Walsall FC must commit to ambition and identity
In the wake of relegation to League Two, WSFC submitted some key questions to the Board about the immediate and long-term future of Walsall FC.
Club Secretary & Director Dan Mole replied promptly, informing us that at a busy time for the club many of our questions would be answered in the following days and weeks through actions and not words.
Here we look at how the issues raised have been directly or indirectly answered, and identify those that are yet to be addressed.
Do the club intend on appointing an experienced manager?
The appointment of Darrell Clarke, 10 days after relegation, is a welcome statement of intent by the club.
A young, ambitious manager with four promotions and 400 matches under his belt, a preference for attractive football and the highest FA coaching badges available certainly ticks the boxes.
With numerous players out of contract, who will handle renewals for players such as Liam Kinsella in the interim?
Clarke’s retain/release list was published four days after his appointment and has been well-received by most supporters. A clear-out at first team level was certainly required and the new manager has delivered emphatically on that. Get that contract signed, Liam.
Will the playing budget be greater or smaller next season?
How competitive will the 2019/20 playing budget be at League Two level?
No official confirmation on this one, but with Clarke being a manager known for building promotion-winning teams on a shoestring we might presume the budget will be at a similar level to last season.
Clarke will have agreed that budget, we can only hope he has been backed sufficiently by the Board.
Does reaching the Championship remain the club’s long-term ambition?
How will the club’s approach be changed in order to achieve this?
Walsall FC are yet to address their stance on this. The past three years have proved that the club’s purported ambition to gain promotion to the Championship and stay there has, however well intended, not been backed by a sufficient level of performance on the pitch or at boardroom level.
Relegation shouldn’t call an end to ambitions of reaching the Championship but should be a clear indication to the Board that the current approach is not fit for purpose. We hope the club will act to clarify their position on this soon, as part of a wider statement that also addresses the following:
Was our ‘footballing philosophy’ abandoned and how will it be re-built?
What will be done to address the apparent decline of our youth set-up?
‘Rebuilding the club’s footballing philosophy’ was cited as a key priority in the Directors post-relegation statement, but no clarification on this or the club’s youth system has been made as of yet.
Darrell Clarke’s appointment certainly suggests a return a more attractive playing style, but whether the new manager has a ‘philosophy’ rebuild as part of his remit and how that approach will be adopted across each development age-range will hopefully become clear in the coming weeks.
Dean Smith’s ‘Footballing DNA’ philosophy was something supporters could be proud of and were happy to buy in to, it brought youth-players into the first team and generated income through player sales. It also gave Walsall FC an identity and a unique selling point, two things we are gravely missing at present.
The club must make a statement on why this project was scrapped, and how the institutional approach of Walsall FC will be changed in order to re-build it.
Will the Chairman consider a rent-break in order to manage the potential effect of relegation on the playing budget?
Though the question of a ‘rent break’ hasn’t been directly addressed by the club, the issue was conveniently clarified by the Walsall Supporters' Trust in a statement released on May 8th.
We’d suggest reading the Trust’s statement in full, but the jist is that non-collection of the rent by the Bonser brothers’ Pension Scheme would result in a significant financial penalty being imposed, in excess of 55% of the annual payment made by Walsall FC.
Further sanctions implemented by HMRC including re-payment of tax allowances could, in the words of the Trust, ‘decimate the scheme’, making a rent break unviable even if it was to be considered.
With no reason to question the findings of the Trust we can safely presume that a ‘rent break’ or even a reduction is highly unlikely, and that the £440,000 annual rental fee will continue be paid to the Chairman until he has relinquished his ownership and all financial interests in the ground.