Official Meeting Minutes
On-field issues dominated Tuesday night’s second Wolves Fans Parliament meeting of the season in Molineux’s International Lounge.
Following an hour’s address by Will Clowes (general manager of Wolves Community Trust), from which minutes will be presented in the next few days, Dave Quarrell kicked off a long football-orientated debated by asking about Steve Morgan’s decision to put the club up for sale. “Why has he really quit the club and do you think it’s acceptable he has disappeared without public comment?” he asked. Chief executive Jez Moxey replied: “That’s a difficult question but the reasons have been explained in detail and I don’t think there’s any need for me to repeat them here. I’m sure there will be an opportunity for him to speak but he hasn’t yet sold the club."
With regard to potential new owners, Clive Smith asked: “Are we approaching people? Is there a price set and how much interest is there?” Jez responded: “The reality is that there are probably only a dozen clubs in the country that are not available. Virtually all others are for sale. We’re in a market where there are so many football clubs up for sale. We have had a fairly large number of approaches....well into double figures. You can whittle that down because of time wasters but there are a handful of serious potential owners. In some cases, we have been pro-active, in some we have been reactive. There have been non-disclosure agreements signed and exchange of information. There is not a plethora of people saying: ‘Here is my cheque.’ Why has it taken so long for Premier League clubs to be sold? We said we wouldn’t make regular comments on this because it was likely to take a long while. However, I’m spending quite a lot of my time on the subject, taking calls at all times of the day and night. We are active. We’re not going to say the price is X, Y or Z. The investment the new owner is likely to make into the club is important as well. An ideal owner is someone who is publicly recognised as having independent wealth, so he or she passes that immediate yet important test.”
The point was made from the floor that the same criteria had been laid out before Steve Morgan took over from Sir Jack Hayward. Jez said he didn’t need to be an apologist for Steve but emphasised that the net spend on players under his ownership had been much higher than fans thought. Parliament chairman Matt Grayson added the reminder that bids had been turned down for Benik Afobe in the last transfer window and Jez spelled out: “Steve Morgan will be the guy who makes the decision (as to who takes over). And it’s not just about money.”
Simon Wade enquired as to whether the whole club, including the properties, were on offer and was told that that was the case. “Along with a 100% shareholding, every asset Wolves has is part of the sale,” Jez added......“training ground, stadium, freehold property like car parks....everything.”
To a point that he had previously said he was saddened but not surprised at the for-sale announcement, Jez was asked to explain whether there had been some hints as to what was coming. “I know what the pressures are of owning and running a club,” he said. “I know what makes him tick.” Mike Clarke said Steve could be temperamental at times and act in the heat of the moment but Jez answered: “He has convinced me he has reached a conclusion he is not going to row back from.”
Roger Phillips wondered whether Sir Jack had left anything in the deeds saying the club couldn’t be sold to a foreigner – a question Jez answered with a ‘No’. Dave Quarrell asked if there had been any contact with the Reuben brothers, owners of Dunstall racecourse. He went on to enquire whether Jez himself might be involved in a consortium and was told: “I would do anything within reason to secure our future. My position is not an impediment to anyone wishing to buy the club. If they want to make me redundant, so be it. Likewise, if they said they are wishing me stay on and do X Y or Z.....then yes, absolutely, I will.”
Richard Perkins spoke of the transfer policy for next month and asked both whether there would be spending and whether Benik Afobe would be sold if there was a £10m bid. Jez responded: “We are currently working to see what we can do in January...that’s the acid test. We thought it was the best thing for the team at the time to refuse to sell Benik but we didn’t seem to get much credit for having done so likewise with refusing to sell Sako last January when we could have. Now, given the position of the club being up for sale, everything has to be up for debate and renewal. We’ll have to think about it very carefully.”
Michelle Turner said she thought short-term loan transfers hadn’t been part of the club’s policy and, after the arrival of Mike Williamson and Grant Holt, asked why there had been a u-turn. Jez said that sort of deal had always been part of the club’s potential armoury.
Mike Clarke expressed the opinion that something must have gone wrong this season with Steve Morgan deciding to sell. “We have spent quite a bit but what have we done?” he asked. “We are floundering in mid-table, playing some absolute dross. If the club go back on selling Afobe, it will destroy so much good will. We were going to build around him. We were one point and one player off the play-offs last season. We had a good solid base.” Matt Grayson asked: “At what point do we get credit for recruiting Afobe?”
