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Read | Gary Sweet's Boardroom notes from Wednesday's Reading programme

CEO Gary Sweet's boardroom notes in the Reading programme...

22 April 2021

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As we warmly welcome the players and staff of our opponents from Reading tonight, you, our cherished supporters, should be here!

 

The beating heart of Kenilworth Road is faint without you, especially today – a special day having just witnessed our collective communities of football supporters unite to defeat a small number of egocentric chancers intent on dividing our national game for personal gain. Tonight, we should be celebrating together.

Football 1 Greed 0

I’ll revisit this vital topic to give my view on what should be happening next; however, we have more reasons to celebrate than supporters nationwide reclaiming our game. We should be rejoicing Saturday’s momentous victory over our nearest and dearest rivals.

Very few outsiders will understand what this means to us, especially given the recent distance in the pyramid between our two clubs. Since becoming custodians, one of our key barometers for future success has been to beat Watford as peers over the last few years when there has been as many as 90 league places between us. Mission accomplished!

Luton 1 Watford 0

Not only did we beat them, fairly and squarely, visibly and statistically, but we did so despite their form, despite the expectation and despite the huge gulf in budgets. The desire, commitment, passion and effort shown by every player demonstrated what it meant to us and showed how any single team will always be superior to eleven individual talents.

Leading up to this fixture was inspiring for me, personally. The connection between everyone at the Club is close that every player, coach and staff member understood that this game was special for you, our supporters. Every one of us understood that, in your absence, the most valuable accolade we could deliver to you is the derby pride and those bragging rights.

Nobody bought into it more than Nathan, who prepared our team perfectly; tactically, physically and mentally. I think I can speak on behalf of all supporters in thanking Nathan, his staff and every single player for their commitment in bringing us this victory.

This is perhaps another example of the true spirit and passion of supporters triumphing over the disengaged sterility that exists too much in our beautiful game. As a Club and as a team, we are nothing without your support, passion, commitment and even the rivalries that come with that, and we’re proud of the end-to-end emotional connection we have nurtured to make this a key component for our continued success.

The most important statistic of the weekend, however, which has almost been over-shadowed, is our mathematical security of Championship football next season and another season of growth over the previous. Yet more reason to celebrate this week!

This fact is particularly valuable because we can begin our preparations for next season earlier than we ever have been able to in any other time during our custodianship. After too many Springs of nervous nail-biting to the bitter end, I’m sure we’re all comfortably content with a season of mid-table mediocrity for once.

Our third consecutive season in he Championship will spur us on to grow again, despite the difference in budgets. It’s essential we get our recruitment right this summer, which you can contribute to with your season ticket uptake and your generous contributions to The Transfer Club. If we can replicate our success in attracting the players we have in the last two windows, I know that our own expectations for next season will be even more ambitious.

So, what now for football?

The togetherness of people far outweighs any amount of money from the few.

Firstly, let’s all recognise (as many of you do, I know) that whilst our pyramid structure is a perfect model to behold that offers opportunity to all, our national game is being infiltrated by too many bankers and chancers seeing it as an opportunity for profit or egotistical self-promotion.

Our beautiful game was invented by the workers, for the workers and its success has led to commercial opportunism that has, in my opinion, diluted the culture and spirit of the game. The sporting principle has been gradually eroded over time. When community clubs can be owned by distant sovereign states and have their silverware bought, is there any difference to them having a YouTube aired shopping spree at a high-class jeweller?

The natural order of hierarchy should only be determined by how committed and supportive the custodians and communities are towards their local club, and not by how many zeros an ‘owner’ can write in a fantasy chequebook.

The rapid rise and demise of the self- proclaimed European Super League has explicitly demonstrated that the journey towards further commercialisation of the sport is not losing momentum and unless we, collectively, capitalise on the opportunity to protect football at this time, an ESL-type proposal will emerge time and time again, most probably under a more granular strategy, by stealth (as if we wouldn’t notice!?)

This, of course, is exactly what has happened over recent years and decades, placing the power with the pound.

However, whilst a depressing thought, I’m far from depressed at future prospects, as long as the true lovers of our great game can take action.Firstly, the six rogue clubs must be punished for entering into a commercially binding agreement when it was more than evident it would damage the English football pyramid and everything that relies upon it.

Speaking as a director of the Club that has received football’s greatest ever punishment in a single season, a 30-point deduction for crimes committed by our predecessors, I think we have every right to demand that the self-appointed ‘big 6’ should receive punishments by the Premier League and The FA befitting to the crime – which I see as far worse than anything Luton Town has ever committed.

If sanctions aren’t delivered it will be yet more evidence that football simply cannot control itself and clearly fears upsetting those very chancers that have sought to damage the game.

If fans of the big 6 are protected resulting in these clubs escaping punishment, not only does it open up claims of false punishment by supporters of other clubs that have previously been punished but it also clears the path of any sanctions upon any crime a club wants to commit in future because fans must be protected. Football regulations will become a free-for-all.

