Members of Wolves Fans' Parliament were treated to a brief DVD celebration of the club's outstanding season at the start of the final meeting of 2013-14.
A film package of on-field highlights was followed by a dramatic recital of a poem by supporter Steven Power as a way of repeating one of the features that more than 700 guests enjoyed at the End of Season dinner staged at Telford International Centre.
Kieran Newey congratulated the club on that 'brilliant' sell-out evening and said how good the players had been at mixing with fans. Steve Phillips went to the Young Wolves End of Season dinner as well as having had his son as a mascot at the Carlisle home game and echoed Kieran's sentiments about that event. Wolves chief executive Jez Moxey said it had been a major aim 12 months ago to see that the club reconnect with the fans this season - something he felt could hardly have gone more smoothly. "Winning makes everything easier and it couldn't have gone much better with all the records," he said. "It shows a club and its fans can achieve great things together. The fans have helped greatly and, in turn, the players have helped get the fans back on side. The combination has helped make us all feel better......a wrong has been put right."
Kieran said it had been great to see Molineux, especially the new North Bank, full at the end of the season and asked if prices could be kept down to help keep gates high. Head of ticketing and membership Lynne O'Reardon said matchday pricing levels hadn't been finalised yet but stressed that the club liked to keep a simple price policy, with nominated promotions. She said the conclusion of some research undertaken was that reducing prices wouldn't make a great difference. "That can be a lazy and quite costly decision," she said, pointing out that the fall-off in midweek crowds dragged the average attendance down. In response to Kieran Newey's assertion that a lot of fans struggled to get to non-weekend games anyway, Lynne added that steps were being considered to somehow direct people from the city centre to Molineux on match nights and stop them going home in the meantime - a routine that gave them the chance of not bothering to come out again. Lynne said the club were awaiting the publishing of the fixture list on June 18, so they could consider a match package whereby fans could attend all midweek games for a price reduction. Steve Galloway asked if 8pm kick-offs might be considered because he knew of season ticket holders in Telford who struggled with games that started at 7.45. Matt and Jez were both keen to know whether that would encourage more fans to attend and said they would discuss the idea. Dave Benton argued that fans with kids in tow would prefer earlier kick-offs and was interested to hear Lynne O'Reardon say that youngsters typically accounted for 18% of the attendance at midweek games and 23% on Saturdays. Clive Smith said some supporters, such as those from London Wolves, might find it difficult getting trains after games that kicked off at 8pm.
The meeting was upbeat following the record-breaking, historic journey to promotion and the League One title - an adventure Mark Griffiths described as 'fantastic.' He thanked everyone at the club for bringing it about, and those on the top table, in turn, praised supporters for their wonderful backing, with reference once more to the unforgettable '10K to MK' day out in the spring. Various issues had to be addressed, though, including the regrettable scenes at and near the end of the Rotherham game on Good Friday. Steve Phillips asked what the view was of those pitch invasions compared with the one after the defeat against Burnley last season. "There seemed to be more negativity at the Rotherham one," he said. Jez said he felt the one against Burnley was understandable, although he issued the reminder that it had still been disappointing and it was a criminal offence to ever go on the pitch. "The scenes near the end of the Rotherham game were an embarrassment but you can understand fans' exuberance. With every invasion, we are warned by the FA and are asked what we're trying to do about it. I think they are understanding to a point." Parliament chairman Matt Grayson said CCTV footage of the Rotherham game was still being reviewed. "Our fans went on the pitch at Crewe and we said nothing but, when it occurred against Rotherham, there was a lot of comment," he said. "Perhaps we need more consistency. But the key point is that fans shouldn't go on the pitch. It affects our reputation across the game."
On the same subject, Jeff Bagnall, who said he was amazed by the size of the Rotherham gate considering the game was played on Good Friday afternoon, referred to invasions at other televised matches since. He said there was footage of fans even lighting flares, 'which I think will help negate our issues a bit.' Matt Grayson pointed out that the referee was genuinely very close to abandoning what was a tremendous match against Rotherham (a 6-4 Wolves win). "It could have been completely nullified and what a terrible conclusion that would have been." Jez praised the Rotherham camp after a game that was also important to their promotion hopes and said their chairman had presented Steve Morgan with an engraved decanter congratulating Wolves on their achievements. "Their manager Steve Evans also sent me a text. I thought that was very classy."
