On-field matters dominated last night's final Wolves Fans' Parliament session of the season.
It was decided to have a largely open meeting, rather than one with a formal agenda, although it kicked off with reference to action arising from Darren Cash's raising of an issue regarding wheelchair users in front of the Billy Wright Stand. He said his view of one of the goals was affected by the dug-outs. Lynne O'Reardon, the club's head of Ticketing and Membership, said the issue would be addressed in the close season and the spaces with impaired views would be marked and reviewed ahead of next season.
As a result of the season Wolves have had, Mark Cadman said he thought the club's Chairman Steve Morgan should have been present at the meeting. "We've had nothing from him to say what our direction is - and that's poor," he said. Chief Executive Jez Moxey responded: "Some of the things we're being hit on the head by is fans saying Steve said this and that on the pitch in the past and has made broken promises.
As a generic point, we have decided we have to say lessin trying to explain everything. The Chairman will come out and speak once he has anything to say. We have to face what has happened this season but Steve does not make himself readily available and isn't in the media more than four or five times a year. Our fans said (earlier) that was a positive thing."
Andy James believed Steve should have at least said publicly that he was disappointed, adding: "It's as if he's invisible." The members were reminded that Jez made comments on behalf of the Board of Directors - they weren't HIS opinions. Asked by Jeff Bagnall whether the club had influence over players' comments, Jez said: "No. We hope they would be responsible enough to communicate in a way that's appropriate." In response to a remark that it seemed an almost daily occurrence that a player has publicly supported Terry Connor, Jez stressed: "There has not been one message from me to anyone that they must say this. Not at all."
Matt Pearce said he had been amazed that Karl Henry reportedly said Terry needed to be kept as manager in order for the club to retain their best players. Jez reiterated: "Imagine what it would be like if we were thought to be brainwashing our players. They are independent people but, if they are totally out of order, we pull them for it."
Matt Pearce then asked whether the Board would counsel opinions from the players about the manager appointment and was told by Jez: "No. Players are employed to play. I'm not saying we wouldn't have conversations with a senior player. We speak to them all the time because they are interested in what's going on."
Ryan Leister pointed out that comments several weeks ago about the team playing well and having only five points to make up had antagonised fans when the side hadn't won for a long time. "I've put thousands of pounds and 20 years of my life into Wolves…..yes, I am sensitive," he said. Parliament Chairman Matt Grayson replied: "Some comments are obtained under intensive questions from seasoned reporters. Terry, alongside the quotes you mention, has said the performances haven't been up to the required level." Ryan agreed Terry had done well for the club and it was obvious how much he cared. Jez said the newspapers want managers to trip up and give them a fantastic headline. Jeff Bagnall said Terry's demeanour had been excellent and Jez added: "I think he has handled himself with great dignity and in a very thoughtful manner in a difficult environment."
Tim Richards said the first stage to curing problems was to know what is wrong. But Jez repeated that he wasn't going to dissect the season at this meeting. "The process hasn't finished," he said. Tim went on to point out that the club had ended the home programme virtually with a line-up who had played for them in the Championship.
Jez accepted that the club would have to go through some pain now but added: "It will get better, I assure you. In terms of dissecting the season, you have to consider the money invested. One thing we often get asked is: 'Why the hell have we built a new stand instead of buying more players?' But we have spent an awful lot of money on transfers to try to improve the team. Steve has not been shy to spend. Mark Cadman asked whether any transfer deals had been refused and was told by Jez: "There are limits on what we want to spend, absolutely. We try not to go after players we can't afford. We understand who we are.You can easily say we haven't got the balance right because we have been relegated. I can't argue against that. But if all the money had worked, where would we have been?"
Owen Hughes said he appreciated that the net spend had been high but raised the subject of wages and remarked: "We must still be near the bottom of that. The players we are going for are not improving the team." Jez responded: "We do not buy the players. We employ professional football people - a manager, an assistant and a scouting team - to convince the board to make investment and some do it better than others."
