The Climb continues...
Another week, and another example of how Luton Town’s long journey upwards isn’t just about results on the pitch.
What price do you put on a reputation? The warmth and goodwill towards the Club engendered by David Pleat’s skilful, over-achieving teams of the early 1980’s were first tarnished, then destroyed, over the next twenty years through a series of unwanted events, bad decisions and ugly headlines.
Everything from the plastic pitch, the membership scheme and its associated away fans ban, an ancient ground seen as barely fit for the year 1900 let alone the new millennium, through to an apparently never ending series of financial problems and misdemeanours saw us as a target for critical comment and negative journalism. When we hit the skids again in 2007 our reputation was in the gutter.
Under the stewardship of 2020 the climb back since then has been much more than about league position. A slow but steady process, each forward step carefully placed on a firm foundation. Twenty years of negatives have slowly but surely been turned into positives.
The Club is now a major asset to the Town. It’s properly and professionally run and the finances are sound and prudently managed.
The supporters are listened to and consulted.
The pitch has quietly had significant investment on it and is now, probably, the best in leagues one and two.
Away fans are welcomed in large numbers, seated and covered, although leg-room can be a little tight for some.
And Kenilworth Road itself? If you could wrap it up and drive it to the nearest Antiques Roadshow, the football ground specialist (and we’re sure the BBC have got one somewhere) would delight at this well worn but preserved antique, an object to enjoy and cherish, a piece of living history now very rare amongst the soulless concrete bowls of 21st century sporting Britain. It won’t be long before English Heritage start taking an interest.
So, with promotion achieved under John Still with flair, dignity and fair play, our reputation has finally been restored, but things haven’t stopped there. In March, a ground-breaking agreement between the Club and Trust in Luton to protect the Club’s heritage assets made headlines across football, and beyond, for all the right reasons.
And now, incredibly, Luton Town finds itself the first English League Club to pay its entire staff the Living Wage. Gary Sweet seemed genuinely surprised at the fuss, pointing out that it cost a mere 2% of the total player budget but, despite all the riches in the Premier League, only Chelsea have made the same move. Don’t underestimate the significance of this progressive move by the Club and its implications for society beyond football.
For now though watch as the other Premier League Clubs are quickly shamed into following suit. The funny thing is that it’s not that they couldn’t afford it, or they don’t want to do it, it’s just something that has obviously never occurred to them. For all the modern corporate speak at the shiny end of football about values and communities and customer satisfaction indexes, the average Premier League Club executive seems to have as much understanding of the lives of their junior staff as Lord Grantham has of a Downton Abbey kitchen maid.
So, we are now, unofficially, the media’s new darlings - the “go-to” Club for good news in football, a shining beacon across the football landscape. But, and unfortunately there has to be a but, a word of caution. Our reputation so carefully restored can be easily and quickly lost and the recent thoughtless actions of a few remind us how fragile it can be.
Despite that, we believe that the whole Town of Luton and this corner of Bedfordshire are genuinely proud of the Club and everything it represents – let’s keep it that way.
Trust in Luton
Last Updated (Friday, 12 December 2014 10:26)
Supporters Liaison Officer
Trust in Luton is pleased to welcome John Miller as the Club’s Supporters Liaison Officer.
John’s role is to build and maintain dialogue between the fans and the Club, working closely with TiL and other supporter groups. He is also responsible for networking with SLOs at other Football League clubs to foster new ideas and initiatives to benefit Luton Town FC and its supporters.
TiL Chairman Tony Murray said, “TiL has grown significantly in recent times and it is excellent to have John on board to assist in our work on behalf of the members. We look forward to working with him”.
John says, “As a lifelong fan, it’s great to have the opportunity to get more closely involved with TiL and the supporters. Our Club is on the up again – let’s all help to keep that going!”
Last Updated (Monday, 08 December 2014 14:53)
Behind the scenes.....
Throughout the year Trust in Luton (TiL) and Luton Town work quietly behind the scenes on a range of issues, to the benefit of the Club and its supporters.
