The Hatters chief executive's programme notes
These From The Boardroom programme notes, written by Luton Town chief executive Gary Sweet, appeared in Saturday's Talk Of The Town for the game against Crawley...
Good afternoon and welcome back to Kenilworth Road for today’s game against Crawley Town.
We warmly welcome Dermot Drummy, his players, staff, our fellow directors from the Broadfield Stadium and, of course, their supporters who have made the trip north. I’m sure they’ll forgive me when I say I hope they make the return journey empty-handed, as we did after our 2-0 defeat in Sussex in mid-September, but having enjoyed their visit to Kenilworth Road.
We are delighted to welcome our Club charity of the year, Level Trust, to Kenilworth Road to take advantage of the generous offer that main sponsors SsangYong made in the summer to donate their front of shirt space for this match.
It seems a long time ago when we posed on the pitch in the August sun to announce the partnership and SsangYong chief executive Paul Williams presented the shirt to Jane Malcom, who leads Level Trust’s tireless team of volunteers.
The Club are proud to be able to offer our support to such a fantastic charity and I would urge you all to donate what you can today so that Level Trust can continue to help the 14,000 children who live below the poverty line in Luton – OUR town – receive any equipment, clothing and help they need with their education.
Nathan’s skydive in aid of Level Trust is detailed in today’s programme too, and as someone who is not fond of heights, he also deserves your support for when he throws himself out of the plane on 19th April!
Sticking with Level Trust for a moment, I’d also like to welcome our guest director for the day, Daniel Coyle. A group of us from the Club attended the charity’s recent fundraiser and one of the evening’s events was an auction to bid for ten Christmas jumpers each table’s guests had created.
As well as the jumper, each winning bidder received a ‘prize’ – and I offered the chance to join our board for the charity’s matchday. It fetched the highest bid of the night and Daniel will be with us in the boardroom and directors’ box for today’s game.
I hope our director for the day leaves with a 100 per cent record, and I’m more than confident he will be left with a positive impression. The Club is in a very good place right now.
Naturally, there won’t be a single person affiliated to Luton Town – director, player, member of staff, supporter – would won’t be disappointed to some extent as to our current league position. We all passionately desire success and, in truth, most of us feel we should have amassed more points than we have at this stage of the season, none more so than our team manager.
However, it helps just to step back once in a while and take stock of where we are today and plot our future direction of travel. When you do that there is no reason why anyone should feel anything other than optimism.
We, 2020, took a decision a long time ago to be patient with our league progress in favour of building a stable foundation upon which the Club can progress ambitiously and, more importantly, protect the Club against crisis – a more than familiar concept for those supporters beyond their teenage years.
Clearly, the relocation project is the most obvious indication of our laying of the building blocks but there are many other indicators. Everyone at the Club is genuinely excited about our transition to The Brache training ground. Indeed, the first team are intending to take their first isolated session on the new grass during the next week whilst construction of the new state-of-the-art 3G pitch began last week at a facility that will be Championship class.
The central importance of this facility is not only to support first team aspirations but to also elevate the potential of our academy. As you read this you are witnessing the gradual but certain introduction of our rich young teenage talent from our exceptional youth system.
The culture of our business is such that every artery fully embraces community and charitable cohesion leading to everyone at the club feeling proud about using the authority and awareness of our regional standing to tackle sensitive issues of child welfare (as today endorses), poverty, homelessness, equality and social exclusion.
Even financially, whilst we cannot be considered as 100% secure until we relocate to Power Court, we’re comfortable with the operational shortfalls (donations, however, gratefully received) that we must suffer to maintain our ambitions of growth and success.
Our supporters are included, not excluded. We have informal committees formed from several factions of the wider fan-base with whom we consult regarding a broad number of topics – from our planning applications to challenges addressing our position on EFL and FA matters meaning you are helping to shape what your Club becomes.
These are only a few characteristics we can all be proud of and we’re only travelling in one direction. It’s a great time to be a Hatter.
Despite our 2020 targets we sincerely hope our progress, on and off the pitch, will continue long beyond that date and the more we gain a reputation for our special culture the more we will be able to shape the future of this beautiful game we love.
As a board, we are very sympathetic to many of our own supporters who challenge the over-commercialisation of our national game as defenders of supporter rights in general, and it’s no surprise that organisations like Football Supporters Federation are busier than ever and favour towards ‘Against Modern Football’ social media campaigns are on the rise.
It’s a difficult juxtaposition to manage as a football club operator sometimes. We are frequently tasked with decisions whether to adopt a commercial model that may result in a material increase in Nathan’s player budget versus a potential unpopular compromise in supporter tradition, for example.
This week we passed on exactly that kind of decision Luton Town Supporters’ Trust – as guardians of our brand and image rights – to ultimately decide whether we produce a new home kit for next season or not. My natural stance is to reject an annual redesign (even though 22 out of 25 Puma clubs change seasonally), but it’s only right we take the decision knowing that it would reduce Nathan’s budget by approximately £40,000 – the cost of a good young player. That dilemma was debated by LTST this week as it’s only right supporters are given the opportunity to understand and take responsibility.
Of course, we must adapt and progress to survive in a highly competitive environment but, rest assured, we will seek to protect the traditions of the game wherever possible.
The manner in which we progressed to the semi-final of the EFL Trophy has protected our right to promote our youngsters alongside those from Under-21 teams – a stance we know you agree with.
Having got this far now and given that – unsurprisingly – no U21 teams remain, we would very much plead with you to get behind the team in this competition for three key reasons.
Firstly, we need your support to succeed. The financial rewards from here are enough to have an evidential impact on the development of our first team budget and/or our academy facilities. We recognise the importance of your support and ask you to pack out Kenilworth Road for the semi-final versus Oxford and, hopefully, fill Wembley against Coventry City in the final.
Secondly, we firmly believe that progression in the Trophy can and will drive us on to better things to support our priority of gaining automatic promotion to League One this season through gathering a winning momentum.
Finally, the principled stance we took to make our point has been made, U21 teams have been knocked out and our opinion is resonating. If we win this competition having been fined heavily for fielding ‘ineligible’ young players our voice would be louder and our influence greater.
We have already set up a meeting with interested supporters to discuss the future of this competition from next season onwards ahead of an EFL meeting to address the same. The EFL Trophy isn’t a ‘thin end of the wedge’ angle for a restructured pyramid to permit B-teams; which we are abhorrently against and I still believe – with some changes – it is an opportunity to create an innovative competition that we could all embrace.
Make no mistake, your visible, vocal and financial support will help our united ambitions.
In closing my notes, I would just like to briefly update you all with our planning applications. As previously communicated, whilst our applications continue to be reviewed by the Council, we have been focused on making our representations in the hearings of the Local Plan examination. Our objective in this was to exit this examination unscathed, which I’m happy to confirm, we did.
However, given the nature and timing of the Local Plan process, we will experience an inevitable delay of a few short months in the determination of our applications, just to ensure that our position is even more robust. I’ll provide much more detail in the next couple of weeks.
The future is bright, as they say, but today is about the present and we’re facing Crawley this afternoon and Hartlepool here again on Tuesday. Let’s exercise the vocal chords and roar Nathan and the team on to six big points in the push for promotion.
Come On You Hatters!