Good news from Walsall as it's been announced that the club has rescinded bans on a number of fans. As the FSF reported in April discontent grew after supporters clashed with the club’s chairman and chief executive over financial allegations.
Walsall then chose to ban three supporters after they unfurled a banner titled ‘Pension Fund FC’ on a Cypriot national flag during the club’s league game against Wycombe on Easter Monday. This was aimed at owner and chairman Jeff Bonser who fans alleged had financially mismanaged the club and spent too much time in the Mediterranean.
Chief executive Roy Whalley then hit out at supporters in the local press, claiming they had a “hidden agenda” and said they were no longer welcome at the Banks’s Stadium. They even went so far as to threaten to ban Saddlers fan Tom Lines for unfurling a banner with the words ‘FREEDOM OF SPEECH’ emblazoned across it at Walsall’s final game of the season against MK Dons.
Tom was understandably fuming and contacted the FSF to see if anything could be done during the close season to overturn his threatened ban and other fans actual bans. Thankfully after correspondence between Tom, the club, and the Football League, Walsall have decided to allow the banned supporters back into the Banks’s Stadium for the new season.
“The club are now making encouraging noises about interacting with supporters and this is the first olive branch we’ve had from the club in many years,” said Tom. “As a result of our protest the fans are also more organised and more determined than ever to lobby the club over the issues that led to our protests in the first place.
“We certainly won't be silenced by concessions from the club - on the contrary we'll be using our new found power to hopefully strengthen our influence at Walsall FC. This feels like a real vindication for all those supporters who stood up last season and said “enough is enough”.”
As Tom correctly pointed out in his original complaint to Walsall stadiums are private property and clubs have a broad legal right to exclude people from their premises. However, they should never forget that football clubs are not just any other business – the passion of their “customer” base is what makes or breaks them and they shouldn’t expect supporters to turn this on or off at will. Just because a club’s hierarchy has a difference of opinion with a fan doesn’t mean they should be expelled.
Last week at Walsall it was also announced that chief executive Roy Whalley, the public face of the club’s aggressive stance, was stepping down. Hopefully this means bridges can now be built between club and supporters. Credit to Walsall for listening to reason and changing their position too, there’s always the temptation for clubs to bury their heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away but if you have someone as determined as Tom on the case, it won’t. Persistence pays off and Tom took exactly the right and reasonable steps in challenging the club.
Any fan who receives an unfair ban should write to their club and ask what the reasoning behind it is. If supporters and club cannot come to agreement the next step is to write to the relevant league and then, if all else fails to the Independent Football Ombudsman. As Tom did, you should try get your story out onto other blogs and websites such as When Saturday Comes - and don’t forget to copy the FSF in too!
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