A large and vociferous crowd descended to the Banks’s Stadium this evening for an emergency Fans Forum which was set up by the club last week in the hope to close the divide between the club and fans.
Over three hundred Walsall fans were in attendance in the Savoy/Mayfair Lounge to quiz Walsall Directors Dan Mole and Leigh Pomlett, Walsall CEO Stefan Gamble and Walsall Manager Jon Whitney.
Surprisingly the night started with answers from the owner Jeff Bonser from questions that were submitted to the club in the past week from supporters.
First question was asked as to whether Jeff still cared about the club, Jeff responded with ‘of course I care about the club, I am the longest serving chairman in the Football League’.
JB continued to say that it was the clubs aim to be an established Championship club and that the football was the core business with the Venue seen as a venture to help achieve success on the field.
JB also admitted that he would listen to any sensible bid for the club and for the freehold of the stadium, Jeff also said that the club had received bids in the last ten years but for one reason or another the talks broke down.
JB was adamant that the rent had not increased in the last eight years with Stefan Gamble saying the rent is now back at the usual price of £440k per-anum.
JB states that the Deeney transfer talk is hypothetical at present so cannot discuss 50/50 split or freehold until it happens.
JB has spoken to council on numerous occasions and feels the club would be best with the council after his tenure.
JB said that Whitney becoming manager was a natural progression for him having served a long term apprenticeship with the club.
JB states that no ex player has been banned from the club.
JB stated that the Saddlers Club has not been sold in place of
JB confirmed that all payments have been paid to former boss Sean O’Driscoll and these ceased eighteen months ago.
JB said his brother brings a wealth of financial knowledge to the club and Pete Gilman brings footballing business experience to the board.
JW said that the team isn’t coached to play in a direct way but he has a young team. He said that young team need encouraging rather than berating. He recalled AFC Wimbledon (a) where his players were booed without kicking a ball and spent the warm up acting as a psychologist rather than a manager and trying to get their heads ready for the game.
JW says its difficult to play a distinct style when players are booed.
JW insists the season is not finished and reiterates his message that the club still have plans for this season. He said club are only three points off 12th.
JW confirmed that the club are in talks with Liam Kinsella and Kory Roberts about extending their deals.
JW also confirmed three offers have been submitted to Erhun Oztumer and all three have been declined.
JW also said there have been no offers made for Oztumer during this window.
JW said that the players despite making mistakes they do care for Walsall FC and will give their all.
JW conceded that the signing of Simeon Jackson hasn’t worked out how he wanted it to, but said Jackson was more of a friend than a work colleague.
JW confirmed he would prefer having a team of permanent signings but conceded funds might not be there hence why he is continuing developing our own players.
JW believes new signing George Dobson will become a fans favourite.
JW wanted to keep Ismail permanently but was out of his hands.
JW confirmed Wilson has joined Lincoln.
JW admitted club need to bring in a few new faces and he was working tirelessly to get them in.
JW said there are 22 clubs in League 1 with a higher budget, with a few having up to five times his budget.
Matty Fryatt is nowhere near fit and is still training like someone would in pre-season. Club confirmed they are not paying anything to Fryatt whilst hes training.
JW said he helped bring Mantom, Sawyers and Forde to the club under Dean Smith and prides himself for bringing through Roberts, Candlin, Kouhyar and Kinsella.
JW said he and his coaching staff (Cutler and Ward) are the club scouts as he prefers to see players with his own eyes.
Fans were obviously annoyed and angry with the club at present and biggest round of applause of the night went to a gentleman that said JW had been thrown under a bus and that fans were more worried about the long term future of the club.
JW said he wants to walk into these kind of meetings with the fans patting him on the back and vows to win the doubters over.
Olly Beckett said there wouldn’t be a protest on Saturday if Jeff Bonser was here tonight, Leigh Pomlett said he will make Jeff aware.
One fan complained about the match-day experience saying not enough bar staff, food quality poor and no TV on in the stadium suite – Dan Mole vowed to discuss this with all the club staff and will personally turn the TV on himself this weekend!
Dan Mole and Stefan Gamble both apologised and conceded that the club had fallen away from communicating with fans in recent weeks and vow to change.
JW feels that the connection between fans and players is decreasing and wants to change this.
Mole admitted that after the Newport game there was a meeting between board members and Jon Whitney, with board members reiterating to Jon the clubs philosophy and style of play.
Mole has vowed to build relations once again between fans and club.
Pomlett said he isn’t a yes man and will voice his opinions to the board as both a fan and director.
Pomlett said he isn’t the man to take over from Jeff despite having some money.
Pomlett says he hopes there isn’t a protest on Saturday as he feels a protest could turn ugly and did say if he wasn’t a director he would be with the fans at the meeting this evening but not at the protest.
Pomlett said fans are angry right now but he knows how many clubs are run in this league and believes there are not many clubs ran better than WFC.
Pomlett said it was tough as a director to answer whether as a fan ‘does he think its right we pay rent to Jeff’ but did say the club should exploit other options. He did say £440k might seem a lot to us fans but there are other clubs in League 1 that pay a lot more to their owners and they don’t have the facilities that we do.
Gamble said club were fortunate that they recouped most of the money spent on Andreas Makris.
JW still believes he will be successful and his fifteen years at the club means for nothing now hes manager.
JW said he has been offered many jobs whilst being at Walsall and rejected each one – he said he is a Walsall man through and through.
JW said he cant excuse the exit from cup competitions but from tonight he will ensure fans have something to look forward to.
JW confirmed it was his decision to bring Makris to the club.
JW says its a proud moment for him to be close to his 100th game as Walsall boss and is working hard towards his UEFA badges.
Stefan Gamble said the land is worth between £5m – £7m
The Venue was a decision from marketing to drive Birmingham conference events this way.
I don’t think we particularly learned much than what we already know but a few positives that Jeff acknowledged fans existence with answering a few questions. Dan Mole, Stefan Gamble, Leigh Pomlett all came out with credit having to face the wrath of angry fans – Pomlett in particular impressed many with his no holds barred attitude and love for the club.
He has been given a lot of stick recently but special mention must go to Jon Whitney. Yes many would agree that in the long term he isn’t the man to steer Walsall forward but he faced the fans and spoke with his heart and pure emotion this evening.