and gave both RH and CS the floor to ask such questions to himself, LP and DM.
Update from Walsall Supporters Alliance:
RH began by thanking the Board of Directors for their time and touched back upon the position of BD based on LP’s previous address to supporters and mentioned that given the comments made, some fans question why he is still in charge. LP was keen to state that as Chairman he reviews the situation on a match-by-match basis. LP mentioned the process for this in that BD phones him an hour or so after every game regardless of the result and they talk and review the games as they unfolded. LP was keen to highlight that he feels that BD has had some bad luck since becoming Head Coach with injuries and some officiating decisions and LP takes all these things into consideration. LP again stressed that he has shown great patience during BD’s tenure at the helm and that having worked with him in the lead up to games, he allows some latitude and benefit of the doubt. Having said that, LP stated that he is looking for improvement and some positive results in the next few games, starting with Harrogate Town on Friday and Leyton Orient on Monday 5th.
On the subject of patience of loyalty, RH then asked LP if there was an option for BD to leave the club following the departure of previous manager Darrell Clarke (DC). LP responded and said that BD had been given an opportunity to move elsewhere on a long-term contract. As seen, BD decided to stay with the club and take on the role of Head Coach, to which LP has gone on record many of times to praise BD for. LP stressed his disappointment with DC leaving the club but stated that BD has made a commitment to the football club which he won’t break and that he has a lot of respect for him because of this and is confident he will be successful wherever he is in the football industry. LP added that BD is a good coach with younger players and this has come to fruition with the emergence of both Sam Perry and Tom Leak which gives him hope for the future of the club.
RH then asked that if things don’t go to plan and the club looked to bring in another manager, would BD then fall back into the coaching/backroom staff. LP responded and said that it isn’t something he has asked him directly but he believes that BD would not. LP mentioned that if we win the next two games and we bring in the DOF, BD would stay in his current role. LP hopes for BD to continue at the club as he regards him as one of the most talented young coaches in the country.
RH then touched upon some queries from fans regarding BD’s comments in the press, especially after the Grimsby Town game and asked LP what his thoughts are on his media comments. LP said that he knows what BD means but he would personally address it differently. LP reiterated that he is a young coach that is learning all the time in both matches and in the media environment.
CS then alluded back to the process of appointing a DOF and asked if the club had any rough time as to when this would be concluded. LP responded stating that he hopes to conclude the interviews this week, with one candidate coming in for a second interview. Of the interviews, the club will review them and potentially make an offer at the end of the week/over the weekend or possibly Monday of next week and then make the appointment and publicise it. LP added that some candidates are currently under contract elsewhere and would therefore not be an immediate process should one be chosen, but some candidates would be able to start straight away so it all depends on who the club think is best suited for the role.
With that in mind, CS then asked if there was any scope for another addition to give some extra support to BD from the touchline, given the fact that Mat Sadler is playing regularly in the first team. LP said that they have looked at this as a possibility and have given BD the opportunity to find someone for this should it be deemed necessary, however due to potential personnel being in contract elsewhere and the short-term nature until the end of the current season, it is more difficult finding the right candidate at present.
CS then asked about a comment that was made that BD is looking at who to give renewed contracts to within the current squad and asked that with the imminent arrival of a DOF and this particular body of work coming under their remit, would it present any clashes with both individuals with how they see the club and its direction moving forward. LP said it is a possibility but is something he won’t let happen. LP said the DOF will be there for BD/whoever the Head Coach is to help with the recruitment of players and decide who stays and who goes but ultimately the Head Coach at the time would have to take responsibility for this with the first team.
Based on this, CS then asked that regardless who the Head Coach is in the next 6/9 months, would they have to share the same idea as to how we want the club to be. LP said that the DOF will report to the board of directors on the football side of the club and will have a view of his own style of play. From this, every player and manager bought into the club will fit into that template. LP added that in the last few years since Dean Smith’s departure, we have lost our identity as a club based on his own personal opinion and that this is something that he hopes will be determined by the manager and the DOF, but added that once determined this would need signing off from the board of directors.
RH then asked if the club had seen any of the social media discontent from select individuals from the squad and if so, has this been dealt with. LP said he hasn’t seen these but if he had he would let the relevant personnel deal with it internally.
RH then alluded to our position and mentioned the comments that the Colchester United Chairman came out with recently about cutting back and making sure they are in a better position quicker than others when the world goes back to normal on a financial front and asked if we are doing something similar. LP said he knows the Colchester Chairman well and said we as a club have clamped down hard on the finances in light of the pandemic causing mayhem to our business model, which is based on fans coming through the turnstiles and our Conference & Events operations which has been closed for over a year. The financial model has taken a hit and come under enormous pressure and yet there are ways to deal with that and the other implications which have come about. LP added that the club are ensuring that the priority financial figures are being adhered to e.g. paying bills on time, staff and player wages etc and that we have been very careful in how we manage the club during the pandemic as the true test of how the club comes out of the other side in LP’s eyes is in a year’s time. LP stated that as a club we have to get the balance right between managing the business as carefully as possible to preserve it for the next few years and making sure we don’t get into relegation fights that we don’t need to.
