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Albion Assembly: November meeting with John Williams

29 November 2016

A look back at the recent meeting of the fans’ group

DATE OF MEETING: Thursday, November 24 (WBA Academy)

APOLOGIES: Apologies were received in advance from Andrew Benbow, Penny Homer, Christiaan Wallet, Shin Aujla, Dean Walton, Adam Penn, Luke Mason. 

The meeting was attended by Chairman John Williams (JW), who made frequent contributions to the discussions and engaged in a "Q&A” with members. Other answers were provided by Director of Communications Martin Swain.

ITEMS ON AGENDA:
  • Responses to agenda items
  • Albion Foundation presentation
  • Any other business from the floor
  • Date/time of next meeting
1. RESPONSES TO AGENDA ITEMS

Q: While supporters recognise the Club needs to address falling attendances with ticket offers, is this not to the detriment of season ticket holders? Can something be added, such as free Cup tickets, to protect the appeal of a season ticket? (From numerous members).

MS: The Club were very aware of how ‘close to the line’ the raft of special offers had taken the balance between season tickets and match-day admissions. It was obviously an effort by the Club to attract more fans to The Hawthorns. As things stood after the Burnley game, match-day prices had totalled £233 at an average admission of £25.89. For the (most sold) £399 adult season ticket, the average price was still attractive at £21 but the more expensive £499 STH had slipped marginally behind the gain-line at £26.26. By the end of the season, however, that purchase would regain its competitiveness because of the diminishing prospect of offers and higher price-category games still to come. 
But all the signals from the in-coming management regime were that filling The Hawthorns again was an absolute priority, as the Chairman had indicated in his statement announcing the appointment of new CEO Martin Goodman, and it could be reasonably expected that ticketing strategy would feature prominently. “I think we are in ‘watch this space’ mode at the moment,” said Swain.
JW: I want the club to fill the ground and start winning games at home. We will do everything we can to keep the cost attractive and affordable for our fans. 
We want to keep the price down but at the same time we also want to put the best team on the field we possibly can.

Q: Bearing in mind the frustrations of some fans over away ticket allocations, is the Club aware that there will be a possible heightened demand for the Club’s first game at the new West Ham stadium in the new year. (Warren Stephens)

MS: The Club had time still to gauge demand for West Ham and appreciated that sometimes ticket allocations for away games disappointed some supporters. But the reality was that Albion’s away support had decreased over recent years and it was difficult to allow for demand fluctuations without running up significant bills for unsold tickets. 
“There was a time when Albion could have played on the moon and still 2,200 would turn up to watch them,” said Swain. “But the average figure these days is more likely around 1,200.”
Recent frustrations had been sparked by the spike in demand for the visit to Stoke after Albion’s 4-2 defeat of West Ham which, the Club estimated, left about 150 fans without a ticket. But that had followed the previous season’s game when Albion had had to send back 1,000 tickets unsold. As a result, Stoke ended the previous “sale or return” agreement and demanded all the allocation be paid in full.
The Arsenal allocation for Boxing Day had been clipped at 1,400 based on historical evidence of Albion’s recent trips to London for Boxing Day fixtures when public transport was limited. The most recent, at QPR and Tottenham, had seen the Club take 900 and 1,100 fans respectively. 
On New Year’s Eve at Southampton, the Club would take the full 1,700 allocation.

Q: Do the new owners plan to develop the stadium, particularly the cramped Halfords Lane? Are there plans to decorate Halfords?

JW:  There’s two issues here - expansion and creating a good matchday atmosphere and ambience around the stadium. All of this is important. There are some improvements to be made in these areas.
But it would laughable for me to go to Mr Lai and ask for an expansion when we can’t fill the stadium currently. Once you fill the stadium and create demand then lots of things happen, including potential expansion. Right now I’d rather have a couple of players than a new stand.

Q: How do you respond to the criticism of the summer transfer market?

JW: The proof of the pudding is that a supposedly “shambolic” transfer window has produced 30% new outfield players in the first team, three out of 10.  Another regularly comes off the bench. If we can do that from every transfer window and improve the team then I’ll take it. 
Rumours on deadline day failures don’t help us but that’s the media today - we can’t stop rumours. Some issues are confidential and commercially sensitive and we simply can’t tell you everything that is going on. 
“I don’t think it was a failure. If we get three players in our first team from next summer’s transfer market, I’ll take that now. The work we did moving players out was important as well and there were some good, strategic contract renewals. The squad needs some re-engineering and we will do our utmost to improve it.”

Q: What are the ambitions of the new owners?

JW:  They want the club to stay in the Premier League and that shouldn’t be seen as a negative. If you look at the numbers, there are six or seven clubs which can’t be relegated; they really can’t. The reality is that each season there are around 10 teams from which the relegated trio will come. Those are tough odds.
I know Mr Lai would like to push into the top half of the table. He wants to be low-key but he’s a genuine football fan, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. 

Q: How do you get the Head Coach to work with the Director of Football?

JW: I could never conceive of signing a player the manager didn’t want. We wouldn’t do it. One thing a manager quite rightly has is control of team selection and why would you want to sign players he wouldn’t want? 
Brendan Galloway for example – I read last week that he was not a ‘pick’ of Tony’s. I don’t know where that came from; I can even remember sitting in the room with Tony watching tapes of the lad and Tony saying how much he liked him. It would be plainly daft to start thrusting players on Tony that he did not want and that will not happen.

Q: What are your thoughts on the role of the Academy going forward?

JW: We’re doing okay – Jonathan Leko, Sam Field, Kane Wilson, Saido Berahino. We’re at the heart of Britain’s Second City and although we can recruit from far afield you should never take your eye off the ball in your local area. 
It’s incredibly difficult. How often are you going to get a Scholes, Beckham, two Neville’s, Giggs, Butt and Gillespie? If we could get one player per year to come through to the first team then that would be some achievement, especially given the global nature of the Premier League. 
The evidence is that the recruitment side of the Academy works very well. Although, I also think there’s a place for buying quality in the 18-21s bracket from outside the club which is something I would like to see us do.

2. ALBION FOUNDATION PRESENTATION

Foundation Director Rob Lake made a short presentation highlighting what the charity stands for, its values and the valuable work it does in the local community. 
Four Assembly members, having spent six inspirational hours at the Foundation, subsequently stood up and relived their experiences. There was a unanimously positive impression from all four, with Gurdial Singh summing up the mood by saying: “My love for Albion had always been about what happened on the pitch.
“After spending this time with the Foundation, it is now about so much more.”
Lake added: “If we galvanise our work with 25,000 Albion fans then we can really make it grow.”

3. ANY OTHER BUSINESS FROM THE FLOOR

A member raised the point that the demographic of the Assembly, more specifically representation from ethnic minorities, still needed addressing.
MS agreed and added that the best intentions of all so far had failed to add to the mix of cultures and ethnicities who make up the Albion fan base. This was something to be addressed with urgency.

4. DATE/TIME OF NEXT MEETING
TBC

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