Another member said the sale of Richard Stearman had disrupted the fans and another said his departure didn’t add up. Kieran Newey said he was still uncomfortable with it. Dave Benton observed that the side had had three 0-0 draws and were playing more defensively. Jez said: “As a summary opinion, the Sako situation coupled with the Dicko situation coupled with the effect that had on Benik Afobe meant that we have lost the combined effectiveness of our best three players. They were incredibly potent last season as an attacking threesome. We tried to replace Sako with two players ....Sheyi Ojo and Jed Wallace. Due diligence was done on these players. We couldn’t afford to buy, say, a Michail Antonio at £6m because he was lured to the Premier League. Then we lost Nouha Dicko to a bad injury. Those losses are almost impossible to replace but we had already recruited Adam Le Fondre to protect against something like an injury to Nouha. Grant Holt was brought in on loan not to replace Nouha but because we are not very strong physically up front. There has been criticism over the replacement of Sako but that’s what we tried to do and we knew we had Jordan Graham who has been recruited earlier but wasn’t ready at the start of the season. In summary, I think if any other team lost their three best attacking players they too would struggle.”
Clive Smith mentioned the goalkeeper situation and also that of Kevin McDonald (and his contract talks). Jez said it was felt the side needed a bit more strength…“that’s why we spent quite a lot of money on Conor Coady. He is listed as one of those who hasn’t worked but Jack Price, who is one of our home-grown lads, has improved. We don’t think Conor Coady is a negative signing....Jack has just continued to keep him out and after Conor returned from his three match ban he wasn’t quite the same player.”
Mike Clarke asked: “What’s the message to the fans? Where is the accountability?” Tony Grocott added: “We have lost three players including Sako and have replaced him with five who can’t get into the team. You have to look at replacing with better than you have. Somebody is getting it really wrong when half (of the replacements) can’t even get on the bench.” Dave Benton said Grant Holt couldn’t get in Wigan’s team. “We have lost the target man. We have to replace Dicko.....Grant Holt is not the answer,” he added.
Anita Midha believed Afobe was dropping too deep in games. “We have a lot of chances and we’re drawing too many,” she said. Diane Jordan contributed: “Everything we do is slow and methodical. The way the team are playing is down to the Head Coach. We’re playing like when Glenn (Hoddle) was here.” Jez replied: “It’s not for me to comment on why Benik might becomes a midfield player on occasions and takes throw-ins, I don’t know. I can see what you’re saying though and I’m sure Kenny sees it. It’s a good point.” Matt said Benik must have been very frustrated on Saturday because he didn’t score but had at least been in the position to miss chances against MK Dons.
There was acknowledgement from the floor that Jez and Matt were not football staff and opinions voiced to them would make little difference. To a question about what the plan was for January and beyond, because ‘the recruitment process to replace those we have lost hasn’t been convincing’, the chief executive said: “Our football people know that they need to improve our fortunes and our players know they need to be doing more than they are doing. The squad shouldn’t be where it is in the table.” There was a question about whether the profile of transfer targets signed remained the same – something Jez replied to by saying: “The players are mostly exactly that....young and hungry. People say we are suddenly going off track by signing Grant on loan but he has been brought in because we wanted a different type of player and he’s not particularly expensive. To be banged over the head with Grant Holt as an example of a supposed u-turn on our recruitment policy is unfortunate.”
In response to a question from Tom Bason about how much losing (head of recruitment) Stuart Webber had affected the club, Jez said: “He was a valuable member of staff and I was sad to see him leave.” Simon Wade wanted to know what would happen if QPR made an approach for Kenny Jackett and who would make that decision. Jez said: “Ken has said that Wolverhampton Wanderers is not a place you leave voluntarily.....you only leave when someone tells you to. There has been no approach for him and an approach would not be welcomed.”
After Michelle Turner had pointed out that her youngsters were head over heels with Dominic Iorfa signing a new deal that she described as ‘the best news’, Dave Benton observed: “We have brought in nine players in the last two years. The idea is to strengthen the team. Two started on Saturday, two were on the bench and five were not considered. It seems there is some dislocation between recruitment and the head coach. There seem to be strange things going on.” Jez said: “Players not hitting the ground running is not just a Wolverhampton Wanderers issue. They are young players....every player signing is a risk. George Saville is now starring for Millwall, gaining valuable experience.” He added that that option was best with fringe players who weren’t considered good enough for the Championship yet.
Jez felt there was always a desire to see someone hung out to dry when results were disappointing. Richard Green responded: “It’s not that. We saw a level of success last season and we can’t understand why we are slipping down alarmingly rather than kicking on.” The chief executive continued: “As I said earlier, if you lose your best three players and you can’t just click your fingers to solve that.” Richard Green added: “We had a degree of stability.....why change other areas?” Jez said: “Our football people thought we needed added competition for the goalkeeper area. A fit Emiliano Martinez is a very good keeper and so is Carl Ikeme. It’s about competition for places and getting Emi in was thought to be a good thing to do.” Richard felt he just seemed to be put in for the sake of it.
