There's a great deal of discontent down at the Banks's Stadium. Off the pitch matters regarding club ownership and finances have led to supporter unrest, and in tempestuous times like these it's often calm heads that prevail - unfortunately for Saddlers fans, it appears Chief Exec Roy Whalley has not been reading his copy of 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'.
Walsall's fans, like those of teams up and down the country, are concerned at the financial state of their club. With one of the lowest average gates in the division, things are precarious for the 3,500 or so hardy souls who fill the Banks's stadium every other week, and during last Monday's game with Wycombe, matters came to a head.
A small section of fans unfurled a banner in the Floors 2 Go Stand, emblazoned with the message 'Pension Fund FC' on a Cypriot national flag. This was aimed at Walsall owner and chairman Jeff Bonser, and the historical gripes of some fans who claim that the club is being financially mismanaged and that he spends too much time holidaying at his villa on the Mediterranean island. So far, so normal, you might think. Fans bring banners and sing protest songs at grounds up and down the country on a fairly regular basis, so what's the story here?
Well, from the historical to the hysterical, the reaction of Chief Executive Roy Whalley did little to calm any tensions. In an interview with the local paper on Thursday last week, Whalley announced that those involved in the small-scale protest would be banned.
He blasted the fans for having a 'hidden agenda', claiming “they are damaging the club and putting off good supporters. If we let them do what they want they will destroy the club and drive people away.”
Mr Whalley's threats were not an empty gesture, as over the weekend we received word of two Walsall fans who have been summarily banned from Walsall's ground, and were refused entry for Saturday's game with Tranmere Rovers. One who contacted us told us that he'd been approached in the club bar by the stadium manager before kick off, informing him that Jeff Bonser had given specific instructions that he was not be allowed to enter the ground that day.
Mr Whalley even used his programme notes at the Tranmere game to spell out further threats. "We know who was resposible for Mondays unrest and they will be banned," he wrote.
"The club are fully aware of messages posted on certain unofficial websites that contain offensive and inflammatory material. These sites are being monitored. Those responsible for inciting spectator unrest will and are being banned from attending matches. The club are seeking legal advice."
He even suggested that the protesters who appeared at the previous game were to blame for falling crowds at Walsall, claiming "we will not attract better attendances while there are people attached to the club whose sole purpose, it would seem is to destroy the club through innuendo and encouraging disunity... those people whose words and actions are spoilling the enjoyment of the vast majority of supporters and preventing others from wanting to support their club"
A quick look through the numbers, however, with the exception of matches with some of the division's 'big boys' like Leeds United and Norwich City, shows a broadly stable attendance at the Banks's Stadium this year. Indeed, crowds in the last two home games were up on those at the opening two Saturday home games of the season.
We'll definitely be keeping our eyes on developments in the Midlands over the coming weeks, as well as doing our best to advise and support those fans who've been banned. We urge any other Walsall fans who have been refused entry to the Banks's Stadium over this incident to get in touch with us.