Lifelong Walsall fan Jeff Bonser bought into the club in 1991, eventually going on to become the chairman in 1997. Paul Giess explains how his unpopular methods have given the club finanacial stability
Distinguishing features Looks like a business studies lecturer with a Mercedes.
Habitat Got his claws into Walsall in 1991 on the cheap at the club’s lowest point in recent history. A previously low-profile local businessman who claimed to be a long time passionate fan, he stepped down as chairman in 1997 following a muted protest from about 30 supporters on a wet afternoon in Grimsby. Now calls himself “owner” and provides for his pension by charging the club rent for using his ground.
What use is he? To his immense credit, when we have found ourselves managerless he has refused to appoint from the usual merry-go-round of failed internationals and has-beens. The appointment of Ray Graydon from out of nowhere was a masterstroke. Due to the commercial activities Bonser has inspired on the Bescot Stadium site (Sunday market, concert suite, those advertising hoardings you see as you are parked on the M6) it is claimed that that we no longer need to play football to stay in profit. This may not be a good thing.
Who remembers his birthday? Probably not Jan Sorensen. The jovial Danish manager arrived at Bescot for the final game of the 1997-98 season to find his obituary already written in a one-off Jeff Bonser column in the match day programme. Sorensen was not given a penny of the money his team generated in the 16 ties played during arguably the club’s most successful cup season ever. Bonser’s refusal to spend money on transfer fees has won him few admirers on the terraces but he has turned the club around from losing several thousand pounds a week to a consistently profit-making enterprise. Having achieved two promotions to the First Division in three years while spending less money on an entire squad than our competitors spend on reserve full-backs, Bonser’s financially prudent leadership style is being noticed nationally. He probably gets invites to give business seminars at every lower league club.
Quote Unquote Has now told us that “there is no such thing as a free transfer” so many times that we have started to believe him. Responding to accusations of failing to release the transfer funds to keep us in the First Division he totally missed the point of football by snapping, “I am not in the business of dreams”– an insult to every supporter who has scored a hat-trick in the World Cup final in those small hours before the alarm clock rings.
Other offences to be taken into consideration Announced on his web page that he had tried to sign Stan Collymore in an attempt to keep us in the First Division. Persistently books dreadful acts into the club’s concert suite. We are told this brings in much needed revenue but does anyone really go to see the Grumbleweeds? If Chris and Glenn decide to release Diamond Lights 2001, no doubt they will premiere it at Bescot. In all fairness to Bonser, although his reign has at times been frustrating, history will probably judge him well. Many of us now recognise that in the long term we cannot live beyond our means. Why risk bankruptcy when money can not guarantee success? After all there is a shining example of this at the other end of the Wolverhampton Road.
From WSC 174 August 2001. What was happening this month
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