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Fans' Parliament Steering Group Minutes

Around 20 Wolves Fans Parliament members were present in Molineux’s Hayward Suite last night for a steering group meeting aimed at re-energising the long-standing group.

Debate at the last full forum several weeks ago had led to the scheduling of this extra date on the calendar, with Neil Dady acting as chairman amid a move to in some way relaunch the organisation to improve links with the supporter base. He reflected the feeling that the Parliament should be less benign and asked members for ideas on a possible new direction starting in the coming season.

Dave Quarrell asked what Wolves’ view was and was told by Paul Richards – the only club employee present – that managing director Laurie Dalrymple remained very much in favour of the Parliament. Paul listed a number of senior Molineux officials who had regularly attended meetings over the years and Neil said: “I was blown away the last time because we seemed to have everyone here!” Karl Paulins said the only way the concept would work is if the club still supported it. Neil added: “If the club aren’t supportive and we aren’t close to them, the Parliament is redundant.” Paul Richards went further: “The club want this club to continue…..let me be clear about that. We can’t speak to everyone in our supporter base. You must bring the topics to the table.”

Karl said: “We need to understand what the club want from us. What value do they get from it? Are we a sounding board? Is it just a box-ticking exercise?” Paul Richards, the regular Parliament chairman, answered by pointing out that senior management meetings often contained discussion about what had been raised at sessions. “Views are very much welcomed and taken on board,” he said. “But there are frustrations that some items, like safe standing, are discussed over and over and we can’t move on them because of legislation.”

Andy James observed that some agenda items were set by the club and some by members but he felt certain frequent topics should be ‘bulleted’ and not revisited time and again. Simon Wade provided a counter-argument to that by saying the ‘constant drip-feed’ from members about booking fees had had an effect. Tom Byrne said: “Repeating ourselves is the only way we can have a voice.”

There had been talk at the early-spring meeting about sub-groups being established to tackle certain issues and Stuart Alves said last night: “If we have two or three people dealing with the specific person in the club, it would take the pressure off these meetings. For example, people could go away and work on safe standing with Steve Sutton.” Paul recognised that as a possible way forward. “Keep knocking the door on general across-the-club issues,” he urged. Peter Bradburn believed there were pros and cons to the sub-group idea and concern was raised that it might even start to negate the need for the Parliament.

Clive Smith said he had missed having a guest speaker at some meetings. “They give a view of the club we don’t have otherwise,” he said, adding that he had regretted the fact Rita Purewal had not been present to talk members through the latest published accounts. Neil Dady asked: “Do we come to meetings to be informed? That’s pretty insular if we don’t then impart that to the wider fanbase?” Jon Babb said the contents were never private, with the minutes published for all fans to see.

Simon Wade said consultation was required on the club’s part as they couldn’t ask a supporter base of tens of thousands for their views. But Neil admitted: “There’s a swathe of fans who don’t see the Parliament as very active or useful. There has been a disconnect.”

Andy James said the club should make a statement saying the Parliament was worthwhile, adding: “The perception is that they don’t pay much attention to what we say.” Paul Richards replied: “I am sure Laurie would be willing to do that.” Dave Quarrell added: “I put a thread on Molineux Mix about this meeting and there were 45 replies, with not a real negative among them. They all felt it was important and see it as a conduit between club and supporters.” Dave Benton argued: “I have felt for years the format lacks so much focus….questions are asked and then lost. Everything became a bit vague and people were disillusioned. Focus groups – and I am not talking about groups causing trouble – coming with specific points that are well researched is important. If we can give input to the club, with non-members filtering questions in, that surely helps and is a positive thing.” Jon Babb felt the Parliament had nevertheless been successful but Neil reminded the meeting: “I would like to have some agreement in place from tonight. We should have some full stops.”

Anne Bott said she saw the Parliament as a sounding board and as something very necessary as it wouldn’t be effective to have only sub-groups. She also thought a mission statement was a good idea. Clive Smith proposed that five members from this meeting were picked with a view to producing such a statement. Neil said: “I have asked the Football Supporters Federation if there is a standard constitution.” Stuart Alves agreed with this move so there wasn’t the need to ‘reinvent the wheel.’ A committee, based on volunteers writing in or possibly recommendations, is due to be in place ready to draw up a constitution in time for the next full meeting, probably in August.

