Walsall Football Club Supporters Working Party Meeting. Held via a Zoom conference call on Monday 2nd November 2020, 3pm.
Daniel Mole (DM) – Walsall Football Club
Stefan Gamble (SG) – Walsall Football Club
Rob Harvey (RH) – Walsall Supporters for Change
Graham Whittaker (GW) – Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer
Ray Dale (RD) – Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust
Ian Buckingham (IB) – Walsall Football Club Disabled Supporters Association
Minutes: Sam Hadwen (SH)
DM and SG began by thanking everyone for attending the Zoom meeting.
DM began by giving an update about the club to the Working Party members. Since the last meeting, we saw the announcement from Boris Johnson and from this DM and SG have sat down together and looked at how that announcement could potentially impact the club. As things stand, the 20/21 campaign will continue.
The retail aspect of the club will be closing once more from Thursday, something which we will communicate to our supporters in due course. We will be continuing from an online point of view and our Head of Retail Alex Smith (AS) is also looking at a click & collect service for the period of November.
We still await confirmation from the Government regarding the status of the Conference & Events side of the business which has been operating at limited capacity but if necessary it will follow in a similar way and close from Thursday, something which DM highlighted was disappointing given the fact some smaller forms of business/conferences were coming back in some capacity.
The stadium will continue to be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as normal where supporters can then contact us on those days or email us through the week, where some staff will be working from home and others responding to those as and when they are in the offices.
In light of this, DM indicated that there is no real update on when supporters will be returning to the stadium and that games will continue to be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future.
DM stated that there hasn’t been any correspondence from the EFL since the news of the offering from the Premier League regarding a bailout package for League One & Two clubs but no support at that time for Championship clubs, to which clubs politely declined given the fact that the EFL is a collective. DM understands there are ongoing negotiations between the EFL, Premier League and central Government.
DM added that the club are seeking clarification in regards to the Academy and their continuation of playing matches as they are looking to see whether the junior sections will be classed as elite sport or follow the path of grassroots football which looks to be curtailed for the period of November. The club will update supporters on this as and when they receive updates.
DM sent his thanks to RH and his members as well as GW, the DSA and all supporters for their continued patience and support during these difficult times. DM stated that we still have volunteers in and around the ground giving a help in hand and it is much appreciated by everybody associated with the football club.
Update from Walsall Supporters for Change:
RH began by putting some questions forward to DM and SG and asked whether the club are preparing for a season without fans and if the club is sustainable on that basis.
DM responded and said that in answer to the first question, the club are working towards the scenario of having no supporters at the stadium for the foreseeable future. DM recapped everyone’s mind to the point where we were set for the pilot scheme on 26th September with a view of having supporters return from October onwards which was then paused by the Prime Minister in the lead up to that date and this pause was based on the 6-month plan previously alluded to. DM reiterated to RH that our plans haven’t changed and that although we are working towards the worst-case scenario, we are hopeful of opening the stadium again to supporters as soon as possible. In response to the sustainability of the club, SG added that whilst this situation isn’t ideal, we are budgeting on this basis. SG stated that all of the financial planning within the football club is to ensure that we get through this period of uncertainty without any income streams from football matches, conference & events etc. SG reiterated to RH that we are in a steady position at present and in a better position in comparison to others. Should some form of financial support come forward to ourselves and other clubs in the football pyramid, SG added that it would be most welcome but at present we are working on the basis that this may not occur, but SG is confident following conversations with chairman Leigh Pomlett (LP) in regards to figures that we can withstand and stand on our own two feet.
RH then asked how much of an impact the November lockdown will have on the club and whether additional COVID-19 testing would be required and who would be responsible for paying for this. In regards to testing, DM responded stating that the League Two clubs haven’t tested since the start of the season, which has been documented a few times in the public domain. This was a decision from the EFL and one of the reasons for the curtailment of the 19/20 season, because of the costings for these for each club. The cost for testing varies depending on the size of squad that each team has and SG added that it is the clubs themselves who would have to pay for these to take place. In regards to the November lockdown, DM stated that it would have a slight impact in some respects as we are losing the ability to see those green shoots of the Conference & Events side of the business and also the retail outlet of the business with the Club Shop, but reiterated the fact that this will continue online during this period. SG concluded on this query stating that the financial impact of this month lockdown won’t be too significant.
RH then turned to on-field matters and asked whether any funds would be left available for Darrell Clarke (DC) should he identify any targets in January. SG responded and said that in current circumstances there would be no additional funds. SG alluded to the recent loan signings of Adan George and Jake Scrimshaw which saw both Birmingham City and Bournemouth agree to pay their wages for the duration of their stay given the circumstances so SG reiterated that no additional funds would be available under the current climate. DM also added that whilst the club have asked supporters to keep their money in the club where possible and asked members of staff to take some form of reductions, it wouldn’t be right to then go and spend money on new additions when we currently have 26 senior pros under contract as it is, to which RH was very understanding of. SG came back to this matter and did mention that it is well documented in the public domain that some former players have future sell on clauses in their contracts should they move clubs and should this occur it would change the picture to a certain extent.
