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CHAMPIONS: BOARDROOM NOTES

23 April 2014

Read all the notes of the Town boardroom members in the wake of winning the title and promotion

The following appeared in our special 100-page issue of Talk of the Town for the Forest Green. The issue sold-out but copies of the programme will be reprinted and be available in the club shop and online.



GARY SWEET, MANAGING DIRECTOR

Firstly, on behalf of all at Luton Town Football Club, I would like to warmly welcome the players, officials, staff and supporters of Forest Green Rovers who, at the time of writing this article, are still in with a shout of squeezing into the last Play-Off spot meaning that there is still a real competitive importance to today’s game for our opposition, at least.

Specifically, I’d like us all to welcome Ed Asafu-Adjaye back to Kenilworth Road. Ed was a great servant to us and was always a polite a professional lad who has is doing well in Gloucestershire.

The welcome I offer our challengers today, I’m overwhelmed to say, is most likely to be our last ever welcome to a Football Conference club. For so many reasons, it feels so good to be able to know that the corner has finally been turned.

I’d like to thank the (literally) hundreds of people; football friends, former colleagues, former players, former coaches and former managers who have each sent congratulations to us since Tuesday’s confirmation. In particular, it is wonderful to see so many well-wishers from the Football Conference, whether from board members or chairmen, officials, players and supporters from opposition clubs, which demonstrates what a close-knit community this competition is.

A regular response I gave to those offering their compliments was that this feels a little like starting a new job offering better pay and prospects with a glossier business card but leaving a position behind at a company you’ve been fond of for years, parting company with so many colleagues that have become good friends.

We can’t deny that our entry into this League wasn’t entirely embraced instantly as we were still coming to terms with a treacherous season – our very first as custodians of this Club. Whilst I know we never, ever disrespected this competition or our competitors at any time, it wasn’t long before we became more and more familiar and humble in our new surroundings.

The Football Conference and its member clubs have all been extremely kind to Luton Town and I’d like to think that we may take and leave a few memories from our time here.

Today, we will (again) warmly welcome delegates from Skrill and the Conference board. Having handed us the Trophy we’ve been eyeing up for four previous seasons, they will leave us knowing that Luton Town is a much better football club exiting the league than it was entering it. This is not only so because we were relative newcomers at the time but also because we’ve learnt so much from other clubs and other – often more genuine – people in the football business who ply their trade at this level. 

We owe an enormous gratitude to every member and representative of the League for this experience.

Whilst trying to live within our means in an extremely harsh environment – due to the loss of Football League income and the support and protection we had with our younger players – the Conference is a healthy and honest place to rehabilitate and rehabilitate, we most certainly have!

So, what now?

Well, as mentioned, we re-enter the League 2 a leaner, healthier, fitter, more efficient and, most importantly, a more stable organisation than we possibly ever have been.

I’ve spoken in the press about the financial impact this promotion brings and it is, generally, a core £1m per annum difference that is reported. Having analysed this in painstaking detail the outcome will most likely become more positive than that after the first season.

In the short-term, not only will we have to climb a steep learning curve but there will also be a big, long list of actions we’ll need to accomplish to know we are future proof against new regulations that will have been introduced during our absence. 

Most of you will know that the structure of youth football has completely changed since we were last involved. Changes to stadium criteria have been introduced – nothing too radical and, whilst costly, much will go un-noticed to the public. Issues like changing rooms, subs benches, doping facilities will all need implementing.

We’ve fully familiarised ourselves with these tasks and are rearing to go!

Further ahead, and somewhat more ambitiously, we also now face fresh – but longed-for – challenges in the company. Our business culture must swiftly move from a structure that is financially and mentally defensive to one that is more optimistic, agile and dynamic whilst retaining the commercial prudence and core stable footing our original 2020 Mission was founded on.

Any core change in the way a business operates will, naturally, take time but eventually we aim to make Luton Town Football Club a progressive, modern Club that never disregards its stable principles and takes its heritage and character with it.

At the same time, you can be rest assured that we will be in a position to progress our infrastructure developments more aggressively too. Our training facilities will require a serious upgrade and, of course, the big question you will all be asking as we entertain another 10,000-plus crowd today – that topic of relocation – clearly a topic for another day and clearly a monumental and complex venture that will require you to trust us as sensitivities around disclosure will need to be respected if we are to achieve our objectives.

