Wolves Fans’ Parliament members were given a guided tour of the Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground when, by way of variation, Compton was used last night as the venue for their latest meeting.
REVIEW OF MINUTES
When the formal proceedings began, Parliament Chairman Matt Grayson reviewed minutes of the last meeting at Molineux and said that Jeff Bagnall’s idea of cut-price admission had been adopted for the Burnley game on Saturday and a crowd of around 23,000 was anticipated. “We need as many noisy fans there as possible,” Matt said.
He added that just over 10,000 fans had participated on the live blog at the February meeting and another 2,800 viewed replays of it. “People could see Steve Morgan was answering difficult questions,” he said. Tom Bate wondered what fellow members felt about being approached by reporters outside afterwards and one remarked critically about an Express & Star headline. Jez said the club hadn’t been upset by the press coverage. He considered the questions at the meeting to have been good, although he detected that some fans wanted to see ‘more of you beating us up’ at meetings.
Dave Benton felt it had been difficult to get in follow-up questions but Jez pointed out that meetings went on for up to three hours and sometimes more. To an enquiry about whether the live blog idea should be repeated, Jeff Bagnall said: “Yes, maybe once a year.”
Hilary Clews asked what Steve Morgan had thought about the evening. She felt he had seemed to relax as it went on and Jez said: “There was some apprehension. Like everyone else, he’s having a very difficult time regarding Wolves and was on his guard to start with because he didn’t know what to expect. I think he was a little apprehensive but warmed to it because there was no noose on the door. He received and answered some worthwhile and challenging questions and was glad he had done it.”
Steve Wade asked if a future ‘live blog’ meeting could be streamed through the Wolves Player, so the proceedings could be followed in audio rather than just through the printed word. Jez wondered whether this might make the dialogue more sterile because club representatives may become a little cautious.
Q & A WITH PHIL HAYWARD
Wolves’ Head of Medical Services Phil Hayward was present throughout the meeting and introduced himself by saying he started at the club five years ago with the Academy. He said members of his department were very well covered in terms of qualifications. Jez said staff were encouraged to participate in continuous professional development courses because greater knowledge was always useful in view of the expensive assets the club had.
Phil reflected on how the club had been hit by a number of ‘contact injuries’ – the sort they can do little to prevent. Examples were Sylvan Ebanks-Blake with his broken leg, and David Davis, who has damaged ankle ligaments. Asked about players’ choice of footwear, Phil said there had been talk in the press a few years ago about the wearing of blades but he added: “Whatever footwear those guys had had on wouldn’t have made a lot of difference.” Jez said the footwear today was significantly different to yesteryear and Phil said the lighter boots had less protection but more flexibility. He went on to say the medical department couldn’t have done much about Carl Ikeme’s injury and Wayne Hennessey had been ‘massively unfortunate.’ He said strenuous checks were carried out before recovering players returned to training and Wayne should be back for the start of pre-season. Dave Benton asked whether the keeper’s knee could break down again. Phil responded: “Once you’ve had surgery, there’s always some risk of a recurrence but we can be very confident following this ‘revision’ surgery which is a more robust type of repair than the original one that it won’t happen again.”
Mark Griffiths asked whose final decision it was to push a player back into training. Phil replied: “With Wayne, if he’s out nine months, it’s a real team decision. We take all our findings back to the surgeon in London who will review our test results etc and will confirm than he is happy for a player to return to training. With less serious injuries it’s between the medical team, the player and management team. If two of the three variables come down on one side, we tend to go with that. We can only give our best advice and highlight the risks involved if decisions go against our advice. It is important to note that once a decision is made, all parties will be fully supportive of the decision and will do everything possible in order to minimise risk.” He also said members of staff would accompany players on visits to surgeons, even abroad to places like Colorado, to avoid the possibility of ‘Chinese whispers’, and ensure a good flow of information between the surgeon and medical team.
Phil reported that George Elokobi was now back in full training and was seven months on from the ankle surgery that followed his freak injury on loan at Bristol City, where he got his foot stuck in the turf. He said the club had had nine injuries of 20 days or more this season that affected bones or ligaments and are the types on injuries that are largely unavoidable. Three others had had serious muscle injury – Razak Boukari, David Edwards and Sako. “These are the ones we tend to beat ourselves up over,” he said, although it was pointed out that Razak’s ‘complicated’ problems also dated back to a challenge on him. “He had surgery two weeks ago which appears to have gone well,” Phil said. Jez reflected: “We’re having a dreadful season but the number of quality players we have lost is also very frustrating….having two or three back would make a significant difference.”
