Fans’ Parliament – Ben’s minutes

It’s funny how the fans’ parliament meetings you look forward to the least end up offering the most insight.

Maybe this one was so informative because Jez Moxey wasn’t there, speaking so prolifically as he would, but ultimately saying so little.

In this instance, manager Paul Lambert, sporting director Kevin Thelwell and managing director Laurie Dalrymple were upliftingly honest and in Lambert’s case in particular, quite inspirational when signing-off his two-hour appearance with an unscripted, spontaneous rallying call.

With the asset stripping old regime gone and their hairbrained stupidity no longer occupying my notebook, I was expecting a somewhat sanitised meeting of little genuine substance. In my humble opinion, it was anything but.

My highlights of the evening were as follows:

  • We’ll only be bringing in two or three players during the January window. These will walk into the first team. The pressing need is to cut the squad back to a ‘manageable level’ featuring a more ‘domestically balanced group.’
  • We won’t be releasing as many as 10 or 12 in January though. Lambert: “Some need to go out and play, some will not make it with me.”
  • Kevin Thelwell on Jeff Shi and the 13 summer signings: “Jeff would be the first to say he has learned quickly.” (It was Jeff who decided to opt so exuberantly in the transfer window after watching the Rotherham game.)
  • Paul Lambert would walk away from the club if he wasn’t able to bring in the players he wants, stating: “I’m no shrinking violet, I hope you know that. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my own way then there may as well be a mannequin sat here.”
  • We’d need to ‘re-mortgage Molineux’ to afford Helder Costa. We do have an option to buy him, but virtually impossible if we are outside the Premier League. Thelwell said: “But we are talking about other options and ways to be creative to keep him here.”
  • The club was ‘dead’ when Lambert arrived, who now believes we are ‘miles ahead’ of where we were when he first walked in.

But I’ll start with Paul Lambert’s concluding sign-off, which was spontaneous, off-the-cuff and absolutely rousing. His voice quiet, his accent monotone, but his role as unlikely orator quite spellbinding as a packed room could hear a pin drop.

After answering each question honestly and openly, Lambert politely – but firmly – interrupted supporter liaison officer Paul Richards’s wrap-up (and request for appreciation for Lambert’s attendance) to provide his own:

“You have a brilliant club, but you’ve just come off the rails a bit and need to get back on track. But forget it, it’s gone.

You have got the history of the club, great togetherness here and I will do everything I can to be successful for you. It might work. It might not work. But we need a bit of time.

Your support is brilliant. You are on the cusp of something really special. The club is in good hands but it just needs a bit of help. If we all pull in the same way then we can have a really successful club.”

<cue spontaneous round of applause>

Onto the minutes themselves, I will go through topic-by-topic raised by fans, with my shorthand notes scribbling everything down as quickly as possible!

Why are players playing so badly? Some of them, particularly defensively, look to have lost all their ability and can barely control the ball!

PL: “I’m not seeing that. The feeling around the football club is a lot stronger than when I came in. I think it was dead when I came in. It could be exciting but we have got to make some changes.”

On the size of the squad

PL: “There have been so many players to see and the size of the squad is far too big. Ideally you would bring in two or three in the window. Bringing in 13 was nigh on impossible. Lads that have come in don’t know the league. Look at Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Man Utd. Helder Costa has hit the ground running, Ivan Cavaleiro is starting to do it but others have taken time to adapt.

On the make-up of the squad:

PL: “I think that the squad is unbalanced and not just a little bit unbalanced. You have got to have two players for each position. We have too many in one place and less in other places. There is too much of a gap in quality. There is a discrepancy. We are top heavy in the centre of midfield and the balance is out.

What is our style of play?

PL: “You need young, energetic lads to play the way we want to play. They are fearless, they have got speed if we press or counter-press. They are quick lads who can hurt you. We have got to be better on the ball. Jack Price is excellent on the ball so he is one who can retain the ball. But we don’t lose that pressing aspect. We have got to get into the habit of pressing the game. To be fair, they are miles ahead from when I first came to the club. There has been a major difference in going to get the ball. If you look at Fulham, they should have won that game, let’s be honest. But we kept pressing.”