For me, personally, it feels marvellous to be able to finally launch myself into such ambitious projects and know that our original commitments to all investors – whether shareholders, employees or supporters – can still be achieved. 

I have been astonished by the faith and loyalty of everyone involved during this incredible (bumpy) white-knuckle ride. On behalf of the board I’d like to thank you all; The Football Conference, our manager, coaches and players, our wonderful staff but, above all, our marvellous supporters and their courage for sticking with it.

This is your time – enjoy the day!

Gary



NICK OWEN, CHAIRMAN

Isn’t it just wonderful to be back in the Football League? It was on Easter Monday in 2009 that we drew at home to Chesterfield and we knew for absolute certain we were relegated to the Conference. What a difference on this Easter Monday, 2014!

Here we are celebrating a magnificent season, confirmed as champions six days ago, looking up, not down, and kind of wondering where the last five years have gone! Dismayed as we were on Easter Monday 2009, did we really think it would take so long to get back?

Through various means, the club has been contacted and congratulated by all our former Conference managers, Mick Harford, Richard Money, Gary Brabin and Paul Buckle. Whatever the circumstances of their departures, they still retain a feeling for Luton Town (particularly Mick, of course) and a vivid appreciation of the passion of our supporters. 

Each one of them is responsible for bringing us a player or players who’ve played an integral part in promotion this season. We’re grateful to all of them for taking on the challenge of trying to get this proud football club out of the Conference and back into the Football League.

That it’s finally happened is down to John Still and his excellent team of Terry Harris and Hakan Hayrettin, plus Jeff Wood, Dave Richardson, David James (recently!), Simon Parsell and Darren Cook. John stresses the importance of the team throughout the club and these guys are right at the heart of it – training, coaching, cajoling and mending the players day in, day out, virtually all the year round. 

They see the stresses, the strains, the exhilaration and despair first hand in the dressing room – and, of course, they feel it too.

Together they have produced a squad that’s won us the title with three games to spare. I would like to thank each and every one of them for making this such a special time for us all.

Of course, off the pitch, a football club is a mighty demanding business to run. I would like to thank all the staff, part-time or full-time, in and around Kenilworth Road, led by Gary Sweet, who all work so hard to maximise income or keep the wheels turning, whether it’s selling tickets, producing programmes, organising the catering, sorting the hospitality, being the friendly face, dealing with the merchandise, keeping us safe, or maintaining the pitch and stadium. Too many people to name perhaps – but they know who they are and they are all appreciated.

It’s been mentioned before this week but I want to repeat it. Without our munificent investors, where would we be? These are the men who’ve supported the club for decades as fans on the terraces. They got together in our darkest hours and generously put in what they could afford to save us from extinction. The rescue in itself cost a fortune, let alone the continuing costs once we’d come out of administration and were up and running again. They have stuck with it through all the turmoil. They are giants in Hatters history.

On the pitch, the players have been quite breathtaking at times. Whether we’ve been squeezing out gritty draws or victories on tricky Tuesdays at places such as Dartford, Grimsby or Cambridge or playing champagne football at Alfreton and Nuneaton away, Kidderminster and Hereford at home, the 11 on the field have always played their hearts out until the final whistle – and that has been a key factor this season. Non-stop effort and commitment. It’s been a pleasure to watch.

Finally, our renowned support. Two home crowds of 10,000-plus, so many over seven or eight thousand is truly remarkable. The 7,200 average gate is quite superb. Looking back to our last season in the top flight, we had eight attendances of 8,000 or below. What a testament that is to the enduring, steadfast loyalty of our fans! And then there’s the away following which has been astounding and truly wonderful for the clubs we’ve visited in the last five years.

The players thrive on it and I am sure it has played a major part in our success this season. Thank you.

In the annals of time, in any brief history of Luton Town, our five years in the Conference may well only merit a line, such as ‘Luton then dropped into the Conference, but returned five years later.’ It will barely reflect the heartache we have endured in our efforts to get back, the highs and lows, but now our time has come.

The Hatters are back, we are the champions, we are a Football League club once more. Onwards and upwards. Enjoy the moment. These are special times. Have a great summer.

