Steve Morgan was on the top table at Molineux on Wednesday night as fans were able to follow the latest Wolves Fans’ Parliament meeting online for the first time.
The Chairman was joined by Chief Executive Jez Moxey, Club Secretary Richard Skirrow, Head of Ticketing and Membership Lynne O’Reardon and Parliament Chairman Matt Grayson in answering questions both from those present and from bloggers. Director John Gough and Stadium Manager Steve Sutton were also in attendance.
Tom Bate kicked off by saying he feared the club had made a rod for its own back through the early-bird scheme and asked whether it really needed to be operated this year. Lynne O’Reardon said it was seen as absolutely essential that it continued and Jez added. “It’s a great package and the vast majority buy through early bird, so we felt we had to run with it. We are acutely aware of the spectre of relegation, though, and we will offer an appropriate rebate if we’re a League One team.”
Jeff Bagnall said a lot of those fans who bought in March last year felt aggrieved that they had no benefit over those who renewed when it was subsequently reopened. To a question by Kieran Newey about how sales were, Lynne replied: “Sluggish. They always start slowly. Pay day is significant there will be a clearer picture next week.”
Dave Benton told the meeting he had recently put forward a lengthy pricing proposal based on loyalty. He was told by Jez that this was an area under consideration but the club didn’t yet have the technology to administrate it. Steve Phillips said he thought the early bird needed to continue and Simon Wade was reassured that any rebate would make it cheaper than a summer renewal.
As the debate switched to on-field matters, a question received online asked how many managers had been considered following the sacking of Ståle Solbakken and wondered why the club had opted for one who was relegated last season. Steve Morgan said: “Very unjustly, we took a hell of a lot of stick over the time we took last year, when we looked at a lot of managers, maybe eight or nine. It was like a media frenzy and there was not a stand-out candidate. We gave Terry (Connor) a chance and it didn’t work. I know Dean Saunders and I know the chairman of Wrexham. The chairman rang me and said you should look at him, he’s a fantastic manager. I had references from his last two bosses and they said he was the best young manager in football. If he’s guilty of anything, he’s almost too enthusiastic and I still feel he will get us out of the situation we’re in.”
To an enquiry from Clive Smith about why the club hadn’t done more in the transfer window, Steve said Dean had needed to assess what he had. “Some players were not available or the demands were outrageous,” he said. “With the emergency loan system, the end of January is not a total deadline and we’ve since brought in two players. And we may yet bring in another one. How many times have we read January is the worst time to buy? Everybody wants to keep their best players.” Clive said he feared the club were running out of time.
Owen Hughes asked whether only one man had been considered for the manager’s post and enquired as to observations on his performance so far. Steve said: “Yes, he was the only one interviewed.” Owen continued: “Was his CV that good?” Steve replied: “Well, it’s not his CV. It’s what his two chairmen said….he left Wrexham at the top of their table and also Doncaster.” Matt Grayson said there had been no lack of due diligence by the club.
Greg Asbury asked who from the club actually met a manager and was told that it was Steve, Jez and Kevin Thelwell (Head of Football Development and Recruitment). Richard Skirrow said there was already quite a North Wales/ Welsh influence at the training ground through the likes of Steve Weaver, Pat Mountain and Kevin and that Dean was known to them. Steve said: “I spoke to several people involved with Wales (where Dean had been assistant manager).” To more critical fans, Steve added: “It sounds like you’re hanging him….he has been here for eight games and we all know they have turned on a blatant miss, a ball that hit the bar at Barnsley and left us asking ‘did it cross the line or not’? Let’s see what happens. He has been here a matter of weeks.”
Steve was asked whether he was open to offers of long-term investment and replied: “There are no end of jokers who (only) talk a good game but if anyone seriously wanted to invest, I would listen and talk to them. We have the second highest cost structure in this division and, if it’s a question of money, we should be in the top two. It’s not just a question of throwing money at it. It’s value for money and, clearly, we’re not getting value for money at the moment.” Jez said the club would always have been interested in talking to investors.
