Official Meeting Minutes
Paul Lambert was in attendance on Tuesday night as Wolves Fans' Parliament decamped beyond club premises for the first time by using the Marston’s Brewery Training Centre at Chapel Ash for their second meeting of the season.
Managing director Laurie Dalrymple welcomed members, new and old, and said the change of venue was to be repeated elsewhere in future as a means of taking the club closer to commercial partners and sponsors and out into the community.
Supporter liaison officer Paul Richards chaired the meeting, which also had Kevin Thelwell on the top table and kicked off with concern from Dave Benton at the 'total loss of form of so many players....some of it quite astonishing.' Paul Lambert replied: "There are too many players here, nearly 30, and I've got to try to see everybody. There were too many to integrate, especially considering they are of different nationalities. Helder Costa has hit the ground pretty quickly, Ivan Cavaleiro is starting to do it and others are taking time to adapt. I know the ones who can do it and I know the ones who can't. The feeling is a lot stronger than when I came in. It was struggling a bit, but we're at an exciting time if we can get it right."
Neil Dady said he loved to see Molineux vibrant with big crowds but feared a fall-away in attendances unless results improved considerably. He asked the head coach how important it was in the interests of creating the right atmosphere and a winning team to have a nearly full house, even if it meant effectively subsidising the gate money. Paul said: "It's absolutely vital. I will leave the deals to Laurie but I went to Nurnberg a while back.....they were marooned at the bottom but had 30,000 in and it was absolutely bouncing. It's so important players and fans have a connection....that's why we have opened the training ground on a Tuesday." Laurie added: "We have to be managing our finances really tightly and ticket revenue is a very important source of our income. If we run a ticket offer, we have to guarantee that we are going to improve attendances to the required level. For example, if we had done that after the Sheffield Wednesday game, I don't think we'd have got 27,000 for the Fulham match. We don’t have the income support of Premier League parachute payments anymore, so whatever we do has to be carefully measured with fan engagement and income in mind.”
Jeff Bagnall said the players could do a lot more to help with the connection. "They always go to the South Bank but there are four sides, not just one. And the South Bank boo them first! It would be nice if they acknowledge all four sides." Paul Lambert responded: "The Iceland thing was fabulous on Saturday but if Bodvarsson went to the corner where there aren't many fans, it's strange. The Germans go to their traditional singing end as well”. The top table acknowledged the request and would aim to make sure all areas of the ground had equal appreciation from the players.
Clive Smith asked which formation was most favoured and was told: "I look at the opposition and judge from there. I watched Nottingham Forest on the Wednesday last week and came back with an idea for 4-2-3-1. It may be different when I look at Bristol City but you have to be flexible in the modern game." Kieran Newey asked if there were certain weak positions. "The squad is unbalanced," he was told. "You have to have at least two players for every position and there is too much of a gap with the quality. We're top-heavy in central midfield." Kieran enquired whether there was interest in Bakary Sako – a question Paul answered by saying: "He's Crystal Palace's player and you have to be respectful. He's a real handful but he also maybe has the African Nations Cup in January."
Kevin Thelwell replied to a query from Jas Bains about the status of Helder Costa by saying he was on loan until the end of the season, without any recall option. "He's done brilliantly and there is an option to buy,” he said. “But it would be very expensive and difficult to do if we are outside the Premier League. We will be working as hard as we can to keep Helder Costa for as long as we can.” To a comment by Greg Asbury about Financial Fair Play, Kevin continued: "Everyone will know that you can't just continue to spend. We spent a lot in the last window and that has to have an implication in the next one. In the first instance, it's more about out than in but we'll try to bring in one or two who can go straight into the side." Greg said he wasn't sure that message was understood by fans.
Paul Lambert asked members what their expectancy levels had been in the summer. Chasing promotion was the general response and Steve Phillips said: "It all went out of the window in a mad month and we're down at the bottom with a manager sacked." Laurie Dalrymple said there was an owner in place at Molineux with a willingness to invest and Kevin followed up: "Jeff (Shi) will be the first to say he has had to learn very quickly. After the Rotherham game, he felt we had to make a number of changes quickly. What happened at that time didn’t really work, nor did replacing Kenny with Walter. That's why we have Paul here. We have to reduce the squad to a manageable level."