Bye for now, 

Nick



MIKE HERRICK, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR

John Still has brought several sayings, or ‘Stillisms’ into the language of Luton this season and I expect them to remain in our vocabulary for a long while. Given that the season started for us with pre-season training in Portugal, the first one I was aware of was “Touch, Pass, Touch, Pass” which echoed around the Algarve at every session as he tried to ingrain his methodology into the players.

I was particularly interested to watch how his man-management came to the fore through discipline liberally laced with humour. One of my particular favourites was his discussion with Brett Longden when he wanted him to play at centre-back in one session. It went as follows:

JS: Can you head it?
BL: Yes gaffer.
JS: Can you kick it a long way?
BL: Yes gaffer – I have played centre-back once before.
JS: Listen. I’ve sung at the Royal Albert Hall once before but they haven’t asked me back yet.

It was in Portugal that the close bond was formed and fostered. This ‘togetherness’ is one of the cornerstones of our success. But did I think it would win us the league this year? If I’m honest, I’m not sure. Do I think it will it help us go even further?  I really do. I really do.

Then there was “The stronger the team, the stronger the team”. Nowhere was this exemplified to greater effect than at the home game against Lincoln City. After the outburst from a fan, the way this negativity was turned on its head was instrumental in binding us all the more tightly together. The turnaround on and off the field that day led to it becoming the second match in what was to be a record-breaking 27-game unbeaten run. 

Later in the season we were taught that we could only “Control the Controllables”. I personally learnt to ignore refereeing decisions I didn’t like (sort of). I even began to accept weather conditions conspiring against us that meant that Dartford away was called off just as I was about to board the train at Crewe station. (I may not have done so if it had happened five minutes later. It was non-stop to Euston.)

I must confess, however, to struggling with “Never too high – Never too low”. What’s that all about? As far as the ‘Never too low’ bit goes, we weren’t really given too much practice to understand that – but starting with a defeat on the first game of the season was in retrospect a masterstroke coming, as it did, after a superb pre-season. It was clearly designed to keep our feet on the ground from the off. John then chose to sprinkle the other defeats vary sparingly just when we weren’t expecting them – again, obviously, in a bid to remind us what supporting Luton is meant to be all about.

But this ‘Never too High’ malarkey? I can’t get my head around that. How does it work? If John Still thinks that after five years marooned in football’s basement I’m not now going to get uproariously and outrageously ‘too high’ then he’s got another think coming. I felt ‘too high’ when the final whistle went at Kidderminster on Tuesday. I still feel ‘too high’ now. And, what’s more, I expect to feel ‘too high’ for the foreseeable future. So where am I going wrong?

Finally, in Portugal we had a session with the squad where we tried to give them some idea of our history and tradition, including the grossly unfair punishment we received six years ago. We noted that several players and management staff had been promoted before. But when we were finally able to escape from the Conference we explained that it would be like nothing they had ever achieved before – ever, ever, ever, ever. I hope that by now it is beginning to sink in just what this promotion means to all of us fanatics of Luton Town Football Club.

Gentlemen – we salute you one and all.

Mike



DAVID WILKINSON, DIRECTOR

Last Tuesday night I was home alone watching tweets of the score coming through from Kidderminster. Kiddie scored and then scored again and we were Champions, but it felt surreal. Everyone was somewhere else. John and Terry were at Crawley, Hakan was at Braintree and the rest of us were scattered around at home and abroad. After all we have been through together it felt a bit wrong.

It then became a celebration by phone and social media. We all had a plethora of calls, texts, emails, Facebook and twitter messages of congratulation and good wishes and not just from fans. Could it be that football is pleased we are back?

However, despite all this outpouring of kind remarks it was hard for me to feel the way I should have felt. We need to celebrate this fantastic achievement together because together we have made it happen. I have written plenty over the years about my memories of and love for our great Club so I don’t intend doing more of that here, but everyone involved needs to realise that just as we now talk about promotions and players and goals we saw 40 or 50 years ago so younger fans than me will be remembering today, these players, this manager and this Season long into the future.

