More than 40 members attended this week’s first Wolves Fans’ Parliament meeting of the season, held in Molineux’s International Lounge.
Chairman Jeff Shi, managing director Laurie Dalrymple, sporting director Kevin Thelwell and Club Safeguarding Services Manager Paul Richards were present, along with other senior members of club staff around the room.
Paul, as Parliament chairman, kicked off proceedings by raising a number of points put forward by members or those who have contacted them about issues. The first concerned the possibility of having WiFi across the stadium for everyone, with Laurie saying: “It’s a yes in theory but this is not necessarily the right time and it is a project that will require significant investment. We’re hopeful that there will be considerable development in the near to mid-term future and I’d be more comfortable rolling it into a wider plan. With regards to stadium development, we’re headed in the right direction, regarding appetite and requirement to develop. Attendances are averaging above 27,000…that’s positive step towards the financial justification.”
The club promised to seek debate about a rebuilt South Bank remaining a single tier or looking more like the two-level North Bank and Laurie said: “Of course as much as possible, we have to be driven by what the fans want. The drawings that exist from a few years ago are slightly different, but the feedback from you guys is as important as anything else in how we take the process forward.” The Graham Hughes temporary Stand could be pressed back into action but the MD added: “We need to be at the point of sell-out almost every game and be getting attendances consistently up to and over the 30,000 mark before we open the temporary stand, although the seats would need replacing as they aren’t fit for purpose.” In answer to a later question about how attendances are calculated, Laurie said it was on tickets sold, like at all other clubs. “It is based on all fans who are in possession of a ticket, even if they can’t attend, and thankfully this season, the number of people who haven’t attended has been very low,” he continued, going on to explain that it was at the discretion of home clubs where Wolves fans are positioned in away grounds and in what order the tickets are sold. He revealed that there were currently 1,071 away season ticket holders and the group was capped at 1,100. On the subject of fans being seated next to friends on coaches, he expressed this isn’t something the club have typically gotten involved with, but hoped that there would be cordial discussion if any swapping around was necessary and said getting there early, as usual, was the best idea.
The club’s Dudley Street store had closed since the last Parliament meeting, in March, and Laurie stressed: “It wasn’t a whimsical decision but it was an emotional one as we had had it for 17 years and it represented us in the city centre. However, the cost of the operation amounted to over half a million pounds and we weren’t making sufficient income to cover that. It was discussed at multiple board meetings and that was how the decision was taken. On business logic, it didn’t make sense any more, or certainly at this moment in time. The primary platforms that we trade from now are the megastore and online and our retail figures are extremely strong, so it appears not to have had a detrimental effect. Additionally, we haven’t missed it as a ticket selling outlet either. I wouldn’t rule out pop-up stores in the future but done at appropriate times, maybe at Christmas or around kit launches. However, we’re not actively exploring the idea at this stage.”
Laurie was asked how the club were faring with Financial Fair Play and said: “We’re comfortable taking into account any player trading conducted so far, and under the current guidelines. From the board and ownership and management, we continue to be aware of it, but at this moment in time, nothing is giving us cause for concern on FFP.” That led on to a mention of the newspaper publicity suggesting Chinese businesses were going to be cutting down on investing in football. Jeff Shi said: “The Chinese Government are trying to tighten the currency, so it’s not as easy to invest here but we have the currency in Europe and our major assets are in US dollars, so it doesn’t stop us investing.”
Sky’s negotiations with the Football League over midweek games had an airing and Laurie admitted: “I was slightly surprised at the timing of the announcement as I thought there was perhaps more negotiating to be done. Similarly, I had hoped they would have reached, on first glance a better deal for the League that would’ve narrowed the large income gap that exists between the EFL and the Premier League. However, at the recent meeting of all 72 football clubs ten days ago, there was a clear presentation on the process employed and I think this is at this stage the best deal that could’ve been secured for all is member clubs. I do maintain slight concern as to how it might affect attendances on the small amount of midweek games that may be live screened, although it concerns a relatively low number of live streamed games and again, we need to let our performances be the biggest factor in driving spectator attendance.” The MD expressed the wish that the deal won’t be relevant to the club in the middle of next year as that would mean promotion has been won.