CS then touched on the Season Ticket campaign for next season and said that there is an eagerness from fans for a 5-year plan to go alongside it that states where we want to be and how we will manage it. LP said he is more than happy to do this and that he is near conclusion to a strategical review which details what the club aims to do in the next 3-5 years. LP added that this is nearly all but complete and that he is more than happy to share this with the supporter base. Within this includes things which LP has mentioned in previous addresses, such as reuniting the club with its freehold but he stated that some of his plans have been pushed back a year or two due to the current pandemic. Despite this, LP reiterated that his plans still remain the same e.g., getting the club back into League One and being competitive at the top of the standings in the next 3 years with more investment coming in to push us for the Championship in 5 years.
CS then touched upon the pricing of Season Tickets for the next campaign and asked if there is a plan in place if we are in League Two compared to if we do end up in worst case scenario and going into non-league. LP said that we haven’t done any pricing for the latter and whilst he understands the question being asked, we don’t anticipate to be there come next season and if we had to do it, we could turn it over reasonably quickly.
CS concluded on the topic of Season Tickets and asked if the club would look to explore other options regarding promotions instead of the traditional Early Bird campaigns as CS mentioned comments which LP made when he first came on board about aiming to increase the Season Ticket fanbase to 5,000+. LP stated that for this year we are going for a more traditional approach to the campaign which, as all those in attendance are aware, hasn’t been publicised at present. SG added to this and said that we began preparing the campaign back in January but we have sat on it as we wanted to see what the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown was going to look like whilst also being conscious that supporters have left their money in the club and haven’t seen a game live this season. SG added that the campaign is ready to go and that we will have to see how things pan out over the next months, as we would like to promote the 2021/22 Season Tickets at a time when fans know that when purchasing they will be able to physically attend. LP added to this once more and stated that we are liaising with the EFL to see if the iFollow service will continue to run next season or not as some supporters might still feel that they don’t want to expose themselves in a football stadium if there are no restrictions for attendance and we will update supporters on this as and when we can.
CS then asked about a rumour which had gone round on social media regarding BD and DC and whether they live together. LP was keen to stress that this is not the case but did mention that they shared accommodation with each other previously when both were at the club.
RH then mentioned the prospect of a fans forum which was touched upon at the previous meeting and asked if there was any further scope on this. LP said that we will be doing one in the near future and that it is just a case of timing. LP added that if possible he would like to get the DOF on board before this as well as the Head Coach situation but reiterated that a fans forum will happen before the end of the season, even if it is just with LP himself. RH then queried as to who would be responsible for dealing with and raising the questions and whether it would be similar to what Port Vale have done in the past, with a member of a supporters group doing this job and if and how it will be streamed/recorded etc. LP stated that we have looked at the technology side of things for this already. SG added to this and said that it will be run online, questions will be submitted in advance and they will be read out by Multi-Media Editor Tom Heslop (TH) who facilitates the normal interviews which fans are accustomed to seeing and watching. As and when the date is publicised, we will encourage supporters to send questions to TH who will then work his way through them before the event which is planned to be recorded live. DM added that “difficult” questions would not be avoided as part of this process. DM also said from a communications point of view in the last 18 months we have increased our communication with supporters with the Chairman communicating on a regular basis with video updates, programme notes and written statements and the Executive Board hosting virtual Zoom updates whilst also hosting monthly Working Party Meetings.
RH then turned to the vote for ISSA to re-join the WPMs moving forward and stated that the WSA are happy for this to take place. DM thanked RH and the WSA group members for their decision and stated that we as a club are happy to talk to whoever from the supporters groups on a month-to-month basis and that whilst there have been issues in the past, we aren’t in the position to adjudicate who can and can’t attend. SG added to this and stated that the DSA have also agreed for ISSA to re-join the meetings so the Club will seek clarification from the Trust offline to complete the process and will communicate the outcome in due course.
RH concluded his questions and referred back to the previous address to camera by LP and said that based on what was said within that, some supporters have questioned the integrity of sticking to those words e.g. a couple of weeks to pick up results. LP said he understands the query raised by supporters and said that the ‘2-week window’ as such wasn’t meant literally and reiterated that he judges things on a match-by-match basis and how the teams around us also get on. LP referred back to his reasonings for BD and that he likes to be fair and honourable as he has been to us since his time with the club.
Update from Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer:
GW had no other questions to raise but gave an overview of the past few weeks whereby he has received a considerable number of emails from supporters which LP is aware of and these are summarised before being passed on. GW added that he responds to every email and that most of them are fairly similar to each other, so the content of these gets passed onto the club for comment. LP stated that he understands the overall messages that have come from the emails and that he too can relate to them and stated that he has the responsibility to put things right, something which he intends to do.
LP thanked GW and RH and CS from the WSA for attending the meeting and reiterated that he is always happy to answer questions that supporters may have as and when feasible.
All participants thanked LP, SG and DM for their time and are hopeful that BD and his side will turn things round over the next few weeks as we reach the last few games of the 2020/21 season.
The meeting closed at 15:10.
Next meeting to be held on Zoom on 12th /19th April 2021 (TBC) at 14:00.