A look back at the recent meeting of the fans’ group
DATE OF MEETING: Thursday, September 8 (The Hawthorns)
APOLOGIES: Apologies were received in advance from Selwyn Owens, Sarah Atkinson, Heidi Zoeller and Christiaan Wallett.
ITEMS ON AGENDA:
• Responses to agenda items
• Update on Albion Archive plan
• Q&A - Richard Garlick and Nick Hammond
• Any other business from the floor
• Date/time of next meeting
1. RESPONSES TO AGENDA ITEMS
The following points were raised ahead of the meeting:
* Hawthorns Tannoy system
Members raised complaints about the stadium Tannoy, with supporters reporting "muffled" audio and volume problems. The Club have now located the system's original installers who were due to conduct a full review of the system. Director of Communications Martin Swain (MS) added that the prospective new owners were also planning an overhaul of the stadium's big screens.
Update: The Tannoy review was completed on September 9 and a series of measures have been recommended which the Club hope will lead to an improved service in time for the home game against Spurs.
* How do non-members send questions to the Assembly?
It was agreed that these should continue to be directed through members (via social media, message boards etc) or tweet @WBAFCAssembly Twitter handle. There was little appetite from members for a Facebook page to be opened.
* Takeover update
Several members asked for a takeover up-date and MS confirmed that "everything was on course" and completion was expected earlier than originally indicated and certainly this month. He believed that the role and profile of the Assembly would be highly-valued by the prospective owners.
He added that owing to a clash of commitments Chairman John Williams had sent his apologies to the Assembly but pledged to attend the next session. The new chairman was eager to meet members and, as an indication of his commitment to supporter-engagement, had arranged a "face-to-face" meeting with a small group of fans who had emailed criticism of the club's transfer dealings.
Director of Football Administration Richard Garlick added that the full structure of the board would become clearer on completion of the takeover.
* Season tickets
One member asked about falling season-ticket sales. MS said that "the evidence of your own eyes" meant it would be plainly daft to deny numbers had fallen but that the figures were considered "commercially sensitive."
One member queries whether the delivery of the Albion Assembly minutes was offering a true reflection of the meetings.
MS agreed that the Club had still to find the best method. There were responses from fans which suggested exhaustive reports discouraged readers while briefer versions over-simplified robust debates. It was underlined that it was in the Assembly's best interests to include all items which are on-the-record and the hard discussions conducted in meetings.
2. UPDATE ON ALBION ARCHIVE PLAN
Publications Editor Dave Bowler informs the group that the Board had approved funding and a start had been made on the exhaustive task of recording all Hawthorns memorabilia; photographs of all the stadium's huge array of memorabilia had now been completed, including unseen artefacts stored at The Hawthorns. Video interviews – the first with Graham Williams – had also started. Consideration was being given to potentially include the Albion Archive in a Trust.
3. Q&A - RICHARD GARLICK AND NICK HAMMOND
MS introduced this Q&A session by noting the "feelings were clearly running high" in the wake of the transfer window closing and intense criticism on media platforms of the club's dealings. He asked that it be noted that it was unlikely any other club in the country would, within a week of that deadline, make two of its senior officers available for this exchange. The questions:
* What happened on transfer deadline day? Why do Albion always wait until deadline day and not get business done early?
RG began by stressing the difficulties of the window with all Premier League clubs known to have more money to spend but a comparative short supply of players wanted by so many rival clubs. Also, a dearth of quality players in certain positions was noted while Head Coach Tony Pulis (TP) was clear in the type of players he wants to recruit. And a difficult window was made more awkward by Euro 2016 which further delayed business, said Garlick.
He added Albion didn’t get caught out by prices, although he accepted that in hindsight the club could have “gone harder” at the start of the window.
Technical Director Nick Hammond (NH) added that while the Club would love to do deals as early as possible, the ways of the market made that difficult and that Albion had to deal with the reality of "where we sit in the chain."
* Who actually decided what funds were available - Jeremy Peace or Guochuan Lai?
RG insisted it is a myth that the takeover caused the Club not to do business. There was a business plan for the whole window and sufficient funding in place with the possibility of extra funding if necessary. There was no conflict of interests and the takeover didn’t stop any funding being available. Budget and plans was set at the start of the summer, the budget ring-fenced.
* Can the Technical Director model with NH and Tony Pulis work? Does the scouting and recruitment need restructuring?
NH praised the work of those currently at the Club – "there are good people doing a good job" - but he conceded that he would be looking at expanding and promoting a change of direction, with particular reference to areas of focus in the European market.
Of his relationship with the Head Coach, he added that he had known Tony for many years and respected him as a “proper football man” who has strong opinions on players.
"I'm all for that – I think we all are. We want the coach to have a strong opinion about the players he wants," said NH.
He underlined that his task was to work with the Head Coach, give him confidence in the recommendations brought to him and, where possible and beneficial, encourage him to think slightly differently.
* What happened with the failed deal for Ignacio Camache?
NH stated that he was a player TP knew well, a historic target for Albion who had been the subject of detailed reports. A deal was in place but it didn’t progress because TP ultimately took the view that the player was not going to provide what he wanted for the team..
A general discussion about transfers and media speculation ensued in which RG reaffirmed that the Club always tried to keep its transfer business out of the media and certainly didn't use it as a tactic. MS noted that it was difficult for the club to be continually criticised for not signing players linked to Albion only by tenuous and largely inaccurate media speculation.