Richard Perkins asked what the process was with bringing players in, especially with regard to whether the head coach could pick his own players. Kevin said part of the purpose of having a sporting director was so he could help identify targets and have more transparency and diligence. "Paul has enough on his plate, so we ask him what he wants and what sort of character he is looking for," he said. "We will go back to him and say we think these fit you and fit the club. But, and I must stress this, the only reason you can sign a player is if Paul wants him. If he doesn't want him, he wouldn't play him anyway." Paul answered a follow-up question from Richard by saying: "I'm not a shrinking violet – I left Blackburn of my own free will as I wasn't going to get my way. I am strong-willed and I'm not in it for the money – I am in it to try to be a success. If I just had signings chosen by other people, we would have a mannequin (in charge)." To another question from the floor, Kevin said Joe Mason last season was not a case of being a signing Kenny Jackett didn't want – it was more a question of where to play him.
Kev Paulins said he was concerned at suggestions that the January transfer window would see more players leave than coming in. He said he had been expecting more incomings than the two or three that Paul had talked about as being ideal in a transfer window."If we keep bringing them in, we will be top-heavy again," the head coach, added, stressing: "I don't think there will be any more than that number. There's no way on this earth you can train with intensity with this many players. There won't be 10-12 leaving but some will need to go out and play. In every window, you need freshness but January is a terrible window because no-one will give you their best players. They have to be ones who are going to play if they come in."
Andy James asked whether the club were likely to pay up the contracts of any players – something Kevin replied to by saying: "We're not at the point of saying they have no value. There's a lot of value in the squad. There are players other clubs would take." Laurie added that not every player that we brought in during the last transfer window as purchase and naturally some players will return to their parent club. Steve Page congratulated Paul on being willing to play younger players and, in response to a question about the head coach's assessment of the quality in the development and academy groups, was told: "It's the best I've seen in years, 100 per cent – the best in a long, long while. How do they develop if you keep bringing players in (from outside)? I will be disappointed if a couple don't come through before the end of the season. It's exciting....they are young and fearless. It's great for the club that the academy is brilliant here." Harry Burgoyne, Bright Enobakhare and Connor Ronan were among those praised. Kevin said there couldn't be a better selling point with talented young lads than to show them there was a clear pathway to the first team. In reply to a question from the floor, he said Niall Ennis's broken leg was expected to keep him out until around March.
Adam Thompson asked what style was likely to be developed. Paul responded: "I want young, energetic lads to play the way I want to play. The front four we had on Saturday are fearless and have speed. Quick lads can hurt opponents but we have to be better with the ball. Try to get them pressing......I don't like slow football." Paul said he felt the players weren't previously intense enough without the ball but were 'starting to grasp it.' Steve Lapper said: "My concern is players leaving. Kevin McDonald was the best footballer at the club. Jack Price is the next Kevin McDonald." Paul acknowledged: "As soon as I saw Jack, I thought he had to play because he has a habit of finding a player in the same shirt. I think he is a terrific player.” Paul added that Jack had recently been left out of the side due to a minor hamstring problem which had the potential to become more serious had he continued playing but that he was now back to full fitness.
A point was raised by John Tummon about what he thought was the superior basic techniques of German players and he wondered what the chances were of Wolves going in search of targets to one of the countries Paul used to play in. The head coach said this was difficult as German players didn't need to come over here. "There are some exceptions like Michael Ballack and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the leagues are that good and strong. It's difficult to get them out," he said.
Before departing after an hour-long Q & A session, Paul told the meeting: "You have a brilliant club, that has maybe just come off the rails a little bit......forget what happened earlier. It has gone. There is a great infrastructure of people who want to do the job successfully. Your support has been really good and is appreciated and the club is on the cusp of something really good. Do things together and we have a better chance of being successful.” Paul was given a round of applause as he left the meeting.
Wolves Fans' Parliament members were given a detailed insight into rationale for the redesigning of the new club website that will be unveiled next year.
MD Laurie Dalrymple introduced to the meeting on Tuesday, two representatives of Aqueduct, the London-based company charged with the major overhaul. "Our digital platform isn't good enough," he admitted. "We have been part of a collective Football League agreement for years and have taken a decision to come out of that. The general feeling was that we didn't want to be hamstrung by it, as we seek to have a better means of communicating and engaging with fans both domestically and internationally. It also allows us to revise how we deliver content and how we structure memberships and benefits to fans."
Aqueduct founder Rob Oubridge outlined plans and said the 14-year-old company were independent and did a lot of work in sport, helping with the digital platforms for Team GB, Manchester City (since 2009) and Sunderland. He said they had pioneered a way of helping our Olympians with funding from sponsors rather than out of the Team GB purse or through the British Olympic Association.