As a shareholder in Luton Town, TiL is given regular access to the financial accounts, and the Club are always happy to take the time to explain the facts behind the figures. Commercial sensitivity means that we can’t disclose too much detail, but we do have the opportunity to review the numbers, ask questions and ultimately assure our members and supporters generally that the finances are in good shape.
Our latest meeting on Club finances took place on a warm mid-week afternoon in October and I arrive at Kenilworth Road to meet Club Finance Director, Roger Bannister, for a review of the Club’s 2013/14 accounts. I enjoy the rare luxury of parking in the Maple Road car park and I arrive just as a party of local young schoolchildren are leaving – visible evidence of the Club’s community commitment.
Roger takes me to the boardroom for our meeting although I pause on the way to speak briefly to fellow director, David Blakeman. The boardroom overlooks the beautiful emerald green pitch, and Roger & I reflect briefly on Saturday’s comfortable win over Southend.
The accounts are for the year to 31st May 2014 and are still in draft form but Roger doesn’t expect any material changes to the figures in front of us. These are of course the finances of the promotion season.
Firstly though, Roger explains a few things. Football finances and Football League (FL) governance have come a long way in the last few years. Every club now has to submit a budget to the FL before the season starts and, if that budget anticipates a loss, then that club has to prove that the cash required to fill the shortfall has been funded in advance. Tax liabilities are strictly monitored. Every club has to make a regularly declaration that PAYE & VAT liabilities are up-to-date. There is even a special arrangement with HM Revenue & Customs who will notify the FL the moment any club gets in tax arrears. The immediate sanction is a transfer embargo which stays in place until everything is straight.
So, what was the financial cost of a promotion season? Revenue for last season was a touch over £3m but with total costs of more than £5m, our investors had to dig deep again. 2020 have made no secret of the fact that since they became custodians in 2008 the Club has run at a loss. The difference between 2020 and any number of owners previously is that those losses have been budgeted for and the investors have committed each year to inject the additional funds required to keep us financially sound.
The accounts are split into the different activities in which a football club is involved. Perhaps the most interesting of these is “Talent”. This is the term used to describe the net cost of the playing staff – salaries mainly, and transfer fees, both in and out. Of course in the old days it was transfer revenue from sale of “talent” that kept the Club afloat as long as it did. At the moment though, things are very different. Talent income in the Conference is negligible – last season a modest amount was received as wages contributions from other clubs when our players were out on loan. No transfer fees were received. Even in our previous Conference years player sales were low.
At this point Gary Sweet joins us and, picking up the conversation, explains that the transfer value of a player in the Conference is lower than an identical player in the league. A fact of football life. Now that we are progressing up the leagues, player sales will yield more, although the caveat as always is that players will only be sold if it’s right for them and right for the Club.
After all the figures are calculated the cost, or loss, from “Talent” came in at higher than budgeted – due to additional loan fees, transfer fees and wages costs in the second half of the season – the cost of promotion you might say. In case you’re wondering, the sale of Andre Gray took place in June so his transfer fee won’t appear in the accounts until next year.
If you read the national sports pages you could be mistaken for thinking that football clubs are awash with buckets of TV cash, but for the time being at least, nothing could be further from the truth. TV income in the Conference was negligible and Roger explains that even in League 2, the central FL TV contribution and match-day facility fees just about compensate for the reduction in match-day income when the camera are here.
Useful revenue is generated from Commercial (which includes programmes, advertising and sponsorship) Catering and Retail. Every department has to prepare its own budget and performance is constantly reviewed and if necessary changes are made. For example, Gary explains that bringing catering back in-house last year was a move that carried some initial costs but will be beneficial in the long run. The recent opening of a permanent Club shop in the Mall is another step forward.
Not surprisingly, match-day income from ticket and season ticket sales brings in the majority of the income. In the Conference some opponents brought only a handful of fans to Kenilworth Road and with the whole of the Oak Road end restricted to just those fans until the middle of last season our capacity was artificially restricted. Now we can see the benefit of the sustained effort by the Club behind the scenes to convince the licensing powers to allow the Oak Road to be opened up to home fans.