What is your formation? Is there a Plan A?

PL: “Yes. I look at who we are playing against and judge it from there. For the Nottingham Forest game on Saturday, I watched them in the week against Preston. Then I had the idea of going the way that we did. I thought that the front four we chose would cause them problems. In modern day football, you have got to be flexible. It is better this way than playing in one particular formation.”

On Bakary Sako possibly coming back?

PL: “There’s no doubt he had a brilliant time here. You have to respect that he is a Crystal Palace player. Do I like him as a footballer? He is a handful. An absolute handful. But he has the African Nations Cup, so there would be a lot to weigh up. But there is no doubt that he was a massive success here.”

On Helder Costa signing permanently:

Kevin Thelwell: “He is on loan until the end of the season with no recall clause, you will be pleased to know. We have an option to buy. We might have to re-mortgage Molineux to get him. It would be difficult to buy him if we are outside the Premier League, but we are talking about other ways to be creative and keep him here.”

Kevin Thelwell on fair play rules:

KT: “You can’t continue to keep spending money with the financial fair play that is in place. We paid a lot in the first window which has to have implications on the next window. So it will be more out than in, but without question we do want to improve the group, so on that basis we will look at one or two who can come in and improve the team.”

LD: “We do have an owner who is happy to invest but we can’t flout the financial fair play rules.”

Why didn’t we think about this at the start of the season? Asked one fan…

KT: “Jeff will be the first to say he has learned very quickly. There are a number of people that support ‘the process’ here (in terms of recruitment). It was fair to say that after the Rotherham game, we had to make a number of changes quickly, so we turned from an evolved plan to a number of players which hasn’t worked. Nor has replacing Kenny Jackett with Walter Zenga. I’d love to say that we all sat here and said ‘let’s get 13 players from across the globe but that wasn’t the case. We are where we are.

“We need to reduce the squad to a manageable level. We’ve got to get back to a more domestically balanced group who can help us to move up the league.”

What is Kevin Thelwell’s role and what is the process on recruitment?

KT: “A sporting director role was created because the club does not want to subcontract the football club to one particular person (I couldn’t help but think of Mick McCarthy here folks!)

Let’s get more transparency, more diligence, go and meet the player. Will he fit with the style of play? And so on and so forth. That’s part of the role. Not all of it, but part of it. I would speak to Paul Lambert and say ‘you want a centre back, let’s sit down and talk about these types of players.’

“The only way we can sign a player is if Paul Lambert wants him.

Did this happen with Joe Mason? Asked one fan…

KT: “Kenny Jackett wanted Joe but he couldn’t find the right place for him.”

Did this happen over the summer? Asked another…

KT: “I want us to look forward rather than back. I think it is pretty clear how we want it to operate.”

Are you happy with this Paul?

PL: “I’m no shrinking violet. I hope you know that I left Blackburn Rovers at my own free will because I was not going to get my own way. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my way then there will be a mannequin sat here.”

The message of only bringing in two or three isn’t clear amongst fans who will be expecting more…

PL: “If we keep bringing players in then we will be top heavy. I don’t think that there would be many more (than two or three). If you bring in four, five or six in January and don’t get rid of the ones you want then you have got too many to work with.

“I don’t expect 10 or 12 to leave.  Some need to go to play, others will not make it with me.

“We need two or three new faces to freshen the place up a little bit.

KT: “Absolutely. We have got to get players in who are going to play.”

Will we be paying players off to leave:

KT: “We are not at that point yet. I think that would be counter-productive. Without giving too much away, we have got a number of solutions for a lot of the players. I just don’t think we are at that point.”

What do you think about the youngsters?

PL: “The best I’ve seen in years. Really, 100%. When you’ve got that bigger squad, you are stopping the development of Bright, Connor Ronan and Herc. You may as well scrap the academy. Bright, touchwood, is going to be a major star. Ronan the same, too. There are about six or seven of them. If you keep bringing in six or seven players then how do they develop? Young Niall Ennis is a terrific prospect too. I’ll be disappointed if a couple of them have not come through by the end of the season. It’s exciting!

