29th July 2019. It is a day that people will talk about in years to come. Where were you when the new broke that Leigh Pomlett had bought Walsall from Jeff Bonser. It was the news that no-one was expecting, but everyone welcomed. It is safe to say it has been a unique 12 months since Leigh took charge, so what has he changed, and what has his reign looked like so far.
Early on, LP decided that he would re-introduce the early bird scheme, for those who wanted to purchase season tickets. His target, and something he has continued to say, is to get 5000 at the stadium on a match-day. This season, we achieved a total of 4664, down from 4927 in our dreaded relegation season. However, we are a division lower, and it is understandable that the average will drop. We do not have the figures for the number of home/away fans split, but some of the away attendances this season have been laughable, with quite a few barely hitting 200. Compare that with the large away numbers we experienced in League 1 from teams like Coventry, Burton and Sunderland, and it is no wonder the attendance has lowered.
The match-day experience has also started improving. Improvements to the Bescot Bar is something we all wanted to see, and I cannot wait to see it when we are allowed back in. The extension, and improvement has been met with great anticipation from fans, who have chipped in to fund vinyls to decorate the area. There has also been the introduction of pop-up bars in the Saddlers suite. This has really helped queue times for drinks before a game, which is an area that the club have been trying to focus on. There have been new items available to eat and drink, and a fanzone for families to go into before a game. It is a step in the right direction. Introducing areas that are more welcoming to all of the fans, only makes home matches feel better, and that the fans are valued. Of course there are areas to improve on, leaky loos, queues at the kiosks at half-time, and a lack of excitement in the build up to a game are all areas fans have noted. But so far, I cannot complain at the improvements, and I fully believe the club have more areas they want to improve as time goes on. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The staff seemed to have thrived in the change of ownership. I have said it before, but staff shine in the right environment, and for me, Stefan Gamble and Dan Mole have really stepped it up this last 12 months. The most we heard from them before, was at the dreaded fans forum, in which stock, pre-prepared answers by the previous owner. Neither were able to express themselves. Fast forward to now, both have appeared, and been open and informative on several videos by the club, and at a fans forum. They finally seem to be coming into their own, and I have no doubt that this is due to LP being at the helm.
The communication between club and fans has improved massively. I have mentioned it previously, but the fans forums have been nothing shy of brilliant. Fans can ask anything, and get answers. Something that impressed me most, was that when there have been the odd occasion that there is not an answer, the staff there have asked for an email address, so they can follow up the question, and provide answers. How refreshing is that. The clubs social media has also come on leaps and bounds, and has to be commended during lock-down. I will forgive them today’s mishap that had us all thinking we were making a signing. But the way it was dealt with was hilarious.
Finally, the biggest achievement in his reign, is that we feel like we have our club back. Match-days are enjoyable, not toxic. The fans are getting behind both team, and club. Atmosphere has improved, and some of the away days have been amazing. All this for a mid-table finish, imagine what it will be like in a promotion push. The general mood his lifted, and we feel appreciated as fans, we mean something.
I have spoken about the playing side of things when I looked into how things had changed in a piece called ‘A whole year of Darrell‘ back in May, so I won’t go back into that today. I cannot complain with Pomlett’s first 12 months in charge. He has laid out his plans, and has acted in a way that makes us feel safe that every action taken will be in the best interest of the club. And to top it off, the fans have backed him, and we cannot wait to get back to watching football, so we can continue to help him, help our club. Because that’s what it is now, our club.