Ian Smith asked about Georg Margreitter and Slawomir Peszko and Phil replied: “A lot of players were injured soon after arriving – can we learn from this and establish whether there’s more chance of them being injured early on before they are properly settled in? Should we bring them in with everyone else or integrate them in a different way? Tongo has also had niggles, which have affected him.” To a question from Tom Bate about whether Peszko was currently not being picked because more money would be due to his parent club if he made so many appearances, Jez said: “There’s no truth in that at all.”
Nick Parker enquired about how much the club used sports psychologists, given the difficulties injured players must go through. “We have invested in this area of expertise and have a highly qualified and experienced professional here two days a week who works one-to-one with them,” Phil said. “Mentally, it’s very difficult for players who have been out injured for five months. It can be a lonely place.”
Steve Parkes asked whether information was pooled with other clubs - something Phil said did happen as medical staff saw themselves as being of service to players, so shared ideas and experiences were useful.
Steve Phillips enquired about the medical process for new signings and Jez said some players didn’t know what had hit them when they arrived. “It is the most rigorous I’ve known in 25 years (in football),” he said. “The system is wrong, though, because you don’t really get enough time to assess them. We put them through the wringer but you don’t get the time to see if a player is culturally the right fit – and everyone in the game makes mistakes with recruitment.” Phil said the club receives the player’s previous medical history but as important as that a record of a player’s past appearances is scrutinised and then he’s sat down in order to talk through any significant absences before the medical begins.
Keith Bickley asked whether the fact some of the players had been signed shortly before the window closed had been a factor with medicals. Phil said the same procedures were followed whatever. In answer to a question by Roger Phillips as to whether language barriers were an issue, Jez said there were people on hand to assist if players didn’t speak good enough English, although most did. They were also encouraged to take lessons. The Chief Executive added that some players can become homesick and admitted there were more risks with foreign players than British ones – but they were generally cheaper.
Dave Benton said players seemed to play more games in the 1970s and 1980s – and on bad pitches. “Now they seem to break down despite all the facilities and warm-ups,” he observed. “And the tackles were a lot more robust then.” Frank Parkes said he knew 1970s Wolves physio Toby Andersen and learned that players tended to be pushed out back into training, whatever, after two or three lots of treatment. Phil said: “The game has changed. It’s a lot faster. Combine speed with physicality…..it might be a combined speed of 45mph in a tackle with two strong, fast men. The pitches were muddier and softer and lent themselves to absorbing impact. Surfaces are now harder and lend themselves to more injuries.” Phil said pain-killing injections were probably more commonly used then and pointed out that players’ careers lasted longer now.
One member remarked that it would be useful to know sooner if players were being substituted because of injury as it might prevent unnecessary criticism of a manager. Matt Grayson told Mark Griffiths there were demands from the media about news of injuries and Phil’s department was helpful in that direction, although there were sometimes confidentiality issues and some problems that only came to light later.
Greg Asbury asked whether Jamie O’Hara was fully fit and was told by Phil: “He’s covering as much ground as anyone, although he has had a couple of injuries here and some elsewhere and didn’t participate in the pre-season training due to injuries.”
Jez Moxey opened this section of the meeting by saying that the club faced two crucial matches in the next week and a half but urged Parliament members to encourage fellow fans to come up with questions for future meetings. “We can’t do much more to try to get closer to the supporters, you have to ask us more questions to get the most out of these meetings,” he said.
Andy James asked: “If the unthinkable happens, is there any more detail about the early-bird refund?” Jez said: “Not yet but there would be one.” Steve Phillips said he thought there had been some weakness in Steve Morgan’s answers at the previous meeting, especially about the advisers on managerial appointments who he felt had no accountability. He felt there should be more of a football person involved with the decisions. Jez said Steve had been trying to be open and said he took soundings from relevant parties. “He was referring to the fact that he took references from previous employers but these aren’t nameless advisers telling him what to do,” he pointed out. “He was happy with the references he got.” Steve Phillips said the previous two appointments had gone ‘pear-shaped’ and ‘this one wasn’t working out that well at the moment.’ Jez followed up: “When you have an owner who holds 100 per cent of the business, it is right that he has the last word, the final decision. We have some very robust, in-depth discussions and he doesn’t always get his way. And nor do I. The most important decision the Club can make is getting the right manager. If you get it right you have a fighting chance, if you get it wrong, you have all sorts of problems. The trouble is there is a dearth of good managers in my opinion. It isn’t easy.”