Chris Bate pointed out that there had been some booing of decisions on Saturday and asked what might happen to Kenny Jackett if things didn’t go well over the next six or eight weeks. Jez replied: “Kenny Jackett retains our utmost confidence.”
Hilary Clews wondered whether the club had lost some of the dressing-room camaraderie and asked: “Is that Afobe's fault? Shouldn’t we let him go?” Jez said: “Losing Dicko and Sako has taken something away from Benik, who hasn’t had the same output yet as last season. Kenny is trying to find the combination that works. No-one is saying the season has gone well so far but we’ve played 18 games of a 46 game season.” Matt Grayson added a reminder that Benik had still scored eight goals in 2015-16 and was fourth highest marksman in the Championship charts.
Mike Clarke said he considered it ‘appalling’ that the club didn’t replace Sako. “That and selling Stearman when we did has railroaded our season,” he added. Steve Phillips suggested: “Our expectations are high because you have you said you expect us to be top six every season (in this division). It doesn’t give much room for encouragement when you look at the players we have recruited. I’m not sure the squad is good enough this season or next for the top six.” Roger Phillips remarked: “We seem to be just accumulating players. They are not good enough. I think Coady has been awful.” Julian Dent said: “Stearman’s sale left us with no cover. It was crazy.” Matt replied: “The guys behind the decisions watch training every day and see 360 degrees. We only see 180 degrees.”
Greg Asbury said he thought the club were ‘mainly missing a Dicko, who is strong at holding the ball up.’ “I hope that's the position we are most looking at in January,” he added. Dave Benton asked whether Benik Afobe was following instructions in the way he was playing or doing what he felt like. Jez responded: “Star players are given a certain amount of leeway and he says he sometimes wants to come back and get more of the ball.” Dave felt the side had to have someone who could run the channels.
Jez said in answer to a point from Steve Phillips that the transfer market had changed considerably in the last 12 months, so players who were worth £2m are now considered to be worth £5m. “Buying players with power and pace is very expensive. It seems that when any Championship club finds such a player he is quickly sold to the Premier League for a lot of money, just like Michail Antonio – he was sold for £6m and is a right footed left winger.”
Jez also felt he had hoped Parliament meetings would bring club staff and fans closer together but thought some sessions, sometime, might appear as if it left the two parties further apart. Tony Grocott raised a laugh when he said: “We must be doing something right because we're 15th in the League and we’re on TV every week.”
Sheila Ordidge moved the debate away from purely playing matters when she said one fan near her was now unable to get to a home game until January 16, partly because of TV scheduling. She asked whether there was any chance of a refund and was told ‘no’ because the club had no say in TV dates. “It’s a massive frustration but not something we can do anything about,” he said. Anita Midha said she might miss eight matches a season because she couldn’t get there after work but she would still buy her season ticket “because I’m a Wolves fan.” To a question from Tom Bason about whether the club were recompensed for switched matches, Jez said: “Yes but probably not as much as we lose through it.”
Dave Quarrell asked what the club’s position was over the Twenty’s Plenty campaign given that it was felt loyal away fans were ripped off with prices at Ipswich recently. Jez said: “It is a national Supporter Federation campaign that I think has a lot of merit especially for Premier League clubs. But I doubt it will get anywhere. Although it’s laudable because TV money dwarfs gate receipts in the Premier League and those clubs could afford such a campaign but Football League clubs couldn’t.”
Adam Thompson questioned the justice of pricing levels when he said: “We are likely to charge Ipswich fans £24 here and we had to pay up to £37 there.” Jez said: “Every club has its own business.....you can’t charge visiting fans more than home fans for the same sort of seat. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. But do I think it’s extortionate? Absolutely.” Mike Clarke said: “You should do something collectively. If you don't, you are out of touch.” Tony Grocott said it would hit fans, not clubs, if Wolves retaliated and raised prices themselves.
Julian Dent was asked by the absent Jeff Bagnall to point out that a friend had considered the money he had spent in having his lad as a mascot was the best £250 he had ever handed over. Julian also pointed out that a recent fault with the LED advertising boards had caused a problem for a supporter who had a type of epilepsy.
Matt Grayson promised to check out a complaint from Ian Smith that Scott Golbourne’s choice of under-shirt made him look ‘a right scruff’ – this after the subject had been discussed at the last meeting.
