The New Stadium: Pros and Cons
After giving the go-ahead for the redevelopment of Molineux, Steve Morgan may feel somewhat bewildered today if he has taken time to read the mixed reactions from supporters with regard to his decision and its timing.
Most Wolves supporters across the land would welcome the news, delighted with an owner who promised change and continued development upon his arrival, and who has kept his word by rubber-stamping a significant investment, while maintaining the financial stability of the club. But this, of course, is the world of Wolverhampton Wanderers and few could be criticized for comparing this news with memories of so many days gone by - the Hayward era, in particular, springs to mind.
From a club, a matter of hours away from extinction, we were catapulted to Football Focus features, mainly thanks to a young striker by the name of Stephen George Bull. He played under the guidance of Graham Turner, to whom we shall forever be in debt for having the sense to splash out £64,000 on the Tipton striker. Life at Wolves suddenly felt better. As a club on the rise, Sir Jack stormed in and, with funds at his disposal, built us a brand new stadium to replace one falling apart. Moreover, year after year he 'invested' in the team and willed great successes upon it.
Sadly, elsewhere, another Jack - a Mr. Jack Walker - took the same resources we managed to waste over the course of a decade, and hazarded it all on an all or nothing gamble at Blackburn. Never the most fashionable of clubs, their fans will never forget the two euphoric years that followed, while Wolves fans were left in a state of perplexed frustration to add to the fifteen 'lost' years in what proved to be the old Second Division.
Comparisons are surely inevitable. Even if Stephen Morgan is not exactly a 'new' owner and is one set in a very different mould to Sir Jack, both have ventured millions of their own money and have been instrumental in the redevelopment of the old/new Molineux. So, we cannot be blamed for drawing similar thoughts and emotions, based, as they are, on our often painful memories of the fluctuating fortunes of the club.
Anyone who wants to criticize Sir Jack - and there are plenty who do - should ponder awhile. Little did we know at the time, but the funds invested were on a loan basis which Jack, with one of two final bows to the club, wrote off. Similarly, whereas he could have asked for between £15m. and £20m. for WWFC, Jack not only sold the club for a tenner, but only did so on the promise from his successor that he would invest heavily to secure a bright future for the club. For the record, Jack is still paying the price, as he is facing a court case brought forward by his own family, peeved at being written out of our club`s stock (they are effectively claiming he is of unsound mind.)
Anyway, here we stand today: another chapter in our history.
While fools among us will tittle-tattle on that Morgan is a Liverpool fan, who only took Wolves over because he couldn't get his 'dream team', cast your mind back to the day when we won promotion. Ecstatic, he declared that his colours had changed forever and that he looked forward to beating Liverpool, which we recently did, to our mutual joy.
Cast your minds back to the oddly quiet character of significant wealth, who need not have compromised his self-made fortune by taking on, and investing in a football club, that (let's face it) needed 'a bit of work`. Steve Morgan passed on his tenner with a broad grin and a great dream. He is a football fan the same as the rest of us, and while few of us could imagine ploughing our hard earned cash into the coffers of another, Morgan saw a club of rich tradition and history and drew up a plan to return it to its former glory.
When we first read the story as it broke, we were thrilled to see that Morgan was keeping his word and that his vision for the club is now, literally, being set in stone. At the same time, we are being torn by a very simple issue, based on two key questions: the timing of the decision and the inference that a bigger stadium is more important than improving our squad.
Many fans, ourselves included, were hoping for significant signings (or loans) in January as our chances of survival were precarious to say the least. I (NYCW) argued several weeks ago, based purely on assumption, that to keep us up Morgan had handed Mick a £20m. budget for the season with a licence to 'spend it as you will`. Considering our lack of investment during the transfer window, I (NYCW) believe that Mick saw weaknesses in certain areas that required attention and spent the money accordingly during the summer. Arguably, he was looking to get off to a decent start and, building from that, hoped to avoid the situation we currently find ourselves in.
Leading into the season we thought that MM had made some astute signings. Fletcher had scored a significant number of goals in a team ultimately relegated and nets for us whenever he plays. So, why he has played so few games?.
Over JVD we differ, though agreeing that his signing reflected Mick`s realization that he had to strengthen the left back position. NYCW felt it was a mistake to play the bloke on the left of midfield and, had he selected him in his natural position, he would have played week in week out and would have stayed. Perhaps, he would have helped us move up the table. SB60, on the other hand, argues that the friendlies proved to MM that he was not the answer to the left back problem. Even so, he could have fought for the shirt, as did Milijas and Zubar (and, we hope, Fletcher). Others have been struck down with injury, Hunt, who arrived injured, has shown signs of repaying MM`s belief in him.
