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Albion Assembly meeting minutes – November 2021

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The minutes from the latest Albion Assembly meeting, which took place at The Hawthorns on Monday, November 29, 2021, can be found below.

Albion Assembly Meeting, The Hawthorns

Monday, November 29, 2021 – 7pm

Club staff in attendance: Simon King (SK), Cindy Joyce (CJ), Ian Skidmore (IS), Richard Stevens (RS), Rob Lake (RL).  

Apologies: Mark Miles, Sukhbir Gill, Paul Kent, Ann Staniland, Iain Bate, Chris Jones, Amanda Hume, Gurdial Singh, Richard Jefferson, Shin Aujla


Chief Commercial Officer, Simon King, opened the meeting and introduced club staff in attendance; Supporter Liaison Officer, Cindy Joyce; Head of Media and Communications, Ian Skidmore; Academy Manager, Richard Stevens; and Albion Foundation Director, Rob Lake. 

SK apologised for Mark Miles’ absence and confirmed he had received answers from MM to questions within his remit as Operations Director. Where those answers have been read out by Simon King they will feature in the minutes as ‘SK (MM)’. 

SK then invited RS to provide an update on the club’s academy.

Richard Stevens academy update

At his first Albion Assembly appearance, RS gave a brief overview of his career to date, which included 12 years at Coventry City. As someone from Halesowen, RS stated it was an honour to work for West Bromwich Albion and he jumped at the opportunity when it arose. RS arrived at the club as Academy Manager in October 2019. On his arrival RS stated he had been tasked by the club’s hierarchy to create a pathway from the club’s academy to the first team. RS admitted it is a challenge to create such a pathway and said his priority since arriving has been to stop the trend of players leaving the academy to play elsewhere. 

RS said his initial priority was to secure the future of Rico Richards, who is a sought-after player who RS has been aware of since the age of 11. The club were successful, and Richards signed a contract. At 18, RS said Richards is still a developing player with a bright future. His progress has been a little restricted by injuries and it is important both RS and the player remain patient. RS hopes Richards committing to the club and Taylor Gardner-Hickman’s breakthrough to the first team can be catalysts for change within the academy, proving that Albion are a club where young players can thrive. 

RS admitted his two years at the club have been far from normal with the COVID-19 pandemic creating issues no-one could have foreseen. The academy has remained active throughout the pandemic, save for the younger sides who were forced to initially stop playing fixtures. RS suggested the club’s pathway to the first team is particularly strong, with several young players in and around the first-team environment since Valérien Ismaël’s arrival. RS said he had received support from the club throughout the last two years; initially from former Chief Executive Mark Jenkins and former Sporting and Technical Director Luke Dowling, and currently from Chief Executive Xu Ke and consultant to the board of directors, Ron Gourlay. RS said the academy was built on hard work and will continue to bear fruit in the future.    

RS was then asked what more could be done to avoid players leaving, in particular Louie Barry and Nathan Ferguson. RS explained that he was not at the club when Louie Barry departed, and that Nathan Ferguson was playing for the first team when he joined Albion. RS went on to explain the relevant processes involved in both cases, without drawing on the particulars of either case. RS said that from under-9s players are permitted to move freely from club to club. At the age of 14 players can be offered a scholarship, which is recognised within the UK and secures the player, but this is not recognised by FIFA. In order to satisfy FIFA, a further scholarship offer must be made at the age of 15. RS confirmed that in the FIFA report regarding Barry, it was clear the second offer was not made. As FIFA does not recognise the offer WBA made at 14, Barry was able to join Barcelona for no fee. RS said the club needs to ensure this never happens again. 

RS stated tribunals are the result of two clubs not agreeing on a fee on a young player. It is a long process and both clubs present their valuations of the player. An independent panel then decides on the final fee and there is no right to appeal. Tribunal fees normally have tiered clauses, where the selling club benefits from the player’s future successes at the buying club.

RS said it is heart-breaking to lose young players. He confirmed everything is done to help players over a number of years, so of course it is difficult to see players leave. That said, players that do leave normally bring in a transfer fee that can then be reinvested in the club. 

RS stated Valérien Ismaël is clear that he believes in a first-team to academy pathway. He said if we can blood youngsters then perhaps they will leave for a bigger club, but we must have benefitted from the process, either in them playing for the first team for a period or leaving for an appropriate fee. 

RS said it has been powerful to have James Morrison and Chris Brunt involved within the academy. JM now links the academy and the first team. CB decided full-time coaching is not right for him at the moment and he instead works on a voluntary basis two-to-three days per week, namely with the U23s/U18s. 

RS has lots of contact with Adam Murray and JM. VI is a very busy man but RS knows he can pick up the phone to him if he needs to. He has been brilliant for the academy. Richard Beale is the conduit between first team and the U23s, alongside JM and AM. 

RS said RB is a serial developer of players – a great coach who we are lucky to have.

There are currently 140-150 players within the academy and it is our aim for one player per year to play in the first team. If that happens consistently over a period of four to five years then we have done very well.

This concluded RS’s presentation and the assembly thanked him for his time. The meeting returned to agenda items. 

Sporting & Technical Director replacement

SK confirmed that in the short term the club will continue with its current recruitment process which incorporates the Head Coach, Head of Recruitment, CEO and club consultant. In the long term the club may appoint a director in this area. 

Ron Gourlay involvement

SK confirmed Ron Gourlay remains employed as a consultant to the club. RG will assist the club during the January transfer window.

