Good afternoon and welcome back to Kenilworth Road for what we all hope will be our penultimate home game of the season. Welcome to the players, officials and supporters of Crewe Alexandra.
Today’s visit, along with that of Forest Green Rovers in a fortnight’s time, give us every opportunity to achieve our stated aim of promotion this season.
No doubt many of you have had your calculators out trying to work out all the permutations of how, if and when promotion might be achieved. If we can take all three points this afternoon then hopefully the picture will become a lot clearer by 5 o’clock.
Many of you will have seen earlier this week the fantastic news that we were named as League Two Family Club of the Year and that we will compete with Reading and Blackburn, the other divisional winners, for the overall title at tomorrow evening’s EFL Awards in London.
To say that we were all thrilled to learn of this award is an understatement. In our first season back in the Football League, in 2014-15, we did not even earn the basic family excellence accreditation. We made a conscious and determined effort to rectify that and achieved the accreditation in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 before our success this season. It has been a fantastic team effort and I would like to thank everyone involved for their commitment to bringing this very important award to the club.
The EFL made a number of ‘secret family visits’ to our home matches and their reports made for fantastic reading – they recognised our creativity and numerous personal touches which set our offering above all our competition.
With Jack Stacey, Alan Sheehan, Dan Potts, Luke Berry and Danny Hylton all named in the League Two Team of the Season, tomorrow night’s awards ceremony will have a real Luton Town flavour to it – and hopefully Olly Lee’s memorable strike from his own half against Cambridge back in November will also collect the Goal of the Season award.
We hope that Luke will be given the all-clear by his consultant to join his team-mates at the ceremony tomorrow evening. This is my first chance to publicly wish Luke the speediest of recoveries from the horrific injuries he sustained at Colchester on Good Friday. The final result that day paled into insignificance when taking Luke’s injury into account. Luke is a very likeable and optimistic lad and I do not doubt that he is already working hard to get back to full fitness and to have a major influence on next season’s campaign.
Most managers around the country stress how football has become a ‘squad game’ in recent times – and Luke’s most unfortunate injury has simply highlighted that fact. Pelly has found it almost impossible in recent weeks to dislodge the midfield incumbents, but when his chance came against Mansfield he grabbed it with both hands with his ‘man of the match’ performance.
Pelly also clocked up his 150th appearance for the club at Yeovil last week and, as the only player still on our books who enjoyed our last promotion in 2014, he will be hoping that this season ends in a similar celebration. I should also mention Glen Rea and Alan Sheehan, who each achieved their 100th Luton appearance in recent weeks – well done to all three lads and here’s to many, many more!
We were also proud to see our Under-18s go through to the EFL Youth Alliance Cup Final after we overcame Oxford in a thrilling regional final two weeks ago, eventually winning on penalties. We look forward to facing Wigan on the 2nd May at Kenilworth Road for that one, so well done and good luck to our young pros and scholars – let’s hope they lift the same trophy we won two years ago at Shrewsbury.
I would also like to give a mention to Luton Ladies who have reached their first national final – they face West Ham United at Hednesford tomorrow in the FA Women’s Premier League Plate Final. Good luck to our ladies, here’s hoping they add to the growing number of potential trophies and awards for Luton Town this season.
At our last home match against Mansfield on Easter Monday, members of the local Bury Park Community were on hand to distribute chocolates to our supporters in a fantastic gesture of neighbourly kindness which was positively received by everyone.
It was a remarkable and positive initiative clearly demonstrating the mutual respect and friendship that exists between the local Muslim community and the club and its supporters. Such generosity and kindness does not always capture the headlines – especially when it should – but we felt immensely humbled and proud to be the recipients of such an act. Thank you to those members of the Bury Park Community who organised this event.
This act and the hundreds of positive messages we received thereafter reminded me about how we have planned and executed so many hugely positive community initiatives in recent seasons. In fact, they are too numerous to list in full here, but I will pick out a few which set your club aside from the others as being innovative at all times and, most importantly, wanting to be at the heart of our community.
In 2016 we became the first English professional football club to become a National Living Wage employer, committing to paying all of our full and part-time staff a fair hourly rate for their hard work.
We assigned the right to veto any change to our image rights to Luton Town Supporters Trust whereby, effectively, our badge, colours, nickname and mascots’ characters are ultimately protected well into the future.
We have introduced an Over 50s club on Wednesday mornings when we provide the environment and refreshments for local community members to get together and enjoy some social interaction which otherwise might be missing from their lives. We have a trophy winning walking football squad. We have supported nine local charities over the last three seasons, helping them to raise almost £100,000 in the process. We renamed our stadium the Prostate Cancer UK stadium for a televised fixture against Wycombe in March 2015.
We hosted the ‘headscarves to football scarves’ initiative in 2012 when a large group of Muslim girls attended and enjoyed their first ever football match proudly donned in traditional dress.
And that’s just for starters and doesn’t include the wonderful everyday work carried out by our Community Trust, which sees almost 4,000 weekly engagements to boys and girls at schools, colleges and clubs and the ever popular kids’ holiday camps.
When we say that we care about Luton and its communities, we back it with action!
Each of these initiatives in turn should make you proud to be a Luton Town supporter, but we are constantly challenging ourselves to think up even more ways in which we can further highlight our culture of community, charity and social responsibility so we can have an increasingly positive influence on our environment, town and county in years to come.
Most importantly, just imagine how much of a bigger, better and wider positive impact we could create with our new stadium and new developments?
Which is why it is beyond me, beyond any of the team involved, beyond the understanding of our board and staff and, most probably, beyond you to think why anyone or any organisation could seek to harm this very influence if they had anything other than just a purely commercial interest in our town, despite claims otherwise.
I’m being asked more than ever as to our progress on our planning applications and, once more, I need to beg for patience and to urge you to await further news from Luton Borough Council. I remain as frustrated as anyone that we haven’t been able to push on with matters yet.
However, we are not far away now. The dream of taking another step upwards towards our rightful position in the League pyramid, and a giant leap forward towards firmly laying our roots down in a brand new stadium in the heart of our town in the same season is very much still on.
Let’s unite our voices today and onwards! COYH!