Ultimately, last season, we finished 15th. (8 points clear of relegation) and having spent £18m. during the summer, another relegation battle was never going to be acceptable to many of us … and never will be. Even so, Mick kept his job while others, who can boast greater achievements, have lost theirs.
The three Ms have transformed the club and its culture in a remarkably short period of time. As the January window indicates, long gone are the days when we would charitably pay out hefty pay cheques to those of former glory. Indeed, we have made progress through investing in young and hungry players with potential. Following our promotion, therefore, we fans could anticipate a very exciting future, one to be utterly proud of.
Sadly, the reality is that we still face relegation and, if we do go down, the heart of the club will be torn apart. Doyle and Jarvis will leave within days, quickly followed by Fletcher, Hennessey, Hunt, Milijas and Zubar, SEB could attract interest, as will the likes of Kightly and Hammill (as he did just before we signed him) and even Berra and Stearman might attract offers. In addition, Everton were apparently interested in Henry. Initially, we calculated that we might lose three or four crucial players but, on closer examinination, concluded that many members of the squad might be keeping their options open.
Relegation will spell doom for the club: for instance, they will not be able to maintain the inflated wages the star players have received, a bonus for promotion and for ensuring a second season in the Premiership. Of course, it was wise to protect our investment in our players by giving them long contracts (Jarvis, in particular) but we will not be able to afford the luxury if we end up in the Championship.
This season, both of us gave up making predictions long ago. There is no logic to it at all. We may stand a mere two points from safety, with a real chance of matching last season`s finish of 15th place, but, as SB60 points out, there is every likelihood (based on our results against lesser teams and our closest rivals) that we might sink without trace.
Regarding the stadium: NYCW doesn't think it is brave or silly for the following reasons. It may not be such a bad thing to reduce the capacity to 24,000 next season because if we are relegated, we will be lucky to attract that many to matches. The announcement finally proves that Morgan truly supports MM and that he really believes that we could beat the drop. SB60, on the other hand, feels that he is taking a helluva risk. Perhaps over the months he had decided, come what may, that he was going to build so why wait (he has said as much today).
The flip side of the coin is the cost. We are dismayed that we appear to have put up an initial £16m: whatever the payment arrangements, it is still a significant investment. Surely, it would be preferable to turn the priorities round: improving the facilities as the team progresses on the pitch.
The more we look at the phasing of this operation, the more it makes reasonable sense on paper, as well as being very clever in design. We will suffer reduced capacity and, with relegation still a genuine possibility, it will not matter because we will be lucky to attract 24,000 people for any game, on the assumption/fact ticket prices will not be reduced.
We also fear that relegation, if not anticipated, is being prepared for. Thus, the argument goes, with further planned investment, significantly funded from the proceeds of selling our best players (those mentioned above could bring in somewhere between £30m. and £40m.), we can bounce straight back. And, we will do so with enough seating for a Championship audience. If we do win promotion at the first attempt, capacity will be increased to meet yet another wave of hope and optimism.
If we do stay up and strengthen our squad to enable us to climb the table, we will be reduced to squeezing in 24,000 people each week. Fans will complain that they can`t get a ticket. In this case, management can argue that the timing was right, pointing to this season`s attendances, which shows that we can`t even fill fewer than 29,000 seats. Yet, as the team improves, seats will become available.
Considering the variables, there was never going to be a 'right time` to hit the green button. So, we are happy that we have someone at the helm who set out a mission statement, promised to invest and who kept his word. Even so, if Steve Morgan had invested this (stadium) money in our squad, we would have eased our way to safety this season and future development would have proven apt, with regards timing and probably more in tune with our expectancies and reasoning.
In the meantime, those, who think relegation will prove the demise of MM, should think again. He was and remains part of the blueprint with regards our club and future planning, as orchestrated from the very top. This decision underlines Morgan's faith in his manager. No knee jerk reaction occurred despite the rare abundance of highly regarded managers during our times of greatest concern. How often will the likes and quality of Martin O'Neill and Sam Allardyce be available at the same time (as they still are)?
McCathy has demonstrated his absolute confidence that he will be in charge at the start of next season, regardless of which division we find ourselves in, and, for us, such confidence can only come from assurances from the top. In reality, with such a grand vision in place for 'his club`, Morgan will stick with McCarthy for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, everyone has a limit and the day he feels his - and our future - is being jeopardized will prove the day our manager leaves, rest assured. Rolling back the years, Kenny Dalglish reacted to the Torres sale by insisting, 'no player is bigger than any club`. The goes for managers and owners, but, as decision-makers, owners outlive several managers by their own judgment.
Speaking of management, judgment, planning and vision, we are glad we have Steve Morgan at the helm. For ourselves- and all true Wolves fans out there - we hope to enjoy and witness the realization of his dream. Regarding our future, the next thirteen games may prove to be the most important in decades. But SB60 is a little less sanguine of our chances than NYCW is!