Minutes from Albion Assembly meeting (25/03/15)
The Albion Assembly – March 25, The Hawthorns.
*Apologies for absence from Gurdial Singh, Heidi Zoeller, Bedraj Ram, Matt Hadlington, Joanne Williamson
*Welcome introduction to newest member Kev Candon from WBA Disabled Supporters’ Club
*Welcome to Albion Foundation director Rob Lake, who is in attendance for the meeting
“Let’s get the atmosphere crackling again at The Hawthorns.”
That proved to be the dominant item of discussion at the first full meeting of the newly-formed Albion Assembly which has brought together supporters from all corners of the fan base.
The weeks leading up to the get-together saw the members nominating items for discussion in future meetings but there was no doubt that the issue dominating the thoughts of so many was giving a big lift to the Hawthorns atmosphere.
The club are thinking along the same lines. Chairman Martin Swain gave the members a sneak preview of their ideas with some proposed giant images which could feature in a stadium makeover.
They received a nod of approval from member Dan Watts who summarised: “That’s the thing we lack at The Hawthorns – something that shows it’s our home.”
Images of past players and club legends proved a popular suggestion as were calls for a revamp of the exterior of the Birmingham Road End to display “The Hawthorns.”
Others asked if images could be projected on to some of the stadium’s grey interiors to also brighten the mood and provide a more intimidating backdrop for the opposition.
Swain also spoke about ideas being considered further afield including drop-down banners from the the lamp-posts on the approaches to the stadium and said: “We are certainly looking to give The Hawthorns a makeover in the summer and these are the kinds of ideas we need to explore.”
Member John Homer cited the examples of the murals at the Emirates Stadium is decorated with wonderful murals, Goodison Park is decorated with historic images and Manchester City’s stadium is decorated with iconic images. “Fair point to say what you need to do is brighten it up.”
Other ideas included banners displays of famous quotes and commentary from the club’s history while there was a large show of support for making greater use of the Albion’s emblem, the Throstle, currently sited in the Woodman Corner interior.
Moving and illuminating the Throstle, suggested by David James, drew support with alternative locations on top of the scoreboard and on top of the West Stand proposed. And Christiaan Wallett suggested potential animations of a modernised Throstle in football action for a younger audience.
John Yeomans asked: “It’s all about branding and what is our brand? It seems to me that it is all about the Throstle. If we can get that common theme in everything, it will at least start to get some atmosphere going and feel we belong to something.”
Another member, Andrew Benbow, stated: “It’s all about history and relating to our past – but at the moment, the club doesn’t feel like the club we grew up with.”
And there was another idea from Selwyn Owens who suggested the currently grey bare expanse between the East Stand and the Birmingham Road End we could be resolved with a simple solution - painted white and then home to a huge Albion badge.
One of the most well-received ideas came from Dan Watts who proposed Albion emulate Manchester City’s idea of switching off the lights throughout their stadium shortly before night game kick-offs. With the Throstle illuminated still, the impact would be powerful, he argued.
That triggered a further discussion on a linked theme - match-day music and entertainment which Swain confirmed was also set for a major revamp during the summer. But to what and for how long?
Sted Gani insisted matchday music needed to be improved 10 minutes before kick off: “We need to make it an unfriendly place for opposing teams,” he said.
But there were other ideas, including playing classic old matchday commentaries or displaying memorable goals on the big screen in the vital pre kick-off countdown.
There was a consensus view that “The Liquidator”, while still a treasured part of the pre-match armoury, lost impact with regular use. It should be saved for occasions when we really need it, said one member to general agreement.
Making greater use of the “Lord Is My Shepherd” anthem was mooted as was a plea for youngsters waving huge flags to greet the players and build up the atmosphere. And there was a request for first half highlights to be shown at half-time, a greater “build-up” for the players when the teams were announced
But, offering a counter view, Chris Jones felt the PA music to be so loud - and poor - that it killed off any chance of an atmosphere. He too plumped for vintage commentaries as a primary source to stir the Baggies faithful before kick-off
Amanda Hume pointed out that the audio from the “Baggies Cam” on the big screen was not clear and agreed the music was too loud.
But there was a unanimous Assembly accord that whatever ideas were adopted, post-goal music should not be included.
And in another strand of discussion, joint-vice chair Hannah Weaver suggests that when a new player signs we give them a hand-out sheet re history of the club, an induction into WBA. JH: new signing induction ceremony, tell them all about the club, this what it means to play for WBA.
MS closes final point on the music – we need an emblem tune, we need a song! Send us your ideas. Take that away with you.
Other items for discussion on the agenda were shortened. Swain said that it was clear concerns about catering, and questions on stewarding at the Hawthorns were other key areas for the Assembly to which it would be best to return when Mark Miles, the Head of Facilities Operations and Development, was available to answer questions. This was expected to be at the next Assembly meeting towards the end of the season.
But among the problems highlighted were huge half-time queues which either made purchasing food or drink impossible or encouraged supporters to leave long before the interval whistle to ensure service (Gill Chimento). This, it was claimed, was particularly a problem in the Smethwick End.
One solution suggested by Sted Gani were pop-up beer and burger booths while the Assembly wondered whether American-style stadium sellers walking around the concourse offering food and drink might be an alternative. Using digital technology to order food in advance was also put forward – an idea which was once tried out in the East Stand but then dropped.
Would it be possible to adopt Chelsea’s credit card system which again would speed up service? And ever-changing staff at the counters were also cited as a problem because of their unfamiliarity with the sales procedure and equipment.
Stewarding issues were also logged for future discussion.
The West Ham FA Cup match featured as a particular cause for complaint. Gill Chimento recounted her East Stand experience of ticket scans not working and a single elderly steward unable to cope with the complaints. When she pointed this out to a chief steward, she received a rude response for her trouble.
The Assembly felt that there was very inconsistent stewarding across different stands.
It was agreed that ticketing was another subject for more time although there was Assembly agreement for the away season ticket prices to be reviewed.
Warren Stephens raised this issue complaining about a system which currently sees fans pay £150 up front and then £1 booking fee for each away game purchased (total £169). In return, £5 vouchers for each of the away games add up to a £95 discount and total cost of £74 to guarantee an away ticket. This was poor value for money which punished the most loyal supporters, he argued.
In Any Other Business, Swain acknowledged that concessions in the West Stand remained a bug bear for many while the issue of the living wage also featured in e-mails and contact from supporters.
He concluded: “We want to establish a series of key areas which I can take into the club, get responses to and hopefully get some success with.”
Date of next meeting – Wednesday, May 6 (8pm).