Already this season we’ve seen good travelling support from Oxford, Southend and Northampton and the extra Oak Road capacity created has seen the gate reach 10,000 again. Attendances at Kenilworth Road in the Conference were outstanding but you don’t have to be a mathematician to see the substantial benefit to the Club between a home gate of 7,000 and one of 10,000.
I take the opportunity to ask whether the Club can ever be profitable or are we always destined to be spending slightly more than we earn in pursuit of that climb back up the league ladder. The short answer is that the next step up to League 1 will bring profitability closer. The club could probably run at break-even now, but only to the detriment of the quality of players and the support structure and that would naturally inhibit progress in the long term.
As the 2020 name suggests the investors bought in for the long term and have been happy to underwrite our progress since the dark days of 2008, although the manner of that progress is as important as each milestone reached. As supporters, our part of this unwritten contract is to keep Kenilworth Road full at every game, buy those shirts and programmes, eat that pie, drink that beer.
Of course the Club’s finances will look very different once we have that new stadium and we chat briefly about that. I know from many previous discussions with Gary and the others that a huge effort is being made to get this right. They understand supporter’s frustrations at not knowing what is happening from day to day, but there is a time for public announcements and we’re not there yet. In the meantime the Club in its current form and under its current ownership has a financial stability that wouldn’t have seemed possible seven years ago.
Trust in Luton November 2014
With thanks to Roger and Gary for their time last month and also to David Wilkinson and David Blakeman who regularly spend time with the Trust, keeping us in the picture.
If you have any question you would like to put to the Board (excluding questions about players or tactics or the location of the stadium!) please contact us via email or Twitter. We will put questions forward and publish the answers.
Last Updated (Monday, 24 November 2014 13:39)
The Road to Burton.....
Tomorrow’s game at Burton will see nearly 2,000 Luton fans making the trip, but for at least four supporters it will be a landmark occasion. By attending this match at the Pirelli Stadium, Les Miller, Mark Chapman, Chris Park and Keith Hayward will have seen Luton Town play at every single one of the current 92 League Clubs. In case any younger supporters are wondering, yes, that does include all the current Premier League teams!
To reach this milestone has required a combination of loyalty and dedication, as well as longevity, and we here at Trust in Luton salute this fantastic achievement. In fact we think it might be pretty unique too as apart from the qualities above, you also have to support a team that has been up and down the leagues a few times and we all know how well we fit that particular bill!
We’re sure there are others too who will join the #Hatters92Club tomorrow so please let us know if you do. There are also several close behind but who may need a promotion or two to get there.
At some point Trust in Luton would like to make a more formal recognition of these particular supporters but for them - and all the other amazing fans going tomorrow and who will be there at all our away games this season – keep up the brilliant work.
Last Updated (Friday, 21 November 2014 13:11)
Town Fans Get United
TOWN FANS GET UNITED!
LTSC merge with Trust in Luton….to give supporters one official voice
After lengthy discussions between the two committees , the long-established Luton Town Supporters Club has joined forces with Trust in Luton, the official fans shareholder in our club – bringing fans closer together and giving us one voice as we all pull together to help Luton Town move forward off the pitch as well as on it.
‘It’s a great move for all concerned’, says Tony Murray, Chair of TiL, ‘We have seen the Trust grow massively since the club made us guardians of its image for future generations – and now our numbers have been further boosted by a large group of fans, many of whom have been committed to the cause for decades. LTSC bring a range of strengths and skills to the Trust, which will help us broaden our social activities and our support for the club we all love.’
Look out for news of upcoming events.
YOUR TRUST NEEDS YOU
The Trust committee are all volunteers – and we’re a bit stretched at the moment! We would welcome input from dedicated fans who feel they can commit time and energy to help us take TiL forward – not just with our online presence but in a variety of ways. Please email if you are interested.
91 CLUB STATUS IS GOING FOR A BURTON!
Last Updated (Monday, 17 November 2014 14:15)