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Fans Parliament Minutes April 2015

Official Meeting Minutes

Wolves Fans' Parliament members were accommodated in the Hayward Suite in the Billy Wright Stand for their final meeting of the season on Wednesday night.

The proceedings kicked off with Parliament Chairman Matt Grayson referring back to previous discussion topics, such as guests for future get-togethers. He said there was a possibility of a senior player attending and Kenny Jackett is likely to make a re-appearance. Will Clowes (Wolves Community Trust General Manager) is pencilled in for early next season.

With the curtains open, members could see the scaffolding in place between the two levels of the Steve Bull Stand, where a new scoreboard should be operating for the final Sky Bet Championship home game a week on Saturday. Matt pointed out that that project arose from an idea put forward by the Parliament. Another recently raised issue was that of entrances to toilets in the same stand being blocked because fans congregated there to watch the TVs. Matt said the sets had been placed there deliberately at such a height as to require fans to step away to watch them and free up space. “There has been some calculation,” he said, “but we will keep monitoring the problem.”

The club also thanked Reverend David Wright and Supporter Liaison Officer Paul Richards for pulling together the latest fans' memorial service, which has been held now for several years.

Before taking questions raised by members, Matt made the point that the club remained completely focused on trying to reach the play-offs. At his side, Chief Executive Jez Moxey said he had had a meeting at the training ground yesterday with Kenny Jackett and the mood, despite a lengthening of the odds, had been that any player who did not believe a top-six finish was still possible ‘need not get on the bus to Wigan at the weekend’. “It's not over,” he said.

Dave Benton agreed by saying: “I don't think anyone here thinks it's over. We all know it's hard but no-one thinks it's impossible.” But he asked: “Why have we failed to make use of the loan market, which was used by most of our rivals with significant results. Brentford and Derby have had a total of 56 goals from loan players. We have had one.” Jez replied by saying that the club had repeatedly tried to bring certain players in temporarily, once more citing the examples of how Wolves had got close to signing Patrick Bamford and Jesse Lingard, only for one to move from Chelsea to Middlesbrough because of the close relationship between Jose Mourinho and Aitor Karanka and the other to choose Derby instead. “(Jonny) Williams and Chris Wood were two other players we were close to getting but both decided to go to Ipswich, with Williams having been on loan there before,” Jez added.

Dave Benton said he thinks a club of Wolves’ size should be able to outmuscle Brentford and described the need for someone to come in when Nouha Dicko was out in November as obvious. Jez responded: “We have a clear strategy ....we want to give opportunities to our academy players as well as invest in high quality talent. Benik Afobe is a great example of how we did a permanent deal. Clubs are asking us how we pulled that off. Ken has been happy with his squad and didn't want to take anyone unless they were better than we had.” The point was made about what will happen to Boro when their ‘five or six loan players’ disappear and Jez added: “We're never going to flood our team with loanees. We value our permanent players too much. We will again try to strengthen in the summer with permanent players and, if we need to top it up, we will look to the loan market. Ideally, we would want a squad settled on day one of training if possible.”

Michael Clarke asked whether it was a question of time, with Wolves perhaps on the back foot because of leaving their search too late. Jez said: “We insist from chairman down that anyone we take is looked at as diligently as someone we buy. It's not through lack of trying or lack of preparation that they haven't come.” Clive Smith asked whether the club had walked away from many transfers because of the finances and was told by Jez: “There are deals we don't do because they don't make financial sense. It's not because we're penny-pinching - we have young players we rate and we don't want to bring someone in on twice the money and upset the dressing room. We think that's a good prudent approach.” Terry King said Wolves had a young team who were the basis for a good future and said he admired Southampton's excellent business model. “Anything we can do in that direction, which we appear to be doing, I applaud it,” he said.

Dave Quarrell referred to Kenwyne Jones and the fact he had been signed to get Bournemouth over the line. And Tom Bate added: “Middlesbrough are likely to go up and we're not. There's that slight frustration that we are going to be so close - and it won't be any easier next season. Someone could have pushed us over the line.” Jez countered: “Derby are throwing money at it and it's not certain they are going up. It's disappointing we haven't got one or two loan players we were after but I can't criticise anyone for choosing other clubs, even if I think they are making mistakes in doing so.”