Keith Bickley said the relationship between the club and Parliament had to be two-way, with sub-groups set up for matters Wolves wanted and needed discussing. Tom Byrne asked: “Do the club want us to try to influence them where we can? Do they want to bounce ideas off us? There are different levels of engagement.” Paul Richards responded: “We want you to bring to us the issues that fans face.” Simon Wade said he was surprised the club hadn’t sought some input on ticket prices but Neil Dady pointed out: “I’m also aware that the Parliament shouldn’t be seen as a mouthpiece. If the club said they came up with prices after consulting us, we could all be held in disrepute.”

On the subject of awareness, Dave Benton argued: “An awful lot of people don’t contact us because they don’t know who we are. If they knew who the contact on a specific point was, I think we would have more questions.”

Andy James was one of those asking for a name change and had Tom Byrne as a supporter. Anne Bott read out a long list of alternatives including Council, Assembly, Congress, Senate, Conference, Guild and Forum. Dave Benton said he saw some merit in the term Fans’ Forum but also said Fans Parliament should be one of the names considered if there was a vote. Tony Grocott said any change should be democratic but the vote on whether the name needed changing came down in favour of leaving it as it was. Neil Dady said it was perhaps a case of refocusing or reshaping rather than relaunching.

Paul Richards informed the meeting that the original term served by members was two years, rising to four in some cases. Then that limit had been discarded and some members had sat for six years. Tony Grocott said he thought the membership was too unwieldy at a total of around 60. Neil suggested a cap of 50 and Stuart Alves proposed that people should renew their membership by a specified cut-off date. Jas Bahra asked whether anyone who hadn’t attended a meeting for a year or two should be dropped off.

Chris Pardo said he was 33 and considered himself one of the youngest present. Paul Richards said it was okay for younger fans to be targeted, or those from other minority groups. Simon Wade said a trick was being missed by not having younger members and Jas Bahra wondered whether 12 members from each stand would work, with the South Bank providing mainly the younger. There was a firm commitment from the meeting to ensure a good cross-section of fans was achieved through gender, race, etc. Stuart Alves’s suggestion that overseas groups might have some representation drew approval from Paul Richards, who commented on the growth of Dubai Wolves.

Paul said the club were committed to a minimum of four Parliament meetings a year but Peter Bradburn said it should be stressed that there could be eight for some of those in sub-groups. Neil asked whether a Parliament representation should be visible at club events, such as the fans’ memorial service and armed services day, with such attendance publicised. Tom Byrne said: “We shouldn’t need a rosette to say who we are…..whether at events or in seeking questions. Just speak to people normally at games or in the pub.” Paul Richards answered a question about whether stewards should ever have an input on decisions by saying he would rather have feedback from a fan rather than someone working at the stadium.

Jas Bahra said publicity would be useful with any Parliament restructuring and there was a general consensus that more could in future be done on Twitter especially. Paul Richards described this as a ‘very powerful platform’ but was unsure whether a page in the programme could be specifically provided for the group. Paul also urged caution against anything that could bring members into disrepute on social media. Members were agreed that it would be useful to have an IT-savvy individual on the committee.

The meeting concluded with some discussion about safe standing but Tony Grocott said: “This subject has been brought up before. Let the club know we are still in favour, end of. There’s no point rabbiting on about it.” Anne Bott, who said the feedback to the Bank Holiday Monday celebrations in the city and West Park had been unanimously positive, was against the idea of standing but the meeting agreed overwhelmingly to support the club’s position on safe standing – namely, a keenness to trial the idea dependent on forthcoming discussions in the other Parliament!

Commenting on the substantial rebuilding work currently going on at Molineux, Paul Richards told members: “We had a Premier League induction on Monday and the regulations are huge. There is a lot to do in a relatively short space of time.”