When Gary and Stephen came to us selling the 2020 vision the Club was in extremely poor shape and it required an enormous leap of faith by us all to make the investment and commitment we did. It has undoubtedly been a rockier and lengthier road than we expected, but although there is still a long way to go, we are off the bottom with our feet firmly on the ladder.

John is rightly being feted for having turned us round on the pitch and in the terraces, but there are many, with less glamorous and more private roles, who deserve credit. You know who you are and I thank you.

This wonderful Club almost died. We all know that we were abused by previous owners and unjustly victimised by the authorities, but we are back and it’s time to celebrate. None of us will forget, but we’ve seen where positivity can get us so let’s try to put the bitterness behind us and show the World what we are made of.

The future is bright; the future is orange (even though I did vote white)

Thank you all for your tremendous support and sticking with us through the hard times.

I am so proud to be a part of this great Club and of the way everyone has risen to the challenge.

Today is going to be an emotional day and I can’t wait. 

Championships aren’t won every day so please relish the experience.

I am going to have a new and more special memory to put alongside the 56 years’ worth I already have. 

I went into the Club on Wednesday and hugged everyone I could find and I would like to hug all of you.

Enjoy the day

COYH

David



STEPHEN BROWNE, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR

A rollercoaster was promised and a rollercoaster we’ve had – it’s been a long journey.  We all started out with the firm belief that success is built on stability and living within our means. We pledged to deliver an ethos of being open, honest and transparent. We wanted to be stronger together.

I’ll admit that we experienced a few highs but there were many more lows that few of us care to remember; from the dark days of 2007 and a Club continually knocked to its knees, to a defiant 2009 Wembley success. We bowed out of the Football League leaving them with the memory of 40,000 voices and many more around the world, chanting the truth in unison about how our Club had been treated, and by who. The only thing we all knew for sure was that we had just one thing left - each other.

Our various penalties and court cases were the vicious actions of a small group of people. It was people pandering to greater football and business powers by attacking a defenseless club, just so they could use us as ‘an example’ to others. When strength of leadership to protect fans was needed, it simply wasn’t there. Anywhere. It was not only dishonourable and weak, it was wrong and those actions left a legacy that is extremely hard to put into words. Admittedly at the very same time as our monetary and playing woes, we entered a financial crisis and a five-year recession for which certain authorities can’t be blamed, but the actions of a few will never be forgotten because on the eve of that season, they let down a nation’s football fans. More remember than just us.

Despite everyone’s efforts the decline could not be easily reversed. Historic problems took time to solve, both on and off the pitch. Previous unseen lows were soon eclipsed by yet more. Our initial hope of an immediate return to the Football League was quickly tempered by a good standard of football by some, and money by others. Every loss questioned our resolve, every set-back tested our determination. The bottleneck to gain promotion became an impenetrable barrier and whether we were good enough or not at each play-off game is up for debate but a penalty claim denied, an offside goal, the width of a post? Incredibly small margins on every occasion kept us in the Conference Premier, season after season. 

Every missed opportunity is still accompanied by the worst memories I have since being involved in football. Play-offs are simply horrendous for everyone: three different managers gutted by events; three different teams tasting the hardest kind of defeat; three different locations for fans, family and friends to depart, heads down, in silence. Each time a gracious smile through gritted teeth. Each time the hurt was worse. 

Just under six years ago we were millions in debt, and losing millions each year. Pre-season training consisted of only a few players, the business side was in disarray, and the youth teams were underfunded and losing playing and coaching talent at a rate of knots. Previous owners had distanced all sponsors including the biggest, missing millions were never found, and they had left supporters with a complete distrust of the footballing authorities – in fact anyone in authority who could affect our Club. The treatment of the Club had been raised in the House of Commons (twice), our plight had been written about from London to Delhi and discussed from Scandinavia to Melbourne. We were being sued by ex-managers for millions, we had ex-players demanding payments, and agents were circling for any talent that remained. A long and pretty grim, non-exhaustive list. At every turn another blow, another skeleton to deal with. The wrongdoers were told they were naughty boys and we were left with a ticking bunker-buster. This is hard enough to deal with in any business sector in any economic climate, so it is a testament to everyone that over the past six years that we have achieved what we have. If we can do that, what else can we achieve?