Members were also keen for an insight into the workings of Wolves TV. Laurie described the introduction of the new medium as a significant undertaking and added: “It was possibly the biggest challenge in the off season for the team. Overseas fans live-streaming our game means we are broadening the visibility for them and the opportunity to engage with new fans. Take-up overall has been good. The highest number of subscribers so far was around 1,500 (for the Middlesbrough game), which is pleasing, and we are regularly achieving 800 or 900. The start of the process was not without problems, to say the least, but they are diminishing. Some of the equipment and process was difficult, needed further investment and with so many different users and facets to manage. Whilst a lot of those issues are outside of our control, I similarly appreciate fans’ frustrations and patience as we strived to implement a service we were satisfied with. We are hopefully providing a regular, consistent service now, but the advice is to follow the strict guidelines that we publish: don’t watch on a mobile or an I-pad and please watch legitimately. A small number of clubs in the 72 chose not to do it because they knew it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. We can look to do commentary for home games but it initially proved difficult to overlay it onto the live stream. To lay it on away live streams proves equally difficult, due to the complexities of all of the different grounds we visit, and is all in addition to the potentially significant amount of cost that comes with providing commentary. The current advice is to open the audio on a separate browser.”
The meeting heard that Under-23 games, especially those at Molineux, may also possibly be shown soon on a live stream format. Jas Bahra asked what the uptake was in China and was told by Laurie: “The penetration is relatively low but the longer we stay where we are in the table, the more we will look to improve over there.” Jeff Shi added further: “If we go back to the Premier League, there will be a larger fan-base and the best time will be three to five years on.”
Roger Phillips remarked that the revamped club website, after a promising start, still looked as though it was early in its development. Laurie took his point on board, but pointed out in answer to the delay in posting player photos that the squad photo was only done last week, and that the biographies would be on in the next day or two. “There are people in the room who will take your comments on board,” he added. “I think the style and usability are very good and so is the content, with lots of it. The media team are doing super work, including uploading numerous content-rich videos, and trying to be creative but it doesn’t excuse errors, where they exist, so we will make sure they are corrected.”
On the point raised about a club app, Laurie replied: “When we built the site, the feedback from all the providers was to build a mobile-friendly format first and foremost. I am definitely interested in app creation but would want to make it very content-driven and not the same material as on the site.”
The thorny subject of admin charges on ticket purchases had another airing, with the top table asked whether they were going to take a lead and remove them. Laurie responded: “We are aware there is some legislation change imminent and whenever that comes in, we will be prepared and react accordingly to ensure we are operating within the rules. To clarify though, there’s a difference between a bank charge and an admin fee that covers postage, printing, staff, ticket stock etc. We are reviewing it, so please bear with us.”
From the floor, Peter Bradburn said that waiting in queues on the phone meant high bills. Laurie admitted: “I’m aware this is contentious and we are reviewing this also, but to clarify, we don’t get the lion’s share of that money derived from the current system. Be patient, trust me ….it’s one we are looking at and I believe we are going to get there.” He also reminded fans that going on ine, where there was no such charge, was often the best option, or attending the ticket office and paying cash in person.” Stuart Alves brought to the meeting’s attention the case of a carer being charged the admin fee alongside a wheelchair user. Ticket office manager James Davies was in the room and said: “It was a glitch and, as soon as we were made aware of it, we amended it.”
Paul Richards relayed to the top table a suggestion that a fan had called the sale of the third kit a ‘disaster’ and spoken of mayhem one day in the shop. Laurie replied: “If we were to be self-critical, then it would be that we opened the store slightly earlier than we should and it was already well occupied when most fans came out of the ground. It obviously created an instant demand but, when the shop shut at 7pm, there was still kit there. No-one left without what they wanted. That said, we pre-ordered another 1,000 for online sales because we felt we perhaps didn’t look well enough after the people who couldn’t get here on the day. I think all three kits are attractive and desirable and our retail figures would suggest that’s the case. Kit is subjective….there may be a proportion of fans who may dislike the change kit and many people wanted a black kit. Wanting to be as responsive as we could to the wishes of the fans, we had a black kit produced.”
Peter Abbott asked whether the choice to change kit on a certain day was purely for marketing because he regarded Wolves’ famous colours as unique. Laurie said: “We are going to have to change sometimes and, as soon as you start putting a kit on sale, you have to wear it at some point. We will be wearing the black kit during the month of October as a necessity and I am sure there will be some people who don’t share your view.” Paul Richards said part of his match-day duties involved being with the match officials when they check whether there is a colour clash and added: “It’s down to the referee’s discretion. He will insist on a change if there is any problem.”