“They need the right manager, at the right time, at the right moment. If they have fire in their bellies, the right attitude and the right ability then I will play them.”

One fan was worried about decisions to sell our best players, and used Kevin McDonald as an example, and worried Jack Price might be next:

PL: “Let me stop you there on Jack Price. As soon as I saw Jack Price I said he needed to play. Jack Price was great against Preston and did well against Sheffield Wednesday. The reason I took him out for two weeks was he was not ‘at it’ physically. If I’d have played him we’d have lost him for weeks on end. I was close to playing him together with Connor Ronan.”

A fan asked about bringing German players into the club, as Lambert has links with clubs there.

Lambert said it was difficult to prize players away from that country because they have such a great set-up there and players don’t want to leave. He could only really think of Ballack and one or two others.

KT added: “We are probably around 60/40 ratio (in terms of foreign players v domestic players). It is more 75/25 or 70/30 for successful teams that have got out of the league.

Other points were raised in the meeting, such as safe standing, new website (the company behind this gave a short talk about how it will be better than the current one) and ticketing. I didn’t take notes here as I needed to rest my hand for the points I felt were of most interest to you all. Please refer to the official minutes for these.

Some final bullet points:

  • Roman Saiss is the only player in the group who might be affected by the African Cup of Nations
  • Paul Gladon: KT said: “He probably needs to play more games. He has struggled to adapt to a strong, tough league. Intensity in Holland not nearly as high as in England. There is lots to work on, including making Paul more physical and competitive. An individual development plan is being drawn up to get him closer to the first team.”
  • A lot of staff have departed / will be departing, including Matt Grayson, Lynne O’Reardon and Richard Skirrow. Existing members of staff promoted, with new opportunities being created for good people.
  • Laurie Dalrymple talked about his role. Nothing groundbreaking here. A brief to be more efficient for Fosun, despite their deep pockets, I did warm to him generally. Quite a dry sense of humour, and you sense there is less spin and less appetite to grab a soundbite like his predecessor (who I note is at it again at Carrow Road, glibly talking of ‘promotion, promotion, promotion!)

In conclusion:

While this might sound convenient to many, there seemed to be an onus on looking forward, rather than dwelling on the past. Lambert alluded to this in his spontaneous sign-off, while Thelwell did likewise when reflecting on our summer spending spree.

Maybe the festive season is finally seducing me, but I would tend to agree – and hold no blame to Kevin Thelwell for our crazy recruitment policy. As our sporting director said, Jeff has learned his lesson there.

The bigger points for me are:

  1. Our penny pinching, expectation shrinking regime of seasons gone has left.
  2. Thus, those deep lying roots of evil have finally been removed, which stifled any hope of growth.
  3. For a flower to grow in its place takes time. If lessons have been learned, then I expect some buds of recovery in the spring. Due care and attention is already in place.

Before this meeting, I don’t mind saying I wasn’t looking forward to it. Having been, I do maintain that – to coin a phrase from our manager – that we’re on the cusp of something really special.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Here’s to a happy 2017.

Ben

Fans’ Parliament – Ben’s minutes

So the fans’ parliament minutes are out in the public domain, meaning I can share my notes from the evening as well.

Wolves fans at Leyton Orient

In an attempt to cut to the chase, I will begin with my conclusions and subsequent predictions after listening to what was said, before working my way backwards. My shorthand wasn’t in the finest of fettle, as I was asking a few questions and wanted to be looking directly at Jez Moxey when he answered them, rather than my notepad with my head down. So in some instances, the quotes are indirectly taken rather than direct, but this should become clear.

So, my overriding conclusion, purely subjective and of my own personal opinion, is as follows:

1. There is literally no hope for next season from what I can glean, unless we find a new owner.

JM said: “There is nothing to add since the end of season dinner. We are in discussions. We remain optimistic. There is no timeline. Don’t get yourself too excited. We want exactly what you all want and nothing changes. The situation is exactly the same and let me reassure everybody that we read your comments. We are aware of the feelings that people are expressing and our fingers are on the pulse.”

