Fans’ Forum: Q&A session

As part of Tuesday’s Fans’ Forum at Robin Park Arena, chairman Ian Lenagan and executive director Kris Radlinski were asked questions by supporters in attendance. The Forum was a chance for fans to have an open and honest conversation about the Club’s direction and aspiration. Below are the questions that were asked and the answers given in response.

Can Mike Danson build us a ground somewhere? 

IL: I cannot give you an answer you want. I know what common sense says. We are trying to take the common-sense line. A stadium that is used by both clubs in town makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense for supporters of both. I’ve always taken the view that that is the right view. It’s where we are. 

As a supporter who goes to home and away games, there hasn’t been any coach travel this season since fans could go back. Is this going to be just for this year?

KR: We’ll be back to normal next season. There is a lot of things that we need to pick up. At the moment we are a marketing director down, so we are recruiting one. There are a number of things that we need to get back in place for next season and that will certainly be one of them. 

You mentioned about player retention and the human approach taken with players, particularly with those who have gone back to Australia. How would you respond to the challenge of us being too nice in terms of how we deal with some of these situations and player retention?

KR: We’ve spoken about this. We can’t just keep rolling over. A legal contract is a legal contract, and we can hold people to it. We are in a difficult age where we need to consider welfare. We will listen to players, talk to families and coaches and try to be understanding. There will be a time where we will just say no and that’s not happening, but you have to balance that with the welfare of players and that’s becoming more and more prevalent. 

IL: We are nice to work for. We are a club with integrity. We like being that way. Sometimes we get the benefit – George Burgess for example could have taken us for a lot of money and played the game his way. It would have cost us a huge chunk of money, but he did the right thing. He did what was reasonable. We have a number of instances of that, we’ve just had one or two where we feel a bit hurt, but I don’t think it would change the principle of the way Wigan is run as a club. We always ask the question “how would I like my son to be treated if he was playing for Wigan?” and we try to do that. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong – it’s a fine line and a balance. 

All I’ve heard is doom and gloom tonight. Why don’t you sell the Club?

IL: I don’t think tonight is doom and gloom. I’ve never felt better about having come through the last two years of very great difficulty. We’ve come out of it with a decent squad. The Castleford game was the way we like to play. We’ve got two new prop forwards, a great wing man coming in from London Broncos. I think Iain Thornley will do well. Maybe if we can get one final player we will be in a good place. There’s no doom and gloom from me. Yes, there’s bad news – money, lots of financial problems – but we have stood here and spoke about the injuries we’ve had this year, but we haven’t said any of that. We actually feel very good and positive. 

Me and my family have never had season tickets because we’ve never really had the money. Is it possible to drop some of the ticket prices, due to a drop in crowds and Covid? If there were tickets once in a while where they are not as expensive, like the Leeds game, is this possible to make it more accessible for everybody?

IL: The question of price line and offers is the marketing dilemma that every club has got. Take Huddersfield as an example – they have had the £99 season ticket before they’ve had every type of free offer and giveaways and their crowds have gone down and down. It’s difficult to find the right pricing and promotional structure and we are still trying. We are looking for a new marketing director now because that’s so important. We’re trying to find a younger audience because we’re never going to fill the stadium with older people. We have a chance if we work really hard with the younger people. What Martin McLoughlin is doing and the whole community operation – we’re doubling the community operation in terms of how broad and wide we make it, including outside Wigan. We want to get more people inside the stadium, but giveaways are not necessarily the way, as Huddersfield have found out. There is a way, we just don’t know completely what it is. The direction you’re seeking to try to find the perfect solution which is getting more people in by doing it cheaply in some ways, whilst at the same time keeping your revenue up – we would like to be there but we’re not that there yet. But we are trying. 

Is the door going to stop at Adrian Lam? Are the assistants staying for next year? I would personally prefer someone to come in from outside the Club with new ideas and his own staff to create a better style of rugby to what we have been seeing at the moment. 

IL: We don’t agree at all that the head coach brings his own staff in because you are vulnerable to that coach moving elsewhere. That model in football costs a fortune and if you can afford a fortune yes it works, but we don’t agree with that. It’s based upon 20 years of running rugby clubs and football clubs and experience. Wigan have won a lot of things in the last 14 years; we’ve done it very well – sometimes with good rugby and sometimes with no so good rugby. 

We’ve got the Catalans game coming up in a few weeks’ time. Can we do something to market that game? The only time I’ve seen marketing since we started back was the Leeds fixture… 

KR: That game will be emergency services day. Everybody can come for free. Every season ticket holder can bring somebody for free also. We will be running rugby camps on this site on the night. And we intend to make that a thank you for everybody. It will be a big crowd. 

