These programme notes were written by Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet for Saturday's edition of Our Town.
Afternoon all and welcome back to Kenilworth Road for what we hope will be a repeat of the fine entertainment we got last time out here against Derby, as we host a Cardiff City side who we play for the third time this season.
We went to south Wales twice in August, and of course the second occasion in the Carabao Cup stands out as a couple of stunning goals progressed us in the competition. We all felt we deserved a result in the league too as we played well before losing out to that injury-time header from a familiar face.
It was in the 3-0 cup win that Alan Sheehan scored what proved to be his final, typically brilliant free kick for us. I need to kick my notes off by thanking Sheez for his fantastic four-year spell at the Club, which came to an end last Friday.
He has been instrumental in the club’s recent success, captaining us to two promotions with that wonderful wand of a left foot which we have all enjoyed watching. Other than marvellous Marvin Johnson, Alan is the only man to captain our Club in three different divisions. As someone I’ve always enjoyed an excellent relationship with, he leaves with an open door to return as our guest as he works towards his coaching qualifications. On behalf of the board, I wish him and his family the very best for the future.
Alan’s departure made our January transfer window rather poignant. I must confess, the winter window isn’t one I particularly enjoy. It is renowned and is statistically proven to be a month to avoid the traps and pitfalls rather than recruit players to provide an instant impact – something which, of course, is far easier said than done.
In January, all registered players are in-contract. In January, any player who is going to provide an impact on our current season will need to have been playing regularly in order to instantly ‘slot-in’ with a minimal period of integration. In January, if a player has been playing regularly for his club and is in-contract it is going to take a higher than usual transfer fee to persuade his registered club to sell. Paying over-the-odds for players is not something we should or can do.
With the backdrop of player values already being inflated by clubs seemingly intent on breaching Profit and Sustainability rules, it was a market which didn’t present itself easily for us to attract impact players. It wasn’t for the want of trying I can assure you. Ninety percent of our time tended to be spent on activity that never saw the light of day – a typical symptom of Januarys. Nevertheless, we were pleased with the eventual business we did by attracting one who will improve the squad immediately and two others who will require some patience. Most importantly, we didn’t lose anyone we needed to keep.
It is with delight that we welcome the return of Eunan O’Kane. Although he isn’t currently fit enough to go straight into the team, as he works back from the broken leg he suffered here 16 months ago, we saw enough in those glimpses to know he’ll be a huge asset over the next year and a half. He loved his time here and was supporting the lads as loud as anyone when we beat Oxford on the final day of last season to win the league – a character we always wanted to bring back to finish what we started together.
We hope that Cameron Carter-Vickers will endear himself similarly during his loan from Tottenham, while Peter Kioso is exactly the type of lower league gem we love to unearth, thanks to our scouting network under Mick Harford’s stewardship.
Whilst Peter has a great future ahead of him his impact on this season shouldn’t be dismissed as he has impressed the manager so far.
We understand that many supporters desire instant gratification, yet our investment strategy must always prioritise longer-term stability and steady growth. Both the football club and our property development arm of the company are here, fighting for Luton for the long-term and taking the most efficient route to the peak of our capabilities, wherever that may be, even if that includes a temporary stutter on occasion.
From football recruitment, football management, business operations to property development, we will make key decisions for the club and the town for the long haul. With this lens, our temporary league position is broadly inconsequential. Where we are travelling and how we get there, is far more important. However other clubs operate or behave, we are intent on acting in the correct manner, fairly, ethically, inclusively and professionally.
After a month of the transfer window dominating a majority of my time, my attention is now being given to three longer-term projects, two of these should result in the winter window being less of a headache!
Firstly, we need to ensure that our facilities for our Academy EPPP2 application can be completed in time so we can give our young teenage talents more game time which will prepare them much better for an introduction to our first team.
Also, Mick and I will be embarking upon elevating our existing recruitment set-up to another level to ensure that we find better talent, earlier than our competitors, who we can develop into Luton players. This is something we wanted to take on over a year ago, but our story had a different script to tell as Mick got somewhat diverted. It will require further serious investment and will require more patience, but it will eventually mean we should be less reliant on budget to compete.
However, a majority of my time will now be spent with Michael Moran to accelerate our plans for Power Court and Newlands Park. Since finally securing an uncontested planning consent the hard work now begins as we tweak designs and solve the Rubik’s Cube engineering conundrums of rivers, power substations and other technical matters. Our next objective is to isolate one or two areas of Power Court which can attract external investment to start building while we deal with the wider infrastructure issues.
This weekend’s EFL matches are all dedicated to the Heads Up campaign which aims to get people talking about their mental health and wellbeing through football. At Luton Town we are proud of how we not only support our players, staff and supporters who may be experiencing difficulties, but also how our club’s environment and culture attempts to prevent them from arising.
We have many projects going on in the community where the club’s facilities are open for people of all ages to come and simply have a chat, whether that be one on one, over a cuppa or while playing dominoes in the John Moore Lounge.
We pay the Real Living wage so our staff aren’t simply working to exist, but are able to enjoy their lives away from their job without the anxiety that comes with wondering whether they can afford to put the heating on or where the next meal is coming from.
We support many local and national charities, and along with the football world, we are learning with every passing day to encourage our players to speak more about any challenges they may have.
Our coaches and staff attend regular mental health training workshops designed to help them cope with situations that arise, because just as we employ physios and sports scientists to treat physical injuries, we recognise that we all have mental health that needs looking after too.
It is fantastic that campaigns like Heads Up are bringing the focus of the football world on the need to take time to talk, and we wholeheartedly support Mind and the Duke of Cambridge, and thank him for his efforts in raising awareness of such an important topic.
I’ll close by calling on everyone inside this wonderful old stadium today to clear your throats, stick your chest out and roar the lads onto another three points in the second of a sequence of key home matches.
You know exactly how your positivity can inspire the team, just like in those closing stages against Derby. We need your support from the first whistle in all four home games this month, and then the five after that if we are to retain our Championship status.
Enjoy the game and please show your respect in the 60th minute for a true local football man who we sadly lost this week, our Community Trust walking football team’s manager Arthur Mason. Arthur was a loyal supporter who, like Nigel ‘Santa’ Martin, would do anything to help or promote the club.
May they both rest in peace – apart from every matchday when you sing your hearts out for the team, as they would be doing.
Come on you rip-roaring Hatters!