Richard Perkins said the club were right not to go for mercenaries and Jez agreed, saying: “We know from bitter experience that you can get the wrong sort.” Michael Clarke said it wouldn't have taken much to push Wolves over the line ‘and we had only one fit striker in November.’ Jeff Bagnall observed: “We wouldn't have been having this conversation if we were 15th. It's because we are close.” Jez said: “If we had beaten Birmingham, we probably wouldn't have been having this conversation. And it was nothing to do with strikers when we lost a 3-0 lead at Millwall or twice threw away a lead at Reading.” The Chief Executive also pointed out that Michael Jacobs and James Henry had initially come in on loan. Dave Benton said he wasn’t proposing a complete change of philosophy. Jez said: “I don't think our philosophy is that different....we're still prepared to take in the right sort of loan player if they want to join us.”

Simon Wade said the identity of transfer targets had tended to leak out, like Harry Maguire. Jez said the club preferred to do things privately but with the proliferation of social media there are so many ways names can now leak out. With Wolves still challenging, he also asked fans to bear in mind that Bournemouth had finished 11th last season, so the current place in the top eight was a useful platform if the club were still in the Championship next season.

Andy James said Dave Edwards had done much to drag the side into their present position and he was virtually the oldest player in the squad. “We needed someone senior on Saturday who would have got us going.....we lost our way a bit,” he said. Jez replied: “Internally, we all recognise it is a developing team, still pretty young, and you hope it will be even better equipped next season than this, coupled with the additions we hope for.” Matt Grayson said it was a constant balancing act between backing young players who will make the occasional mistake and not wanting to introduce journeymen into the squad.

Simon Wade described Benik Afobe’s impact as ‘fantastic’ and said he had enjoyed sitting next to the striker’s parents this month at Nottingham Forest. “They were lovely and said how happy he was here. Ade Akinbiyi was sold at a healthy profit after eight months in our side.” Jez commented: “You have an owner in Steve Morgan who is full square behind the development and improvement of the team. Benik is very happy here, doing really well and forming a good partnership with Nouha and others. We try to recruit good people as well as good players. Good people develop into good players.”

Hilary Clews said she felt sad that the mood of the room was a ‘little down’. “For me, we can't lose this season. I don't get the 'down' feeling. Twelve months ago, we would have settled for mid-table. If we miss out, c'est la vie.” Jez pointed out that Wolves, under Mick McCarthy, finished fifth, seventh and then first in the Championship. “There's a chance we could make 78 points and not reach the play-offs – no team has failed to reach the play-offs with that number of points,” he pointed out.

Richard Perkins asked if Bakary Sako’s departure was cut and dried in the event of another year in the Championship and asked if there would be something on the table for him anyway. Jez responded: “We probably spoke to Bakary’s agent more than any other player during January transfer window with regard to the future. Once the window closed, that was it. The reality is that he will have many opportunities to go elsewhere in the summer. He has been a great servant, an absolute star. I have nothing but respect for him. Plaudits should go his way. The chairman could have taken the money in January when we could have sold him but we didn't want to lose a talisman like him. However, as much as we would like him to stay, I suspect he will leave, but let’s leave it until the end of the season and we will have further talks with him.”

Kieran Newey asked how much Sako’s loss could damage the side, especially given his relationship with the other strikers but Jez said: “Players come and go. While Sako has some real qualities, we might find a player who has other qualities to help improve the team in a different way.” Steve Page asked if he would stay if we go up and was told by Jez that anything was possible but he may well leave regardless of where we play our football next season.

Roger Phillips enquired as to whether the young players who had been loaned out and not particularly shone might leave. Jez answered: “Some might do. That's a judgement call for our football people. The squad will change in some way, as it usually does. But we like to see players who have come through our system doing well, even if it’s elsewhere, because that's a good reflection on our academy.”

Dave Quarrell asked why there had been no free travel to an away game this season, as there was to Carlisle in 2013-14. He said it could have been to Middlesbrough and felt the club’s stance was in contrast to Albion, who took 40 free coaches to Crystal Palace at the weekend and saw their side win. Matt said: “There is more than one way to skin a cat and the offer we ran for the Derby home game recently was a big success. That seemed a more appropriate way of doing something for the fans. What some clubs, like us, do with offers for home games equates to more than others do with free travel.” It was also pointed out by Tony Grocott that free travel away was something that may not benefit fans living out of the area.

