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WALSALL PROGRAMME NOTES | FROM THE BOARDROOM WITH GARY SWEET

23 October 2018

These programme notes were written by Chief Executive Officer Gary Sweet for the Walsall edition of This Is Our Town.

Welcome back to Kenilworth Road for what we hope will be another profitable afternoon at the old fortress we love to call home – although, with the best sentiments, we hope for not too much longer. More on that subject later.

The old girl's grass is looking green at the moment. It is 12 matches since we last left the Kenny having suffered a defeat, and when you think of the entertainment and drama we've witnessed here in the last two league games, we can't help but be thankful we are able to host, and more than compete with teams expected to challenge for promotion to the Championship, as Charlton and Scunthorpe both are.

Today's visitors are another club who have started the season in fine form under a new manager, with Dean Keates an excellent captain of Wrexham when we faced them in the Conference and now proving to have fine leadership qualities off the pitch, too. That is something the Saddlers have in abundance, with their CEO Stefan Gamble being a respected member of the EFL board and one of many good people to deal with at the Banks's Stadium.

Our last competitive game against them came almost exactly a decade ago, and although it may not have seemed it at the time, it was a significant one as Rossi Jarvis' goal in a 1-0 JPT win in the West Midlands helped us progress towards that glorious day at Wembley starring Claude Gnakpa, who joined Walsall having written his name into Hatters folklore in 2020's first full season.

One man who has already done that in the current set-up is our manager, Nathan Jones, who I must congratulate on reaching his 150th game in charge in that last home game against Scunthorpe. Nathan is already the manager who has taken charge of the highest number of matches in our decade as custodians of this great club, beating John Still's 148, and the man with the best league points per game ratio in club history so far.

It's abundantly clear that Nathan Jones and Luton Town are just great for each other. I'd go as far as to say that Luton hasn't had a manager who befits our culture as well as Nathan for as long as any supporter can remember, including me. Conversely, Luton Town probably hasn't had a manager who has been so well supported by our supporters and our staff but also by his board. Here's to another 150 games with Nathan leading us upwards!

Alongside him now is Steve Rutter, a man with vast knowledge of the game at many levels and gleaned from a variety of roles. I enjoyed a great meeting with Steve before he joined us and he's settling into Paul Hart's old role very well.

It is always sad to see great people leave us, but we always see it as an opportunity to for us to improve. Not necessarily by recruiting just better people, but appropriateness according to the direction we are taking the business at the time – to help with our overall development. And Steve was an ideal candidate for our next footballing period.

Finally, on the football front, good luck to Inigo and the under-18s in FA Youth Cup action under the lights here at the Kenny next Friday. It was great to have our previous youth team manager, Paul Driver, with us as our guest at Barnsley, his new local club. A few nights like those we experienced in the run to the quarter-finals under Drives – with JJ, Frankie, Akin and Craig King in the team – wouldn't go amiss this time around, lads!

Away from the pitch, the club were delighted to be chosen to be showcased in this year's Parliamentary Review brochure. We were selected as 'one of the experts in The Parliamentary Review 2018, showcasing best practice as a learning tool to the public and private sector" on behalf of the DCMS. The Review was published a couple of weeks ago and launched at a gala reception, which I attended along with David Wilkinson and Michael Moran.

In a couple of weeks' time we will have reason to celebrate in London again, as Emma Banks, our first lady vice president, will deservedly be the winning recipient of the 2018 MITS award for services to the music industry. Astonishingly, it is the second year running that not just a Luton Town supporter, but a Luton Town VP has been honoured. We're proud of our musical connections and especially proud to have Emma be an ambassador for LTFC, in the same way that last year's winner Rob Stringer has been.

On the planning front for Newlands Park and Power Court, frustratingly, we were recently requested to update some of our technical reports, specifically for ecology and environment, as guideline policies have changed since we originally submitted our planning applications. Alas, these elements now need another short consultation period too before the council can determine our applications.

However, having already completed and resubmitted these additional assessments, along with our last-word rebuttals on retails matters. This now means that the planning officers at Luton Borough Council will in receipt of everything for them to write to their committee report hopefully in readiness for a committee meeting in December for both applications.

You will have read last week, and on page 11 of today's programme, that we have acquired the freehold interests for all remaining parts of Power Court from the council. This means that the football club, through 2020, is now in materially control of all land included within our applications, and all land excluded from the adopted local plan. It means that one way or another, with or without the stadium, our development destiny is broadly in our own hands. Naturally, we won't settle until it does include a stadium. This is a crucial development. All land is bought at risk. All has been bought freehold and unconditionally. And all has been bought with the single intention that it progresses the club and town.

The best news this week however, is the story that Intu – owners of shopping centres in Watford and Milton Keynes – have withdrawn their previously submitted objection to Newlands Park having done so after they studied our impact data showing that our custom will be drawn from a multitude of areas and won't impact any one town detrimentally, especially when balanced by the significant benefits Power Court will bring to our town centre and the wider economic benefits both schemes will bring to the region.

Removing objections is generally an unprecedented action but this is particularly pleasing as it's from the UK's largest retail operator who has two retail centres within the catchment of NP and whose authority dwarfs many smaller retail centre operators in the area. Intu clearly recognise that healthy competition is a good thing for the retail market, a good thing for the region and a good thing for them. They clearly have the foresight to recognise the positive economic impact our developments will have for everyone in our region.

There's a football analogy here. When a better quality footballer joins a squad, the smarter characters welcome him because they all know that the inclusion of such quality will set them a new bar, so they improve. Wise players love fresh, challenging competition. Conversely, most players who reject better players rarely improve themselves and more often perform below their technical capability or fade out of the game. Our team at Luton Town is full of great characters – on and off the pitch – who embrace having the bar raised and it's refreshing to see this in business, too.

"Competition whose motive is merely to compete, to drive some other fellow out, never carries very far. The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all but goes on making his own business better all the time." -- Henry Ford

Enjoy today's game!

Come On You Hatters!


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