Dave Benton said he didn’t accept there were not many choices available at the time time Mick McCarthy was dismissed and would have favoured the appointment of Dougie Freedman because his track record was already good in this division and there was a Wolves connection. “Dean Saunders’ track record in this division was one of relegation,” he added. “And Mick McCarthy’s was fantastic.” Jeff Bagnall said it had come out several times that the club had had someone else in mind following Mick’s departure and remarked how there had also been a fans’ backlash when Steve Bruce’s name was mentioned. There was a comment from the floor that a lot of supporters had criticised Mick’s style. Steve Phillips said he would like it on record that he was ‘gutted’ about Mick going. He said he wasn’t happy at the time with Dean Saunders’ appointment and still wasn’t. Jez insisted that Parliament members should express their views. “It may be uncomfortable listening at times but so what, we’re here to listen as well as answer questions?”
Matt Grayson said the recently promoted Head of Football Development and Recruitment Kevin Thelwell attended board meetings from time to time and added: “It’s not as if the board sits disconnected from the football side.”
Daniel Cartwright said it was ‘surprising and a little disappointing’ that the manager hadn’t been backed more in the transfer windows. Tom Bate argued that it made little difference which division Wolves were in next season…. “this group of players need moving on. They aren’t good enough. Something has happened and the players who were up to the job no longer are. That old brigade have not performed.” Jez argued that the divisional status did matter and this team had to be good enough to get the points they needed this season to retain Championship status. “The team must win the required number of points over the next two matches.”
Andy James said he was not sold on Dean Saunders but Jez pointed out that the issues at Molineux are more complicated than simply blaming a manager and that it had been a difficult time with changing styles twice after the success of the McCarthy era. “With high-quality players leaving in the summer and new players coming in quickly thereafter, the integration was a challenge for Stale and the squad. Players tried to adapt from the McCarthy style of play, to a new style under Stale. We had a terrible period leading up to Stale’s departure in early January and then went back to a more direct style of play under Dean who has some players specifically bought to play the Stale way,” he added. Mark Griffiths said fans just wanted the players to come out on Saturday and ‘bust a gut.’ Matt Grayson said there was credit due for the way they played against Hull but Clive Smith said that was needed against Huddersfield as well. “Dean Saunders came into a sinking ship,” Clive added. “How many transfer windows did Mick have? Whatever manager came in was going to have a difficult job. No we’re scared to death of going down.”
Greg Asbury asked what the long-term vision was and enquired: “Does Kevin Thelwell’s job cover (manager) appointments? Jez replied: “We will address those issues once the season has finished we have to focus on winning the next two matches. Kevin is new into his role but is very good and will be helping on all sort of football issues.” Jez approved of Tom Bason’s suggestion that it would be a good idea to have Kevin at a Parliament meeting.
Jeff Bagnall said he represented away season ticket holders and was told by Head of Ticketing and Membership Lynne O’Reardon that the club currently had over 600. “We’ve paid up front and often we get the worst tickets,” he complained. “And there hasn’t been one game yet (before Brighton) that we have sold out on.” He said he would like to think that the ticket might be free next season to those who have been to 10-15 away games in 2012-13 but Jez said that wasn’t going to happen.
In reply to a point from Mark Griffiths, Lynne said that the problems at the Huddersfield game were because of the complete failure of the ticketing server on the morning of the game. It related to hardware the ticket office had had since 2003 and the difficulties were compounded because it was a Family Four game. Jez said a full review had since been carried out but 917 fans had come out of the problems with a good deal.
Jez was asked if there would be redundancies if the club go down and said: “We’re not relegated. Of course we have talked about things and have plans in place. We will have to be smart and watch our wage bill and drive revenues regardless of divisional status. Let’s hope we never go there but we will deal with it if we do – it won’t bust the club.”