Michelle Turner said she was aware of fans asking if they could be given greater access to Molineux car parks when arriving for travel on official coaches as some had to walk back across the city after returning in the early hours from the Carabao Cup victory at Southampton. Laurie answered: “In principle, we can look to do something for them. I am not aware of the issues at the Southampton game, but I will look into complaints that fans couldn’t park here.”
Patricia Stokes said a number of fans in the Billy Wright had asked her to express disappointment at the type face on the back of the programme, saying they couldn’t read it. Laurie replied: “I was unaware of this problem, however I should stress It’s in keeping with the creative of the programme, in particular the font being in line with the artistic style of Jody Craddock.” The room were then asked for a show of hands as to who found it hard to read. There was a majority of people who found it difficult to read, so it was agreed that it would nbe changed.
Jack Finch was told that contact-less payment at refreshment kiosks was being actively looked at and Dave Benton was informed by head of marketing Laura Gabbidon, who was also in the room, to use the email address of firstname.lastname@example.org to report problems after saying he was receiving emails from the club but having his own address unrecognised.
Dave Quarrell wished to applaud the club for the ‘fantastic gesture’ of laying on free coaches to Norwich on October 31 and asked if the same gesture could be extended to satellite coaches like Telford and Hatherton Wolves. Laurie said: “We have to draw a line somewhere and the gesture is around Wolves Travel, however I am happy to have an offline discussion with you, to see how we can reach a compromise.” Clive Smith asked if, say, £15 could instead be knocked off the price of a ticket at Carrow Road, so the generous touch could be for the advantage of all and not just those travelling by coach. He cited London Wolves members as having no chance of feeling the benefit otherwise. Laurie, who said Wolves had taken their maximum allocated following to all away League games so far, said: “There’s a set ticket fee that has to be paid to the home club - the gesture on this occasion is geared towards making it easy for fans to get there from Wolverhampton who have already had multiple trips on the road during the month. On this occasion, I cannot agree to that, but it could be that something different could be done in the future but we are more comfortable sticking to what we have decided now on this occasion.”
Peter Bradburn said he was due to turn 65 next year and a friend of his had said a lot of clubs offered concessions to fans at 60. He asked what the feasibility was of Wolves adopting the lower age but Peter Abbott said Ipswich had this season moved from 60 to 65. It was also pointed out that research a couple of years ago showed seven Championship clubs were using 60 and the other 17 were using 65. Laurie nevertheless promised that some analysis would be done.
This section of a meeting lasting some two-and-a-half hours in total kicked off with a question about whether Wolves, if unsuccessful in their promotion mission, would have to sell prize assets. Kevin Thelwell took to his feet to answer: “I think Fosun have stated in the 14 months they have been here what their raison d’etre is….getting to the Premier League, staying in it and achieving in it.” He called the group’s commitment ‘outstanding’, said everything in the club’s power would be done to maintain a promotion challenge and summarised: “It’s a question of when we get there, not if we get there.” He used the phrase ‘never say never’ regarding player movement as Jeff Shi did when he joined in. “The only barrier is FFP…..we will keep investing into the club,” the chairman promised. “We are investing in a young, talented, very hungry group of players.”
Asked about the chances of making loan deals permanent, Kevin added: “There’s not a culture here to develop players for other clubs. We do it for ourselves so they come with us.” He added that most of those borrowed by others elsewhere were on season-long deals but Wolves had options to bring them back in January. “With one or two, there are options for other clubs to buy – but at a level that would be advantageous to us.”
To an enquiry about how many of the transfer deals had involved Jorge Mendes, the sporting director added: “I think all of us on the top table have addressed this point at one stage or another. He is an adviser and supporter of Fosun and it would be nuts if I didn’t use the network to our advantage. To be clear, he’s not at Compton around the meeting table and he isn’t making decisions for the football club. But as an example, we had been following Alfred N’Diaye, and he was agreed amongst the group as a perfect recruit for the football club. We asked Jorge to connect us to the right person to speak to at Villareal and, in a very short space of time, provided us with the contact and we were then able to go in and conclude the deal – club to club – on transfer deadline day. It is good for us to have him to help us in those situations.”
Paul Richards relayed the question about why Wolves had let Jordan Graham go and the response was that it was a head coach decision based on the belief that there was enough strength in depth in the wide positions. “We wanted Jordan to get minutes on the pitch and felt Fulham was the right place for him, although unfortunately he hasn’t had loads of game time yet.” Similarly, the head coach was happy with the squad that he had, despite the fact we were allowing Jordan to leave on loan.