Friday night kick-offs

SK (MM) confirmed matches are played at the request of TV broadcasters. Unless there is a specific reason, such as the Peterborough fixture’s proximity to the Arsenal cup game, fixtures must be played when requested by TV. Asked if this effected attendances, SK confirmed there is no real difference between Friday night and midweek match attendances. 

Transport issues

SK (MM) confirmed the new matchday travel plan is well bedded and is not causing any problems. There remain issues at the motorway island. Sandwell Council have now agreed to look at the island and have installed traffic monitoring cameras to review the sequencing of the lights. The club awaits feedback from the council. 

SK (MM) stated that the motorway island appears to be broken and does not work effectively, even on non-matchdays. One recent example of this was the delays at the island when coaches left The Hawthorns for Stoke City. Reduced public transport has not helped matters, nor has the suspension of the Metro line. The club did manage to negotiate increased bus services to help reduce the impact of the line closure. 

Club communications

IS confirmed he had spoken to Chief Executive, Xu Ke (Ken), regarding more open dialogue with supporters and said this is something the club is working towards. IS hopes Ken will attend a forthcoming Albion Assembly meeting and the possibility of undertaking media interviews has also been discussed. IS acknowledged the club must communicate more openly with supporters and said he will continue to raise this with the club’s hierarchy. 

WBA Supporters Club meetings listed on club website

Members pointed out that the agreed process from the previous meeting had not been adhered to and the main branch of the supporters’ club had not gathered information as agreed. WBASC Secretary, Alan Cleverly, stated he would speak to supporters’ club chairman John Homer regarding this to ensure information is sent to the club for publication on the main website. 

Reasons for away tickets sales dates delays

SK (MM) confirmed there is a football-wide issue with host clubs sending out tickets late. IS confirmed he believed this is owing to the potential implementation of new COVID-19 regulations, and host clubs being reluctant to issue tickets too far in advance of a game. Rules state host clubs must send tickets to the away club four weeks in advance of each fixture but this is simply not happening, causing almost every away game to go on sale late. IS insisted such delays were always communicated on the club website. 

Members stated they had heard of away members being frustrated by the lack of choice when selecting tickets for away fixtures. There was disagreement in the room regarding this with other members stating they have been able to select whichever seat they preferred. SK (MM) confirmed tickets must be sold in a strict order, which is dictated by the host club. Where it is clear tickets will sell quickly and a full allocation is taken, there is more freedom to select seats. It was generally accepted that the issue related to the large, 4,500-ticket allocation for Coventry away, and the issue had not been experienced when purchasing tickets for other away fixtures. 

Ticket website bugs

SK (MM) confirmed the ticket website appears to be performing well and there are not any current issues known to the club. The biggest issue in the summer related to signing in, which has been resolved. He accepted minor bugs could be affecting individual users and asked that these are sent to so they can be collated and sent to the website’s provider.  

Reward cash

How does it work and how can you check your balance?

SK stated reward cash is accrued when making purchases of season tickets (£5), match tickets (5%), retail (10%) and away travel (5%). Club cash can only be used online but can be used to collect items in store. Balances can be reviewed on both the retail and tickets website, and the club is working to show the balance at as well. 

Why don’t supporters receive a 5% discount in the club shop anymore?

SK said there were fairly low redemptions on the previous discount. The hope is that the new strategy will provide supporters with a broader offering. The new process requires time to bed in, but it is hoped it will be of greater benefit to supporters once established. 

Why can supporters only redeem club cash on certain promotions?

SK explained reward cash is an evolving product with a phased roll out, which it is hoped can be extended to be used as redemption on all products online and offline in the future, but this is yet to be confirmed. 

General matchday queries

Can we add handrails to the edge of seats to help elderly supporters?

SK (MM) confirmed this would not be possible as the stadium’s design is in strict accordance with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s Green Guide. Stadia where such handrails are in place will have a wider step base and a higher rake. It is recommended that elderly supporters sit in locations convenient to their mobility. 

Policing and stewarding of the Millwall fixture. Is it fair that supporters have been punished for defending themselves?

SK (MM) confirmed that only supporters who have committed a criminal offence will be punished. The issues surrounding this fixture continue to be investigated by the police.

What happened to the Birmingham Road closure after home games?

SK (MM) confirmed this remains in place. Traffic was released at 10.13pm following the Nottingham Forest fixture. 

Members expressed their disappointment at the behaviour of fans at away games and asked the club if there is anything that can be done to identify culprits. 

SK (MM) confirmed the identity of anyone being a problem by the home club, or ejected at away games, is shared with the police and action is taken accordingly. It is increasingly difficult to get evidence from opposition clubs to act on. The club’s dedicated West Midlands Police officer is in attendance at all away matches. 

Why did turnstiles open late on Friday night?

SK (MM) confirmed there were staff issues which resulted in the late opening of Birmingham Road End turnstiles at Friday’s fixture. 

Albion Foundation update

The meeting then paused to observe a presentation from Albion Foundation Director Rob Lake, who provided the group with a status report on the charity, detailing their work throughout the pandemic and their aspirations for the future.  

Overseas members

It was agreed it was not practical for overseas members to “attend” meetings remotely, but the assembly agreed it should consider ways of taking on feedback from supporters based outside the UK. It was generally agreed that a one-off remote meeting would be a welcome idea, and that special dispensation could be granted to allow visiting fans to attend meetings when they are in the UK.  

New member recruitment

SK welcomed members to offer their thoughts on member recruitment. It was agreed that the club would lead a recruitment drive from its channels. 

Next meeting: Monday, February 7 (7pm)

  • Albion Assembly