Do you have the burning ambition that you had 14 years ago when you took over this Club? Do you still have that burning ambition for the next five to 10 years? 

IL: My burning ambition is Wembley. I prefer Wembley above everything else. I’ve been delighted by the fact we’ve won Grand Finals. But those of you who’ve seen me on the pitches after any of those games will know what I feel about rugby, and what I feel about Wigan and but my two sons who sit at the back have been with me all the way through that period. And they are in the 50s now, they have been Wigan fans for a long time. They are a great part of what we get. I get so much support and enthusiasm from my sister, Ann, who is one of the owners of Wigan. That’s a different type of pleasure that I get from the game now I get it through other people as well. I’m getting on a little bit. You can’t jump around and dance and prance around as I used to. Do I want Wigan to win? More than anything. Why am I here at eight o’clock at night on a fans’ forum when we could be getting shot at? Because I love it. 

You had a lot of stuff on that list. But the biggest disappointment I had was that there was no mention of the Women’s team. And as someone who has followed the Women’s team over the way at my cost over the last three years. It infuriated that they weren’t even mentioned. So, I want to know why they’re not part of the topics mentioned. And what is your progress for them going forward?

KR: You will have seen when you came into the facility that we put up a full tribute wall to the Women’s team. Every single conversation that I’m involved in at the moment with partners, sponsors, broadcasters, the Women’s game is mentioned on the top of everyone of everyone’s list. That’s only going one way – that is going through the roof. I came on Sunday to watch the game. And you will see that we treated that game with the same enthusiasm as when we have an Academy game, where it was filmed, where we add the music on, we are massive supporters of the Women’s game, you will see how we allow the Women’s team to train in our gym, you will speak to any other Women rugby players – they feel completely part of this Club. If you feel as though we’re not giving them enough, then I apologise. But I’ll tell you it’s massively important and it’s only going one way, so I disagree with what you’re saying because we do give it a lot of a lot of support. 

IL: Whenever Super League meetings come up and are discussed, Women’s Super League is one of the key issues as far as Wigan is concerned, we want to see it as a growing part of our game. Apologies, it wasn’t on the list, sorry about that, we can’t get everything right. But there are no issues and no problems. We think the Super League Women’s side is very important.

Stewart Frodsham (head of production): We’ve actually just took on the girl that’s been doing the media for the Women’s team. So, she’s now part of the content team full-time as well. And she starts on the 13th of September.

First of all, you say about the crowds dwindling, is that a reflection on the rules and how the game’s changed, mainly for Sky to make the game quicker. And taking out some of the things that supporters have grown up watching and enjoying. And secondly, about young players, some of our players now are in the young 20s and have played a hell of a lot of rugby, and it seems some of them don’t seem to have kicked on. And yet we’ve got older players, like Mitch Clark, who’s hardly getting a game, we’ve got Hankinson, who’s not here at Wigan, we’re short of a goal kicker. Sometimes you scratch your head, why players are not playing…

IL: One of the problems is that a head coach has to have his head. And in that respect, if you take, Mitch Clark, I sometimes ask the question, why is Mitch Clark not playing? We don’t tell the head coach who to pick – that is perdition if you go down that line. I asked the question last night, why wasn’t Havard playing? I don’t mean asked the head coach of it, we ask ourselves, why for example was Amir Bourouh playing when he’s leaving at the end of the season, when Brad O’Neill as a Terry Newton type lookalike in many respects, should be obviously playing on there. I’ve been persuaded for example of the capability of Joe Shorrocks playing at number nine and last night he did very well as well. It’s a difficult issue this. There was nothing more irritated than me for paying a large amount of money for a scrum half a couple of years ago who never got picked – Jarrod Sammut. From my view he was a very good player. Why wasn’t he picked? I don’t know. But you’ve got to stay with the principle that a chairman or a board of directors or a chief exec can’t pick the team. The head coach has to pick the team. And he lives or dies by that. Frustrating, though. Very frustrating.

KR: I’m actually on the laws committee. And I’ve actually said to them, I want to come off it because the reason I want to come off it is because they meet twice a year. And you get an agenda the week before. I can’t drive changes only meeting twice a year. There are a lot of inconsistences in the game at the minute, particularly around the ruck, particularly around the officiating. I spoke to Dave Rotherham who is the on-field officer and I said, there’s no point me being on it if we’re meeting twice a year, in order to make things better, you have to meet once a month at least. So, I’ve agreed to sit on the next one which is in to meet two weeks’ time but then I’ve also said in order for me to remain or to stay on it, I need to be able to have an impact. At the minute you raise issues and the comments like “well, you can’t get them all right” or “I sympathise with you”. There’s no point me being on it if I’m getting comments like that. So, it’s something that needs to get better. I’m not doing my job and Ian is not doing his job if we sit here complaining about officiating, but I do think we need when the season’s over we need a radical change in how the game’s run at the minute because I have head coaches who don’t know the rules and are phoning me up saying what’s happening here, this is not what the rules set out. So, a lot of inconsistences.

