The meeting minutes from the latest Albion Assembly meeting can be found below.
Albion Assembly (AA) Meeting - The Hawthorns.
Thursday, March 30, 2023 - 7pm.
The following minutes are a general summary of the meeting and contains no direct quotations from those in attendance.
Club staff in attendance: Chief Executive, Ron Gourlay (RG), Director of Communications, Ian Skidmore (IS), Supporter Liaison Officer, Cindy Joyce (CJ), Director at The Albion Foundation, Rob Lake, Head of Marketing, Rachel Smallman (RS), Senior Communications Officer, Sean Watts, and Head of Security & Match Day Operations, Howard Lewis-Jones (HLJ).
Apologies: Chris Jones, Kevin Candon (resigned), Mark Miles, Alan Cleverly, Dave Holloway.
Ian Skidmore opened proceedings by announcing who was in attendance, as well as reading the apologies from staff and Assembly members that could not be there. He gave a warm welcome to new members who were at their first meeting, outlining to them how the evening would look.
IS made a commitment from the club for the minutes to be released within seven days of the meeting taking place, with an Assembly member agreeing once more to sign them off as an accurate representation.
Owing to the larger number of people expected to attend from now on, he also requested that sub-committees are set-up after March’s meeting to tackle certain agenda subjects, citing the success that has previously been had in that regard with kits and ticketing. Members were encouraged to email ‘email@example.com’ should they be interested, particularly in the areas of ‘supporter behaviour’ and ‘matchday atmosphere’.
Football & Governance
IS then passed over to Ron Gourlay, who addressed members with a ‘football & governance’ update before taking questions. He welcomed the introduction of new faces and reiterated his commitment to being honest and transparent.
RG expressed his happiness at the upturn in form on the pitch and praised the work of Carlos Corberán as Albion’s Head Coach. He added that both himself and Corberán were pleased with the current structure of the club in regards to the football technical board – which ensures decisions are made by a varied group rather than individuals.
He confirmed he expects the club’s Academy to secure a three-year EPPP Category 1 licence following a recent audit, though the club await official confirmation from the Premier League. RG paid tribute to the tireless commitment of the staff behind the scenes who have worked to achieve the new licence.
RG reiterated his desire to maintain open communication with the fanbase, saying he was encouraged to see a large, diverse group attending the Assembly and that he would continue to engage with all groups – including Action for Albion and Shareholders for Albion, both of whom he meets regularly. He added that he understands the frustration and protests of supporters, and wants to try and bring people together during a difficult time by being in contact with supporter groups, offering information, clarification and attempting to work out issues.
He looked forward to the challenge ahead on the pitch, speaking of a confidence around the training ground leading up to Albion’s run-in, but admitted it is prudent for the club to have strategies in place for both achieving promotion to the Premier League and remaining in the Sky Bet Championship. With no Premier League parachute payments in the event the club remain in the Championship next season, RG confirmed the shortfall could be covered by a range of revenue streams, including the repayment of outstanding loans, player trading and/or shareholder investment.
RG ended by giving an overview of the recently released 2021/22 accounts (website statement available here) and said chairman Guochuan Lai (GL) has repeated his assurance that the £4.95m loan to Wisdom Smart Corporation Limited will be paid back with interest. He also reiterated no further money will leave the football club in the same manner while he is CEO. RG confirmed a loan from the football club to any party would require his authorisation, as well as the agreement of other stakeholders.
The floor was then opened to members to ask questions. Football subjects discussed included the summer transfer window, a desire to utilise Academy graduates, and the manager’s contract extension. In terms of topics away from the pitch, the intentions for the £20m loan from MSD UK Holdings Limited were also discussed. This included future investment across the training ground, Academy and stadium.
RG answered further questions on the fan protests and the ownership, praising supporters for their peaceful conduct, and confirming he has been in dialogue with GL regarding the activities. RG confirmed that Group director, Xu Ke (Ken), will be travelling to China in the near future and will meet with GL to discuss a range of club-related subjects during his visit.
In response to a question on the Government’s White Paper on future football governance, RG confirmed senior club officials have studied the paper and have met to discuss its contents, ensuring the club is ready to respond to changes put in place by the new, independent football regulator. RG stated that he personally agrees with almost everything included in the white paper and believes the changes will be in football’s best interests.
RG responded to a query regarding the appointment of non-executive directors, confirming this remains a possibility, though there are no appointments imminent.
Head of Security & Match Day Operations, Howard Lewis-Jones, provided an overview of his career to date, highlighting his time with West Midlands Police force, and further work on the Commonwealth Games, before joining the club six months ago alongside his colleague Gary Wallace, also a former police officer.
HLJ explained the pair manage a team of 200 matchday stewards who will receive further training following the implementation of Martin’s Law.
He stated that fan behaviour across football has worsened following the pandemic and that the frustrations of the majority of Albion fans is mirrored at clubs up and down the country, with hate crime, drug use and other crimes on the rise at football matches. HLJ outlined his determination to improve fan experiences – but said he needed the support of supporters to do so. He pledged to act on all reported incidents, and said a current frustration is that poor behaviour is often not reported to the club.
HLJ added he had changed the club’s matchday approach, which previously focused almost entirely on away supporters, rather than Albion fans who attend every week and stewards, some of whom now wear bodycams, are being empowered to take action. He confirmed stewards continue to attend away fixtures to offer support to the host club – but that their roles at away games are limited.
Howard took questions from the floor and received feedback from members who detailed positive and negative experiences. It was agreed the club would establish a sub-committee on Supporter Behaviour so members can offer further assistance to the club away from the time constraints of the main meeting, reporting back at the next Assembly meeting on the progress the group has made.
HLJ reminded members of the ‘No Abuse, One Albion’ campaign and urged supporters to report issues to 07929 221 878 on a home matchday.
Head of Marketing, Rachel Smallman, provided an overview of her career and the work she conducts at the club, including on home matchdays, where she focusses on the experience and atmosphere. RS also stated her intent to establish a sub-committee on Matchday Experience, and encouraged members to apply to join.
RS offered a detailed overview of the current operation, explaining that music within the stadium is currently selected by a club partner, and that a variety of activities, including live acts, are playing pre-match to help build the atmosphere. RS confirmed she is keen to work with fans to help improve the atmosphere and it was accepted that a sub-committee would be the best way to do this, with the appointed group to report back at the next Assembly meeting.
Lastly, RS was asked questions regarding her wider role as Head of Marketing on season tickets and next season’s home kit. RS stated season ticket details will be confirmed in the coming weeks, while IS said the Assembly had not been consulted on next season’s home kit owing to a confidential project he was confident would have the backing of supporters.
The meeting was then opened up again for members to address ‘any other business’. Topics discussed included the women’s team, with RG explaining their transition into the football club. Dirt on the exterior of the stadium was raised and RG confirmed he would look into this being cleaned, though IS explained the dirt is a result of the busy Birmingham Road.
RS was asked about the return of Junior Baggies, and confirmed that this is under review as part of the club’s current membership offering. RS confirmed dates for forthcoming junior events will also be communicated soon.
Members asked why the club do not play ‘The Liquidator’ and IS confirmed it has not been banned, but instead the club will reserve its use for special occasions. IS stated that the large number of children attending fixtures has been a consideration in limiting its use, but said it will return from time to time.
Date of next meeting: Thursday, June 29, 2023.