2. Jez Moxey was particularly careful in phrasing plans for summer strengthening…check the semantics.

JM said: “We are trying very hard to strengthen the team, irrespective of whether there is a new owner. We are going to continue to try hard to strengthen the team, regardless of whether there is a new owner or not.”

Call me a cynic, but the ‘trying hard’ bit sounded too pertinent to me. It was not a categorical statement that we will definitely strengthen the team. Stating that you will try hard to do something is completely different to saying that you will! These comments really underwhelmed me, underpinning my overriding conclusion above in point 1.

3. To underline my ‘no hope’ conclusion, check out the quote from JM below when one fan contested that we would only be able to strengthen the team by selling players (being as all the parachute payments have ended)

JM didn’t rule out having to sell players (from what my memory serves, at least), with the following vague response: “We want to get a team who can compete.”

4. Jez Moxey’s money contradiction…

When I asked about what objectives / brief Kenny Jackett is working towards, JM said: “We would like new investment if we can get it. With a? new owner potentially comes with new investment policies. Ideally, we want to be challenging for promotion regardless of ownership. I think being in the top six if at all possible is a minimum requirement. Kenny Jackett is here to help us do that.”

But he earlier asserted that money is not the be-all-and-end-all. He talked about clubs spending big and not getting it right (quoting Manchester United and £250 million) before talking about nurturing players like Wallace, who was a League 2 player of the year, and Jordan Graham, who has been carefully developed. He talked about always having ‘one eye on the future.’

My question that followed was: “How much is ‘one eye on the future’ a genuine philosophy that runs in your heart as being the right way to operate, or how much is it Steve Morgan simply saying ‘I’m tightening the purse-strings and you’ve got no money? So buying Wallace, loaning Ojo is the only choice you have?’

JM appeared to argue a case for the latter by reminding the room of the success we have had when we have spent money. He said we have a history of doing well when we do spend, such as 2008/09. He reminded the room of the day Sir Jack made a fateful decision in a London conference room following promotion in 2003 when the board was told that very little money would be made available. Had it have been, we could have really established ourselves, claimed JM.

So he ultimately agreed that money was important, having earlier argued the case against it being important?! (Indeed, in his last FP appearance his direct quote was finding ‘a knight in shining armour to fund our aspirations’ after reminding us of the strides made by Ipswich Town and Birmingham City).

I’d suggest to Jez, with respect, that extolling the virtues of ‘doing things the right way’ is a tad disingenuous, when there is literally no other option but to operate in this way in the first place, owing to a chairman who has downed tools!

I did follow up by saying to Jez that he must wish he could go to Steve Morgan and ask for £50 million to get us promoted, which would be pocket money to SM. We could then bring in players of the ilk of Andre Gray, which is surely preferable. It was this observation that Jez followed with his examples of Wolves doing well when we spend money.

5. Kenny Jackett is a dead man walking.

Dave Benton, a guy who I respect for asking straight questions, asked: ‘How long are the club prepared to put up with the most dire, boring, clueless football that has ever been served up before they ditch the manager? (And before almost no one bothers to turn up because it is so dreadful?)

JM answered, and I quote: “”Not long. This past season is not what we wanted. It is not acceptable and it must change!”

Ergo, Jackett will have to fashion a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with no solid pledge given on improving the team (other than doing their best to improve it) let alone any assurances on how we would fund any new additions with existing player sales not being ruled out. Let’s not forget the Stearman saga from last season. If I was Kenny, I would be worried.

6. Other questions I asked:

Is a clause in Kevin McDonald’s contract prohibiting Kenny Jackett from playing him?

JM answered: “What do you think?” to which I responded, ‘I don’t know.’ He pushed again: ‘What do you think?’ I said was a claim that could have legs. He then categorically denied that there was a clause in Kevin McDonald’s contract and said it was the manager’s decision on whether he played or not.

Interestingly though, a fan asked a similar question in the parliament earlier on in the evening, and Moxey actually sounded more guarded, and said there was a reason why McDonald wasn’t playing, before appearing to stop himself from elaborating. He seemed to go on the defensive, stating: I don’t know another club who would give a fan chance to ask the chief executive this. I’m not going into full detail but Kenny preferred the other players he chose.”

It came across as being guarded to me, hence me asking the follow-up question on K Mac.