About the shirt next year and 150 years – could we not have both the badges on and is it Cherry and White?

IL: No, we’ve printed the shirts so we can’t change them. Yes, it is Cherry and White.

Has Chris Hankinson got a future at Wigan?

KR: Chris Hankinson has got one more year left on his contract. A lot of people have said why did we not drag him back this year. It’s a little bit different when we do month to month loans. If you’re a club who’s signing a player on a year long loan you won’t allow him to come back on a one week’s notice, you have to plan the season around him. So that’s why he’s not coming back. We’ll review where he’s up to. He came up about four weeks ago. It’s just dependent on the structure of the squad. He’s done very well there. They like him. He is he is an excellent goal kicker.

I can only talk for what I see. And I see first team rugby. Michael Maguire came in and seemed to change everything. He changed the philosophy, changed the ruthlessness, changed the training. And then it went over to Shaun Wane, he carried that on. But it does feel that all of that momentum that we’ve had over the last 10 or 11 years is going. I sat with my son in the stand after the Leeds game and was wondering where we go from here. But I couldn’t see after the Leeds game where we could go from here. I think you might have called this fans forum because you knew that things were boiling up between some supporters. I think everything that you’ve said tonight, we could have done with hearing a few months ago…

IL: I think your comment is well made. And it was significant that as soon as a letter saying that appeared on one of the fan forums that said, “we’d like to hear from you, Mr Lenagan” – that’s why we’re here. We don’t get everything right. Communication over the last couple of months – if we called a fans forum towards the back end of Covid – would we have got the same attendance? I don’t know. I never thought of it. I never thought of the fact that we should do that. That’s my fault. You’re right. We’re communicating now because you’ve asked us to. We’re telling you the truth because you’ve asked us to. We always tell the truth. I’m sorry if you feel that we haven’t communicated and you’re right.

We’re going to have a change of coach. I think we all as fans recognise that the team has had a lot of problems to deal with this year. Relying on so many young forwards and lack of experience players to support them and lack of form and injury and suspension etc. Others have already mentioned concern about that style and quality that we played the other rugby this yea. It’s been poor to watch in many times, despite the problems we’ve had, it’s not been entertaining. And my concern and I think it is of other supporters, we’re going to have a change of coach. When Adrian Lam came in, we were expecting a style of attacking rugby. I know we want to win; we all want to win. But we also want to be entertained, getting new fans through the turnstiles – it needs entertainment as well as winning. I know we expect to win in Wigan, but we want to be entertained. I’m just simply asking; can that really be at the forefront of your consideration when you’re appointing your new coach? Someone that is going to provide entertaining rugby.

IL: You’re right in what you say – entertaining rugby is a tradition of Wigan. It’s very important to us. And in selecting Shaun Edwards and then Adrian Lam, our prime intention was to move away from the somewhat dull winning rugby that we’d had previously. So, it was very high in our priorities. But it wasn’t delivered. That doesn’t mean to say we selected wrongly because Adrian was well thought of for entertaining rugby. Entertaining goes along with winning; I don’t think of this year as being dull rugby, I think of it as being losing rugby since the Catalans and onwards. But entertainment – you’re right is very high in our list of priorities. Nobody will be employed as Wigan coach without realising that winning is the single most important thing, but entertaining rugby runs alongside that. You’re right.

I believe you was very close to buying the ground when the administrators were in. Why did it fall through in the end?

IL: We didn’t want to buy the club, Wigan Athletic, we wanted to buy the stadium and share it for Wigan Athletic and Wigan rugby. And we thought that by buying the stadium, we would hold it safely for the people of Wigan, then going forward. The administrator wouldn’t accept it.

