These notes were written by Lutont Town CEO Gary Sweet for the matchday programme 'This Is Our Town' ahead of the Emirates FA Cup third round replay with Sheffield Wednesday...
Never have the words, “a week is a long time in football” been so true.
Tonight, we re-enter the stage in a one-off drama against a very fine Championship side, Sheffield Wednesday. This comes after a very fine performance of our own in front of 4,500 travelling Hatters at one of the most famous stadiums in the country, which deservedly took the encounter to a replay inside one of England’s oldest, most traditional stadiums.
Luton Town v Sheffield Wednesday is an old First Division fixture if ever you saw one, and sitting pretty in the league, we hope it might be a new fixture next season. It’s an intriguing fixture on the managerial front too with three of the four managerial roles played over the two games held by interim roles.
I’m writing these words following somewhat of a challenging few days. I had already prepared some draft notes last week ahead of, what should have been, a few intense days of preparation for the most important fixture of this week – our date with the Council’s committee for Power Court’s planning determination on Wednesday evening.
Unless you’ve literally had your head buried in the sand, you’ll obviously know that last Tuesday Nathan Jones departed for new ventures after Stoke City agreed to meet compensation conditions payable to us in lieu of the early termination of his contract, swiftly followed by the departures of Joaquin Gomez and Jared Roberts-Smith on the same basis.
Naturally, since then, almost every waking moment has been invested in the immediate stabilisation and to set and start the process of recruiting an appropriate manager who will take us to the next level.
It was with a considerable degree of relief, delight and excitement that Mick Harford agreed to step in and steady the ship on an interim basis – in a heartbeat, I hasten to add, without a single demand from the Club other than its continued support.
It was an especially poignant moment due to the imminent fixture we had on Saturday at the Stadium of Light, arguably our biggest league fixture of the season, but with big Mick being a Sunderland boy, leading his Club out in front of his Mackem family and friends. To witness that wasn’t just a very proud moment for Mick, but for us all.
The 3,100 wonderful supporters that each journeyed the near 500-mile round trip were not left disappointed. If ever we needed a display from the lads to prove that the self-belief and character in the squad is durable enough to endure a mere change in personnel, that was it! We deserved more from the game but couldn’t be disappointed with what will be the most valuable single point of the season.
To a man, the players’ strength of character over the last few, potentially unsettling, days has been exemplary. The maturity and positivity with how they have behaved and approached the game, and the backing they have given Mick is more than pleasing. I’d formally like to thank every one of them for their understanding of the situation and for their continued hard work and focus on achieving our continued objectives, which do not change.
What this week has proved, more than anything else, is that no one man is bigger than our football club, particularly this football club and particularly now. When we (2020) set out on our mission just over ten years ago our primary aim was to stabilise. Not just our finances – which was of primary importance at the time, of course – but from root to branch throughout the business. This, I believe, we have done.
Indeed, we’ve gone much further than that. Stability has been important, but we’ve developed and nurtured a robust culture at Luton Town which contains a set of invaluable assets and principles that encompasses everybody from chairman to kitman, from manager to mascot, from goalkeeper to gateman and from secretary to supporter. We have all made much appreciated contributions to define this culture, so we all belong to it however long you or it may last. It is everyone’s honour to protect it, which it of course appears we already do.
Nathan was an excellent coach and a brilliant technical analyst who, three years ago, was entrusted by us to bring our footballing style back to what we have been traditionally accustomed to0. With a fabulous league win percentage of 51% – the third highest statistic in Luton’s history – we climbed an impressive 40 league places in the league pyramid since he joined three years ago. Nathan, along with Joaquin and Jared, re-engaged us with our long-standing footballing panache, after a departure of necessity, and he spearheaded the momentum we’re seeking to maintain now.
Formally, on behalf of the board, I’d like to thank Nathan, Joaquin and Jared for their hard-working contribution during their time with us. Whilst there is much to say of the manner and timing of their departures, this isn’t the appropriate place for that to play out. Today, I would prefer for us all to acknowledge that whilst they were here they helped entertain us and put huge smiles on our faces.
It is, however, vitally important to note that one person did not deliver this single-handedly. We have an ironically anonymous quote we’ve used around our environments for many years now, which is, “It’s amazing how much can be achieved when no individual takes the credit” which is pinned to the dressing room wall amongst other places. This statement embodies the culture that everyone needs to buy into to prosper at Luton Town and will be our greatest advantage as we realise our ambitions going forwards.
Three years ago, the Club was in a very sound place. It was stable, it had a blossoming culture within, we had recently won promotion back to the Football League, our planning applications for our new stadium were being prepared, we had invested in land and we had plans drawn up to secure a desperately-needed new training ground.
Today, the Club is in an even more sound place, and only partly because of our footballing success. Fundamentally, we have a fabulous board of directors and shareholders, a wonderful company of diligent staff an incredible support base who all believe in what the club stands for and an amazingly talented group of footballers. Spiritually, we have accumulated a tremendous set of well-intended ethical values that are intended to include all our communities and influence the way others behave and interact. Physically, we have secured and completely rebuilt a new training facility in-house which provides the foundation for players to perform and we sit on the eve of, potentially, the greatest victory in Luton Town’s history (if only for a fortnight) when, in 24 hours, we could be holding a resolution to grant permission to build a brand spanking new football stadium for us all to shed the tears of ecstasy and misery on our roller rides of the next century or so.
The stage is set!
What Council would not be genuinely excited to help build the theatre for a brand-new Luton?
What potential Manager would notcrave to step onto this stage and play a leading role to attain accolades and adoration?
All that and not a single word about Chelsea! Who’s not excited?