Dave Benton said the approach to Dean seemed to have been made on the night of the Luton game and enquired about the time frame. Jez said the board made the decision following the Luton tie. Steve said: “I spoke to the chairman of Doncaster that night. It wasn’t a snap decision. There was tension in the dressing room and the results were dreadful.” He added that Stale’s appointment had on paper been ‘an inspired choice.’ “His record was impeccable but the culture change was like oil and water,” he added. Jez said he had an outstanding football brain but it wasn’t translating into results.
Steve Phillips asked who was advising on Stale’s appointment because it was ‘left field’ and ‘another mistake.’ He continued: “Will Dean keep his job if we go down?” Steve responded: “Obviously, we’re not going to go into that one. We speak to people in the game.” Steve Phillips asked who was responsible for the culture of the club because he felt Dean was already talking about that in the press. Richard Skirrow said: “Dean had a belief in the quality of the players. A lot of them are still the good group of players we had in 2008-09.”
To a question about whether the investment in the new stand had cost the club players, Steve said £73m had been spent on players in transfer and loan fees since he came here. “We’ve received £37m, so that’s a net £36m spend and puts us in the top spending clubs in five years.” Jez said the club had at one point brought seven players in and three had come in during the summer following the escape at the Blackburn match. “We were expecting the team to perform a lot better than we did after signing those three, although that’s not necessarily down to those particular players. You wouldn’t have expected us to get worse but, unfortunately, we did.” He also said some of the sales had been forced on the club and the injury to Emmanuel Frimpong last winter after the window shut was very unfortunate and hurt the team.
A fan following proceedings online said Dean’s post-match comments had caused some to lose faith in him already. Matt Grayson said it wasn’t easy for a manager to speak to the media within a few minutes of the end of a game. “I don’t agree and I’m sure you don’t agree with every word,” he said. Jez added: “We do like to hang people out to dry for saying things that are out of the ordinary. That’s the tapestry of the game. We all have opinions. And Dean is following Stale who was outstanding with the media.
William Thomas agreed that some of Dean’s comments didn’t necessarily put him in a great light and asked whether he was being given media training and support to ‘stop him making the same mistakes.’ Matt said: “We are giving him a lot of support but he’s not wet behind the ears. It comes down to the fact we’re losing games and that sets the agenda. We get a fair hearing but if you lose consistently, unfortunately the media reports are going to be written in a different way.”
Daniel Cartwright was puzzled as to why the club’s wage bill was so high given that they were said to have behaved so prudently. He asked why the squad was so big. Steve Morgan made the point that Ronald Zubar had gone because Wolves had four right-backs and he said the same logic applied as to why Richard Stearman went out on loan. “We have too many players,” he admitted. “Forget the money side…..if you have idle hands, it’s not good.” Jez said the club always liked to support their managers and added: “If we get relegated, we’re not going to strip everything out. We’re beside ourselves with where we are but we’ll try to use our financial might to get back. There’s still a Premier League hangover we are trying to shed.”
Kieran Newey commented: “We’re looking relegation in the face. What are you both going to do about it? We’re putting our hard-earned money in and there’s not a lot of reason for fans to dish out. I’ve just lost my job. We’re looking for you two for answers.” Jez replied: “I am sorry about your job but we’re doing everything in our power to support the football side. That’s all we can do. I’ll continue to give every sinew of energy I have; first to stay in the Championship, so we can regroup and have better times.” Steve Morgan said he’d had two and a half hours sleep the night before the meeting. “Lots of people are questioning my commitment,” he said. “Ask my wife how many times one or the other of us sleeps in a spare room because I’m tossing and turning. And it’s only worrying about Wolves.” Richard Skirrow said he couldn’t begin to imagine life at Wolves in League One. “We’re all embarrassed by where we are,” he added. “I’d like to put on record what a great guy Ståle was and he was considered one of the bright young things of European coaching. That’s why he got the job at Cologne. His key frustration was the loss of Steven Fletcher so late in the window. We haven’t got good guys who have just gone bad. We have guys who are capable of producing much better on the pitch than we are seeing.”
Andy James said his son had been very disappointed after attending the Barnsley game and he himself had questioned whether the Cardiff match had been worth the cost of travelling from Bridgnorth. He criticised ‘the Irish contingent, who used to bust a gut’ and asked: “Are the players demoralised or just not interested? If you’re paying them the money you say you are, why aren’t they doing better?” Jez replied: “They are lacking a bit of confidence and that’s why Dean says we need to get a win, even a lucky one.”