Julian Dent said he had had a row with two fans, telling them they shouldn't be on the pitch, and had also observed another run on and then not know what to do next. Jez said the club very grateful with how fans behaved at the Carlisle game. "It was perfect," he said. Julian pointed out that it had been the same story at Leyton Orient. Simon Wade harked back to the events at Crewe by saying fans were not discouraged to go on the pitch but were asked not to do so until the end. About an observation that a line of police stood in front of the Rotherham fans near the end of the Good Friday game, Jeff Bagnall said it was a common tactic aimed at stopping any potential clashes between rival fans rather than preventing an incursion. Jez reminded the meeting that Wolves didn't control the police and said he thought the home fans and officials were 'very gracious' at Crewe. Simon Wade asked what would happen if Leeds won the Championship title at Molineux next season and their fans invaded the pitch. Jez said he didn't think Wolves fans would have run on had the League been won at Elland Road. "It felt safe at Crewe," he said. "It could become very unsafe if two very big clubs were playing each other. You wouldn't want to do it at St Andrew's, for example." Owen Hughes said the late drama of the Rotherham game was a factor behind the invasions while Frank Parkes praised the stewards by saying: "You can see how hard they work. What on earth are they supposed to do?"
As the debate on fans' behaviour broadened to the issue of standing for long spells at games, Mark Griffiths pointed out: "If you stand in the North Bank, you get sat down in 60 seconds and quite rightly. I would like safe standing because I'm old school and can't sing properly when I sit! But I understand that the stewards can't control 5,000 people with their minds set on something." One member said he knew of someone who couldn't necessarily sit where they would like at Molineux because he or she couldn't cope with supporters standing.
Kieran Newey moved discussions on to team matters and referred to David Edwards and Richard Stearman as having have been key players who had helped turn the side's fortunes around. "How quickly are we planning to sort their contracts out?" he asked. Jez assured him the club were of the same view and were having discussions with the relevant parties. The chief executive also referred to the eight players out who were out on loan and due to come back for pre-season, adding: "Tentative discussions have taken place with them or their representatives and that will become more intense over the summer. They all have contracts and if we can't find a solution for them, we have to honour those contracts. We think every single one of them wants to move on but I'm not going to let them go unless it's right for us. First of all, someone has got to want them."
Chris Bate asked whether Jody Craddock would have a role at the club and was told by Jez 'probably not a formal one', with the popular defender's new career in painting cited as a reason. Of the decision to go ahead with a testimonial game for him at a time when it was first thought inconvenient, Jez added: "If we hadn't done it, fans would have asked what other celebrations we would have had following the winning of promotion and the title, so it worked well and I'd like to thank the staff for making it all go off so well....it was a fantastic effort by everyone." Chris Bate asked whether the club had better relations with the council now and was told by Jez: "We've always had a really close one and we value each other. We work closely and have a vested interest to make sure the club and city are successful." The chief executive reminded members what he had said last year about the club allowing their football to do the talking and promised Simon Wade that his own lower profile would continue. Kieran Newey enquired about pre-season plans for the team and was told by Matt Grayson that games at Crewe and Cheltenham had already been announced and other dates would be publicised very soon, including a tour.
Kieran complimented the club on the choice of new kit and described the launch as excellent as well - an observation that drew agreement from Jez. He asked when the new change strip was coming and was told by head of commercial affairs Paul Lakin, who was also seated on the top table, that it would probably be towards the end of July. Paul said the launch, with Kenny Jackett and several players being there, was ‘a great platform for the launch’ and added: "Sales are better than for several years and better than we expected. We're likely to sell out of the new shirt. We decided to order fewer because we've previously had (cut-price) sales before or after Christmas and we're hoping that that won't be the case this time. If there is a January sale, it will be a short one. This is a genuine message, not sales talk.......buy early!"
Parliament members were given advance information about the announcement being made about season ticket prices - and a price structure which ensures new season ticket holders will pay less than when the club were last in the Sky Bet Championship. The club are proud of the various initiatives they have taken with the aim of keeping prices down and were keen to canvass last night's meeting as to thoughts about the cost structure they hope will push the current total of 11,940 season ticket holders up by another 2,560 to 14,500 (88% of current holders have renewed and more were taken on in the Join The Pack campaign). There were no dissenting voices and the over-riding feeling was that the charges were fair, although Tom Bate strongly urged the club to do all they could to keep match-to-match prices as low as possible.
Speaking of match pricing, Jez said it was 'almost certain' they wouldn't be kept at the same price. "We need to ensure the season ticket is an attractive commodity," he added. Matt Grayson reiterated that the club wanted Molineux full to the hilt and Tom Bate said there had been such a feel-good factor with seeing the ground full. "We obviously had people here who hadn't been that often and it was fantastic. I would just hope to continue that and not put them off by pushing up the price." Matt said Wolves' prices had held up really well against those at clubs like Crawley, Stevenage, Orient and Gillingham - and would do so again in next season's Championship. Tom said that just because other clubs had high match-day prices, Wolves didn't necessarily have to. Jez said: "There are some serious financial implications and the fans have to play their part, as they have this season. By dropping prices, rebating fans when we didn't have to (following relegation), we have delivered also. It's unrealistic to keep prices at League One levels but discussion on the ticket prices is an almost daily debate."