Asked by Jeff Bagnall whether a Director of Football was the way forward, Jez said: "It could be in some circumstances. It depends on your culture and your head coach. Don't forget: In recent years, we have seen some of the best times we have had as Wolves fans for a generation. If you view it with perspective, you have to say it (the last few years) is significant improvement. It's still not good enough and I accept that. It has been a dreadful season."
John Meaney said it was apparent to many early on that the side couldn't keep a clean sheet. Jez commented: "We can all be smart in hindsight. Probably the most talked about subject was the timing of parting with Mick McCarthy. We could have, should have perhaps, acted before January. We'll never know if it would have worked if we'd pulled the trigger earlier."
To a remark that the club hadn't moved forward, Jez continued: "We are all suffering from being relegated. To point the finger at Steve Morgan and say he lacks ambition isn't correct. You can criticise the club as a whole and I'll take it on the chin that we haven't got enough from the decisions we've made. It's not been good enough. But it's not through the owner not caring and not spending enough."
Gerry Collins asked why the club thought giving Mick McCarthy more time would pay off. "After we lost at home to QPR, I put £10 on us going down with three games to go," he said. "This week, I have picked up £300. A lot of people thought there was no way back. For me, he should have gone at the end of last season." Jez said the board as a whole had stuck with him and admitted: "We are party to it (the outcome) because we make decisions. Had we done something different, it might have been a different outcome."
Tim Richards said he'd have given Mick the rest of the season but reminded the meeting that Wolves were the fourth worst side last season and 'had brought in one first-team player to improve the team since.' "That seems to be a very poor start to the season," he added.
Jez countered: "If you look at our record last season before and after Jamie O'Hara came here, there was a big difference. Our logic was that if we bought him for a large sum, which is what it took, he'd then generate the sort of points return we had during his loan period. We accepted we needed to improve our defence and I didn't hear one dissenting voice when we bought Roger Johnson. The chairman put the money on the table. We also bought in a keeper (Dorus De Vries) who had a great record in the Championship and we brought in, on loan, Emmanuel Frimpong and a player who cost Tottenham £8m (Sebastien Bassong). With Eggert Jonsson, who we knew wouldn't be an impact player for this season, that's a total of six players in the season. You can only assimilate so many new faces into a tight squad like ours, who have a great work ethic. I hope nobody believes the final outcome was because we didn't spend enough money."
Tom Bate said the Premier League was a cut-throat business, in which only the fittest survived, and asked: "Is there an argument that we needed to be a bit more ruthless and cut-throat? That's what other clubs do?" Jez said: "Wolverhampton Wanderers will always try to do its business properly and try not to break the regulations. Had the manager who we offered the job to and who shook on it actually gone through with it, it would have been what Richard Skirrow calls a text-book appointment and we'd have been patted on the back. People would have said: 'Not only did you deal with Mick McCarthy correctly, but you went about appointing a replacement in a proper manner and did so in just over a week.' We didn't have lots and lots of candidates.
They weren't out there. That was part of the reason for holding on to Mick. We do listen to what our fans say but we were not going to appoint Martin O'Neill and he wasn't going to join us. We weren't going to appoint Mark Hughes and he wasn't going to join us. I know.
Take those two out and then try to draw up a list of managers who would have kept us in the Premier League."
John Meaney asked whether Jez would be surprised if the manager who changed his mind about coming to Wolves now cropped up in another job in the summer. Jez answered: "He wasn't tapped up at the 11th hour by someone else. I don't believe that for one moment."
