These From The Boardroom programme notes were written by Chief Executive Gary Sweet, for the Grimsby Town edition of This Is Our Town.
Good afternoon and welcome to our final home match before Christmas and of 2017, so on behalf of everyone here at Luton Town I would like to wish each and every one of our fantastic supporters a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous (and winning) 2018.
I would like to offer a warm welcome, along with our good friend D, to the directors, officials, staff, players and, most importantly, the Mariners supporters who have made the 325 mile round trip from Cleethorpes this afternoon.
We shared many a good battle in our years exiled in the Conference together, and that was renewed with two tough games last season after Grimsby followed us back up into the EFL. Their recent run of three wins and a very useful draw at Notts County, which was well received by all Hatters, has lifted them to within two points of the play-off places, so this afternoon will be no different to what has gone before.
Football is an industry apart over the festive season – most businesses slow down or else shut down completely at this time of the year, but football takes a collective deep breath and dives head-first into a frantic period which can, for some clubs, define their entire season.
Many people have called for a winter break or at least fewer fixtures at this time of year, and I can understand managers wanting to have their players at the peak of physical well-being for each game – something that is difficult when you are facing four important league games in ten days – but would supporters want it any other way? I think not – the tradition of going to matches over Christmas and the New Year holidays is firmly entrenched in English football with so many clubs recording their biggest attendances of the season as proof.
This hectic schedule always throws up its fair share of surprise results, but we go into it in great shape – four wins and two draws from our last six league games, plus four cup victories since our last defeat here against Coventry back in October.
Last Saturday's win at Forest Green, achieved with ten men for more than half-an-hour following Jack Stacey's red card, was another excellent away-day performance and those clean sheets keep mounting up. It's 12 for Marek Stech now – ten in the league and two in the FA Cup – with James Shea chipping in with one in our last EFL Trophy game here against West Ham U21s.
What a goal we saw that night too, with Aaron Jarvis finishing off an 11-pass move that saw our lads move the ball around in our own half to draw the Hammers' defenders out and enable Akin Famewo to play a cracking long pass into Aaron Jarvis' path.
It certainly wasn't a "60-yard boot upfield", as some described it! It said everything about how we want our team to play, and credit to Nathan and his coaches for embedding that in the club's culture.
2018 promises to be a very exciting year for your football club, both on and off the field. We all share the same ambition to win promotion to League One at the season's end and our FA Cup visit to Newcastle in early January should prove to be a fantastic day out for all concerned.
I know that hotel bookings in Newcastle have taken a major hit for both the Friday and Saturday nights as Hatters fans seek to make a real weekend of it on Tyneside – with the Kenilworth Hotel apparently being the first to sell out. I wonder why?
We took over 4,000 noisy and passionate supporters to Carrow Road in 2013 and they witnessed the first ever defeat of a Premier League club on their home patch by a non-league club. We have already sold well over 5,000 tickets for the trip to St James' Park with scope to reach over 6,000 – wouldn't it be great if those 6,000 were celebrating after the match on January 6th.
The EFL Trophy draw may not have been quite so glamorous but a home tie against the Posh on Tuesday 9th is another game to look forward to, and it represents a terrific opportunity for us to go on a lengthy run in the competition.
We reached the semi-final last year, when we lost out to Oxford in that end-to-end five-goal thriller, and the competition gave our young players opportunity to make plenty of headlines.
It was good to see Luke Gambin shortlisted for player of the round after the West Ham game, and we'll hope to go one step further this year with a Wembley appearance a realistic ambition to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Littlewoods Cup win.
Our good form this season has not gone unnoticed either. You will have seen over the course of the last few weeks that Nathan has collected his second consecutive Manager of the Month accolade in addition to several individual honours, including Olly Lee's goal of the month for November and Danny Hylton's second successive PFA Fans' Player of the Month, both for November.
It was also nice to be outscoring Manchester City (...and Paris St Germain throughout in Europe) for so long and becoming the first English club to score fifty league goals this season – with no fewer than sixteen of Nathan's squad finding the back of the net in our 22 league games to date, and 21 in all competitions.
There was also that amazing stat where by scoring the opener at Forest Green last week, Alan Sheehan became the 11th different scorer of our last 11 goals. A great example of teamwork if ever there was one.
Off the field, our use of the new car park at Power Court continues to prove a success. Don't forget you can download a matchday parking permit to take advantage of our special rates of £1 on Saturdays between midday and 6pm, and FREE from 5pm on Tuesday evenings when we're at home. You can download a permit by going to www.lutontown.co.uk/ parking in the 'Getting To Kenilworth Road' section of the club website. All proceeds from car parking at Power Court go towards the development and maintenance of the site, so please make use of the 500 new spaces.
However, we would prefer to be building on Power Court rather than parking on it. It may feel like an immensely frustrating wait on a planning decision, having now been in the formal process for over a year and a half – a frustration we feel too because we're ambitious and anxious to get moving.
And of course, there's little we can do – other than keep providing all the additional evidence that is asked of us – to complete the process and get to the point at which Luton Council can determine our planning applications.
That said, there is very little point in thinking anyone is to blame for this prolonged consideration other than the simple reality that there are parties out there with vested commercial interests that they will try and protect at all costs.
The Council therefore have a very difficult job to do under these circumstances and have no option but to ensure that no stone goes unturned in their review of our applications.
What is clear for me is that once they make a decision – whatever that decision may be – it will certainly be a very well thought out conclusion which will be very difficult to challenge.
There was some excellent news for the town and us this week, however. Luton's Local Plan came through the Secretary of State's review period without challenge, meaning the Local Plan is now fully adopted.
We believe this is an important step forward for everyone that cares about the future regeneration of our great town. The Planning Inspector overseeing the Local Plan made it very clear that nothing in the new Plan should get in the way of the local authority properly determining our two schemes at Power Court and Newlands Park in the normal way.
In this context we believe our applications can be said to be "in accordance with the Local Plan" thus meaning any challenges, on policy grounds, will hopefully be that bit harder to see the light of day.
We won't hear anything for a few weeks now but patience is a virtue – a policy which is becoming more and more rewarding on and off the pitch!
I'll close how I opened, by wishing everyone a merry Christmas – starting hopefully with three points this afternoon – and a fantastic New Year, on behalf of the board and all at LTFC. We'll see you back here on January 1st when Lincoln City visit, so let's celebrate this great time of year in style by getting noisily behind Nathan and the team in all four festive fixtures here at the Kenny and on the road.
Come on you Hatters!