Mark Griffiths said he didn't think many fans would be lost by the prices being put up. Clive Smith said it was normal for supporters to look at the Sky fixtures and the number of home midweek games and calculate whether buying a season ticket was economical for them. Jeff Bagnall asked if there was much data on lapsed season ticket holders and how much work could be done on enticing them back. Lynne O'Reardon said there was a lot of information available and felt these were the people the club should be targeting. Jez also referred to the thousands of people at the bottom of what he called the Wolves pyramid; those who came to matches once or twice a season. He said it would make a difference to the average attendance if they could be tempted to make three or four visits instead. He said the club's view was that targeting individuals with offers to make them attend more regularly - something that could be done with modern technology - was preferable to fixing one 'headline price' and doing nothing with it. Lynne expressed the belief that many fans were also in the habit of renewing their season tickets in June or July.
Steve Parkes asked if the club could consider bundles of tickets for so many games at reduced rates and was told by Lynne that that was what the TPS scheme was essentially for. But Jez agreed that the idea of fans selecting the games deserved consideration. Jeff Bagnall pointed out that anything involving the printing-off of tickets at home (a development in recent years that Jez described as 'brilliant') should be further explored. In summary, Matt Grayson said there had to be a balance between a great season ticket deal and imaginative product innovation. Lynne asked what members thought of the idea of fans recommending friends to become full season ticket holders (with benefits to follow) and was told by Kieran Newey that it would be difficult as many interested friends already had season tickets, unless their personal circumstances made it impractical.
With his eye on filling Molineux to the maximum, Tom Bate said he thought it was regrettable that the club couldn't open the temporary stand for the Rotherham and Carlisle games. Jez said it was decided not to do anything with the south-west corner this season, although it was discussed, and getting it back in use would have taken a lot of effort. "Unfortunately, it wasn't as if we had 500 people knocking on the door for these extra seats," he added. "We didn't turn many people away.....it was a trickling towards a sell-out. Had we opened it, it wouldn't have made much difference but a decision should be taken in the summer on next season. We would need a structural survey because it has been standing unused for a while." Tom also asked for an update on stadium redevelopment proposals and was told by Jez that there were no plans to revisit the matter at present. "It's on our agenda but if you've been to Compton, you'll see what's going up there and where the money is being spent," he said.
To a question from Clive Smith as to where away fans would be situated in the ground next season, Lynne said it would continue to vary depending on the size of the away following. Jez expressed doubt as to whether the overall atmosphere was helped when opposition supporters were up in the North West Quadrant of the Stan Cullis Stand but reaffirmed that, if it could be guaranteed that Wolves fans would fill the Steve Bull Stand, the away fans would always go there.
Matt asked if members were happy with the 'This is Our Love and It Knows No Division' banner remaining in place, given that no sponsor has yet been found for the North Bank end of the Stadium. He reminded everyone that the banner, which blew down at one point before being put back in position, would be removed if a backer came forward but believes it's important supporters' views are known on the current display. Jez said it was proving difficult to build a digital clock into the LED boards at pitch-side, as planned, and vowed to look again at how the video screens, which were described by one or two members as an eyesore, could be used for alternative display purposes while the club continued to investigate with stadium and safety manager Steve Sutton and the structural engineers as to how they could be re-deployed in a 'robust, proper and cost-effective' way. "I don't want them to be a half-way house. If we're going to use them, I'd want to do it properly and that would cost a lot of money," Jez said.
Steve Galloway spoke about logos and in particular why there were 'boring, drab, whitewashed walls' in the new Stan Cullis Stand whereas there was artwork on display in other parts of the ground. Matt reminded him of the artwork that was commissioned and is displayed in the lower concourse but that the creative work carried out in other parts of the Stadium was costly and, when Jez asked how important this matter was to the five or six North Bank-located members present, met with a luke-warm answer. Matt Grayson said: "I'm passionate about it but where do you stop?" And Lynne remarked that for a 12-year-old making a rare visit, the romance of artwork helped build the excitement. Jez said it was another matter worthy of further consideration.
As a final comment on a happy season in League One, Jeff Bagnall said he felt opposition clubs and stewards had been extremely friendly while it was also pointed out that many Carlisle fans had put aside the disappointment of their club's relegation on the last day to stay and watch Wolves' celebrations. Lynne said a sign was put up on the day thanking Carlisle fans for making the long trip to Molineux. She was at the function last week at which Wolves were named as the friendliest club in the entire Football League - as voted by 'mystery shoppers.'