Gerry Collins said: "You say you have your ear close to the message boards? Are you listening to the fans now because I can't find one guy who wants us to keep Terry Connor (as manager) when we are in the Championship." Jez said he remembered a 2006 poll in the Express & Star in which over 90% wanted Paul Ince. "Mick McCarthy had about 4%,"
he said. "We listen to the fans but we make our own minds up." Asked by Gerry whether the list of candidates would be bigger in the summer, the Chief Executive added: "Yes, I think so." He also said it was wrong of supporters to think the Board operated from 'some ivory tower' and weren't aware of public opinion. 'Nothing could be further from the truth and the Fans Parliament meetings are yet another example of that. We are getting approached by a different club, or supporters' group, every other week wanting to learn more about the Fans Parliament. It's an transparent way for fans' to get their views across and unlike many other clubs, we make ourselves accountable and available in good times and bad."
Ryan Leister asked whether the new manager would be allowed to assess the whole squad or would players be sold earlier than that? Jez said:
"I'd imagine the position is resolved before any substantive sales. There could be one or two outgoing deals done in the meantime." Ryan believed Adam Hammill and Adlene Guedioura had outstanding records in the Championship.
Dave Bezzina enquired about the time scale in the manager search and asked when fans could expect a statement. Jez said it would happen as quickly as possible but harked back to February by saying: "In that period, we indicated we would do it in two weeks, we put ourselves under pressure." Matt Pearce said he'd rather it was done in a quieter way anyway. Jez said he felt the club had generally had a rough ride from the media, going back to the tackles on Joey Barton, the Bobby Zamora broken leg incident, a penalty claim and a disallowed goal against Newcastle, the Nenad Milijas sending-off and Frank Lampard avoiding a red card at Molineux. "Those things affected us," he said.
Ryan Leister asked whether the club were looking for a quick fix to get back to the Premier League and said: "Look at Swansea, Norwich, QPR,…..their players are better on the ball for us. Using players with a work ethic has cost us. The Championship has changed. Teams are playing more modern football since we won it. I'll be happy to sit in it for three years to help in the long term. I don't want a quick fix. I want a team who play entertaining, effective football because, at the moment, we don't have one. Football's getting more technical and there aren't enough technical players." Jez replied: "I don't expect any manager will come out and say openly what his philosophy is. I'm not going to be drawn on what style of football we will play because we haven't appointed yet. We have to find a manager who will help us win more games. Hats off to those teams who have done it on smaller budgets. Matt Grayson pointed out: "Teams like West Ham and Spurs are burdened by their reputations for playing in a certain way. If we have pre-conceived ideas and forget to do the dirty things in a night match at January, for example, it won't help us. Think of some of the great football we played in the promotion season, though…….Forest here, Preston, the night we got a result at Sheffield United despite all those injuries."
John Meaney said he hadn't renewed his season ticket for the first time in 'more years than I can remember' and remarked: "It was a tough decision but I haven't been entertained. What are you going to do to pull me back because I won't return if we are stuck in the middle of the Championship?" Jez answered: "We have to get you back. We are investing hugely in new facilities. Too many of our fans have fallen out of love with following Wolves and that's not a position we want to be in. We have to do whatever we have to do to re-energise that supporter base. We won't make any big pronouncements but will allow our actions to speak much louder than our words. We can't MAKE people buy season tickets."
John Pike pointed out that fans who had renewed their season tickets had had a letter thanking them but asked what the club had done about those who haven't renewed? John Meaney said he had had two calls on deadline day which he had been unable to take. Lynne O'Reardon said the club were still engaging supporters and would continue to do so.
"We're speaking about lapsed season ticket holders," she said.
Tom Bate said no fans would enjoy being in an 18,000 crowd in a stadium that could hold 32,000 and felt summer season ticket prices should be lowered to not much higher than the early bird price. Jez said the early bird scheme had cost the club £1m in the first year.
"There has to be a differential between the normal price and those who gamble and put their money where their mouth is," she added. Lynne
said: "We listen to your feedback and a lot of what we have talked about here, like under-21 prices, we have implemented." Martyn Edwards pointed out that his family had saved £400 because of the introduction of the under-21 prices.