Head of Ticketing and Membership Lynne O’Reardon pointed out that the Premier League had set aside £200,000 per season per club to finance away support, either for those of opposing fans visiting their ground or for their own fans on their travels. That's why it was easy for Albion to do what they did. Jez said Wolves ran free coach travel to an under-21 game away to Tottenham this season and there was also free disabled travel to Derby in November.

Mark Griffiths said he had some Swansea-supporting friends who had told him reciprocal deals had been done with Albion and Southampton – further initiatives Lynne said would have been funded from the £200,000 kitty. She also told Dave Quarrell that, under a Football League ruling designed to prevent the exploitation Wolves fans felt at Birmingham more than a decade ago, clubs can only charge away fans what they would charge home fans in the same or corresponding stand.

Clive Smith said he had paid more for away tickets this season than for his home season ticket a figure of about £650 and Simon Wade made the point that Wolves typically took a lot more fans away than clubs brought to Molineux. There was mention of the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign the Football Supporters Federation are championing to curb prices and Jez thought that had a lot of merit, although clubs don't always want to work together. Although Lynne said Wolves engaged with rival clubs by having reciprocal arrangements with about five of them, Jez said Middlesbrough had flatly refused approaches from Molineux about possible beam-backs of the two (Midweek) clashes of the clubs this season – an idea made possible as a result of a directive from the football authorities last summer.

Mark Griffiths asked about the quadrant not being open for Wolves fans for certain games and was told by Jez that the decision had been taken on staffing and catering grounds and because there was plenty of spare capacity in other areas of the ground.

Tom Bate asked if there was any intention of raising match-day prices in 2015-16 in the event of another season in the Championship and was told by Jez that there had ‘genuinely been no decisions yet.’ The Chief Executive added: “We regularly hear comments from fans about ticket prices being too high. We have tried to incentivise fans through the early bird scheme and, in fact, we made some wing tickets available at a £46 reduction on what they were for this season. We made over 300 adult tickets available for £299 and have sold just over 13%.....that’s only 40 tickets. There have also been other match day initiatives, like offering adult tickets for the last three home League games for £60 i.e. £20 per match. We have sold only 316 of those when I thought perhaps we might sell between 1,000 to 1,500 tickets. As much as you tell me everything is price-sensitive, it isn't. We didn't sell out against Derby, having reduced prices by 50% although I totally accept we had a good crowd for a live televised match.”

Tom Bate said it was still a lot about price and Kieran Newey said some fans who hadn't renewed had decided that way because there were that many offers during the season. Jez was surprised, given the debate over home ticket prices, that fans would spend £650 or so on away match tickets and not, apparently, bat an eyelid. Dave Benton said: “We don't moan to you about away games because you presumably can't do anything about it. Would it make any difference to moan to the other clubs?” Dave also said he hadn't heard about the discounted offer on wing seats.

Terry King said he felt pricing should be kept simple. “The more discounts you offer, the more you upset the core customers,” he warned. “Be very careful. Re other clubs.....I have actually had responses from Millwall and Brentford. I would encourage people to communicate with them.”

Clive Smith raised the subject of the incident that brought about Bakary Sako’s late sending-off against Watford and Jez said he knew from talking to people at the FA that they were keen for play-acting to be eradicated. When asked what committees he sat on and therefore had some influence with, he said: “I'm on the main FA Council who meet five or six times a year, I sit on the Membership Committee which affects all levels of the game and I'm a member of the Disciplinary Committee. You do try to use your influence in a good way and to put something back into the game.”

Matt broke away from on-field debate to ask members how they felt the club could create a fitting permanent tribute to Sir Jack. “What would you like to see?” he said. Jeff Bagnall proposed a statue just above the ring road, overlooking the city and club as he did so much for both. Richard Perkins suggested a statue near Asda and the road named after the club’s much-loved, long-time owner and chairman but Patricia Stokes said any statue to him should be at the front of the Billy Wright Stand. Lesley Matile said the previously voiced idea from fans of asking supporters to each chip in £10 – equivalent of the amount he famously asked from Steve Morgan – was a good one. Mark Rigby said he was attracted by the idea of Sir Jack’s head somehow being engraved in the seats at Molineux, like Sir Tom Finney’s at Preston. And there was support for his Millennium Stadium thumbs-up photo being shown on the club’s smartcards.