Quite recently the Hull chairman made some quite important statements about the state of the game. I know you know the Hull chairman quite well. What I found interesting was there was no comments from any of Super League club to support him, or to give reasons why things could be changed. And that just indicates a lot of what’s wrong with our game, that we do not work as a unit. It’s all about self-interest of people who own their own clubs…

IL: There are many good owners and good clubs, and Adam is a good man as well in that respect. His biggest difficulty and I sympathise immensely with him, is the rental he has been charged on that stadium is astronomical. It is very difficult indeed for Hull FC because they’re in a football stadium that is enormously high rental. Adam is desperate to continue to support Hull FC and does it well, he does move around a bit in his views. And we’ve been a great supporter of Adam and Hull FC for a long time. At the current moment, we’re not quite as supportive of the views, which is one of the reasons that we didn’t come out and agree with it. We don’t think that five million pounds should be going to the RFL, we don’t think necessarily that you could change Super League from where it is back to what it was before. So, we don’t agree with a number of the principles, but they’re all about the politics and the business of Rugby League, rather than something to put into the public domain, people are more interested in the quality of the rugby and whether you win or not. And that’s what we tend to focus on. But Adam has a lot of credibility within Rugby League because of the money he has put in and because of his passion. And because of what he’s done with Hull. But having said that, I hope that they don’t get in the top six and that we get in there instead of him. And we hope we’ll deliver that in the next two matches’ time.

Communication has been brought up. I think sometimes the fan base is not fully kept up to date with certain aspects of the running of the Club. Can we have more interaction with yourselves?

KR: You raise some really good points there and I think communication has got to be better. I’m not going to hide behind Covid but it has been a factor. I will speak for myself here – there is fatigue in me – last two years have been difficult. And I’m doing everything I can now to drive us to the end to drive us to the Grand Final and then I’m going to have a rest and that’s what I need. The point of this forum is to get ideas like that, is to accept that we could have done things better. I was driving here this morning – the amount of people who wished me good luck for tonight – it was more than going to a game, it’s ridiculous, but I actually welcome this – I want this because it allows you guys to understand the challenges I’m facing because for the past year we’ve had this burden and we’ve been carrying it on our own. We should have raised some of these issues a few months ago but it’s been a challenge. We’ve got two ladies who’ve been here for 40 years and the phone calls and the abuse that they they’re getting – grown women crying, these guys have dedicated their life to the Club. The online abuse that is currently out there at the minute – it’s pretty extreme at the moment. Comms has got to be better. It is our intention over the off-season to be to be better in every single area. Some of your ideas are great, and we will look at putting them in place. But please accept that this has been a real challenge for us all. And we will get better. We will get better. And some of the points raised tonight will certainly be at the front of our mind.

I think we have the best Academy in the country – probably in the world. Obviously, we can’t retain everybody. But when players like Tom Davies, who is a brilliant winger, he’s absolutely killing it a Catalans at the moment. When he’s doing it for them and not for us, is that a financial thing? Was he not happy here? What happened there? I rated him quite highly and I was very surprised when the Club let them go.

IL: Tom Davies was very happy here. It wasn’t a financial issue. We had a lot of wingers at the time. We weren’t expecting that Don Manfredi would go the way he went. We had spare wingers, so you have let somebody go and that was Tom Davies. It was a shame. 

Who’s in charge of player recruitment at the Club. Does the incoming coach for next year, he just works withwho you and Kris provide on the roster for next year? 

IL: Me and Kris. it’s our responsibility, but we have people on the staff, particularly on the coaching staff who are specifically targeted with recruitment in certain areas. So, Matty Peet, for example, does a massive amount of searching in Australia for players but at the end, the choices the decisions are made between Kris and me. But of course, the head coach has a say, the head coach can say no, but he doesn’t go recruiting – that’s not his job. The head coach’s job is to be part of the process and then get the best out of the players that we all agree are right. 

Not knowing who the head coach was for next year and the recruitment already taking place, does that dictate the way we have to play as a Club next year?

IL: It’s not dependent now on the head coach. Adrian is one of the voices that is heard through the last 12 months in terms of people, which is why I made the comment about Jarrod Sammut. That was somebody he wanted to bring here. That was one of the players that he particularly liked the idea of but didn’t play unfortunately. But yes, that’s the way in which it works. 

Do you get any money from the food or drink sales at the stadium?

IL: We get a marginal amount from the hospitality. We pay a price, and we get a gain on the food, we get nothing from the drink. 

You keep on talking about long term and financial sides. Would it not be financially better for you to build your own ground?

IL: If I had a spare 15 million and take a 15-year view that I’ll get it back. But I can’t. 

If you don’t mind me asking, how much did you bid for the DW? 

IL: Three and a half million.

Could you not build a small stand for that? 

IL: It’s a much bigger topic than that. It’s between 10 and 15 million. And they talk in terms of the return being 25/30 years. That’s not a good investment when you’ve got a stadium there. You just need to get a sensible negotiation together and that’s what we’re trying to do.