Dave Benton again questioned the need for booking fees and Jez repeated his earlier stance that it was standard practice with theatres, for example, and a lot of football clubs. “We will review everything in the summer, though,” he promised. Steve Dalloway pointed to a non-League club where fans paid £13 to stand on an open terrace, compared with an average of £15 paid by season ticket holders at Molineux.“They get a very good deal,” Jez said. “Early bird season tickets saved supporters a total of £1m when they were brought in and they have been running for 12 years. These things are so easily forgotten.” Tom Bason said he was paying £14 to go to Kidderminster Harriers.
Jez was asked if there was any possibility of the Steve Bull Stand being closed in the event of relegation and said: “I’m sure the answer is no. If things were different, that would be the perfect stand to close and rebuild.”
Simon Wade asked if anything could be done to push the anticipated 23,000 crowd up towards capacity for the Burnley game. Jez replied: “We have 15,500 season ticket holders and we have 2,000 visitor seats. You’d hope maybe fans would want to come in and try to help the team, given the predicament. Do they need a price incentive to support the team in such a crucial match? Some fans are not inclined to think positively about Wolves at the moment, we understand their thinking and who can blame them? We are very conscious, having sold early bird tickets, that we shouldn’t run too many ticket promotions at the risk of upsetting those fans. We get letters and emails and fans are feeling very aggrieved at the club’s fall from grace. I still find it incredible that we are where we are. People are feeling disheartened and upset and thinking someone has to be hung for this…..and it’s understandable. About 6,500 season ticket holders have so far decided not to renew for next season and that’s an incredibly high number. We have a long way to go to get back to where we’re all happy.”
Tom Bate felt the pursuit of more season ticket holders can be self-defeating and Jez responded: “We’ve not put adults’ match day prices for the Championship up for six years, nor did we pass on the VAT increase and even in the Premier League season, half the matches were priced at the Championship rates.” Matt said there were regular discussions about how the club could be innovative with price incentives. But Jez added: “We need a team that fans are proud of. Our prices aren’t out of kilter.” Clive Smith pointed out the club had won seven home games this season and four last.
William Thomas referred to how Aston Villa were undertaking a commercial radio campaign, without any price promotion, to boost attendances. “It’s just a message that your team needs you,” he said. Matt said: “We have a limited budget and we have to spend it as wisely as we can. We have targeted messages to our database of fans and don’t think generic mainstream messages are great. It’s not part of our strategy. If we’re winning our games, we are all doing good jobs. If we’re losing, we can’t do anything right.” Jez said the current negativity was partly because of the success the club had had before and the rapid demise to where the team is right now.
Dave Benton said he didn’t think Wolves fans were fickle and it annoyed him when he hears it being said by other Wolves fans; it was a general football thing. Clive Smith said he was hurt to hear Wolves fans chanting about going to Shrewsbury. Steve Dalloway said he had heard from Birmingham’s Hayden Mullins that all visiting clubs played on the fact that fans at Molineux would turn if things didn’t go well for Wolves in the first 20-25 minutes and Steve Phillips asked Jez why is he concerned about what the fans think. Jez responded: “We’re all in this together. We care about the fans. We absolutely want to engage with supporters and want to understand their views. The more we can get on the same page the more we can provide the package everybody wants. And we were there, we had reached the Premier League, we were moving in the right direction. We got relegated and have not given you what we should have on the pitch.” To a comment from the floor that the players don’t care about Wolves, Jez added “The players care but they perhaps care in a different way. Their motivation is different. They are players but professionally, I think, they absolutely care.”
Chris Bate asked for thoughts on what Carl Ikeme did at half-time at the Bristol City match. “He might have won the Player of the Year award but for that,” he argued. Jez replied: “Lots of things happen in dressing rooms and, if we saw them, we’d be horrified. It’s nothing more than their frustrations spilling over.”
Jeff Bagnall relayed a question he had received from another fan about water dripping off the disabled platform on to those near the back of the Stan Cullis Stand. Jez said the club were on to the builders telling them to fix the problem. He asked Steve Dalloway to email any thoughts that it might relate to a leak from the roof so that he could look into the specific issue.
Dave Benton asked what the policy was on transfers. Was it still for young and hungry players, or was there a wish to see more lads come through the Academy? He reflected on the move towards bringing in more foreign players under Stale Solbakken. Jez said: “We are concentrating on trying to develop our own Academy players and some are establishing themselves in the team but this would be addressed in the summer.
Everyone agreed that the immediate focus should be on the next two games and getting behind the team as much as possible. Matt Grayson thanked the Parliament Members for their attendance on the night and for their support.