As we enter March 2015 it is a good time to reflect on what has been happening at Trust in Luton over the last twelve months.
To begin, we have seen a huge increase in memberships over this time, for two main reasons. The announcement last March that the Trust would be the guardian of the Club’s identity assets generated huge interest amongst Luton fans and the wider football community. Members of the Trust Board gave several local and national radio interviews on this subject.
As a direct result of this innovative move more than 500 fans signed up to join the Trust that month alone, mostly from the local area but many others from the rest of the UK and around the world. Then, when the Club gave the opportunity to season ticket holders to join the Trust as part of their season ticket renewal process, a further 600 signed up.
Generally, the Trust sees its number increase when there’s trouble brewing but this time the additional interest and commitment from fans came at a time when John Still and his team were taking us up from the Conference, as Champions, in glorious style.
Unfortunately, such a huge number of new members (and we now have around 1,200 members in total) has proved a little difficult for us to handle. Regrettably our membership database did not prove up to scratch and although we have put a great number of manual hours into getting everything right, we are now, with the Club’s help, taking on a new improved membership system.
This will be integrated into a new Trust website in the coming months and this should enable our communications to members in the future be a little more regular, and timely. One thing to bear in mind though – communication via the post is both expensive and time consuming for us and so we repeat our request for as many members as possible to provide email addresses when they join or renew. Then, apart from your emails, keep an eye www.trustinluton.info and follow our Twitter feed @trustinluton. Remember, you don’t have to tweet to follow someone else on Twitter.
As we are now approaching the first anniversary of the assets protection announcement many Trust memberships taken up then are now reaching the end of their first year. If you did join us last March please re-new. You can do so via our website by following the membership link although please note that you can’t renew on-line until your existing membership has come to an end.
Alternatively, the Club are again offering season ticket holders the chance to join the Trust – or renew – when you purchase your 2015/16 season ticket. Trust memberships purchased this way will run parallel to the actual football season – commencing on the 1st of August each year. This is a great way (for us as well as you) to join or re-new.
Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes, we’ve been working hard as ever and I’m going to highlight below just some of the things we’ve been up to whilst the team have been doing their bit on the pitch.
As you probably know, Luton Town Supporters Club has merged with the Trust. The Supporters Club will continue their fine work of arranging and hosting regular events at the Club such as the “Meet the Manager” evenings, the annual Awards Dinner, their ever-popular quizzes and other events. The Trust itself will continue its regular meetings with the Club’s executives and will represent the fans in discussions on the important issues. Many of you will have read our report on the Club’s finances last autumn which we believe was well received and this will be a regular annual feature as well as feedback on other meetings. We anticipate being involved in consultations with the Club from time-to-time on stadium issues but, before you ask, no one on the Trust Board has (or expects to receive) any inside information on this subject. Like you, we await formal announcements from the Club when the time is right.
Other things financial
Talking finances, we are discussing with the Club how we can set up a scheme which will enable supporters – via the Trust – to acquire additional shares in the Club. Remember we are a shareholder already with 50,000 shares but more would be welcome. This is a complex issue, partly because the founder shareholders are already so generous in supporting the Club finances with their own contributions, but we hope there is a way we can make a contribution too. During the large increase in members in 2014, the Trust board decided to set aside 50% of all new membership fees received and 100% all donations (of which there are many each year) into a separate fund designated purely for share purchases, so we have made a start, but we will have to engage in a specific fund raising campaigns if we are to achieve this objective.
TiL’s Annual Award
One of our best innovations in recent years has been the introduction of the Annual TiL Outstanding Achievement Award. This is an Award from the Trust to someone who deserves recognition for the outstanding effort they have put into the Club. It cannot be won by a player, past or present -as much as we admire them, they do have plenty of their own awards to play for. Everyone else is eligible for nomination though. In its first three years our winners have been:
2012 - Supporter: Keith Brooksbank
2013 - Match-day host and Club legend: John Buttle
2014 - Diverse FM match commentator: Simon Pitts
We are now at the point where we are seeking nominations for the 2015 Award so if there is anyone you think deserves the Award this year please contact us on the email address below with the name of your nomination and the reason why. The Trust Board will consider all nominations carefully in the next few weeks and reach a decision. The identity of the winner will then be kept secret until the appropriate time to announce it near or at the end of the season. The announcement could be at the Awards dinner, it could be on the pitch, it could be on Diverse FM. We don’t know who it is yet, so let us have your nominations.
Whilst talking of awards we are delighted to announce that the decision was recently taken by Luton Borough Council to recognise our own contribution by awarding to the Trust one of the official banners used in the end of season celebrations in St Georges Square and at the Town Hall last May – a day we will never forget. More details to follow on the presentation of this award but we will be deciding how best to use the banner for the benefit of all. Thank you.
The trip to Burton Albion in October gave the Trust the opportunity to recognise the achievement of four Luton Town Supporters Les Miller, Mark Chapman, Chris Park & Keith Hayward who, by attending that match, were now back in the “92 Club” having watched the Hatters play at the home ground of every other league club – an amazing achievement.
2014 also saw the arrival of John Miller – the Club’s first Supporters Liaison Office (or SLO as we like to call him). John is a Hatters Fan through and through and is available for you to contact via the Club with your questions.
Finally, we are now finalising the arrangements for our 2014 AGM. The date and venue will be announced soon but if you are interested in what goes on behind the scenes at the Trust please come along. We do need some more help on the Trust Board too so there will be a chance, after the meeting, to meet with the existing Board members and see how you can get involved.
Trust in Luton March 2015
Visit our website at: www.trustinluton.info
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Last Updated (Tuesday, 03 March 2015 13:47)
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)