A remark was made about the Chairman having said he never wanted to be in that position again after the club had survived at the Blackburn game on the last day. Jez said: “We have to be realistic about what we have. If you don’t think £36 or £37m net spend is enough, I’m sorry.” Richard Skirrow added: “A lot of people think Mick should have been thanked for his efforts and we should have looked elsewhere (after the Blackburn game). But we had beaten a number of top teams and then started the next season very well. The transfer window closed before that season unravelled.” Jez pointed out that we lived in a blame culture.
Tom Bason asked whether there was a clear strategy from the top to take the club forward. “Like Swansea and, I hate to say it, Albion,” he added. “What is the strategy for the next three or four years to build the club up again?” Steve Morgan said unearthing home-grown players was important. “That’s why we’re spending so much on the Academy,” he said. “We have invested in two young players this season who we see as potential Premier League players. The problem is they’re not helping us this year, or next, or possibly the year after. But we have to generate our own players, like David Davis and Danny Batth.” Jez said the ‘young and hungry’ tag had been very identifiable at the club over recent years and had worked. “Our strategy is to win, however we do it,” he said. “Get the right balance between young and experienced, and players in their prime. I don’t want to be facing fans who are disenchanted. I want to win. We have a Category 1 license for three years for the Academy and we plan to stick to it.”
Greg Asbury asked where the profits had gone, plus the cash balance. “Has it all been eaten up?” he said. Steve Morgan said the club’s financial year finished at the end of May, by which point a lot of season ticket money was in. “The cash in then gets spent on wages,” he continued. “That spare cash is just advance payment for money that goes out over the next 12 months. I didn’t grasp it either when I first came here. I heard there was £6m or £7m debt – but then all that money goes out.” Jez said a club’s accounts only really meant much when looked at over about three to five years. Richard Skirrow said the turnover had gone down from £60m to about £30m for this season, with the drop mostly because of lost TV money. “The wage bill doesn’ t drop anything like that amount,” he said. “You go from profitable to hugely unprofitable.” The Chairman interjected: “I hear Steve Morgan is taking money from the Steven Fletcher sale and putting it into Redrow. Give me strength! Even if I wanted to do it, I couldn’t because we are a public company. The money has been used to stop a £6m loss becoming a £12m, £13m or £14m loss.”
Kevin Groombridge asked about the possibility of another signing and was told by Jez that the club were doing everything possible to give Dean help. Steve said: “We’re looking for two players. One Premier League player wouldn’t come. Bringing players in to make a difference is very difficult.”
Dave Benton said he interpreted some of Dean Saunders’ comments as meaning he was struggling to motivate players and asked whether the club had thought about bringing a mentor in, like Kevin Keegan or John Toshack. “Dean doesn’t have much experience at this level,” he added. “Dougie Freedman has Lennie Lawrence with him at Bolton.” Jez said the club would be open-minded if that was what Dean wanted. Steve Phillips referred to the culture of the club and Jez answered: “Stale was brought in to change the playing style, not the culture.”
Julian Dent said he had heard a Dean Saunders interview on radio yesterday in which the manager spoke about the possibility of relegation. The presenter had made the point Wolves fans would be worried after hearing that. Greg Asbury said fans wanted answers from the top, not spin. Steve Morgan said: “The last time I gave an interview, it was spun out and I didn’t recognise what I’m supposed to have said. When that happens, you get to the point where it’s not worth saying anything and I think Dean is suffering from that too.”
A fan online asked Steve what he had hoped to achieve by going into the dressing room after the Liverpool game last season and was told: “Nothing. I was just so brassed off and had to let some steam out. The one result that had me fuming was losing to them. I thought the body language when the players came off……they were happy to swap shirts after we had been hammered. I was fuming.” Frank Parkes asked: “What’s wrong with being a Liverpool fan?” Steve later said that he had grown up a Liverpool fan but had not looked on the club in the same way since his attempt to buy the club a decade ago had failed. Steve Phillips said: “I think the fans like seeing the passion. You get stick for being too distant.”