Comparing Wolves in 2016 to when you first joined the club in 2000, season ticket sales are down, quality on the pitch is down, commercial revenue is presumably down, expectation is down and apathy is at an all-time high. How do you assess your performance during this time?

JM replied: “I will allow the people who employ me to assess that as they control whether I am here or not. They know the detailed criteria on which I am judged.”

7. Money Shop sponsorship.

Most of the points are on the official minutes. No amount of signatures are going to change the decision. The CEO of Money Shop Stuart Howard was keen to state how he is turning the business around from a mess of 18 months ago, from where a great deal of negativity stems. He has now changed their lending criteria and he is trying to ensure they do not lend to anyone who cannot afford it again in the future. Also, they are going to work with the credit unions in Wolverhampton. A lot of charity work was outlined too.

And Wolves are committed to giving programme space to other lending unions / independent bodies, which is what MPs asked for in their letters of complaint.

My thoughts for what they’re worth: I just look at the Money Shop sponsorship through the following, simple ground: Was it the right thing to do? In life, you have choices and generally, you know in your heart of hearts what the right thing to do is. Yes, this sounds horribly woolly and opaque I know, but it is what I go off.

In my opinion, this was the wrong thing to do. I don’t want to revisit Charles Ross’s excellent open letter but it is on this blog if you need further elaboration. In the FP, the club were defiant in their view that this was the right thing to do, whilst acknowledging that they do care about what supporters think.

Matt Grayson’s overriding argument was that there is a place in society for regulated loans. ‘Regulated credit should not be demonised,’ he said.

Jez Moxey said, and I quote: “We are not here to solve society. We are not here to do that, that’s not our job. Our job is to win football matches.”

He followed this up by saying that 2 million people need this service, and if it ceased to exist, what would the alternative be?

Would he do things differently if he had this time again? “Absolutely no,” he answered.

And JM offered a gentle reminder about all of the positive community work that the club carries out, which some fans might not remember.

“We, as you know, give a lot of money to charity and have done so for a long time. When we run stories about donations, which run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, people are not really interested, but they are interested in lots of other things.”

He added: “There is a genuine synergy with the Money Shop.” (This quote in relation to the amount of charity work that both businesses carry out).

Bizarrely, after one fan argued that High Street banks like Barclays were way more reprehensible than the Money Shop because they plunged the nation into a recession in the first place, Jez Moxey asked fans in the room who banked with Barclays to raise their hands. I felt this was unnecessary and frankly, beside the point, but that’s just my humble opinion.

There were other points raised but the topics didn’t strike a chord with me, so feel free to refer to the official minutes for these (JM’s role on the Football League, pigeon crap on seats etc etc).

Summing up

As is always the case after a meeting on the fans’ parliament, I report back honestly, backed up by pages of shorthand. And most quotes written above are direct, taken from 100words per minute shorthand in my pad. Those that are not direct quotes are written indirectly and I think I make this clear.

To sum up, we need a new owner as a matter of urgency. We have no money, we have no confirmation of whether we will definitely improve the squad – let alone how funds will be made available in the first place – and Kenny Jackett is skating on thin ice.

Oh, and Kevin McDonald most definitely doesn’t have a clause in his contract!

If this parliament tells me anything, then it is that we’re quite probably in for one of the longest summers in recent history.

Thanks for reading. All comments welcome.

Ben’s Fans’ Parliament Minutes

Personally, I couldn’t feel any worse about the state of our great club, the general lack of direction in which it is heading and no apparent sense of urgency to arrest the slump we’re in.

Wolves fans at Leyton Orient

But when I read back my notes from the Fans’ Parliament from a fortnight ago (apologies for the time it has taken in typing them), chief executive Jez Moxey didn’t sound unduly concerned, unless his confident exterior belied similar concern.

At times during the Fans’ Parliament meeting, I felt like I was living in a parallel universe as our chief executive proudly exclaimed that our emphasis on youth “is working” with rival clubs telling him so, despite current evidence suggesting otherwise.

And if fans don’t like it and place ‘X, Y or Z’ demands on the club before committing to an early bird season ticket, then he is not sure they are the right fans for Wolves.