Steve Phillips asked what the criteria had been for deciding the Championship Chief Executive (and Chairman) of the Year award after it was won recently by Jez. Matt pointed out that it was a straight democratic vote amongst fellow Chief Executives in the game. Jez added that it was announced as part of a Football Business awards dinner. Steve said he thought the Club should have done more to promote such news at the time of the announcement. Matt responded by saying it was in the matchday programme and added “Our marketing team also won the award for the best marketing campaign with our ‘Enjoy the Ride’ promotion.”
Kerry Harris brought up an old subject by saying she was concerned by the persistent standing of fans in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand, especially when it meant young children were risking injury by standing on seats because they otherwise couldn’t see. “Is there anything that can be done?” she asked. Jez responded: “It’s a really serious question that we have grappled with for years. I think the majority are happy with what they now have....a stand they stand up in.”
Dave Quarrell asked how Wolves had voted on the safe-standing issue early in 2014 and was told by Matt: “We voted on seeing a pilot scheme to see some data. That’s why we are interested in what is happening at Celtic (with their planned trial).”
To a question from Anita Midha about whether there were any plans to refurbish the Steve Bull Stand, Jez said: “Not yet. We have other priorities. The stadium is fit for purpose.”
Keith Bickley said “A few of us came to a meeting with Ryan McKnight. Was it useful? Jez responded “Ryan carried out some market research for the Club. It’s created some good food for thought and we are currently giving his report due consideration.”
Tony Grocott earned a round of applause at the end of the meeting by saying that his son had recently been in hospital for a serious operation and pointed out that when the club heard about this, they invited both to a VIP meal in the restaurant in the Stan Cullis Stand. “We have a great club and they DO care,” he said.
A detailed insight into the varied and valuable workings of the Wolves Community Trust was given to Fans Parliament members when this week's second meeting of the season at Molineux was attended by its general manager Will Clowes.
Will, who has been at the club since 2002 and in his current role for around seven years, spoke for an hour, explaining at the start that the trust was an independent registered charity, run separately from the club.
Prior to its inception, a Football in the Community department had been run at Molineux for ten years, with charitable status acquired for the current organisation in 2002.
Innovative new projects and engagement with the local community in football and other activities were cited by Will as key aims, along with the desire to involve as many people as possible in the work programmes. Free office space and I.T. is provided at Molineux by the club, so all money raised by the trust went into the projects. A board of trustees includes three club representatives – Jez Moxey as chairman, Richard Skirrow and Matt Grayson – and three from outside, with meetings taking place bi-monthly.
“I also sit in on the meetings at the Morgan Foundation and the Youth Zone in Wolverhampton, which is due to open in January," Will said.
"There is a lot of involvement from senior staff here. I see Steve Morgan at his Foundation meetings and he sends a representative to our board meetings, so he's acutely aware of everything we do. With his announcement (about the club's sale), it is important we build on the platform laid by him.”
Wolves were said to be set apart from other clubs due to direct involvement in all of WCT’s work from the CEO and the Chairman. "Every club has a charitable trust of some capacity but we all operate differently and have different objectives," Will said. "We are in a small group of clubs which has a very good relationship.....it's part of our DNA.
“We are based here in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand and staff are part of the football staff team. We are self-funded and self-financed, with a £1m turnover per annum. We have small fund-raising activities and we are dependent on external income from partners, funders, donations and the success of our commercial activities. ”
Forty six projects have been delivered into the community by the trust, which has a 120-strong team of staff, whether full-time, casual or volunteer. Fifteen sports are catered for and around 200 sports sessions per week are organised around Wolverhampton every week as schools activities, curriculum PE, and breakfast and lunch clubs, plus after-school, evening and weekend provision that allows further access to sport.
Will also spoke of an Olympic legacy programme to promote minority sports such as table tennis, judo, netball and handball, and of representative teams and 92 registered female footballers. "We had contact last year with 89 per cent of Wolverhampton's primary, secondary and special schools," he added.
As part of the trust's occasional work abroad – it has had a presence in Africa, China, India, Germany and Cyprus in the last six months and worked with the Foreign Office and British Consul – Will was prompted by Jez to relate to the meeting the news that Laura Nicholls was recently in Jordan in her work as a coach educator (the only one for the Premier League) tutoring female coaches in a Syrian refugee camp. "She's one of the most qualified coaches in the country," Jez said. Will added: "She's unique in our team. She is from Nottingham but graduated from university here."