There was a request for more information to be made available about injured players, Willy Boly for example. Kevin said: “It’s the head coach’s preference. Some will make public a lot of detail about injured players and some won’t. Nuno doesn’t want too many people to know too much about our business and if that’s helping us be where we are in the League, so be it.”
On the issue of the club missing out on a striker at the end of August, he added: “When you look at the activity that was achieved over the summer, then I believe the window was extremely successful. We were disappointed not to sign a striker, and we did get close. However, we decided not to chase other options who we didn’t think would make us better. Nuno thought central midfield was very important and was very happy we closed the N’Diaye deal. There is any number of other players here who he regards as strikers and at this moment in time it looks like it is working well.”
Mark Griffiths asked whether fans could expect renewed efforts to sign a striker in the winter window or whether the money might be channelled into trying to buy Diogo Jota. “There is a possibility we could buy him in January but we would need Atletico Madrid’s permission,” Kevin added. “We have an option to buy him in the summer. There is a need to strengthen the central striker position in January.”
Clive Smith asked who looked at future opponents and was told that different departments watch games live, providing three levels of diligence from which the information was broken down into the codes Nuno wanted. After the many changes in the background at Molineux over the summer, Thomas Byrne wondered whether that had always been the plan. Kevin replied: “We decided to make some changes and it should be noted, we lost some really good people over the summer who had been with us for a number of years. That can happen in football where things change and we have also now appointed some really good people as well. We have recruited a Champions League coach and gave him the opportunity to bring in more staff and I think they have been outstanding so far. Putting your philosophy into a squad in such a short time is very difficult. This guy had six weeks and it looks like we have been playing 3-4-3 for years. It feels like a really good place.” Thomas went on to ask if the club had moved away from the philosophy whereby a manager or head coach could depart without there being much disruption below and was told: “Yes, we have had a change and it’s working very well.”
Kieran Newey asked for the best wishes of all Parliament members to be sent to Carl Ikeme and requested a condition update on the popular keeper. Laurie Dalrymple said: “I had a text conversation with him about a week ago and sent him a load of images of Compton Park and the training ground. We have some new player imagery around Compton and I wanted him to make sure he knew he featured strongly in those and remained a key part of the group. He also has access to a VIP live stream of games and is firmly still connected to our current progress. He’s doing o-k….he has been having part of the treatment plan that is perhaps its most intensive and he’s been through it for a couple of months. Whilst, I am sure he’s found it hard, he is in good spirits and is very appreciative of the huge volume of support he gets from all over the world, Wolves fans especially.” Kieran also said the wonderful fund-raising work of Steve Plant needed to be minuted while Dave Stevens asked if anything could be done by way of a tribute during games, as has happened at other clubs with applause in a certain minute. Jon Babb said the South Bank showed their support every match anyway.
Moving away from player matters, Mark Evans requested clarification on the positioning of away fans at Molineux and the size of their ticket allocation. Laurie said that when clubs were sending no more than 1,900 supporters, they would be in the quadrant, as Barnsley were recently. “We are all in agreement on that, including Nuno,” he stressed.” Against Barnsley, it was as noisy as for many a game and we obviously want the stadium as loud and atmospheric as possible. We urge everyone to take advantage of the large numbers in the stadium, get here and be as noisy and as supportive as you can be.”
Jon Babb enquired about the ball crew, as there were ‘way too few of them’ but Laurie said: “We had 14 last season and 28 this season. We have doubled the number. If Nuno has an issue with them, I am sure he will tell us what he wants, but I will take what you say on board.”
The final section of the meeting was devoted to the explanation of the road closures being bought in around Molineux, starting with the visit of Aston Villa a week on Saturday. Laurie said: “The precursor was the car park closures implemented at the start of the season. We appreciate these presented some frustrations but they were put in place as a precursor to a wider discussion around improving the safety and welfare of spectators. Spectator safety is at the very heart of why we are implementing these changes, and it was becoming an increasing issue that some of the key stakeholders and bodies in the city felt now was an appropriate time to take some different steps in order to do that. The permanent implementation of these measures will come in late next spring, however a temporary solution will be applied for the game on the 14th October. We want to be as open and transparent as we can be. We will communicate much more on the official Wolves website over the next 10-14 days.”
