Good evening and welcome to Kenilworth Road for tonight’s game against Middlesbrough, a former Premier League side who currently sit right alongside us in the Championship table jockeying for position in and around the play-offs.
For the second time in our three seasons back at this level, the Sky Sports cameras are here for this fixture, and there is little wonder after the occasion they captured last time. A lot has changed, of course, since that balmy Friday night in early August 2019, when we kicked off the English league season by sharing six goals in a pulsating fixture that had the old girl rocking.
No-one here will ever forget Sonny Bradley’s stunning first goal for the Hatters, nor can we fail to mention just how far our record signing Simon Sluga has come in establishing himself as one of the finest goalkeepers outside the Premier League since his debut that night. Seven clean sheets in his opening 15 matches of this season is a stupendous record, helped in no small part by our much more solid defence this season, just in front of him.
Our recent form on the pitch has provided much scope for optimism, with two excellent results here before the international break followed by a seven-point week from trips to Millwall, Derby and the home game with Hull. However, Saturday’s trek to Deepdale is a timely reminder that our feet must remain firmly planted (in metaphorical sense) and that focus will be required for every minute of every game in this ridiculously, competitive topsy-turvy league where anything can happen.
You will also have seen a couple of wonderful pieces of news away from the pitch last week, firstly with the announcement that one of our double promotion winners, Alan McCormack, has returned to the Club to work within the academy that we strive every day to improve.
That will include Category 2 status being attained and the required facilities being built. As you all know by now, we never give up and will turn our attention in progressing this year.
So, welcome back Macca and we look forward to seeing the development of our youngsters being aided further by working with another returning former player, following Paul Benson and Adrian Forbes.
The other main encouraging development came last Wednesday evening the Town Hall as our venue, as Luton Council development control committee voted unanimously to approve the modifications to our existing outline Power Court consent.
As a reminder, for those who are not aware of the significance, this was a revised outline planning application to our existing consent, already received for Power Court in 2019. The revisions were necessary due to the consequences of the enormous upheaval we’ve all had to endure over the last couple of years which has altered (and will continue to adapt) the way we all think and live.
This, in turn, has led to us to reconsider how people will travel to the site, how it will be used, who will live here, what usages will be needed, how those facilities will be used and how we can viably and sustainably build it all. The new consented application now includes an increase in residential dwellings to be situated either side of a pedestrian open space which sees the River Lea opened-up, running on its natural course through the site and a number of changes to commercial, retail and hospitality operations.
The submission, however, excluded the central area of the site which houses the stadium and, whilst this method was questioned, it was done so as a very positive intention. This is because we are ahead of the game on the stadium and didn’t feel we needed another outline review as, for some months now, we have been preparing to enter the detailed design phase which will see us come forward with the detailed planning application for the stadium (along with the first phase of residential) in or before the second quarter of next year. None of this could’ve happened if this week’s application wasn’t approved.
A number of people have expressed surprise at the weight of challenge in questioning Michael and I received on the night, given the length of time Luton has been waiting for Power Court, as a vital town-centre brownfield site, to be redeveloped and given the much-needed inward investment our town centre desperately needs. It’s worth noting here that it’s absolutely correct that Councillors – especially a member of the development control committee – have the right to challenge anything in any planning application and they were completely right to do so on Wednesday.
We are always happy to invite any challenging questions from those who carry such authority (and even from many that don’t). Indeed, we welcome it because we have total confidence in what we’re doing – we are confident this scheme will bring a significant positive impact and prosperity to our town, we have confidence in our commitment to see it through entirely, and we have confidence in our ability to fund and deliver it all.
As we clear another hurdle, the significance of our work on the stadium becomes starkly more permanent, week-by-week. Complex technical decisions are now being made that simply can’t be reversed as we step-up the intensity in our design process. Indeed, for our game tonight, I’m delighted to be able to welcome over a dozen of our specialist consultants (covering stadium architects, quantity surveyors, structural engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, and landscape architects) who are observing the match, scattered around the stands, so they can absorb that fundamental sensation of what it’s like to be a part of this incredible, unique culture we have in Luton and at Kenilworth Road (warts and all).
It’s essential that everyone working on this particular project goes much further than to merely understand ‘the client’. Our new stadium simply must be a design masterpiece which will possess the opportunity to elevate an entire town whilst safeguarding the unique intimacy of what we have and what we need to protect. It’s a very narrow juxtaposition where failure isn’t an option.
To rise to this, each and every specialist who contributes has no option but to ‘feel the vibe’ and to become (temporarily or perhaps even permanently) ‘Utopian/Lutonian’.
So, to those highly skilled technicians who have been hand selected to turn our dreams into reality, welcome to Luton ladies and gentlemen! You are valued by everyone you share a seat with tonight.
Finally, you will have seen on the official website and social media that we now have well over 50 members of club staff running, cycling or walking every single day in November as part of the Prostate United challenge, surprisingly, including me!
We kicked the fundraiser off with a group photo on the pitch last week, and although only around half of us doing it were present due to other commitments including a development match at Bisham Abbey and various community projects going on around the area during half-term, it gives a snapshot into the spirit we have behind the scenes.
I am proud to say that so many people from different roles within the Club want to help raise funds for a super charity with which we have developed close links since we renamed our ground the Prostate Cancer UK stadium for the night back in 2015, and actively show support for our inspiring colleague, amigo and hero, Big Mick, as he battles the disease.
Personally, I’m grateful to have such a serious cause to give me a kick up the backside to prioritise my lifestyle balance to get fitter, healthier and lose some weight. But our primary objective is to raise money and awareness.
If you feel able to support, you will find all the details – along with the photo – on pages 14 and 15 of this programme, along with the names of everyone taking part. Well done comrades and good luck to everyone.
COYH! Let your voices be heard by all tonight!