Another question online was directed to asking Steve what he felt his biggest mistake was and whether he felt the need to apologise. The reply was forthright. “Yes, I feel apologetic for where we are. It’s crap, horrible. My wife is very supportive but is giving me hell for the amount of time I’m giving to the club. I’m sorry to her and my family and to the fans. I’m sorry we’re in the position we’re in. I haven’t made any decisions that I didn’t think were right at the time. Judging with hindsight is the easiest thing in the world. We could have saved £18m by not building the stand but people thought that was a good idea and we’ve thrown away more than that on transfers.
William Thomas said there was talk of some kind of protest outside the ground before the Watford game. “Can you make any messages to avoid that and stop it being played out on Sky?” he asked. Simon Wade said the result against Watford would determine the mood. Steve said: “What do they want to achieve? Do they think we’re not trying? If they want to drive me out, I’ll go. What’s in it for me? All I’m doing in is pouring money in. Even if we win the Championship next year, we’re going to lose an absolute fortune.” Matt Grayson said: “Of course players have been rightly booed at times but I think the way our fans have backed the team has been fantastic.” Jez agreed: I think the fans have been magnificent given the results over the last 18 months and, let’s be honest, nobody could blame them if they wanted to show their dissatisfaction with some kind of demonstration. But I think they have been fantastic. If you want to boo, save it till half-time or full-time and they have done that.” Steve added: “If there are 25,000 out there protestingwhat does it achieve? I couldn’t be any more brassed off. I couldn’t be more unhappy. It’s a cloud over my life. I feel very frustrated with this football club. I wish I could put a shirt on and get on there but that wouldn’t help!” Julian Dent said he felt booing any players was wrong.
To a question about whether Jez’s salary had been reduced since relegation – and whether he was worthy of it in the first place – the Chief Executive said: “Yes, I earn more in the Premier League and the cut is over 50 per cent in terms of my remuneration; a higher cut than anyone else in the club. As to whether I justify it, someone else needs to answer that.” Steve called him ‘a professional guy who gives it 100 per cent. “This guy’s the best,” he said. “In terms of professionalism I meet all the chief execs in this league and the Premier League and this guy is the best. Nobody understands the game and the processes like Jez does. He is the toughest guy on the planet in terms of buying and selling players. People love to hate him but let me tell you – he is one of the respected guys in football.”
Simon Wade believed that part of the squad was ‘bloated with Premier League excess’ and some players hadn’t got the hunger to get back there. “I think the players have a lot to answer for,” he added. “It’s time to move some on because they patently aren’t worth it anymore.” Steve said: “We have 12 games left, so the last thing we should be doing is demotivate because we need them.” He did say to Hilary Clews, though, that these minutes would be fed back to the dressing room. She said the side needed leadership qualities. Ian Smith said he thought everyone in the room respected the answers given.
Frank Parkes said the club were too slow to recognise that certain players weren’t good enough for what was required. “These are the players who got you where you are,” he said. “Are they going to save you now? I don’t think so?” Steve Morgan responded by saying the squad had to get the self confidence and motivation to deliver. “We have players who should be pushing at the other end. The fire, passion.……that’s what’s missing. It isn’t the ability.” Matt Grayson repeated that there were 12 games left, with 36 points available, and concentrating on staying up was what mattered.
Steve Parkes asked the Chairman why he had invested in the club in the first place. “What was in it for you and have you bitten off more than you can chew? Have you got a time schedule and an exit strategy?” Steve replied: “I came here to a match and got ‘nobbled’ by Jez and John Gough and others. It has been a terrible 18 months but if you go back before then, we missed out on the play-offs by one goal, in the second year we won the title, then we stayed in the Premier League for three seasons. Do I regret coming here? No. I’m at a loss as to where we go, to the same extent as everybody else in the room. I haven’t got an exit plan. I just don’t have one. But if I feel I’m not wanted, I’ll go.”
Asked online by a fan whether this sort of meeting had been held with the players, Steve said: “No. The one thing we can’t do is undermine the manager. We have to back him.” Roger Phillips followed up: “So when you went in the dressing room, did you undermine Mick?” Steve said: “I don’t know. We won the next match.” Another supporter asked whether there was a conflict for Steve between Wolves and Redrow and was told: “No.”
