Good evening and welcome back to a slightly refreshed Kenilworth Road for tonight’s mouth-watering first game of the season – indeed, the opener for the domestic league season as a whole – as we entertain Middlesbrough.
It gives us great pleasure to welcome one of the English game’s most famous names to the old place, especially as we move closer to our departure. The last time we met in league action was during Boro’s final campaign at their traditional home of Ayresome Park. They won the league that year and have spent 14 of the 24 seasons since moving to the Riverside in the Premier League, which is naturally where we’d ideally want to be when we’re playing at Power Court.
The welcome is especially warm to the Boro supporters who have made the 440-mile round trip for an evening game. A warm welcome also to their new manager Jonathan Woodgate. A great player who had a stellar career with Leeds, Newcastle, Real Madrid, Tottenham, Middlesbrough and England will hopefully set him up for a fine career in management, along with so many of his peers in the England squad who are making their moves into coaching of late. We wish him, and the club’s directors and fans, the very best.
Perhaps we also offer a warm welcome back to the Championship to ourselves too, in this case? After a very turbulent roller-coaster ride since the start of our custodianship – 11 years ago this week – after two relegations, it is 13 years since we last left the second tier of English football. There will be young supporters who will have never witnessed us play at this level before but most of us will see us, expectantly, competing as a Championship club, as the history books will testify.
However, whilst we re-enter the same league as our historical expectations would perhaps justify, we certainly do enter a very different, more difficult, competitive arena to the one we left in 2006/07.
We enter a world where as many as a third of our competitors will be in receipt of dozens of millions of pounds of parachute revenue from the Premier League that is creating a staggering diversity ratio in wealth between clubs.
We enter a world where, according to the Financial Fair Play laws laid down by the authorities, a financial loss a pound less than £35 million is considered to be a successful benchmark! We, on the other hand, remain insistent that it is sheer madness to target our success baseline on anything other than a break-even profit and loss account.
And due to these financial malfunctions, we enter a world whereby at least three clubs have sold significant assets to themselves in order to disguise their breach of Financial Fair Play regularity. In other words, losing a mere £12m per year isn’t enough to gamble on the dream of the apparent utopian paradise of the treasure chest provided by Premier League membership.
However, as a newcomer entering this new world as a rising star after winning our league below, we have needed to spend over £1m on stadium facilities – to include goal-line technology, new television camera positions, new press areas, new dugouts, not including the numerous commercial and safety enhancements we’ve made – all in order to be compliant to provide armchair viewers a comfortable platform to watch tonight’s game.
Such financial competitivity in the Championship is leading to clubs, who may not be gifted with complimentary windfalls as a reward for failure, or immensely wealthy (and usually temporary) benefactors who seem to be on a personal ego trip or on a fantasy journey to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, experiencing difficulties.
In this mayhem, of which we are now a member, it is the traditional, loyal supporter that is far too easily forgotten.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, whilst we have no choice but to join this mayhem, competing in this way is not who we are and not who we will ever be. We (2020) are not in this game intent on utilising the beautiful game for our own self-gratification or self-publication. Neither are we foolish enough to think that football is a platform where easy profit is made.
We, perhaps along with our visitors today, remain as one of the last bastions of Club custodians who are lifelong fans of our Club and who will put our supporters, our community and our town first – an unwavering stance which defines who we are and which has firmly established the culture we will live and die by.
Therefore, if we want to avoid becoming another Bolton Wanderers [insert the name of any other club of the many in current turmoil], to compete at this level, we need to operate creatively, intelligently, boldly and bonded together, all singing from the same hymn-sheet! We must establish different methods of creating our unique competitive edge, that do not necessarily rely on brute financial muscle. We firmly believe there is a better, less irrational, less egotistical way to climb this pyramid and one we’ve been practising and refining since we returned to the Football League.
Lutopia – The Luton Way – is something we’ve been brewing for some considerable time. A method of sustainability and progression which slowly brews the ingredients of our culture (indeed, cultures as a harmonious plural) in the pot with our ambition and principled position whereby we need to feed into our environment more than we take from it.
To accomplish this, our most difficult season in the Championship will be this one and then every season while we remain at Kenilworth Road. Unity and patience will be required from everybody now and beyond, certainly until we make our move to Power Court, which will provide a more financially sustainable and competitive football club than Lutonians have ever witnessed.
We will experience teething problems and growing pains, but this is progress.
Talking of progress, officially, on behalf of the board, it is my duty to welcome Graeme Jones as our new manager to help us fulfil our ambitions. Graeme is arguably the best and most experienced coach never to have managed a football club at the top level and we see it as a true privilege that he has selected Luton Town to be the Club to embark a managerial career upon, one that I believe will be a very successful one at the very top level of the game.
