Albion Assembly, January Meeting, The Hawthorns, 10/01/19, 7.30pm.
Club staff in attendance: Martin Swain (MS), Luke Dowling (LD), Mark Miles (MM), Simon King (SK), Drew Williams (DW), Dave Bowler (DB), Haden Tye (HT).
Apologies: David Price, Kev Candon, Sarah Atkinson, Paul Kent, Mollie Smith, Iain Bate, Paul Bridges, Gurdial Singh, John Homer, Heidi Zoeller, Dan Watts.
Introduction and action points
MS introduced new multimedia assistant Haden Tye and announced supporter liaison officer James Mackay had recently departed the club. It was anticipated that Haden would take up these duties.
As noted by members, MM said he believed the issues regarding hot water supply in the East Stand and water pressure in the Birmingham Road End had now been resolved. Having looked into a previous item, SK also stated it was a commercial decision to sell alcoholic drinks over hot drinks in certain areas of the BRE. The alcohol option had proved far more successful commercially and the size of the outlet counted against hot drink supplies too.
The Assembly were thanked for bringing these issues to the Club’s attention.
Green and yellow shirts
SK confirmed the club had all-but sold out of stock. He went on to explain the finite balance between volume and demand, adding “unprecedented sales” upon launch was followed by a sharp drop off.
Communication went out asking fans to pre-order for a new delivery and only 300 responses were received. The Club ordered 2,000 shirts, which had now all been sold.
SK understood supporter frustration but the re-order was based on pre-order demand and the volume of unsold stock of the home kit and the optional black away kit, meant no more stock had been ordered owing to minimum order numbers required.
Baggies Brick Road
The Assembly brought to the Club’s attention complaints that names on some bricks were now illegible. MM confirmed that maintenance work was planned and would commence in spring when the weather would be more suitable for the work undertaken.
He said the names of supporters would still be visible after these repairs.
Free coach travel
The Assembly asked whether there would be free coach travel to a match this season.
MM explained the Club, as per last season, had again taken the decision to subsidise all coach travel throughout the campaign, £2 per match, to reward regular travellers.
LD said he would possibly explore option with Head Coach Darren Moore about the prospect of the players helping out with free coach travel to show their appreciation of the fans’ support.
Transport to and from The Hawthorns
The Assembly asked whether improvements could be made to improve rail, metro and bus travel to/from the stadium on matchday following complaints about insufficient service.
MM stressed that while the club regularly engaged with local transport companies, it could not influence their decisions. He urged supporters to press their case by contacting relevant organisations and attempt to persuade changes through 'fan pressure'.
This subject saw Assembly members raise the examples of subsidised train travel costs for supporters offered by other clubs in partnership with providers. SK said he was aware of these options and would look into the prospect of Albion pursuing similar.
Stadium PA system issues
Multiple Assembly members repeated long-standing concerns about the PA. MS agreed that this had been the most persistent complaint since the formation of the Assembly and he now “took it as read” that it would be raised. He said everyone was frustrated at the continuing complaints about clarity but the Club had tried all manner of improvements to try to improve audibility.
MM stressed the Club had invested heavily to improve the system, with new radio microphones recently added to help solve ongoing issues. The club had tested the system regularly and would continue to 'tweak and adjust' in an effort to improve sound quality but the only sure improvement would be investment in an entire new system which would be extremely costly.
MM also suggested possible element of user error when it comes to pitch-side microphone interviews - guests not holding the pitch-side mic close enough, for example - and this would be something staff would try to overcome.
SK responded to an enquiry about the availability of healthy foods on a match-day and revealed homemade chicken wraps were available last season - but just 33 were sold. Responding to a query about the non-availability of Guinness on concourses, he said the answer was brutally simple - it took too long to pour and queues would therefore be affected.
Wigan FA Cup tie
Numerous Assembly members raised the issue of reduced refreshment areas and closed exit areas for the FA Cup third-round tie against Wigan.
SK accepted the criticism and explained that catering/refreshments had been reduced in a calculated expectation of the reduced gate. He explained the attendance figure took a steep upwards curve towards the end of the week some time after match-day staffing levels had been established earlier in the week.