Dave Quarrell, armed with a long list of questions from the Molineux Mix membership, said there was negativity about the Fans' Parliament and commented that some saw it as a discredited PR exercise. Jez said he very much considered it still fit for purpose, although not perfect and that the Club was open to the idea of making some improvements. “I would still like to see a greater ethnic mix and more diverse representation,” he said, adding that he thought more regular social media streaming of meetings, as done on occasions in the past, might inhibit members from being so open and would probably mean he would need to be more cautious about the kind of dialogue entered into at the Fans’ Parliament meetings. “I think people who have been on the Parliament have found it beneficial,” he added. He and Matt both remarked on the number of clubs who had followed or tried to copy the idea, with an Albion Assembly being set up in recent months following discussions between the two clubs – although with little suggestion that members will have anything like the same access at meetings to the club’s most prominent employees, as they do at Wolves.

Terry King said the list of members on the official Wolves website wasn't up to date and thought it would be useful to say which groups might feel best represented by which member; in his case it would be older fans and those living well out of the area. Jez said: “I don't think other (Wolves) fans really understand the influence the Parliament has had on a number of issues and I hope it is appreciated that senior people from the club sit here and allow themselves to be challenged by supporter as we do.” Tom Bate said some fans, ‘keyboard warriors’ as he called them, had incorrect preconceptions. Jez pointed out that Molineux Mix, although a sizeable group, added up to a very small percentage of the database the club interact with. Tom added: “We are a discussion group, not really a decision-making Parliament.” Steve Page said it could be that non-members are in future allowed to send in questions and Andy James asked about the possibility of members bringing a non-member along. Jez suggested that all parties went away to think about the proposals but re-emphasised the club’s desire to see supporters satisfied. He also reminded members of the Parliament’s influence and said under-12 and under-21 tickets, special ticket price initiatives such as half price for Derby County, among other things, had been introduced at the organisation’s suggestion.

Dave Quarrell enquired whether the stadium redevelopment plans had been shelved indefinitely and wondered whether loans could be secured to see the project continue. Jez said the club were very prudent and didn't want to saddle themselves with debt in building a stand that might cost £15m-25m. He said Steve Morgan has a philosophy, one that he supports, whereby the best deals were available to those with cash in hand and the recent focus had been on the team. The general thought, as in previous years, was that the increased income from reaching the Premier League could potentially generate other stadium improvements projects. Jez also told Dave that sprucing up the stadium through replacing bleached seats and the like was on the agenda but not immediately.

In answer to another question from Dave about possible concern at the fact the under-21 side are bottom of their league, Jez said that that group had been decimated by losing their best players to the first team while others had gone out on loan. “Look also at where the under-18s, under-16s and under-15s are,” he said. “We don't want to be bottom but we have taken the best players out of that under-21 team which is for us is, in reality, the precise measure of success at that level.

Clive Smith requested an update on Watford fan, Nick Cruwys, who was very badly injured in an attack after the game at Wolves in March and was told by Paul Richards that he was likely to be transferred to a hospital closer to his home and then on to rehab. He said recovery was going as well as could be expected and that ten arrests had now been made following the incident which Jez described as ‘abhorrent’ and the sort everyone in football should be working hard to eradicate. He said the club remained close to the situation and wished Mr Cruwys a full recovery.

With a last-day home game to come against Millwall, Simon Wade raised the subject of whether policing would be different and heightened. Jez said it would be policed appropriately. He said the police and stewards would be doing their usual professional job to make the make the match a safe and trouble free event.

Jeff Bagnall observed that next season’s kit had not yet been seen and wondered whether a change of sponsor was imminent. Jez gave a ‘watch this space’ answer but said he was confident supporters would like the new design. In answer to a question from Dave Quarrell about postal rates for sending shirts abroad, Jez said that the club were not trying to profiteer but had rates set to cover costs and the number of items ordered by fans.

Steve Galloway was told that the take-up at the WV1 Bar was good when it was opened for a recent under-21 game and the meeting concluded with a question from Steve Page about whether Wolves thought they could forge positive alliances with other clubs. Matt said links had been made with Ujpest in Hungary and there was also an association with JCT in India that is described more as a community-led relationship. Jez chipped in: “We have academy associations with GIS in America but this is aimed at a branding level and an idea for trialling kids from America, forming good alliances with people and coaches and young players as much as anything. We hold trials and camps and that's working really well but it's more informal than a strategic club partnership. Manchester United and Royal Antwerp have had a relationship but I don't think any of those individual club-to-club relationships have proved to be rip-roaring successes due to a number of limiting factors.”