Alongside and to support Graeme, we have jointly appointed a number of new footballing staff who are doyens in their specialist field.
We’re truly delighted we were able to retain the services of Inigo Idiakez as first team coach. In January, when called upon, Ini stepped up enthusiastically from coaching our under 18s to coaching our first teamers. He now takes this role on permanently bringing a very technical capability to training sessions.
A special warm welcome back to Gary Brabin as Graeme’s assistant. Upon considering Gary’s appointment we fully reviewed his previous service with us and, in particular, some supporters’ perspective of his re-introduction. However you personally measure his past connection with us, the truth is that Brabs is an excellent, well-respected coach who is highly trusted by Graeme and who has, despite the circumstances of his previous closure, always had a warm affection for our Club, always offered a helping hand to assist our progress to whomever has been manager. Bar none, in his time, Gary’s popularity in the dressing room and offices at Kenilworth Road has been second to none and his energy, drive and personality – not to mention his coaching skills – will be a valuable addition to the team.
In addition to Brabs and Ini, we also welcome a number of skilled specialists. Oscar Brau and Imanol Etxeberria arrive with huge experience at the top levels of European football as a senior (or señor) therapist and as technical goalkeeping coach, respectively. Oscar will now be guiding Darren Cook, who has stepped up to become assistant therapist, and Imanol working under Kevin Dearden after his promotion to head of goalkeeping. We will have a new head of sports science arriving next week when notice has been served with his current club, Tottenham, while the ever-dependable Simon Parsell has taken on greater responsibility as head of medical with Chris Phillips stepping up from his role in the academy as first team physiotherapist having impressed us all since joining from Barnet just under two years ago.
As you will see, there is no attention to detail spared when it comes to player support, player care and development. We will, naturally, exhibit our ambitiousness as far as we will be able, exampled by our breaking of the Club’s transfer fee by signing Simon Sluga from Croatian club, Rijeka. We’re more than delighted Simon chose Luton as his entry into English football – welcome Simon!
Along with Simon, we also welcome Callum McManaman, Martin Cranie, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Brendan Galloway and Jacob Butterfield to the Club, and wish all of our new boys successful careers with us. That includes four of our own, with Corey Panter, Jake Peck, Josh Neufville and Tiernan Parker having signed their new development contracts after progressing from the academy.
We will always try to be shrewd in the transfer market, as opposed to competitive on a head-to-head scenario, which will apply to both buying and selling players.
Not only have we set a new record for a transfer fee paid but we have also sold two players for higher fees than our previous record. Whilst non-disclosure of specific values is observed in these cases for good reason – competitive advantage, deal structure and complexity and at the request of the buying club – I can disclose that, such is the structure of many a transfer, we will only realise the full value of these deals after three years of service at their new Clubs.
However, I’m more than pleased to give you an insight as to how those funds will be distributed within the business. Broadly speaking, over the next couple of years, around one third will be invested into business sustainability, one third into facilities and up to one third into our football budget, either for fees or salaries. No amount will be paid out as shareholder dividends and every penny is re-invested back into the long-term development of our Club.
As one specific example, if our youth academy is to be competitive in future, we need to be able to compete in an under 23s games programme, in order for our development group to be exposed to a more senior game. In order to achieve this, we need to build an indoor football facility (at a cost of over £2m), otherwise we can’t elevate our academy status. Without this, at this level, we can’t expect to generate our own talent in the way we have done in the past.
We all want the next James Justin to be coming along the production line very soon, which leads me nicely into wishing all the boys who have departed since the end of last season the very best with their new clubs. JJ and Jack Stacey have moved up to the Premier League in the headline moves, but we will also follow the likes of Alan McCormack, Luke Gambin, Jack Senior, Aaron Jarvis, Jack James and Arthur Read’s progress with interest and warmth, after their valuable contributions to our success over recent seasons. Good luck to all and a huge thank you for your contributions!
Our position in the Championship is clearly justifiable and deserved but stabilising our position here is the next challenge. Since returning to the Football League, we have come a long, long way, very quickly, both on and off the pitch and we have only accomplished this because of our togetherness, positivity and the belief in our identity from within the Club and from the supporter base. None of us want to revisit the dark days of the past so please continue to have the faith that, as the caring custodians of your Club, we will always make the right decisions for its long-term ambition and sustainability.
With so much to look forward to, please enjoy the ride this season and enjoy tonight! COYH!