Re the exit gates, MM acknowledged the issue and apologised on behalf of the Club. It had been as a result of a breakdown in communication and “measures had been put in place to ensure it won’t happen again.”
The Assembly enquired about free entry for season ticket holders to home FA Cup matches, MM explained FA regulations meant there was a minimum charge of £10 for adults for FA Cup matches across the board and it was therefore difficult to take the financial hit. The Club would have to cover the cost of free tickets to potentially more than 18,000 season ticket holders.
One Assembly member also raised a query that a Premier League logo had appeared on a Wigan ‘print at home’ FA Cup ticket. MM confirmed there was an outdated template in place on this occasion and the issue was rectified as soon as it was noticed.
Hawthorns toilet facilities
An Assembly member raised the issue of steward education when it came to advising supporters upon the location of stoma-friendly toilets.
MM promised this would be raised at stewards’ briefings going forward. On the topic of gender neutral toilets, MM stated accessible toilets can be used and the West Stand does have a family toilet. Any potential future stadium development would consider such facilities.
Smoking in the stadium
The Assembly raised the increasing problem of supporters breaking ground regulations and smoking in toilets on match-days.
MM thanked the Assembly for raising this problem but said it was very difficult to monitor and position stewards in toilets to combat offenders.
He promised to alert head stewards but stressed the need for help from supporters to self-police with peer pressure. Equally, offenders could be brought to the attention of stewards.
Gates in the Smethwick End were opened at half-time for smokers but it was difficult to do so in other stands. He confirmed offenders would be ejected and face match bans. Suggestions to display reminders of the Hawthorns smoking regulations, including vaping, were accepted.
Pre-match music and use of The Liquidator
The Assembly stressed the need for more ‘considered’ and thought-out pre-match music to help build up atmosphere and asked about the absence of ‘The Liquidator’ at recent games.
MS agreed entirely with these thoughts and said there had been a re-think of the play-list for the immediate future, adding that the 2018 World Cup theme adopted for the teams walk-out this season had now been abandoned. A return of ‘O Fortuna’ and ‘Insomnia’ had been agreed.
“The Liquidator” had been removed, at least for the time being, owing to complaints about the bad language it generated among some supporters.
Not enough bins outside stadium, particularly BRE
MM said this problem was out of the Club’s control and was a local authority issue. Siting open bins on the highway required counter-terrorism considerations and the Club’s staff undertook frequent litter picks both on match days and other days. But the council ultimately had responsibility for this problem.
Constant changes to fixture dates and times
MS stated that it was beyond the club’s control and confirmed the EFL looked to try to provide six-weeks’ notice of changes although had as fall-back an absolute minimum of four weeks.
Any other business
M5 motorway island safety: MM confirmed the Club were aware of, and concerned about, the recent accident which had led to a supporter being hospitalised. But this again was an issue beyond the Club’s control and influence. “We are in continuing discussions with local authority and police about the safety of supporters after they have left our stadium but we have very few powers off the stadium footprint,” he said.
Beer outlets in Halfords Lane: There were complaints that these had been reduced but SK was not aware of any changes. He would investigate.
Everiss family: Assembly member indicated it was understood Fred Everiss was next in line to be honoured at The Hawthorns but it had been a three-year wait for his family. MS will take it forward to relevant personnel at club and update.
Three Degrees statue: Club had planned to take another look at ‘The Celebration Statue’ after fresh approaches for funding. But before the viewing went ahead the PFA opted to make up financial shortfall and MS understood the statue would now be mounted in West Bromwich.
The Club had plans for its own tribute to this chapter in Albion’s history and were still in the planning phase of what MS felt could be a ‘unique’ salute.
Centenary plans to mark 100 years since league triumph: There were no specific celebrations planned as yet but the Club were mindful of the anniversary and discussions were taking place.
Away season ticket holders: Following requests from the Assembly, there was post-meeting clarification that match tickets for AST can now be purchased in more central viewing areas but this has to be done by phone or in person. That flexibility is not available online.
Q&A with Sporting & Technical Director Luke Dowling
Luke addressed the Assembly and provided background about himself before covering several topics, including the January transfer window, loans, recruitment, the club’s finances and FFP.
Date of next meeting: Thursday, April 4
Deadline for agenda items: Thursday, March 21