Floods of urine and years in third tier, are Walsall one of Britiain’s most boring clubs?

ARE Walsall one of Britain’s most boring clubs?

The Saddlers have spent a staggering SEVENTY-FIVE of their 99 EFL seasons in the third tier.

The floors inside one of the men’s toilets were flooded with urine on Boxing Day

They rarely go up or down.

No other League One team has amassed more points or played more games at that level than the West Midlanders.

And fans have grown restless due to a lack of excitement and are even questioning the leadership of their most successful chairman, Jeff Bonser.

He took over in 1992 and guided them to four seasons in the second tier.

But, for the last 11 years, Walsall have been stuck on the third rung and there are questions that supporters want answered.

The main bone of contention is how Bonser owns the club and Banks’s Stadium as two separate entities.

He owns the club himself but the freehold on the stadium is held by Suffolk Life, a pension firm of which he, his wife, brother and sister-in-law are beneficiaries.

And fans do not understand why the Saddlers pay rent of £440,000 a year  to the pension firm.

Bonser has not conducted media interviews or attended fans’ forums for years.

He “politely declined” to sit down with me — his stock answer to all media and supporter requests — to discuss the issues.

The club pointed to a huge ad hoarding as a positive

However, chief executive Stefan Gamble did, and he said: “The chairman feels he has done enough talking over the past 27 years. He ends up going over the same ground.

“When the lease was drawn up in 1995, the rent was around £90,000 a season.

“But that rose due to RPI increases and taking into account the landlord investing £2.5million.

“That went towards the building of conferencing suites and a stadium suite.

“The crucial point of this investment — and the rent — is the club gets 100 per cent of the commercial revenue from use of those facilities. Coventry doesn’t get that at the Ricoh. I’ll give an example of how advantageous this is. The owner bought and put up a huge digital signboard — the largest in Europe — outside the stadium, overlooking the M6, so we could make additional advertising revenue.

“Our rent went up £20,000 a year for that but we turn over £500,000 from that sign.

“We generate and keep all the profits from everything we do — whether it be from hiring out our facilities, advertising revenue from the digital sign or holding the weekly Sunday market. We turn over £1.5m from conferences and events.”

Chairman Bonser has not added any RPI increases to the rent since 2010.

Gamble points to the  Saddlers being the only League One club to have recorded a profit for the last 13 seasons — as well as for 25 out of the past 28.

He added: “The chairman is proud of that and we only made losses for three seasons when ITV Digital collapsed in 2002.

“A lot of clubs went into administration. At that time, Jeff put in a £1.5m loan to prop it up.”

Bonser is happy to sell the club, although he is “not actively  seeking a buyer”.

Gamble insisted: “Jeff isn’t desperate to sell but, by the same token, if someone came along to take it on who had the best interests of the club at heart, he would do so happily.

“When we left our old Fellows Park ground in 1990, it was falling to pieces and the club was in dire straits financially.

“Now we’re on a strong  financial footing, he would like to hand it to someone to build on that.”

Yet there have been complaints about the matchday experience.

At the Boxing Day clash with Bristol Rovers, it was branded “p*** poor” by fans.

The floors inside one of the men’s toilets were flooded with urine.

At a recent fans’ forum, supporters vented their frustration at a lack of maintenance on the ground.

Fan Kevin Paddock told me: “Often you enter the men’s toilets and there’s the stench of urine.

“I’ve found myself wading through a few inches of urine to reach the urinals, which I’ve found overflowing.

“Then when you go to wash your hands, there is no warm water coming out of the taps.”

The club has to pay for all maintenance,  unlike a tenant renting an apartment, who would expect the landlord to carry that out.

Gamble explained: “There are different commercial and domestic relationships.

“The example is if you have a problem with a boiler, in a domestic situation, it’s the  landlord’s responsibility.

“In the commercial world, it’s whatever is in the lease. And ours, that started in 1995, is a full-repairing lease, so we must cover the costs.”

Walsall have spent most of the last century in the same division
Rex Features

Gamble said the Saddlers put their hands up to the toilet issue, adding: “That’s something we’re not proud of, it wasn’t good enough.

“On Boxing Day, it was the perfect storm. We got a big crowd in, drains and toilets got blocked and they overflowed.

“The club has recognised these issues and there is an ongoing maintenance programme.

“We have dedicated staff, who have radios, to address things if and when they occur.”

Bonser once told fans if they were unhappy  then maybe they should support Rotherham, Luton or Bournemouth instead?

The Saddlers sit just two points above the drop zone, while Luton top League One, Rotherham are in the Championship and Bournemouth are 12th in the Prem.

Gamble said: “That comment always haunts him. Hindsight is wonderful. There are also examples of clubs who were doing well then who aren’t today.

“It’s natural for fans to want a bit of change, a bit of excitement. We have been too boring in a lot of ways.

“Walsall have a whole generation of supporters who remember the club in the Championship when we had Vinny Samways and Paul Merson and they want to get back to that level. We want that too.”

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