Jez went on: "The way you get fans back is to win more matches; to provide a team you're all proud of and want to support. It's not just about price." Tom Bate also said he knew of a couple of TPS customers who had said they would not be paying £50 for that privilege. Lynne reminded the meeting that, under the TPS, fans could return a ticket for refund and there had to be a charge for that.
Tim Richards enquired how the new stand was developing. Jez replied: "The stand's coming along well but the schedule is tight. I hope you agree that, inside and out, it looks quite incredible. If it (the extended redevelopment) is finished, it will be the most amazing ground." He revealed that the club were now considering keeping the Stan Cullis Stand for home fans and leaving away fans in the bottom tier of the Steve Bull Stand - an idea that had overwhelming support from the meeting. "We have configurations that cater for a small number of away fans and a large number in the quadrant but we've discussed things internally because next season is different to a Premier League season. We don't want large swathes of empty gold seats in the home areas."
Andy James said he couldn't hear a word over the PA system in the Stan Cullis Stand. Mark Cadman said likewise. Jez promised these problems would be looked at
Les Hughes said fans were upset about the £6 booking fee but Lynne said it was because of the bank. Jez added: "We have spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds on ticket software - it costs money. I know the booking fee is something you beat us up with. We could hide the extra charge away but prefer to be more transparent."
It was pointed out that a disabled fan who said he stopped going to games about two years ago but now wished to renew his ticket had been told he had to wait until June to do so. Lynne said she was aware of the case, saying: "The person you refer to has specific requirements."
Mike Hughes was told by Lynne that there would be no lift for able bodied supporters going to the upper tier of the North Stand. Matt Pearce said the flags in the North Bank looked fantastic, so why not have them in the South Bank, too? Matt Grayson said the suggestion would be looked at.
Sally Hanbury said she had received complaints that the players seemed to avoid the South Bank after Sunday's game. Jez responded: "It's very difficult after the season we've had. I didn't think they were avoiding the South Bank any more than anywhere else. It was never going to please everyone. People are angry, devastated. Our employees care more than you realise." Jeff Bagnall also said he thought the demeanour of one player was 'disgraceful.'
Matt Grayson said in reply to a question that the kit for next season would be timed around the new megastore being opened. He was also asked by Mike Hughes about the re-branding of the ground and said: "All the signage is in place in the Billy Wright and Jack Harris Stands and in the lower tier of the new Stan Cullis Stand. There will be nothing new in the Steve Bull because we're possibly redeveloping that side." Jeff Bagnall thought the new signage was very good. Matt also made it known the club were still working on the super graphics which were taking longer than planned but would be introduced in the close season. Julian Dent said he had been asked by the Chairman of the Wolves Lottery to suggest it might make sense to keep re-developing and have a suitable stadium ready for the club's planned re-entry to the Premier League.
John Meaney said the goal music seemed so inappropriate after the second goal against Bolton and was told by Matt Grayson: "We have talked about that." Ryan Leister said the music played when the teams come out could be more aggressive.
Matt concluded by thanking those members whose Parliament duties now come to an end for their 'hugely appreciated contribution.' He said all would be invited on a tour of the new stand in a few weeks' time. Gerry Collins thanked the club for allowing the inter-action the Parliament offered. Jez said he would like to see more fans at meetings in future and with greater representation from across the supporter base. "I don't want anyone thinking you're too compliant - I don't mind it being more feisty," he said. The possibility of having non-Parliament members in attendance, as long as they were registered and on the club's database, was discussed. Andy Nicholls thought having more youngsters present was a good idea. Mike Hughes felt the club's official website might publicise meetings in the main news area.
Two new faces were at the meeting, in which Director John Gough sat among the members. They were Paul Richards, who has just started work as the club's new Supporter Liaison Officer following 30 years in the police force, and Helen White, who takes over shortly as Jez's PA. She will be replacing Rose Walley, who leaves this summer after 12 years with Jez at Molineux and 14 in all. Jez, Matt and Lynne all spoke about Rose's outstanding professionalism, ability and service to Wolves. She will be very much missed by everyone at the Club.