Kevin Groombridge asked what would happen if the ‘unthinkable’ came to pass. “Do they get a further drop in pay or do we carry those horrible salaries down?” Steve said: “It’s up to us to make sure we don’t get into a tail spin. The contracts were done when we were in the Premier League and there was no question or thought about going into League One. None of the contracts take that into account.” The Chairman reminded the meeting about the impending Financial Fair Play regulations and said transfer embargoes would be placed on clubs who made sizeable losses. He said fans should bear that in mind when they kept urging the appearance of the cheque book. Tom Bate asked whether the situation could have been addressed when there was interest in players in January and Jez replied: “Yes but the manager didn’t want to do it. Unless we had someone that was better, why would we let them go? Most clubs would have sold one or two but we felt we were better with them.” Asked online how much time had Dean got and as to when his position became untenable, Steve said: “Obviously, I’m not going to answer that.”
Greg Asbury asked if the club were going to be able to hang on to their best players and was told by Steve: “I’ve no idea because, like Jez, I was pretty determined we were going to hang on to Fletcher, Jarvis, Kightly. You can only hang on for so long when you have player power. If they want to go, that’s the world we live in…..
Tom Bason said supporters were getting fed up of hearing players say the club were too good to go down. Jez remarked that the media had column inches and air time to fill and went on to tell Keith Bickley that the relationship with the Express & Star was good. “We co-exist pretty well,” he said. “I think we’re a little too sensitive when we are criticised.” Steve said he was shocked with how quickly transfer stories tended to leak.
As the debate moved to off-field matters, Chris Bate asked Steve whether he was happy with the new stand and Dennis Green said those in the front row of the disabled area regularly got soaked with water blowing off the roof. Steve: “I hadn’t heard that. If we have a design issue, we’ll definitely look into it. That shouldn’t happen. The architects we’ve used have done more stadia than any other architect.”
Lynne O’Reardon reminded those present of the many cut-price initiatives the club had operated with ticket prices this season after Jeff Bagnall said he felt there was a danger of the club losing a generation of fans. He proposed the idea of youngsters being admitted for a fiver to an alcohol-free area. Jez said: “Half the price and double the attendance sounds great in theory but it doesn’t work.” In answer to a question, he also discounted the idea of The Liquidator being reintroduced. “We’d all like to have it back but the response is that we’re a family club,” he said. Steve Phillips said Chelsea was the best away day because they still played it. Kevin Groombridge said something needed to be done to improve the atmosphere. Jez asked: “Do the South Bank want to be given bits and pieces to hold up when they are feeling the way they are? The best atmospheres are self-generated by supporters, not artificially so by the clubs.” Steve Phillips said it was important just to get the ground full – a point Jez countered by saying: “A team that wins will drive attendances.”
Kieran Newey was keen on the idea of drums in the stadium and Matt Grayson said there had been a trial of an England-type band but it proved unpopular. Matt Pearce asked about flags in the ground and was told by Steve: “Bring them. If they are blocking a view, I can understand it (opposition) but I generally support it. Anything that generates atmosphere…….flags, noise.” Matt Pearce said he had been refused entry with a flag but Steve Sutton insisted the club hadn’t banned them.
Matt said there had been accusations of the questions being screened at such meetings but asked which other clubs would allow supporters to quiz the Chairman, Chief Executive and other senior staff in this fashion. Jez added: “Some people are saying we’re being dismissive and have not answered questions properly? Have we body-swerved any questions?” Kevin Groombridge replied: “Apart from the manager question, everything has been answered.” Matt Pearce said he applauded the people from the club for answering questions. Steve Morgan said: “I wasn’t looking forward to this but I’m glad I came. The questions have been searching and demanding. They are the sort I’d have asked if I were you. I hope the sensible fans realise we’ve answered them truthfully and sincerely and we’re all in this together. Do I want to see a demonstration? Do I hell. Turning on our own is not the way to do it. Everyone knows that where we are is unacceptable but let’s get together and fight our way through the next 12 matches.”
Steve Phillips said every Parliament member had received an email before last night’s meeting saying they would be failing in their duty if they didn’t express a vote of no-confidence in those running the club. Jeff Bagnall said: “There have been a lot of new members on here and everybody was saying how open it was and their views had changed. That has continued tonight.”
There was a round of applause when proceedings came to a close after three hours.