Read the chief executive's notes that appeared in the AFC Wimbledon programmeFROM THE BOARDROOM WITH CHIEF EXECUTIVE GARY SWEET
Good afternoon one and all and welcome back; welcome back to Kenilworth Road for a new season, welcome back to the Football League, and welcome back to our amiable challengers and associates, AFC Wimbledon.
Having experienced a prolonged period in the company of the Football Conference, today will mark a new beginning in the future history of our football club as we firmly close the trap door behind us and look forward to a more positive and hopeful future.
It’s ironic that, upon our first home game back, we face Wimbledon – a like-minded, progressive club, and one of the competitors that got in the way of an earlier return. Some Luton supporters, if not all, may curse the Dons for delaying our uprising, but I’m sure nobody begrudges their own, well-deserved success given their honourable resurgence. I can think of nobody I’d prefer to meet on our first home game of this season.
Please join me in welcoming the players, officials and supporters from Kingsmeadow, in particular, Erik Samuelson – AFC’s chief executive who has been a close ally of mine over recent years – and the returning Stuart Douglas – now Wimbledon’s physiotherapist and one player I loved to watch in a Luton shirt for his tenacity and speed.
So, what does today signify for us? Well, although predictions for today’s game can’t be made with any accuracy whatsoever, I firmly see our renewed membership of the Football League as a much more sound and secure foundation from which we will be able to develop our Club further, safe in the knowledge that we shouldn’t be returning to the Conference.
Whilst we wouldn’t have said ‘no’ to an earlier return, I believe the Conference era, even the full term, was good for our Club on the whole. It may have been expensive to fund – with the conscious decision to maintain a fully professional approach in all departments of the business throughout our stay, but the last few years have helped us harness a new culture at the Club in a way that an earlier return may not have delivered.
Having served our rehabilitation, stabilised our finances and prepared for this return, we can now gear up and plan for a stable, continuous rise to meet the original objectives that we, 2020, set out six years ago to reward our supporters and our town. It’s crucial that we develop steadily to avoid complacency and reprisal, which will still require patience.
As you’ll have seen, much rebuilding of the squad has taken place over the summer, most of which has seen investments made in players who possess strong development value and have a point to prove, which will bode well for the longer term. Indeed, we should take a while to look at the potential starting eleven in three-to-five years from now from our existing squad. This is now John Still’s second full season at the helm and we can start to witness the characteristics and ethos of the squad he’ll be putting together, which is a very exciting prospect.
Of course, other than the squad restructure, with the new Football League regulations, plenty of work has been going on behind the scenes, only some of which will be visible to all, of which, I’d like to highlight a few examples.
It has been necessary to sign every registered player on new Football League contracts – a massive job efficiently managed by Kevan Platt, our club secretary.
The new rule book demands an increase in substitutes, female officials and anti-doping, all of which mean that, not only must dugouts be bigger, but new changing rooms and facilities have needed to be implemented – thanks, primarily, to our stadium manager, Peter Kemp.
Meanwhile, our youth academy has needed to introduce new structures and policies as we become fully engaged with the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) system which has been an incredible feat by every member of the academy staff for their tremendous work ethic, led by Wayne Turner.
We’ve taken the opportunity, given the increase in central funding we’ll receive, to start re-investing in areas that have needed some attention; the renovation of our executive boxes, the rebuilding our retail delivery with a new web-shop and new merchandise, and new IT systems for catering and retail, to name a few.
Finally, to follow Football League practices and expectations a small number of title changes will occur; David Wilkinson has now become vice chairman and my title changes to chief executive. Given that David already chairs board meetings and represents the Club at official League functions, very little changes in practice, but it does provide more stability at the top of our structure allowing Nick to continue to do an excellent job of being a wonderful ambassador for Luton Town.
Every member of staff has worked tirelessly over the summer, which makes our eagerness to succeed even greater.
It was great to be able to continue our excellent sponsorship arrangement with easyJet, who have supported us during the time we’ve most needed it, with our local community partnership continuing to grow strongly.
Touching on sponsorships, I would also like to welcome Doug Knight as a new vice president. Doug and his wife Maddie have been ardent Hatters followers and have supported the club financially with a broad variety of sponsorships of players and matches over the last few seasons. Although vice presidents don’t get involved in the operation of the company and have no directorship responsibilities, their ambassadorship at home and away games and in the business community is well regarded and valued by the Club. I know Doug will look upon this function as a real honour.
So, as we embark upon a new leg of our journey and having thanked those who have been a part of the change process, please allow me, on behalf of the board, to thank the most important and valued members of all – you.
The respect we receive from other Clubs for the astounding levels and behaviour of our supporters fills us with pride. During our rein at Kenilworth Road, it’s initially unbelievable to believe that our support base has grown, yet I believe that we have become somewhat humbled by our years in the Conference and have learnt to love the game and our Club in a new light.
Your support enables us to have the faith that this loyalty will only continue to grow as we do, for which we thank you. 5,700 season tickets and 1,500 replica shirts sold before the first home game of the season may be a record.
I truly hope we can reward your loyalty with success on the pitch, starting today.
Luton Are Back!