RH then asked whether the club were looking into selling the black goalkeeper kit on the Online Store and in the Club Shop based on comments from supporters on social media. DM responded stating that he has spoke to AS about this as he too has seen a lot of coverage of this on social media. AS is looking at a minimum number quantity and DM mentioned that in order to test the appetite for this, we could look at doing a pre-order promotion in similar style to the retro shirts in the last few weeks.
RH did touch upon the upcoming FA Cup fixture and was seeking clarification on match passes for this, to which DM responded stating that supporters would utilise iFollow as normal and purchase a pass for £10 given the fact that cup games don’t come under the Season Ticket benefits. GW then asked about the generated revenue from iFollow and asked whether the money would be split between the two clubs. SG responded and stated that the money gets split between the clubs after deduction of expenses.
RH’s next query was in regards to the Bonser/Stadium suites and asked whether the club had considered opening these on matchdays for league and cup games. DM stated that we have looked into this and spoken to the Local Authority as well as our Head of Conference & Events Jamie Nevin (JN) and Sales Manager Adam Brearley (AB) who have put some documentation together. In light of the changing of tiers recently, DM suggested that it’s more or less a numbers game based on how many we can allow in whilst maintaining the COVID-19 and social distancing protocols. DM reiterated that it is something that has been looked into and will be on the agenda should things change, as DM deemed it more viable if Walsall were to remain in tier 1. DM did also add that the club did a lot of preparation with the Local Authority and Conference & Events department about opening the stadium for that as well as other things such as afternoon teas but with the change of tier level in the borough it almost made this non-viable from a financial point of view.
RH concluded and asked for confirmation on whether the commemorative shirt would act as the third kit for next season, to which DM stated it would be. DM alluded to the production and design aspect which he referred to before and then stated that as and when this is signed off it will be a case of collecting every Season Ticket holder’s name and ensuring they are on the kit.
SG enquired to RH about the donation page that has been set up, with all donations to be donated to the football club and asked whether the WSFC would be willing to put those donations towards the Academy heart screenings, something which the 16, 18s and under 20s players have to go through. RH responded and said that he would feed this thought back to the WSFC members and contact SG as and when a decision has been made.
Update from Walsall Football Club Supporters Trust:
Although RD wasn’t present for the latest meeting, he did send over an update via email in regards to the Supporters Trust. RD mentioned that they are running two more 50/50 draws, with the next one taking place on 14th November. With this draw the proceeds will be split as follows: 50% to the winning draw number holder, 25% to Walsall FC and 25% to the Black Country Food Bank. The second draw taking place on 12th December will see 50% to the winning draw number holder, 25% to Walsall FC and 25% to the Children’s Services at Walsall Manor Hospital (this will replace the annual Toy Appeal as the first team players and staff will not be allowed to visit the wards this Christmas). RD asked if these could be publicised to which DM ensured would be facilitated. DM did highlight that not all of the 50% will come back to the football club simply due to the fact that it is not the usual split and asked whether RH and GW agreed for this to be reported back to the trust, to which they both agreed to.
RD also mentioned that he had been informed by Steve Davies (SD) that some Season Ticket holders have been charged for the iFollow home games, despite entering the codes that were allocated to them and that some were confused by this. DM answered this query and stated that he will speak to RD and point him towards the iFollow team for assistance. DM was quick to reiterate that this is because iFollow are responsible for the transaction side of things as opposed to the football club and asked all concerned to point this out to their members should there be similar queries/issues.
Update from Walsall Football Club Supporter Liaison Officer:
GW asked where the club were at in terms of numbers/percentage of refunds based on the details of the compensation package that was publicised over the last number of weeks in light of the deadline being passed. SG responded to this and stated that based on figures received at close of play Friday, approximately 10% requested a full refund of their Season Ticket with a large proportion of supporters (80%) keeping their money in the club and effectively donating it to the club, something which SG was quick to show his appreciation of whilst others opted for the pro-rata cash refund option, which sees them receive a partial cash refund whilst still gaining access to a digital copy of the programme and iFollow. SG stated to GW that once the figures are finalised, we will start processing the refunds for those who have requested it. DM added that we will be sending the respondents a thank you on behalf of the club based on the option they chose, whilst SG stated that those who chose option 1 will have their gesture reflected on the commemorative third kit for next season as well the plaque within the new bar area. DM added that work has already begun on the commemorative shirt as well as the home and away kits for next season and DM is hopeful that these will be signed off by the end of this calendar year to then go into production in early January.
GW then asked about the new iFollow system and whether this will be amended for the game vs Crawley Town given the fact that the EFL are doing their upmost to move away from the code system. DM responded and stated that this will be the case and informed GW that a member of the Ticket Office will be present on the day of the Crawley Town match to deal with any iFollow queries/supporters who are having issues. DM mentioned that this is something that took place during the code handling process and stated that the club will be publicising a story on this ASAP to make supporters aware that someone will be on hand for a few hours in the lead up to kick-off.
The meeting closed at 15:30.
Next meeting to be held on Zoom on 7th December 2020 at 15:00.