All of a sudden, football authorities are recognising supporters again, having seen the power they can inflict. Where was the concern for Luton supporters in 2007 & 08 when we had to suffer a 40 point deduction?

Secondly, whilst we’re naturally against political involvement in sport, I firmly believe that football desperately needs external, independent, authoritative help. So far, football has been given every chance to repair itself - and has failed.

As a live example, the EFL declared, almost unanimously, that player and agent inflation must be repaired to halt the unsustainability that is spinning this League and others out of control. After two years of being involved and pushing the financial sustainability agenda with others, nothing has happened to help Clubs to break-even and compete, despite the threat of a global pandemic to force the agenda.

As matters stand, it is almost miraculous that we, at Luton, are managing to compete without blowing our brains
out, financially. As we post our annual accounts it will reveal that around 60p of every £1 of turnover is spent on player wages whilst just about managing to control cashflow. Our competitors tonight somehow managed to spend 210p for every £1 on salaries whilst losing over £40m in year ending 2020. In any other commercial industry this would be suicidal, not just unsustainable.

Reading, of course, are not unique. They feel they need to take these decisions in order to compete. The general solutions to these clubs’ financial predicaments is that their foreign owner writes another cheque or they sell a vital asset, like their stadium, to either balance the books or to dodge Financial Fair Play rules (while we work tirelessly for many years to build our own stadium).

Yet, Clubs still go unpunished or escape appropriate sanctions. If this activity becomes acceptable to our governing authorities, we simply do not have a sport anymore; we have an industry where ‘success’ can be bought with cash by risking everything - leaving supporters and communities to pick up the pieces upon failure.

With the financial clout shifting entirely to the EPL, giving more oxygen to the elite within it, the over-riding body of the FA lacks sufficient authority to impact the necessary review. For these reasons, I warmly welcome the government’s recently announced fan-led reform taskforce, led by Tracey Crouch MP.

This fact is particularly valuable because we can begin our preparations for next season earlier than we ever have been able to in any other time during our custodianship. After too many springs of nervous nail-biting to the bitter end, I’m sure we’re all comfortably content with a season of mid-table mediocrity for once.

Our third consecutive season in the Championship will spur us on to grow again, despite the difference in budgets. It’s essential we get our recruitment right this summer, which you can contribute to we need an independent, cross-party review that seeks to reform, regulate and reduce complexity in order for the game to be able to re-establish self-governance with an arm’s length watchful eye.

Of course, any such review needs to be collaborative with supporters and clubs at the very heart of the discussion inviting other parties, as necessary.

It’s not surprising that progress is never made regarding sustainability when so many football organisations are involved, as has been recently demonstrated. Decisions are not just down to the EFL but usually have to include the FA, the EPL, the PFA, the LMA, the PGB, PFNCC and even requiring them to fall in line with UEFA and FIFA. Yet, not one of those bodies directly represents the most important group of people the sport relies upon.

Crafting a new set of regulations shouldn’t be particularly difficult, as long as it can be managed over a period of time and guided or instructed by an authority that doesn’t fear the financial power of rogue owners. Regulations can be introduced to allow:

  • For the pyramid to be legally protected like a national asset of Cultural Heritage Significance.
  • For supporters to have a greater formal voice (not to be feared or disrespected).
  • For a new, independent FA to be restructured and given authority to oversee rules of the game.
  • For the primary natural order to be determined by the size and commitment of the club’s support (not simply by owner wealth).
  • For regulations for sustainability and operation to be set with strict embargoes and financial and points penalties introduced that would be instant and unappealable.
  • For sanctions and/or points deductions to be issues for making an unauthorised loss or for accounts being filed late.
  • For all broadcast and media income to be controlled by a central body and redistributed according to media contribution, league position and community engagement.
  • For a proportion of media income to be distributed to subsidising supporter loyalty (season tickets, merchandise).
  • For limitations on the broadcasting of live matches and protection of to avoid over-saturation and to avoid compromise of live attendance.
  • For financial incentives and rewards to be offered to clubs fielding male, female and disability teams and for promoting and controlling an equal opportunities environment.
  • For Supporters’ Trusts to be invited to buy shares and to hold veto rights over material changes to shareholding.
  • For the academy system to be reviewed and local clubs’ academies to receive greater protection on the retention of minors.

Of course, I’m not deluded. I fully understand that many or most of these regulations won’t come to fruition and also believe that any process must be a democratic one. Supporters need to get organised too. A formal structure to proceedings would be important for the wider voices to be heard.

But, if we genuinely see football as a national treasure, we must see it as our collective responsibility to force change for good, whatever you believe is the right way.

I truly hope reform is embraced by all. Our opportunity for change is now. But whatever happens, Luton Town is in
safe hands as we refuse to risk the rich heritage of this 136-year-old professional institution.

Keep ‘em peeled!

COYH


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