RG added that five or so players were equally close to being completed but didn’t materialise. "The Club gets linked with players who aren’t even considered and are then the fall guys when deals don't happen," he said.
*Was the Club aware of the need to address attacking options? Why was Hal Robson-Kanu signed so late when he was available all summer? Didn't that reveal flawed planning?
NH responded by explaining that Robson-Kanu was always on the Club’s target list and, with their knowing each other well from their shared days at Reading, he had remained in contact with him throughout the summer; he was always going to be a "good free transfer." He said the player had been waiting for the right opportunity and had been offered big contracts abroad and from another Premier League club. As a result he knew he could afford to wait.
Albion decided to move, said NH, when the club received an interest in Rickie Lambert who made it clear he wanted to move on in pursuit of first team football. At that point, Robson-Kanu came "into play. He is a good lad with a great attitude and with the versatility of being able to play in three positions," said NH.
He became a firm option having "always been there on the back burner" and the Head Coach was fully supportive of the deal.
He added the Club were in position to secure a loan deal for Jay Rodriguez until he scored for Southampton who simply refused to let him leave after that.
NH stressed that Albion offered a club-record deal for a European striker in July, and then a second bid shortly after but his club were reluctant to sell and only eventually did so for a huge sum.
Another club-record deal was in place for Diafra Sakho which never materialised for reasons well-publicised, while another club-record deal for a midfielder had also failed.
NH added Albion had not been frustrated by a lack of ambition but that the market had gone to an "incredible place."
* What is the situation with Saido Berahino? Is his head in the right place?
NH replied that the Club had the funds to buy a new forward and would have entered negotiations to sell Saido if another like-for-like striker was added. If that was not the case in the summer window then he would stay and when the Sakho deal broke down, no other target fitted the bill.
RG said that he was aware there were frustrations the club didn't push on with the Sakho deal. But Berahino had been in superb form during pre-season and Albion would have looked "pretty silly" letting a player out one door who was "fit and raring to go" while recruiting a player "we knew wouldn't be fit for several weeks."
The Club would have liked to have brought in another forward and will if one presents itself in January - but finding the right fit was critical. In the meantime, the Club knew it had taken a financial risk on Saido and "only time will tell if it’s right."
NH agreed that Saido was in top form in pre-season, as good as ever, and knew now he had to perform this season for his own sake as much as anything. "It’s in everyone’s interests and the view at the club is he will deliver," he said.
* Why was Sebastien Pocognoli allowed to leave but then only on loan?
The player has a year left on his contract and the Club received no other offers.
* What will January bring?
Chairman John Williams made it clear in his statement that if the right opportunity comes up then the Club will invest in January, NH confirmed.
* Does the club need to manage expectation better regarding the takeover?
MS insisted that a consistent message was conveyed in all correspondence from the club – video interviews, statements – making perfectly clear the tone of the prospective ownership. He also privately briefed the range of Midlands media personnel. He said that it was difficult to counter the deluge of social media "noise" which sometimes "hears what it wants to hear."
NH added that while the perception of the transfer window was negative a group of players, who between them last season contributed just three goals, had been moved on and taken off the wage bill while the goal records of Nacer Chadli, Matt Phillips and Hal Robson-Kanu suggested all "could find the net."
The Club would liked to have done more but they have brought in five players who will play.
And younger players had also been given a chance and impressed – Jonathan Leko, Sam Field, Tyler Roberts and Kane Wilson, NH added.
* What is success for WBA this year?
RG replied that success would be finishing higher than last season and pushing towards the top 10, and also to try to progress in cup competitions despite the disappointment of the EFL Cup exit.
He added that the Club’s wage bill should reflect WBA pushing for the top-10 but warned it will be difficult "with around 13 clubs in the mini-league we compete in."
*Going forward, what would the Club have done differently in this summer’s transfer market?
RG admitted it would have been beneficial to get NH into the Club earlier and the window could have been planned a little better.
He adds the Club might have underestimated how difficult the market would be and could have tried to do things earlier "at 100%" rather than following normal practice - "although I’m not even sure that would have helped."
He added that the big area where the Club will improve would be recruitment and also in strategy as it was now clear "most clubs are after the same players." Albion have to find ways to spend money better than other clubs.
NH said that investment in younger players is required at an earlier stage in order to fill a vacuum within the age of the first-team squad. "We have a good stock of experienced players and also at the very youthful level – but that gap in-between is our problem," said Hammond.
"It might be time now to invest in younger players not quite ready for the first team but capable of coming into the club and being developed to go into the first team in their early 20s.
"If you look at the records of some of the big players throughout Europe, they often come through Ligue 2 in France or Bundesliga 2 in Germany. That's where they can be found and that is where Albion have got to look to target."
* What is the latest on Mohamed Sissoko and Marouane Chamakh
The pair are still training with Albion and there was a chance they may figure in Premier League 2 action.
4. ANY OTHER BUSINESS FROM THE FLOOR
The club have spoken to both Chris Brunt and James Morrison regarding a testimonial but no firm plans have been made as yet, although it’s definitely in the agenda.
5. DATE/TIME OF NEXT MEETING
Thursday, November 10 (7pm for 7.30pm start)