Behind the scenes it's more than just a lick of paint...
Part Three: Stadium management
It’s the place thousands of Town fans call home every other Saturday and this year – like all years – Kenilworth Road is undergoing its annual summer facelift.
Let’s be honest, for a 108-year-old she’s not looking too bad. The ground’s seen the good, the bad and the down-right ugly over the years but the place still rocks when there are 10,000 people inside testing their vocal chords.
Important goals are often said to bring the house down, but, thanks to the club’s stadium manager Peter Kemp, Kenilworth Road remains intact. Together with Peter’s staff, army volunteers and the help of incredibly charitable local businesses, the old ground continues to age with grace.
But, as we find out in our latest question and answer session, it’s a little bit more than a lick of paint each close season that keeps Kenilworth Road in tip-top shape.
Official website: What is your background and how long have you been at Kenilworth Road?
Peter Kemp: I was an apprentice fabricator/welder with a company for 25 years and, by the time I’d left the company, I was general manager. I was approached by Luton Town in November 2004 and, as a life-long Luton supporter, I jumped at the chance to take the job. The rest, as they say, is history.
OS: What does your role at Kenilworth Road entail?
PK: I’m responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all the club’s facilities – not just Kenilworth Road: it includes the training ground and all of the club’s offices. It’s anything from cleaning contracts to the actual structural fabric of the stadium itself.
I also work closely with the safety advisory group, which is chaired by Luton Borough Council. The combined annual inspection takes place in March. Essentially that is an important checklist that must be completed before the safety certificate for the stadium is issued by the council. If that fails, we simply can’t host football matches here.
OS: So there’s a little bit more to it than giving the ground a coat of paint every once in a while?
PK: Absolutely. I guess the new paintwork is always evident to those entering the stadium for the first time once the season kicks-off, but there are many places that supporters do not get to see which requires significant and important maintenance and investment.
This summer, for example, there are a number of steel support beams underneath the Oak Road stand that needed to be reinforced with steel plates which required a lot of welding. Repairs were also needed on several staircases and steel fire escapes in the Oak Road end too.
We’ve also had to re-board some of the main stand, replacing the planks of wood between the seats; install new panelling on the main stand roof, and replace new seats in all areas of the stadium.
OS: Ah, replacing seats – that must be a real bug bear?
PK: It’s one of my biggest pet hates when supporters sit on the backs of seats. It costs us £15 to repair each seat which soon adds up over the course of a season. Please don’t do it!
OS: Apart from the paint work and compulsory safety checks, what other major projects have you been involved in around the club this summer?
PK: Our manager John Still wanted our training ground pitches to be upgraded which meant a reseeding process has been taking place, and a new irrigation system was installed.
Also at the training ground existing portakabins, which were used for office space, have been replaced with a large modular building which will also house a new gym for the players.
These projects alone are just some of the unseen investments made by the club’s investors that play a crucial role in assisting the first team.
OS: The Council’s busway project, which backs immediately onto the ground’s main stand side, is almost complete. How much of an impact has that had?
PK: We’ve been in constant contact with the contractors, BAM Nuttal, to ensure that the busway’s construction has as little impact on the ground as possible. We have enjoyed a good working relationship with them, and you may remember an army of their contractors helped clear snow off of the pitch back last season.
Bam Nuttal contractors had helped shift snow
OS: There was a moment in a game back in 2008 when a Keith Keane shot dislodged a piece of plastic protecting a guttering that stopped the game for several minutes before you took it down. The fans that day sung “Luton Town is falling down...” – that’s not going to actually happen is it?
PK: It will one day...but don’t worry it won’t happen until we move to a new ground! Given its age, I think Kenilworth Road is looking pretty good. From time-to-time general maintenance issues do crop up, especially during the season. But it’s at this time of year we try and prepare for the potential problems ahead to ensure Kenilworth Road continues its fine safety record.
OS: It sounds like it’s a big job for one person but you get plenty of help don’t you?
PK: I have two full-time support staff in Gerry and Kris who assist me in the general maintenance of the facilities around the ground. However, without the support of local businesses our jobs would definitely be a lot harder.
Neon Hire give us free use of a cherry picker in the summer to carry out high maintenance work on the roofs of each stand and also enable us to clear gutters and change advertising.
CME Heating often give us exceptionally good rates and give us free advice and their time; Mark Dilley at Abacus has continually supported us in supplying janitorial supplies and products, and Jo Keenan at Prestige Design donate to us work clothing.
FPM Facilities Services look after all of our electrical testing, carrying out our annual checks and ensuring our floodlights illuminate to a standard lux level.
It’s the support of these companies that help make Kenilworth Road a safe environment for staff and spectators.
If any business or individual would like to help us in any facilities-related project feel free to drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week, part four: the green, green grass.