So, here we are, six years on. We are stronger than we have been for many decades. We’ve come together as a Club in this league and, like myself, many have the Conference to thank for making new friends and being reunited with old ones. There are countless people that have played a part in our journey since 2007 - many of you in the stands today, many celebrating somewhere in the world, some reading this. Most are unsung, most are unknown, none seek individual glory. That’s what our Club is about now because we each have our own story sharing one common link – one heart, one passion. One identity that you protect, promote, and pass on.  When that trophy is lifted the whole of Bedfordshire will hear one voice. (NOTE THAT ITALIC IN LAST FEW SENTENCES)

I for one do not forgive or forget what happened back then. We will all do well to remember the lessons of the past - it literally tore families and friendships apart and rocked the very foundations of a Club that was built over generations. But I do move on. This part of our journey is over and, apart from this season and today in particular, I will not be one for lingering on our time since 2007. We are never going back to the bad old world. All I need to know is how far we have come, and that we are going to do more. No longer do I, or I hope any of us, need to look at that period of our past with anger or resentment or fear of a forgotten ghost. It is us, and only us, who determine our future. As we pass those who have hurt us I will look on and only smile - they are where they are, and where they will always be. We are stronger, proud, and on the march with our faces to the wind. WE are Luton Town. We are BACK.

Stephen



BOB CURSON, DIRECTOR

To our dedicated and loyal fans:

Like all of the 2020 Team, I am a lifelong supporter of Luton Town so when the opportunity arose to make an investment in the Club, I jumped at the chance to help out at a critical time.

Initially, I was carried away with the euphoria of being involved in a football club especially with our wonderful Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success in 2009.  However, soon after, reality set in and the day to day business of running the Club became difficult, disappointing and sometimes depressing.  

There were times when we could have collapsed under the immense pressure of expectation but we remained steadfast, focused and determined to succeed.  We only needed to secure one additional ingredient to achieve the right formula for success but struggled to find that missing part. Then we found 'Honest John' a leader with the special skills to pull us all together. What a transformation John Still has made: a frank, no nonsense, no frills manager who says everything that we think - Eureka, we found the missing link!  John and his team, Terry and Hakan, have brought a new ethos to the Club; one of work ethic in training, practice and preparation.  

The team spirit and camaraderie on the pitch has converted the effort off it in to a successful combination where every player has contributed to this fantastic achievement. Well done lads!

During this time, I have continued with my involvement as Chairman of the Charity 'Football in the Community' which is also coming out of decline and making a real impact in the town. I am delighted to report that over 100,000 youngsters have been trained in schools and playing fields across the county during the past 12 months.   

We are five years in to an 11-year plan and have now established a solid foundation on which to achieve further stability and success for this wonderful Club of ours.

My thanks go to everyone who has played a part in helping us achieve this exceptional milestone especially to our fantastic fans who continue to surprise everyone with their tremendous support.

We are now one force and long may it continue!

COYH

Bob



DAVID BLAKEMAN, DIRECTOR

What a season! From the gloom of last season (winning at Norwich excepted) to the heights of elation in mid-season, with the overhauling of Cambridge, a 27-game unbeaten run, several cricket score victories and, finally, promotion without even kicking a ball. A truly Lutonian way of doing things! 

It was a very weird feeling getting the news of promotion as I sat, watching live updates on Sky Sports News, in my living room. I am not sure if it was a better way to go up than to suffer the tension of another game like Braintree. On balance, I'm quite happy with the way that events unfolded. We can now enjoy the remaining games and play football without being fearful as to securing any points.

To my mind, the moment when it became obvious to me that we had a massive chance of promotion was when we went up to Alfreton and played brilliant football-winning 5-0 away. The goals and the day were quite staggering in their quality. We have not played football like that for a long time. We followed it, of course, with a succession of similar performances – but that was the best performance of the season, in my book.

 
In the course of the year lots has happened from my perspective. We are making slow, but sure, progress on property issues. We have also undertaken a series of community initiatives most of which have been, I think, pretty successful. I aim to build on those events in the course of next season. It would be good, for example, to have more eastern European and afro-caribbean supporters in the ground. We will need every additional supporter we can acquire, should we eventually shift stadium.

It is, of course, incredibly exciting to be back in the League, playing in good size stadiums against teams who might even bring significant numbers of away fans.

David

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