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GARY SWEET'S BOXING DAY PROGRAMME NOTES

Have a read of the CEO's boardroom notes from Fulham 'Our Town'

27 December 2019

So, here we are, back at our ragged and rickety home for the final time this decade and approaching a new one within which we will be relocating to Power Court and bidding our fond farewells to this beautiful old girl of ours.

We stand at a very poignant epoch – almost bridging two decades – when we owe it to ourselves to dwell on this continuous roller-coaster ride of ours.

Our Kenilworth Road decade of the 10’s began with a 3-2 (Hatch, Craddock) Conference defeat to Ebbsfleet United after the closest corresponding game in the noughties was a 4-1 (Barnes-Homer, Gallen 2, Jarvis) victory against an Eastbourne Borough side whose coach of 27 had been held up on the M25 until half-time.

We leave this decade as a competitive Championship Club having witnessed four unsuccessful play-offs; three promotions, two successful planning applications and a training ground relocation.

From Eastbourne to Fulham looking back; and from Kenilworth Road to Power Court looking forward. Perhaps this is where my notes should end today.

Naturally, I can’t leave a big white space without wishing you all a very Merry Christmas to one and all and I hope had a wonderful Christmas Day with your families yesterday. Of course, a very warm welcome is extended to everyone from Craven Cottage who have made a conveniently short trip north from West London for this magical Boxing Day fixture.

It would also be remiss of me to ignore the encouraging news from Luton Council received last Friday that The Queen’s High Court refused permission to Capital & Regional’s subsidiary companies to have a Judicial Review of the Council’s decision to grant permission for our Newlands Park mixed use development.

For those who are not aware, Luton Council were accused by C&R to have fallen foul of its planning protocols to grant consent on three arguments, all of which were considered by law to be “not arguable” and, thus, their accusations have been royally booted out. Indeed, in her reasoning, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing stated that the Council’s Officer’s Report had been thorough and careful as opposed to the Claimant’s reliance upon a few paragraphs amongst a 100+ page report in support of its challenge.

Fantastic news indeed to bring in the New Year of 2020? Almost!

The process from here is that C&R now have the right to ask for a ‘reconsideration of the permission application’ through the High Courts which they must decide to do before we all start singing Auld Lang Syne. Should they decide to do so, then Luton Council together with us (as 2020 Developments) do battle with C&R at a ‘renewal hearing’ at some point in the first few weeks of the new year when it will be decided whether permission can be granted for the Claimant to proceed to a judicial review of the grant of planning permission.

From a personal point of view, I believe they would be utterly foolish to commit to do so given the facts in front of them and given their rapidly diminishing popularity amongst their future customer base, notwithstanding the complete waste of significant money required to attack and defend the arguments.

If this was a betting market only a serial gambling addict would keep backing the wrong horse.

That said, their track record in putting a jockey on a donkey tells us we should expect another, hopefully final, challenge and so, we prepare ourselves to hold firm.

Meanwhile, the world continues to spin just as we continue to work on both Power Court and Newlands Park schemes by improving their designs by making them more fit for purpose for the modern day. Given that they now approach their fourth year in their conception and given that much has gone on in the markets we’re addressing both locally and nationally, we deserve it to ourselves and the town to take a detailed review of what we build, what we sell and ultimately how we deliver the end result.

Naturally, this all takes a lot of time so when we finally see off our challengers please don’t think bricks start getting laid for a stadium the week after. With our economy in a state of some volatility, markets will need to improve before we will be in a position to attract investment which will then trigger those key infrastructure works at Power Court prior to stadium construction.

We have no time-travelling fiscal economists on our board unfortunately, but we don’t see this being a long-term hurdle and we remain so excited to get over this next phase, so we get some orange hard hats made.

So, as we enter this profound year of 2020 you would be very surprised to hear that my New Year’s wish isn’t to ride out the JR challenge or to get our projects moving (mainly because through sheer dogged determination, this will happen anyway).

My New Year’s wish, and indeed resolution with a view to encourage change, is for the authorities of our beautiful game to realise the monster it has become and take action to protect its structure and heritage.

Such is the severe financial incongruity that currently exists, and that is deepening, our fear is that we are rapidly losing the sporting spirit which should be at the core of its structural DNA. Despite existing Profit & Sustainability rules (which should be named Loss & Sustainability) under a UEFA Financial Fair Play directive, more than ever before, our national game has become such an unhealthily diverse playing field from top-to-bottom whereby club owners are permitted (or rather not stopped from) injecting cash into their playing budgets on a game or risk.

This is simply not sport. Such contemptible habits breed competition between club owners on the primary basis that success is achieved according to who has the greatest amount of money to gamble in any one season. It is unsporting, unfair and, most importantly, unsustainable. My fear is that such is the delta between the haves and have nots that it is the biggest threat to the traditional sound structure of our game. More clubs will die if this is not fixed and clubs will cap the limit of their ambitions because, unless they sell to an international billionaire gambler, they simply cannot compete.

We operate in a League where clubs are accused of creative accounting, selling their foundation assets to avoid points deductions and alarmingly pandering to agents’ demands whilst still making eye-watering losses to chase the dream of promotion to the Premier League. We operate in a league where the delta between top and bottom is greater than tenfold in budgetary terms and those at the bottom are expected to compete.

The same is now happening at every level in the game purely because the balance of wealth is so stark.

I do not raise this issue now because we’re languishing towards the bottom of the Championship. I raise it because we are experiencing the chasm in real time between the leagues and because matters are worsening.

We, as a board, will not compromise on our own principles of sustainability. This may be the first decade in Luton Town’s post-war history which has seen the Club avoid financial catastrophe at some point having left a decade which very nearly saw our club die twice because our then owners whimsically overspent. As we know only too well, owners can all too easily lose a gamble and flee a sinking ship leaving supporters to pick up the pieces, if indeed there are any left.

So, my wish is to shift the current culture of football away from a world where owners/custodians are expected to plough in multi-millions to remain competitive to a more reasonable and prudent world where rules are imposed to protect the longer-term sustainability of clubs and their supporters and communities and for managers and players to battle on a more even playing surface.

With a new Chairman in place and a new CEO soon entering the building, the time for the EFL to act is now. Many clubs throughout the pyramid want the same whilst some want to spend as much as they like. Meanwhile, I ask for your support in protecting the sustainability of Luton Town Football Club, whatever the result, and have the faith and patience in backing us to run the club the way we have over the last decade.

A massive thank you to those who are already pleading with us not to compromise our principles (even if we could afford to).

Finally, at this time of year, we always remember those we have lost and at Luton Town, we work with local charities we can help with both fundraising and, sometimes more importantly, profile. The recent Signposts sleep-over and shirt auction are just two examples of the great ways our staff and players can aid those who are less fortunate, not just at Christmas but all-year round. While supporters’ charities of the year past and present have come to the fore, with work ongoing in partnership with CLIC Sargent, as well as our friends at Keech Hospice, who were fans’ charity of 2017-18.

Seeing James Collins and Martin Cranie there talking to an eight-year-old whose family’s life has been turned upside down by the awful disease that is cancer, made me proud of our club, its badge and our players. Who wasn’t touched by that video of James presenting Ethan with his signed shirt, or the group of our lads wearing protective gloves and aprons to make a young leukaemia sufferer’s day at the L&D? 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and COYH!

Gary


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