“We are engaging with Wolves fans to see how we can improve it. This process is important," he said, his colleague Lucy Salter adding: "Fans are at the centre of everything we do and we want it to be unique. What would you like to get out of it? It has to be easy to use. It has to be built with a mobile-first attitude and has to be 100 per cent Wolves. We need users to say what they do and don't like.”
A survey has already been sent out to Wolves supporters and other meetings, one of which had a ten-year-old in attendance, have been held as part of the exploration process. Parliament members have been provided with their own line of communication with the company, who have also set up a blog and spent time with the club's media team both via regular meetings and in ‘shadowing’ at the recent home match with Fulham.
Steve Page's main interest was in being assured the site would facilitate the purchase of tickets so fans were encouraged to attend matches. "How do we make it as easy as walking on a plane with a mobile phone or a piece of paper to scan?" he asked. "We don't want to miss people coming to the ground." Rob replied that sport as a whole was way behind but said the plan was to make ticket purchasing a much more prominent part of the site with only one log in required. "The same as the shop with the check-out," he added, "but that is some way away – not for the launch."
Peter Bradburn asked when Molineux's video walls might reopen as they could promote the new site. Laurie answered: "In principle, I am behind them as a way to engage fans, put some club content out and get advertising, although I am not sure how they’d necessarily be used to promote the website specifically, but they are a means of delivering in match content. However, it’s a case of prioritizing spend and they are costly. It would mean £500,000-plus being invested and I would rather place that somewhere else in the club at this moment in time, but that is not to say that it isn’t something we are looking at for the future"
Steve Phillips said he went on Facebook and Twitter for much of his Wolves news these days. Rob said the new site would power a lot of content on social media, with Snapchat and Instagram other avenues that could be used. "We had a lot of access to the site through social media with Team GB," he added. "It's driven by the quality of content." In response to a comment by Jack Finch, Laurie said match commentary would not be a problem as the club would pay for the licence rights to continue to have access to live match commentary and match highlights. He also told Jas Bains the match programme might ultimately appear online.
Rob said Aqueduct wanted to see less 'inappropriate advertising' splattered on the website and were against display adverts, pop-ups and auto-play. He didn't see the site as a mere notice board for the club and said they were determined to give fans what they wanted and needed, so he agreed with Tony Grocott and Roger Phillips respectively that a specific page for the disabled and something incorporating the activities of Wendy and Wolfie were good ideas. Richard Perkins said he wanted fans' groups to feel very much part of the club, Kieran Newey making the follow-up point that it was sometimes difficult to explain to other fans how they were being represented through the Parliament.
As the debate moved on to general issues, Peter Bradburn asked what the club stance was on vaping and said the habit made watching a match difficult in extreme circumstances. The club's facilities and safety manager, Steve Sutton, was in the room and said the practice was not illegal or prohibited but recognised there had been some complaints that it was a nuisance. "We can deal with it under the ground regulations and ask users to be more considerate," he said. "Speak to the stewards about it if it becomes a problem."
Michelle Turner said there was pride in Wolves being a family club but recalled that 1,250 fans had signed a petition to get The Liquidator brought back and efforts had still been resisted. "My 15-year-old has been going to matches for a good while and the abuse the ref gets is worse than is chanted during the playing of that," she said. Laurie said he really liked it because it brought togetherness but the bit that jarred was that the club would be complicit in encouraging foul and abusive language if they played it over their tannoy. He went on to say that it jarred with the owners, too.
The subject of 'safe standing' had had a brief airing in the first half of the meeting and Adam Thompson reminded fellow members later that its chief aim was to create a better atmosphere. "How people think it is safer to stand in seats (like now) than behind rails, I don't know." Tom Byrne pointed out that he was strongly in favour of safe standing because he felt there was a fall-off in attendance among his contemporaries. Steve Sutton, a member of the national safety body in football, said there were some popular misconceptions, one being that fans seemed to think they would routinely be able to stand where they chose. He explained that Celtic, where a small delegation of Parliament members travelled earlier this year on a fact-finding visit, operated a designated spot policy and didn't have free flow of spectators. The other was that ground capacity would be unaffected whereas the reality was that a major redesign of a Molineux stand would be necessary if it were to have safe standing and still retain its capacity. "The industry is interested and the authorities are interested," Steve added. "We are engaging with supporter groups and will be pushing the Government to do some trials. There's nothing for us as a club to lead on at the moment." Laurie Dalrymple concluded that the club was open and willing to entering into meaningful discussion with the appropriate authorities, should pilot schemes be ready to be implemented and that we would be willing to give the subject more discussion time at future meetings.