The wide range of sport on offer goes hand in hand with the trust's health portfolio, which includes a diabetes education programme, supported by the NHS. "We encourage people to be more active," Will added. "We also operate a Nordic walking programme – all done round West Park. It's a question of encouraging behavioural change through sport."
Parliament chairman Matt Grayson pointed out that other charities in football leaned more on Football League or Premier League money, without focussing on the importance of local partnerships and relationships. Will said the trust had to be adaptable to the needs of the city and couldn't work in isolation. Working with partners was essential, including in the programmes aimed at those most at risk from lapsing into anti-social behaviour. "We help them gain qualifications and training," Will said. "With our Inclusion work we deliver workshops around drug abuse, alcohol abuse, smoking, sexually transmitted infections. It doesn't always work but we have a responsibility to engage them and make a difference. We're not the experts in these fields but we can introduce them to experts."
The meeting went on to hear that the trust had many partnerships, including with Wolverhampton City Council., City of Wolverhampton College and The University of Wolverhampton. The charity benefits from a bespoke study centre at the back of the Sir Jack Hayward Stand. "We have degree students volunteering back to our work and 250 unemployed adults have gained qualifications since 2010. We make our donations through Wolves Aid and no other club makes such sizeable donations regularly to its local community. We have given over £900,000 to small local charities since 2008, funded 25 local charity worker salaries, supported 12 capital build projects, donated four specially adapted vehicles and supported 145 charities. We even fund the fuel for the vehicle taking blood round the city for emergency use."
Will described the list as endless and said it set Wolves apart from other clubs. Jez said Wolves were supported more by the Premier League (excluding the recently relegated clubs), as a result of all the activities, than any other club in the Championship or lower. And Matt made it clear the trustees went out and visited all Wolves Aid related projects. "We're not just cheque givers," he said. Wolves' players also actively work on some projects with us and tell staff of their enjoyment in helping out.
From the floor, Dave Quarrell said he had seen an 'anti' thread saying the club didn't engage in the community enough and added: "Perhaps you have been too modest in not getting the word out about your work." Will replied: "We have a website, Twitter feed and four pages in every match programme. But we can't take over important club news.....there are other things fans would rather read about." Jez said the thread was another example of people not knowing everything the club did because the trust's work was clouded by the main (on-field) activities the club were known for. "It is good news but not necessarily the sort many people want to hear," the chief executive said. "The club does so much more than people realise." Matt pointed out that Steve Morgan had put £1m into the new youth zone - 'an incredible facility' - in another act of strong community mindedness.
Dave Benton asked how much coverage such work was given by the Express & Star to the trust's activities but Jez conceded that the newspaper wouldn't pick up such stories day after day. "We're not doing it to gain recognition," he said. "We are not in a popularity contest." As an example of an enduring partnership, Will pointed out: "We have a 20-year relationship with Paycare, who sponsor our disabled lounge in the Stan Cullis Stand. It offers free drinks, is open to away fans and also offers a view of the pitch."
Pat Stokes said she had been on a recent stadium tour and the disabled lounge was not included – a point Matt acknowledged by saying it was from now on. Pat was told by Will that a newsletter went out from the trust as well but print costs always had to be monitored carefully as it was challenging to raise the £1m a year needed to finance the trust. Tom Bason asked how linked the Morgan Foundation was with the trust and was informed by Will that it represented a high proportion of the money donated, with Steve Morgan having given it a major injection of cash. "He donates £5m to charities in the north west and we get money from him directly," he said. Jez added: "We hope a new owner will see the importance on community work that we see – if not improve on what we already do."
Greg Asbury enquired as to how charity events could help the trust and was promised a warm welcome by Will to any fund-raising ideas, with a volunteer programme in place. He also highlighted the fact that next season marked the 25th anniversary of community-related projects, so big fund-raising activities would be planned.
Niall Ennis was given as an example of a lad who had been involved in WCT activities at Aldersley from the age of six and was now a talented young player in his late teens and still at Wolves. Released Academy lads were also welcomed back to help with or partake in the various programmes the trust is involved with.
Jez hoped Parliament members would now better appreciate some of the less publicised work the club was engaged in and said the meeting should clear up some misunderstanding. "Fans castigated us for charging for entrance to the museum when we opened it," he said. "It cost a seven-figure sum to build it and we did it as a way of celebrating the history of the club – for the benefit of school engagement, player recruitment or whatever. It is one of barely half a dozen football club museums in the country and we were accused of trying to profiteer from it.
That depressed me greatly. It would be nice for more people to know more of what we do here other than on the pitch." With reference to another needy group in the community, Matt said the Molineux Memories feature was proving helpful for dementia sufferers.