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Gary Sweet's Millwall boardroom notes

4 April 2022

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Have a read of Gary Sweet's boardroom notes from Saturday's match against Millwall...

Good afternoon and welcome back to Kenilworth Road after what seemed like an eternity without football.

A warm welcome also, to the officials, players and fans from South London, including the Millwall CEO Steve Kavanagh, who is one of the sensible voices in The Championship, and with whom we have an excellent relationship. In front of another sold-out Kenny, today’s battle should be a cracking encounter, especially with their play-off aspirations also well and truly alive after some impressive recent form of their own.

To have to wait a frustrating fortnight after that win at Hull will have had many chomping at the bit for today to arrive quickly to help further capitalise on the position we have worked so hard to be in.

Those who travelled north saw an organised team commit to a thoroughly professional, controlled performance to leave us in a position of high altitude in the table going into the break despite the absence of so many through injury, including a five-a-side team’s worth of centre-halves! But with full-backs and wingers playing out of position, rolling their sleeves up and getting on with the job, the lads showed the spirit that Nathan so proudly spoke about in his interviews afterwards.

Of course, after playing 18 games, including 12 wins, in 10 weeks since returning to action against Harrogate in January, the international break came at the perfect time for the players and staff. It enabled them to recharge the batteries, get the injured bodies back to match fitness and prepare properly ahead of what is now a huge final five weeks of the season, and possibly more.

Two weeks ago, we launched our Safe Standing Survey Part 2. The results of which will be summarised to you once we’ve fully cleaned and analysed them. It attracted a huge 2,800 responders – certainly sufficient to be meaningful and to base some decisions on. What I can tell you is that we have an overwhelming support in favour of Safe Standing at Power Court, and an overwhelming number of supporters, of all kinds, who would prefer to stand.

I can confirm that we will be planning to implement a sufficient quantum of Safe Standing positions at our new stadium, but we also heard the voices of those supporters who expressed some concern and their personal preferences to remain seated, too. Further news on the detail of this will be included within the detailed application.

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I know I sound as repetitive as a Mick Harford joke when I tell you that Power Court plans are coming along nicely – which they indeed are. We have had many bumps in the road. As if dealing with economic crunches, Brexit, judicial reviews and significant changes to stadia compliance weren’t enough, since planning consent we’ve had to endure a seismic crash in retail, a time-halting global pandemic, a major energy crisis and now a global political conflict in Eastern Europe. All of these events have taken a material toll on our plans and progress, particularly on the cost impact of the new stadium.

Many of you, especially those in the building trade, will completely understand the scale and impact of the never-ending increase in the cost of materials and the difficulty with supplies. Along with the Brexit and HS2 effect of the labour market, which has squeezed our margins massively on Power Court, we have needed to run a not insignificant remodelling process over recent months with our design team.

This, however, we have done without meaningful compromise to the capacity or inherent design. It has naturally meant we’ve needed to defer certain aspects to a latter phase of development, but we’re determined that this will occur in a seamless way when we’re ready.
Regardless, our detailed plans – which I can confirm that we are now delighted with – are drawing closer to a submission of detailed design this summer, at which point they will be made public.

A single Promotion via the Play-offs to the Premier League will, of course, solve all those challenges in one fell swoop. There! I’ve said all those ‘P-words’!

Way too many supporters have gently whispered one of those ‘P-words’ nervously, almost too afraid to mention it or because it somehow causes some kind of ill-fated catastrophe upon us if mentioned more conspicuously.

I can positively assure you that, to us, fate just doesn’t work in this way. As a team, a staff, a board and a Club, we’re immensely proud of our achievements and are more than comfortable to talk about our progress proudly. Potential success needs to be confronted and committed to if it’s to be achieved!

Despite our #teamslikeluton social handle or the numerous images posted online of back gardens along Oak Road, we must absolutely embrace our success and discuss the eventualities and plan for both Championship and Premier League football being played at Kenilworth Road next season or perhaps beyond.

This isn’t pronounced with an ounce of over-confidence or arrogance but, as a business, we simply must plan for both scenarios – and indeed we are. Whatever the outcome, we will be ready!

As a stark reminder, we are currently surveying our facilities for Premier League compliance and to even prepare to make our old girl fit for purpose for the top table is not an insignificant task, especially for the demanding broadcast and media requirements.

Significant work will have to be planned for, ready to pull the trigger (should we be the lucky ones), to then be completed in record-time during the close season. Quite simply if ignored now, Kenilworth Road would be incompliant and substandard, not just ‘quaint’.

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We simply will not allow for Luton Town or Luton to be seen as sub-standard, and if we can achieve a satisfactory level of compliance in the eyes of the Premier League with minimal dispensations, there is no reason why our charming environment shouldn’t be embraced by those other member clubs as an enhancement and broadening of the rich tapestry of venues to visit.

With so much going on at the Club, I have pleasure – and relief – in announcing the promotion of Paul Watson to Chief Operations Officer of the Football Club. Paul has shared our journey since the League Two promotion campaign and has since very much become ‘one of us’. His role will involve overseeing the day-to-day running of the Club, leaving me to spend equal time concentrating on the delivery of the new stadium at Power Court with our Development Co COO Michael Moran and the wider team of consultants.

A big congratulations to Watto on his well-deserved reward, and a big thanks to him for his support over recent years and for his future long-term commitment to Luton Town.

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer Andy Awford our very best wishes as he leaves his role as Academy & Development manager this week to move onto a new chapter in his career. Andy has played a significant role in the Club’s progress over the past seven years since he came in to head up the youth section in the summer of 2015.

Later that year Andy picked up the reins as caretaker manager for us between John Still’s departure and Nathan’s arrival in early January 2016, and we all enjoyed the success the Under-18s had that season with himself and Paul Driver, winning the south-east league and national EFL Youth Alliance Cup double, as well as reaching the FA Youth Cup quarter-final, with the likes of James Justin, Frankie Musonda, Freddie Hinds, Akin Famewo and Tyreeq Bakinson in the team.

The cup final success was repeated in 2017-18 beating Wigan, and the current crop have home advantage for this year’s final against Preston, to be played here at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday 3rd May, so it would be a perfect way for Andy’s era to end with another success. Thanks for all you’ve done Awfs, enjoy a bit of a rest and good luck with whatever lies ahead!

Back to today, and this match is dedicated to the league’s ‘Together Against Discrimination’ campaign, as well as the equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, which both us and Millwall wholeheartedly support. This kicks off the EFL’s Week of Action, in which Clubs showcase the work of their Community Trusts. Leading from the front, Nathan will be giving our walking footballers a pre-match team talk at their session on Monday, and Elijah will be joining the participants on Fit Hatters programme at Kenilworth Road later in the week, too. It’s great to be able to send our stars out into the community and show the human touch that makes our Club what it is.

Our togetherness and community spirit has brought us a long way in the last decade. Ten years-ago we were heading towards a fifth-place finish and heart-breaking defeat in a play-off final at Wembley. That was in the Conference. Today we stand third, three divisions higher, proud of where we have come from and the progress we have made, but with the firm belief that we can achieve even more in our next chapter.
Without you, we are nothing!

Keep playing your part, give Nathan and the lads everything you’ve got, and make the old girl rock as you have done so many times already this season.

Come on you Rip Roaring Hatters!

Gary


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