Parliament chairman Paul Richards, who went on the Celtic visit with Kieran Newey and others, described it is 'a massive subject.' Kieran said: "The atmosphere up there was all driven and orchestrated by two guys at the front. I am very passionate on it." Tom Byrne had been impressed by looking at the 'incredible atmosphere' at Borussia Dortmund and wondered whether it would ever come back in Britain. Jeff Bagnall said he still remembered the dangers of crowd surges on open terracing more than 25 years ago.
Greg Asbury enquired whether there was any more contract news and was told by Kevin Thelwell that Carl Ikeme was close to agreement. "We have been discussing for some time and things are very close," he said, adding that several of the club’s younger players were also close to agreeing contracts.
Regarding the African Cup of Nations, the only one from the club who the sporting director said might go is Romain Saiss. Jas Bains asked whether Brexit had any implications on the signing of Continental players. Kevin said: "We have to sit and wait to see what develops. “Everyone is asking and there are no answers, so watch this space."
Patricia Stokes reflected that there was talk a couple of seasons ago about how fit Wolves' squad were.....now she was hearing suggestions that they were not up to speed. Kevin replied: "Paul wants more intensity. Walter tended to have longer sessions which were less intense." Kevin also said the club still hoped Paul Gladon had the potential to come through and, in answer to a question from Jack Finch, said the club would rather do their transfer-window business early in January, IF that is possible. But he re-iterated that January was always a difficult window during which to bring players in.
Kieran Newey asked about the changes in the club's infrastructure and the development of off field activities that no one generally sees in the background – a point Laurie addressed by saying: " Yes, it’s the case that some people have decided to move on. That’s part of a natural evolution in any club or business and in some cases, we have had to say goodbye to long standing servants of the club. However, we have some really good people throughout the club and this allows us to develop high potential individuals and so it allows us to restructure the team accordingly. With regards to how we are developing the club off the field, I would judge the evolution over a slightly longer period than 4 months. There are a number of initiatives being worked on for next season and beyond, not least our new digital strategy, as well as managing the club in an environment that we have not been used to in recent years. We no longer have the comfort of Premier League parachute money, so managing our costs efficiently and maximizing our income is paramount at present."
Roger Phillips described soon-to-depart club secretary Richard Skirrow as 'an absolute gent' and asked that appreciation of his long service be minuted. Laurie added: "I am extremely disappointed to see Richard leave. He is Wolves through and through....a great source of counsel for me and many others, and was a close confidante of Jez. He's a real clubman, intelligent and knowledgeable. But we are bringing back (in his place) someone who is also highly experienced in football and we are excited by Matt Wild’s imminent arrival in February. It’s also my hope that Richard will continue to be involved with the football club in some capacity."
Jeff Bagnall also wished to place on record thanks to head of ticketing and membership Lynne O'Reardon, who leaves in a few weeks' time. Laurie pointed out that she had been with the club for 17 years but could see a new challenge. He added that James Davies, who attends many Parliament meetings, including this one, has been at Molineux for 20 years and was the natural successor to work closely with me to develop new and innovative ideas for ticketing and fan engagement. Paul Richards also passed on the thanks and best wishes of the departed Matt Grayson, former Parliament chairman, and, on a similar convivial theme, Steve Galloway congratulated lifelong supporter Steve Plant and his team of helpers in and out of the club for the amazing sum of nearly £25,000 that had already been raised for Birmingham Children's Hospital through his They Wore The Shirt book.
Laurie was asked by Jon Babb whether pay on the gate at matches was going to become a thing of the past, mindful as he was of the need to create the best possible atmosphere. "Physically taking cash at the gate is going to be obsolete," the MD said, Steve Sutton reminding the meeting of the many staff-less turnstiles already in place and the value of database information for promoting ticketing initiatives. Laura Gabbidon said it was more likely a mobile would be used rather than cash in the future. Jon, with an eye on increasing spectator options, pointed out that, while FFP problems might restrict spending on the field, there were no such barriers to investment off it. Laurie said that whilst in some cases, that would be true, careful planning is still required. Laurie continued to say that he has a long list of possible updates and improvements for the consideration of Fosun, such as the PA system, video screens and the development of the playing surface. Whilst he wouldn’t expect the parliament to know all the areas that required investment, it should be acknowledged that there are parts of the stadium that are 40 years old, and as such it was a question of prioritising the investment accordingly – especially given the club’s current league position in the Championship. The MD also assured Peter Bradburn that he would look into the history surrounding the opportunity for fans to move seats several years ago in anticipation of the press box being redesigned – something which hasn't yet occurred as a result of our failure to gain promotion to the Premier League.
The meeting closed with thanks again to Marston’s for being such generous hosts.