Albion Chairman Jeremy Peace's statement from Saturday's matchday programme
Last season’s campaign was one of the least enjoyable I have experienced in my 12 years as chairman.
The anguish and tension that at times filled the stadium did not stop at the directors’ box where the consequences of losing Premier League status are with us every waking hour.
You will know that under my stewardship, this club has been structured to withstand such adversity, but we sailed far too close for comfort in 2013-14 – and I resolved to do everything in my power to try to ensure we did not again suffer those agonies.
At times it felt like we were under the grip of Murphy’s Law and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But that would be avoiding responsibility. West Bromwich Albion is a club about to begin its fifth consecutive season of Premier League football and that is no small achievement when you take account of the intensity of competition around us.
But in order to maintain this profile, everyone – absolutely everyone – at the club has to perform to maximum efficiency and last season we didn’t. I freely admit that I was among those who got things wrong and as Chairman, that weighs heavily with me.
I said that lessons had been learned and we would regroup and “re-boot” the club. That has made it a demanding and taxing summer but that is the process which has consumed the board and myself since May and is still on-going. However, as we buckle down for another campaign, I hope you agree we are making strides.
Our first major decision was re-structuring the core of the football department.
In acknowledging that we have drifted in the last couple of years from the high demands we make of ourselves, perhaps we should also temper our self-criticism with a little context.
It is not every Premier League club which, at the very moment it has stabilised in the most competitive division in world football, is rewarded for that success by having its two senior football officers recruited by the FA for “national duty.”
Losing Roy Hodgson and Dan Ashworth in the space of a few months was bound to be destabilising but I now feel we have a much more robust and suitably-equipped football structure, beginning with the appointment of Terry Burton at its head.
Terry was a figure already known to us from his work under Roy’s regime and came highly recommended as an experienced and well-regarded figure within the game. His arrival enabled us to re-position Richard Garlick to oversee the administrative elements of this area before we then recruited Mervyn Day – again another senior and well-qualified figure – to focus on recruitment.
This separation of duties has, I believe, put the club under much more stable governance of the football operation. I cannot stress enough at this point the importance of our recruitment. There are few secrets any more in the pursuit of the hidden diamonds for which every club searches. It would be lovely to think we could find a Youssouf Mulumbu every summer but the reality is that the availability of such a player today would probably be flagged up to six or seven Premier League clubs. With each passing season, the game advances ever more competitively and it is an endless challenge for our club to remain in the vanguard of this activity.
Naturally, it was the appointment of Alan Irvine as Head Coach which provoked the most debate. We were of course aware it would not be without controversy but when we sat down for the final deliberations, Alan was the No.1 choice. It is only right we follow the advice of those appointed to provide guidance and expertise in such matters and Terry’s support for Alan was very convincing.
In Alan, we believe we have made an imaginative and bold appointment and have recruited a truly outstanding coach who can and will draw the best from our players. I know that, in the great traditions of this club’s outstanding support base, you will back him 100 per cent.
We were equally determined to avoid last summer’s late “rush” in the transfer market and press ahead as quickly as possible with the overhaul of the playing squad. At the time of writing, eight new players had joined us but the process is on-going.
It is our determination to give Alan as competitive a squad as it is possible for this club’s resources to provide. It should not be lightly dismissed, either, that we have committed fully to key figures already here in Graham Dorrans, Ben Foster and now our captain Chris Brunt.
You may have read that my own stake at the club has now exceeded 75 per cent. I hear all sorts of nonsensical conspiracy theories about this which I would also like to address. Am I looking to sell the club? No. Am I negotiating to sell? No. Would I sell to the right offer from a suitable new investor? Only – I repeat only – if he, she or they could guarantee the continued advance of the club. In many ways, that has been the situation ever since I started on this journey. Why buy the shares? I have devoted the last 14 or so years of my life to the club and believe I have delivered real progress – why wouldn’t I extend my shareholding? I’m backing myself to continue building a better Albion.
I mentioned earlier our “outstanding support base.” It is not a term I use just for effect and I will explain why. I am fully aware that issues arose last season which aggravated the relationship between the club and the fans; we know we should have handled better the change in shirt; we know we should not be perceived to be in conflict with the family of one of our most cherished former players. We have listened to the chorus of complaint and addressed the problems with changes in our communications department.
But what do I find when I check the numbers? We have now recorded our record shirt sales . . . season tickets are just a couple of hundred behind last season’s level and still rising . . . we have a record sponsorship deal . . . our business partners and sponsors, both in terms of renewals and those new to the club, have also reached best-ever levels. It has been a difficult year and a testing year – but that is the family of West Bromwich Albion at work, backing the club in a difficult and disappointing period.
I want you all to know how grateful we are for this sustained commitment. Perhaps we have not always made that clear in the past; I do so now.
I cannot guarantee what happens over the next 38 games. We are always at the mercy of the game’s fickle nature – the penalty not awarded here, the chance that goes begging there – but I naturally hope it is a season we can enjoy more and endure less.
What I can guarantee, however, is that I will strive to continue to give our supporters a West Bromwich Albion of which they are proud and one which can withstand whatever the fates have in store for us.