Wolves head of operations Steve Sutton said: “Waterloo Road will close from the roundabout near the ticket office up to the junction of Newhampton Road 90 minutes before the kick-off every game. Reopening of the roads and car parks will be 15-30 minutes after the final whistle. The permanent scheme will be barriers of some kind but the interim arrangements will be a series of temporary barriers and a vehicle block, with staff. Once in place, there will be no exceptions other than the team coaches, which will be escorted through. Sir Jack Hayward Way will be closed just beyond the Asda exits an hour before kick-off. Molineux Street and Camp Street will be within the closure, too. Whitmore Hill is the last piece of the jigsaw and we are looking at a slightly later closure for that. All these will come off 15-30 minutes after the end of the game. In addition, users of the directors’ car park and Waterloo Road car parks will have to be there more than 90 minutes before kick-off, those using the Steve Bull, Sir Jack Hayward, University and Wanderer car parks will have to be there more than 60 minutes before kick-off and those using the Whitmore Hill car park need to be in place at least 30 minutes before. The Redhill Street and Birch Street car parks will still be open and remain unaffected.
People won’t be able to drop fans off on the closed roads after the specified times, so look at your time of arrival and plan alternative drop-off points if you need to. There has been consultation with various bodies and local residents but it’s the local authority who have applied for this. We have facilitated the match-day operations in conjunction with them.”
Peter Bradburn asked about buses and was told by Steve: “They will be diverting and we are currently having discussions. These measures felt right for the club and we have done what’s appropriate for each part of the ground. We will try to make the effects as limited as possible but we need to do all we can for the safety of our supporters.” Neil Dady said: “I have been campaigning for this for many years, so well done.” Steve replied to Diane Jordan by saying there had been no direct (terrorism) threat to Molineux and these measures were being implemented in the wider context of spectator safety. Diane asked for bollards to be higher than some existing ones, so they were unlikely to be tripped over. Steve said there wouldn’t be many new bollards in the short term and fans would hardly notice any new ones when installed.
In answer to concern over how the moves would impact on less mobile supporters, Steve pointed out that the club currently provided 46 disabled parking services – ‘well within the scope of where we need to be.’ Neil Dady said the club should be bending over backwards to help the disabled and it was pointed out from elsewhere on the floor that a scheme whereby some fans help others might be run. Dennis Green said the Disabled Supporters Association were busy in on-going discussions, adding: “The council have to stand up and help the club.”
Roger Phillips wondered whether golf buggies or something similar might be available for the disabled who lose their spaces on closed roads. There were further questions raised, including one from Richard Green about Dunstall Park being used by supporters in general (if there was not a meeting on) and of a park-and-ride scheme being operated from near the KFC outlet on the Stafford Road. Chris Pardo has observed that the Wolverhampton Science Park was getting busier on match days, especially as one of the car parks there had been closed. Steve replied: “They have the right to shut it if they need it on a Saturday but we will keep it under constant review.” Laurie agreed to look at the various proposals made and sought to ensure everyone that dialogue with the fans with disabilities would continue and all would be done to minimise the inconvenience for them.
Ian Smith was told turnstiles would still open an hour and half before kick-off and Roger Phillips was assured that local residents and Asda were aware of the measures, so hopefully deliveries to the supermarket could be scheduled accordingly. Carl Falconer asked about other exits from the Stan Cullis Stand car park being used as he called it a ‘nightmare’ leaving via the one opposite Asda. Steve promised that the matter would be monitored over the coming games. Also on the subject of fan safety, Steve Sutton promised to consult the match day reports after Dave Stevens had said his wife, who is now okay, suffered chest pains before the Cardiff game and had to wait longer than expected for a defibrillator.
Diane Jordan asked Wolves to consider banning vaping in the stadium. On the subject of the PA system, Laurie said a number of tests and upgrades had been carried out since its installation and the installer had been onsite at three games to ensure it is being used to its optimum level. “Whilst again, this is slightly subjective, we felt at the Bristol Rovers and Barnsley games that we were getting something like what we paid for, and we are now more comfortable with the quality of output” the MD added.
Laurie returned to the subject of the road closures and matchday alterations, whilst summing up: “I would strongly urge patience during this time of transition, because it has been a long consultation process and the council support has been superb. It’s in everyone’s interest that we ensure as much as possible everyone’s welfare and safety.”
The meeting concluded by thanking everyone for their continued support and attendance.