Dear Mr Chairman
I am writing on behalf of the committee of the Independent Saddlers Supporters Association, and many of our members who have contacted us.
Following the more than disappointing defeat at home to Barrow, we have received many messages and questions that our members would like us to put forwards to Walsall Football Club. I think it is a fair statement when saying this is one of if not the biggest crisis Walsall Football Club has faced in living memory. Not just the fact we are in real danger of dropping out of the Football League, but how quickly the club has declined and continue to do so at an alarming rate. We have sorted through all of the messages that were sent to us and selected the questions we feel are in desperate need of answering or questions that were asked multiple times.
Before I begin I would like to say the following. This is not an attack on anyone. We all want what is best for Walsall Football Club and there are serious concerns about the way the club is heading. It is not just a Football Club to our supporters it is a way of life. This may sound like a cliché but the truth in it is undeniable. We have supporters of all ages that have completely dedicated their lives to following Walsall. The lengths they have gone to in their lives just to get to Walsall games is way above and beyond what anyone could imagine. Many have lost friends and family that either started their journey being a Walsall supporter or were there from the beginning and find that connection is kept alive through their love of Walsall Football Club. Please don’t underestimate what the club means to the supporters, it is far more than a Saturday afternoon pass time. I understand some of the questions may be hard-hitting, but they are asked with the best of intentions from people who love Walsall Football Club.
The video updates that you have been releasing regularly have been a breath of fresh air, especially after many years of silence from our previous Chairman. However, unless they contain answers that fans want answering they are in danger of becoming nothing more than a PR exercise. I am sure that is not the intention, you come across as a very genuine man with the best intentions of Walsall Football Club at heart. However, there are certain questions that fans want answers to that either get talked around or passed off as commercially sensitive. You mentioned in one of your previous videos about fans speculating and “talking nonsense” on social media. Is this not brought on by a lack of straight answers to questions asked? There are indeed people who will make their own minds up regardless but I feel most supporters are just crying out for honest information.
We have received several questions regarding the video you released when you talked about mentoring Brian Dutton. Would you accept in hindsight this was ill-advised? Could you elaborate on what you meant by “mentoring”
Nothing against Brian Dutton at all, it is clear he is giving everything he has got for Walsall Football Club. However, with dropping out of the league now being a realistic possibility surely, it is time to call an end to this experiment and bring in someone with experience. Firstly to ensure we are in the Football League next season and moving forwards don’t end up in this situation again. Do you now feel like putting such an inexperienced manager in charge when our league status was far from secure was a mistake? Or was it a case of underestimating the seriousness of the situation?
I think we can all appreciate the difficult situation you have found yourself in with the pandemic. Everyone has been affected by it in different ways. All football clubs outside of the Premier League have been affected in the same way. Our supporters have all been hit hard by the pandemic too. Job losses, furlough, businesses collapsing, and at the very least a very uncertain future. These same supporters have still gone above and beyond to try and support the Club. An astonishing amount of supporters left their season ticket money in the club with no real hope of seeing a ball kicked live this season. Fans have made efforts to raise money to support the club and also helped out with jobs at the ground. I do note that you have been quick to thank supporters for their efforts. Supporters haven’t asked for much in return for their dedication to Walsall Football Club but at this point, several recurring questions are being asked.
Will there be a competitive playing budget for next season? Assuming we survive this season and we all pray for that, so we don’t end up in this situation again.
Can we survive dropping out of the Football League? Is there a plan in place for this scenario?
As I mentioned above the pandemic has hit football clubs at this level extremely hard. However, this situation hasn’t happened overnight, the club has been in decline for some time now. The long term goal was to be an established Championship club. We are clearly a long way from this right now, even becoming an established League 1 side feels a long way off. A lot of supporters have asked this question and in return for their loyalty to the club, I would like to ask if you could give fans a revised five-year plan of how the club plans to move forwards and begin to achieve some of its goals. We can’t just keep doing the same things and expect things to improve. I understand the decline started way before you took over as Chairman, and the awful hand you have been dealt so far. We are where we are though. It would be nice to know how you plan to make progress moving forwards. It would be nice if this could be put on the official website and social media to give supporters something they can buy into and believe in rather than just drifting aimlessly, which is what it feels like right now.
There have been many questions regarding the freehold and the rent. I am sure you have heard these questions many times. I can’t speak for every fan but I do know for a fact that these are huge issues for a lot of fans especially fans of a certain age. It has been an ongoing issue for many years and I think all supporters would appreciate some honest answers. It’s a well-known fact that there are supporters who stopped attending Walsall home games because of the rent. I also know for a fact some fans stopped donating money to fundraisers during this pandemic because it was unclear what was being paid in rent. I personally know several Walsall fans who had once been die-hard fans that didn’t even go to Wembley based on this alone. You could say that is cutting off their nose to spite their face, but that is how strong the feeling is with some of our fans. We want these supporters back at games spending their money and fully behind Walsall Football Club. I don’t think the club and fans will ever truly be pulling completely in the same direction until these issues are either resolved or at the very least there is a clear picture of the true extent of the situation. I know you have mentioned several times other clubs pay rent which is of course true. However, they didn’t previously own their ground in the first place. The feeling regarding the rent at Walsall Football Club amongst supporters is a pretty unique one I think. I understand that during a time where the club has no real income may not be the time to be thinking about such matters, but it is an important part of our future. They are questions that desperately need answers.
Is there any realistic chance of the club being reunited with the freehold?
If so what is required to do so? For example how much is it realistically going to cost and what other obstacles are there?
If not, has the club considered moving away from Bescot? Is this a realistic possibility in the future? Many supporters have never taken to Bescot as our home for a number of reasons, including the issues mentioned above. If there is no realistic chance of the club ever being reunited with the freehold this could possibly be an alternative?
Has the debt that was owed to our previous owner now been removed from the books? If it hasn’t it is now owed to you? And if so, how is this debt to be repaid?
Are the American investors still wanting to come on board?
If no investment is forthcoming can you personally guarantee to keep the club viable?
Are the current board of directors willing to put in financially out of their own pockets as supporters have been requested to do many times, and have done so willingly?
There have been a lot of questions asked about people working behind the scenes making decisions. I’m not going to mention any names, as I said earlier this isn’t about personal attacks, we have no doubt everyone is doing their best for Walsall Football Club. However, I think it is fair to say at this point as a club we are failing. Would you in your previous business life not look to have made changes if you were failing? Is this something you have considered, or would consider to refresh things, bring in some fresh ideas and take a much-needed change in direction?
I understand there are a lot of questions in there. Please believe me when I say that we have cut it down significantly from all that we have received and only included the most important questions.
Thank you for taking the time to read what I have had to say and the questions our members have asked. I write personally from my heart as a life long Walsall supporter who is hurting from the inside right now. Each of our members who took the time to write to us will have their own Walsall story and be hurting just the same. Everyone involved with the Independent Saddlers Supporters Association is right behind you and are more than willing to help in any way possible.
Mark Cassell - Secretary for the Independent Saddlers Supporters Association.