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Read | Gary Sweet's Boardroom Notes from Saturday's Stoke programme

And don't forget to order your hard copy for £5 from Hatters World...

19 October 2020

CEO Gary Sweet penned the notes from the boardroom for Saturday's matchday programme, which you can read below.

Don't forget that you can order a hard copy of 'Our Town' for £5, including postage, via our online store Hatters World. You have until midnight on Friday to do so, and printing and delivery will take place next week.

FROM THE BOARDROOM - GARY SWEET

Rarely are weeks in football anything other than busy, energetic, diverse and crazy. Never are they quite as daft as they have been this week – and we didn’t even have a game to play.

Amidst the perceived serenity of an international break we didn’t just have the ever-changing backdrop of a global pandemic to react to, but we had a planned deadline day in the transfer window added to the untimely leak of the biggest reform proposal English football has seen for decades.

After so many debates and negotiations with the league, clubs, players and agents we can hang the big picture next to the closed window for now and look forward to 90 minutes of match action for the first time in a fortnight with some relief.

A lot has happened during the first real international break of the 2020-21 season, so it’s perhaps appropriate that I start by offering our warm welcomes to our recent new recruits.

We’re delighted to welcome two loanees in Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall – a young midfielder from Leicester City – along with Sam Nombe, a young striker from Milton Keynes. We have been admirers of both players for some time having been the topic of conversation in previous windows, the latter loan containing an option for us to buy.

We also open the door for Joe Morrell, who came straight from Welsh duty to sign a permanent contract for the Town on Wednesday from Bristol City.

We enjoyed seeing a social media post by a Wales-based Hatter, who pointed out that we now have more full Welsh internationals in the squad than Cardiff with Joe, Tom Lockyer and Rhys Norrington-Davies, who deserves congratulating on a fine senior debut in Bulgaria on Wednesday night.

The post ended with ‘Mae’r dref yn mynd i fyny’, which Nathan quickly translated as ‘The Town Are Going Up’. A bit premature, but introduces an opportunity for a new banner, perhaps?

Heading out of Kenilworth Road for now are Peter Kioso and Andrew Shinnie, and we wish them both the very best as they embark on loans to get valuable game time in League Two and League One, with Bolton and Charlton respectively.

We also welcome everyone who has travelled with Stoke this afternoon. We last hosted them on February 29th and little did we know at that point we were about to leap into the unknown of a national lockdown that could change English football forever.

It was the last match we played with supporters in our ground, and the part you all played in helping the lads fight back to earn what proved to be a crucial point, with the 90th-minute James Collins penalty, is what we are missing most in the present circumstances.

Please be assured we are working tirelessly on your behalf to bring back those atmospheric days.

The other reason the last seven days or so in football has been somewhat interesting is the emergence and disappearance of Project Big Picture. It came and went before we even had time to properly review it and pass comment on an informed basis. Having such an important proposal leaked prematurely wasn’t ideal, of course, as it allowed critics to kill it before it was even born by focusing on the negatives.

For the record, we were quite excited by the prospect of having such a bold proposal on the table to discuss. Reform in the game has been long overdue, as most of you will know. It isn’t just the ill distribution of wealth within the game, disguised as an elephant in a room. The greater spirit of the football family has been at risk for some time and is certainly at risk right now of fracturing permanently.

What this pandemic should have taught our leaders of football and clubs is that unless we work together, learn to compromise and leave our egos at the door all for the greater good (just for now, even) then a united vision will never be found. At “this time, more than any other time” as they sang 54 years ago.

Opportunists will always exist, of course and this does not condemn free enterprise within our game. Indeed, we need commerciality to thrive to drive us forward as much as we need social democracy to create a political balance within the microclimate of football.

The best thing Project Big Picture has done is let the genie out of the bottle.

Having read it, analysed it, discussed it and dissected it, 80% of the proposal was excellent, especially the initiatives behind supporter inclusion, community grants, ladies football, facilities funding and, of course, the redistribution of wealth. The remainder needed working on. Maybe it needed too much work as it disenfranchised too many stakeholders in the opposing corners of the ring. But it’s literally amazing that a topic as hot as this ticked so many boxes in its draft form. It’s a such a shame that commentators and social media activists focused on the negatives.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, as we are inevitably witnessing now, such a publicly fashionable conundrum will attract a few, apparently independent and apparently well-intentioned, members of the public-eye, each trying to unpick the Fort Knox lock. Transparently, these are the discussions and debates that need to be had but insiders simply must be involved in its solution.

What we all actually need, right here, right now is the government's urgent assistance to help our troubled clubs and football in general.

Let crowds back in where possible! Allow reductions in PAYE to avoid redundancies! Allow reductions in VAT, just as in other hospitality industries to keep us functioning! And open up the banks’ blockages to business interruption loans that football clubs simply can't access!

Then, with the urgency removed, the EFL, EPL and the FA can discuss the much-needed reform of the game unhindered by the threat of clubs going bankrupt and taking their supply chains and communities with them.

Debate clearly has to be moved forward involving our key players, in a less clandestine way where documents aren't leaked to disrupt football's lifeline. For this to move forward to everyone's benefit, egos and greed need to be put to one side temporarily, at least. There's little point in selfishly defending your place at the top table if the whole wedding is cancelled.

There's so much hypocrisy and inconsistency in top level decision making even in the House. Oliver Dowden spoke proudly of going to the opera in an indoor theatre, yet in the next sentence claimed football can't return in an outdoor environment where clubs have proven to be able to operate safely.

Our government needs to demonstrate that inequality, exclusion and prejudice between industries doesn’t exist by giving our working-class game the same opportunities to survive as other sectors, and other more highborn departments within its department for culture portfolio.

There will be plenty more to follow on this, of course. But for 90 minutes, pull up a chair, grab a drink and enjoy watching your Hatters look to cement a place in the Championship play-off places.

As always, we thank you for your patience as we try to get you safely back here to do it in person, and for your constant, unwavering support. COYH!


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