A partnership with Walsall Borough Council could ensure Walsall Football Club’s long term future and enable the Saddlers to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Hull City and Swansea City, chairman Jeff Bonser believes.
Walsall chief executive Roy Whalley has held tentative talks with the borough council over the future ownership of the Banks’s Stadium and the land, and Bonser said the move was only in the club’s best interest.
Whalley has enquired about the possibility of the council becoming the club’s landlords and buying the land and the ground, which are currently in the hands of a Suffolk Life pension fund.
Bonser said inevitably the pension fund would have to be unfolded at some stage and he would rather see the ground fall into the hands of the people of Walsall rather than a property developer. Even in that worst case scenario, Walsall still have 89 years left on their lease and would not be ejected from the land unless they began to struggle to pay their rent. The Saddlers have not missed a payment in 18 years.
“Let me get this straight, there is no question of the football club being sold, that is completely separate,” Bonser explained. “I personally haven’t had any talks with anyone about this. It is Roy’s opinion that it would be best for all concerned if the council became the club’s landlord and I think there is merit in that, and after 22 years of service to the club Roy’s opinions should be heard.
“We are just trying to make sure that the club is in safe hands and ensure its long term future. If the council owned the ground then there would be greater cooperation and the facilities could be utilised for the whole community.
“At some stage, the ground will have to sold and I would rather it was in the hands of the council. I am in my mid-60s now and I don’t want the situation that if something happened to me, everything would be left in turmoil. I just want what is best for the club.
“It would be a sound investment for the council. This club has been run very efficiently for over 22 years and is on a sound financial footing. The club raises the profile of the town like no other business and is a fantastic advert for the town. Hopefully, they will see the importance of the club to the town and the potential with the right amount of investment. But if the council say no there will be no problem.”
Bonser ruled out the prospect of the club itself owning its own facilities, and said it wasn’t necessary for the Saddlers to fulfil their on-field ambitions.
“If the club could raise the money it could happen but I don’t see the point in the club spending the money on that,” he said. “Look at Hull City and Swansea City.
“The councils have been involved there for a number of years and helped fund some impressive facilities. Hull have just been promoted to the Premier League in a fantastic new stadium, while Swansea won our division, League One.
“In Hull, the council got involved and brought the football club and the rugby club together and have financed a superb facility the whole city is proud of. Colchester United is another club that is working in tandem with their local council.
“It would be fantastic if we could have the same in Walsall.”