There was no contrition, no apologies and no introspection from the chief executive, who actually trumpeted a number of success stories, along with a withering attack on Benik Afobe in tandem with Kevin Thelwell. (which has now been well documented. They really didn’t hold back).

After reading the official minutes on the official Wolves website, I felt I had to get my notes across, as some of the more contentious quotes appear to be missing.

The following comments from Jez Moxey caused me the most consternation:

· “If you say you will not renew (your season ticket) unless X, Y or Z, then that is not a relationship I would want with supporters.”

· “We believe in much more than the results on a Saturday afternoon. We believe in these young players. It is working. Clubs look at us and say that you have got this right. Why? Because we have been working at this for years and years. Why do the FA nick our people? Because your football club develops people.

Moxey

· “It’s not all about money” before arguably contradicting himself by saying: “We hope the knight in shining armour arrives over the horizon to help us and fund our aspirations!”

· Bournemouth only obtained promotion to the Premier League by ‘cheating’, such have been their disregard for financial fair play rules, which they will have to face up to ‘when’ they are relegated.

I didn’t ask any questions during the meeting aside one to the financial controller Rita Purewal at the very beginning, mostly because I was frantically scribbling down the many words that were being said.

It’s worth stating here that I am an NVQ Level 4 journalist with a 100 word-per-minute shorthand qualification and gained my qualifications through the Midlands News Association which owns the Express & Star. I used my shorthand when taking the following notes.

I always report on the fans’ parliament meetings as I see them and always comment honestly, whether it be good (the tour of the academy was a wonderful insight) or bad.

I felt that while Jez Moxey acknowledged and answered all of the questions posed (falling attendances being one) at the fans’ parliament, he didn’t sound unduly concerned by our predicament, with the following quote encapsulating what I felt was his general sentiment.

“If you do the right things then you create good fortune. The success will follow.”

The meeting started with ex-Stockport County CEO Ryan McKnight presenting some research into fans and their relationship with football clubs, specifically Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Personally, I didn’t take to Ryan – who was commissioned by Jez Moxey to carry out the independent research – or his overarching premise.

His presentation, condensed into a few paragraphs, was that Wolves fans should not expect success, when only 14% of 72 Football League clubs can ever achieve it in any given season. It is an unreasonable aspiration.

He advocated taking down the ‘This is our club. It knows no division’ banner inside the ground, as an example of his belief. I.E. It shouldn’t need stating and support shouldn’t be conditional on success / the subsequent division we are in.

If we love the club like our families have loved it for generations, then carrying on this tradition is more important than, say, abandoning the club next season and going 10 pin bowling.

Clubs should, according to Ryan, abandon a success based approach as their core purpose. Decision making should be devolved to supporters.

In short, Wolves should be more like Athletic Bilbao, who stand up for the Basque region and see their role in the community as being greater than any success gained on the pitch.

I took Ryan’s points on board, but felt the entire 30 minute presentation was too idealistic and dare I say romantic, based on the one glaring omission:

What is a football fan without hope?

I will write a separate blog on this thought but Ryan – a lifelong Wolves fan himself – failed to acknowledge that the increasing number of Wolves fans are considering walking away because all hope has been ripped from their souls. E.g. (Stearman, Afobe, Sako, Dicko, Graham departures / injuries, no quality replacements and an owner who isn’t in it for the long haul like Ryan tells us to be, despite having a ‘heart and body transplant’ to Wolves).

So while mentioning our fathers and grandads in a point of lineage, it is a spurious comparison to make when they could walk down Waterloo Road with varying degrees of hope, without apathy threatening their very DNA.

Ryan would probably counter this by saying we should keep on attending (under a ‘total membership model’ of support rather than season ticket principle) and get as close to the club as possible which will, in turn, stand up for our rights. The club should also become our mouthpiece and that of the city’s socio-economic needs.

So when fans demand certain criteria be met before renewing their early birds (investment in new players for example), then they are missing the point.

Jez Moxey’s most controversial of comments about not wanting a relationship with such fans was made in this context.

I will let you make your own minds up.

I was left dazed, if not a little confused.