The chief executive's programme notes from Thursday
These Talk Of The Town programme notes were written by chief executive, Gary Sweet, for the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Blackpool.
Good evening and welcome back to Kenilworth Road for what promises to be a memorable end to our home season in this Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final against Blackpool.
We warmly welcome Gary Bowyer, his management team and their players to Bedfordshire for the second time in little more than a month, and of course their supporters who have made the reverse journey from Lancashire for tonight’s game. We fully understand why many Seasiders will have stayed at home to watch the match on television, as they do not currently feel inclined to travel to support their team.
Like Luton Town, Blackpool Football Club is a name synonymous with a more innocent, less financially-driven era and they have been up and down the English football pyramid in a similar way to ourselves. As we heard so audibly from the away end at Bloomfield Road, the wonderfully loyal Luton supporters certainly empathise with them in their current predicament, having experienced troubled times ourselves in the not too-distant past.
As we travelled back down the M6 late on Sunday night we, along with over 1,700 other Hatters, all shared a slight sense of disappointment at leaving Blackpool a goal down. But we shouldn’t and didn’t feel at all disheartened with the exciting prospect of a packed and rocking floodlit Kenilworth Road ahead of us.
We played some very good football in patches, but need to be more like our usual, recent reliable, redoubtable selves in defence with 11 men standing tall from the first whistle tonight.
Statistically, our recent form bodes well, having lost only one in eight and taken ten points from the last 12. No-one will be sitting here at kick-off thinking we’ve nothing but a fair chance of going through to Wembley. It is all to play for, however long the tie goes on for tonight.
The most gratifying hour of our trip to the north-west coast was our group of directors and guests dropping into The Castle before the game. It was a fantastic, exhilarating atmosphere that not only made our hair stand on end, I thought the rendition of ‘Hylton’s On Fire’ was going to raise the pub’s old Artex ceiling to the rafters!
The superb support continued in the game too, despite the peculiarity of a mostly empty stadium – with our travelling supporters making up almost half of the 3,882 attendance (and more so in voice).
Tonight, at a sold-out Kenilworth Road, that is one advantage we definitely start with.
What the past 16 months, since we appointed Nathan Jones as our manager, have shown is that the future is very bright for Luton Town. Whilst not especially wealthy or even profitable, the Club is in a sound position financially. We have an excellent manager who is regularly linked to positions higher up the League (which, even though it may only be media speculation, tells us he must doing a thoroughly decent job here), and we have a very good core squad to build from – statistically, the youngest in League Two.
We absolutely know that promotion to the next level will come. Whether it happens in the next ten days, or we have to wait until this time next year, we firmly believe the Hatters will be a League One outfit within a decade of our last experience in the third tier.
The Club is more of an attractive proposition to incoming players than we have ever been. We already have a good nucleus of a squad who have performed consistently well all season and who have created competition at every position. We have a number of players now with a not-insignificant asset value, who are coveted by other clubs currently operating at a higher level to us – but we don’t need to cash in to survive and players aren’t desperate to leave in order to further their career. They recognise that they are in a place where they have a manager and team of staff who are a delight to work under and be developed by and at a Club that is progressing.
Below the first-team we have a very strong academy set-up with a firm eye on an elevation to EPPP Category 2 ranking. The proof of our youth coaches’ ability to develop players, as well as the infrastructure of the academy we fought so hard to maintain in our non-funded NonLeague years, comes with a whole XI stepping off the production line to make their senior debuts since Nathan took charge.
Most importantly, we are rapidly improving strong foundations of finance, culture, stadium and training facilities at the Club. On the latter, with the move to The Brache having taken place a fortnight ago, we are at a watershed moment. This is the first time LTFC has ever had a facility remotely like this. The emphasis has been on quality throughout, from the bricks and mortar to the training pitches. If our standards and environment is anything other than extremely high during the week then we can’t expect anything more of our players on a Saturday afternoon. The squad have moved in full-time to prepare for the play-offs in the best possible surroundings, but the whole building will not quite be completed until they return for pre-season in July.
The new training ground was not far below a new stadium in terms of importance to the club’s progression, and on the Power Court front, I can assure you that relocation plans are still progressing soundly. As I mentioned in my last boardroom notes, we need to ensure we are robust in every aspect, hence taking our time to get it right and making our position unchallengeable. We are hopeful that a planning decision is expected very early into the new season, followed by a short period of review after which we should be good to make absolute plans to relocate.
The character of our culture is now becoming widely recognised and identifiable – whether on the pitch, in the offices or even as a support base. We take pride in creating an environment that is hard-working, team-spirited, driven by success, self-educating, helping others and to be role-models in our community contribution. This is who we are.
On community matters and on behalf of the board, there are a few thankyous and farewells to bid as the season comes to a close. First, to Level Trust, whose year as our club charity of the year concludes with one final fundraising event next month. Jane Malcolm leads a wonderful charity that is doing so much for the educational needs of our local children who deserve a fair and equal chance to progress. This vital charity shares a kinship with us by providing opportunities to educate, develop and improve well-being. The same principles apply whether for children living below the poverty-line or for our staff, players and other community partners.
Thank you to Jane and her colleagues for their unbelievable enthusiasm. Despite the end of a successful season, our support will continue in some way just as it has with Chums, who were our first ‘charity of the season’ partners during 2015-16.
I’m sure everyone will join me in wishing youth team manager Paul Driver all the best as he heads north with his family to start a new life in semi-retirement. Paul came to us when Rushden & Diamonds went into liquidation six years ago and his enthusiasm, commitment and coaching ability has epitomised the strength of the academy I talked about earlier. Seeing James Justin perform so well over almost 40 appearances this season is testament to Paul’s impact on our youth system, as is the presence of lads like Zane Banton, Craig King, Frankie Musonda, Tyreeq Bakinson and Akin Famewo around the senior squad on a regular basis. We will never forget the highs of the run to the FA Youth Cup quarterfinal last year and the Youth Alliance league and cup double. Thank you Drives and good luck!
We’ve had a sad and unfortunate season with regards to so many great former players and supporters passing. I can’t mention everyone of course (and forgive me if I neglect to include anyone in particular), but those who the board and I had personal relationships with who gave the club so much more than their support; Jack Sapsworth, Brian Swain, Kevin Catlin as well as Brett Beasey-Webb, Robert Collon, Sara Jaffray, Bob Chowdhury, Ray Woodfield and several other loyal fans – the Supporters’ Trust produced a wonderful tribute to at their recent Presentation Evening. Legendary former players like John O’Rourke, Seamus Dunne, Paul Futcher and Dave Pacey – the only man to score for Luton Town in an FA Cup final – have passed on. Let’s sing our hearts out as those who’ve left us would have done themselves.
Finally, regardless of what league we’re in next season, thank you so much for your support. Let’s remain together whatever. We, the board, are as desperate for success as any one of you, but we also have the patience to see it through come what may. We know we can win tonight and nothing but the opposition being on the form of their lives will be able to stop us.
Come On You Hatters. This is our town!