Writer: The New Ricky Hill
Date:Monday February 19 2007
Thanks for your mail. I had read the article and having recently met/ spoken to John Mitchell more times than I've had recent hot dinners the tone of the answers given/ written by him did not really surprise me.
I would initially start by proudly confirming that LLSC is not a dinosaur nor has its head buried in the sand and this would certainly be confirmed by the strong opinions I am constantly getting across the LLSC membership base, which essentially we highly value and decide the line of strategy taken. Furthermore membership growth in strong three figure levels in the last year alone speaks volumes for the stance and campaign we have adopted.
This stance is quite simple. We have asked for transparency and honesty from the owners of the Club. We have also requested they protect the 122 year history of the Club and respect both that and the current wishes of the fans while trying to create a stable and secure financial base to move forward. Ideally we wish for the Club to remain within the current boundaries of the town.
Most of the LLSC hierarchy was actively involved in saving the Club from John Gurney and ultimately worked extremely hard to bring it out of administration. Now when each and everyone of them express their own concerns to me about the current situation I rightly take considerable notice.
Re your question in the first paragraph the vast majority will agree with you although you may, as I have, be slightly surprised by the reaction of some. However, if you simply adopt the approach of thought you have taken then where do you then draw the line because I would turn that on its head and ask you would you prefer the Club to stay and KR and have to sell players or move to a brand spanking new stadium in Milton Keynes, or even further. This is exactly the same thought process that started at Wimbledon and ended with them disgracefully moving to Milton Keynes. Ultimately however, and looking at a fundamental issue being missed here the Football Club should be managed within its means and to consistently trade outside such without covering funding is surely gross mis-management.
LLSC asked the Board of LTFC around 15 months ago to undertake an independent feasibility study on all potential sites in and around the Luton area. This would then provide evidence of the best site to relocate the football club and also prove an extremely strong piece of support to use within the planning process. Why has the Board decided not to proceed with this if they have nothing to hide and are confident that J12 will still prove the best option?
If this report came out and stated that J12 was the only and best option then LLSC would look to canvass its members to get fully behind the Club.
However, the significant amount of meetings we have held in the last 2 years with MPs, Councillors, leading Council officials, developers and land-owners to name a few strongly support the view that planning is highly unlikely to be given to the proposed J12 development.
John Mitchell states that the chances of success is 70%, which means that at best there is a one in three chance of this being declined. But let us not forget that this 70% is based on a report undertaken by Rosemound, which is always likely to be on the optimistic side. So let's just say that with Rosemound, who from my knowledge has no experience of football stadiums on greenbelt locations with all local political and planning officials preferring an alternative site, this 70% reduces to 50%. Are you as a fan willing to accept a one in two chance, with the likelihood of referral and then entering a Brighton scenario or maybe progress forward with a site that has everyone (and importantly all the right people) firmly behind it. Perhaps the independent feasibility study could have answered this for us and also the likely timing on all sites although unfortunately we will never know.
This would then lead us down the same road we encountered with J10 where far too long was spent to no avail and in the meantime the huge losses being made continue to compound the financial state of the Club further.
There is one simple and clear option here that most successful businesses would adopt, have a contingency plan, which would also help with negotiations on the primary site. Ask John Mitchell next time you see him what this contingency is and how far they have progressed with it. I can assure you that you will not like the answer.
So are there other sites and options? Well from what we have established we believe so and also within the current town boundaries and we are not talking about J10 which for all the slandering of the land-owners could have become a reality with far greater professionalism taken by the Club.
Unfortunately certain Board members expect matters to fall into their laps and in our opinion have not tactically played the whole ball-game in the manner desired to ensure the right kind and full support of the local Council.
I was told last week that I personally had not presented a fully-funded alternative to the Club nor got the backing of the Council behind such an alternative. Frankly I find this quite astonishing as I would have expected the Board to have completed full due diligence and financial appraisal on all the sites rather than their current blinkered approach. Surely that is their duty as custodians of the Club?
There are also considerable socio-economic factors that need to be considered in the overall debate. Have you or more importantly the current Board considered the impact of detaching the Club from the town. LLSC has been in regular contact with the two leading academic experts on this topic and their views are not favourable in the slightest. This is a subject matter we could debate for much longer and given the serious nature it is not professional of the Board to ignore given the decision they have taken.
As for Cliff Bassett he is well entitled to 'make a bob or two' from the rest of the development. However, what are his motives here and given that he is being so generous and charitable what stops him from considering a partial land swap with a more favourable site for the ground, making more money for himself and also still getting Rosemound to contribute the £25m?
Have people considered or even discussed these alternatives with Bassett, who remember only a few months ago took great delight in the public Fans Forum saying how he previously sold the Club for £4m when it was worth nothing.
Also, please don't get swayed by all the figures put across to you by John Mitchell some of them are simply incorrect. Just two nights before this latest Fans Forum I met Mitchell and brought along with me someone who was involved with the naming rights of the Emirates. We told Mitchell that Arsenal also commissioned a report on the naming rights of the stadium and no incremental value was attached to the railway which passes straight passed it. So if Arsenal can't get any financial benefits, how are we going to another £5m-£10m??
I also struggle to see how you get the £25m to magic up to £50m.
As for the £33m to build the stadium this is all very new to me. In all our discussions with the Board over the course of the last year this cost has always been set in stone at £25m and was going to be 'fixed price' - as this was the mandate given to the developers pitching for the stadium contract. Where has this additional £8m now come from?
As for the losses made by the Club I was informed by 3 separate directors/ shareholders of the Club (including the current Chairman) on numerous occasions last year that the annual losses (pre-transfers) were around £1.2m but a maximum of £1.5m, whereas this season they had escalated to the £1.5m-£1.8m. I may be seen splitting hairs here but if the CEO of any company I invested in was 10%-25% out on the earnings he was disclosing I can assure you he wouldn't last in his job for too long.
At the end of the day LLSC is not anti-progression for LTFC. We want what is best for the Club and we certainly want it to maximize its income potential. However, LLSC was established because no other fan groups would question owners of the Club and they would just toe the party line whether it was good for the Club and its fans or not.
Since becoming Chairman at LLSC I have had regular and good contact with John Mitchell and we have a good open and frank relationship where we regularly meet and exchange views/ opinions and are both commercial enough to understand we won't agree on everything.
LLSC has also been very positive in providing feedback to the Club in trying to make improvements while also putting the Club in contact with certain business opportunities. Tangible improvements from an operational standpoint should be evidenced before too long, all of which will be warmly welcomed by the fans.
LLSC also realises that the current state of the Club can be best described as an extreme shambles and requires significant effort to turnaround. John Mitchell has his hands full with this task and we have been working alongside him to help where we can. Not only this but he also has been trying to attract new investment into the Club and lead the charge with the new stadium.
These are three separate roles that should ideally be undertaken by at least two if not three individuals. In respect of the latter there is no-one on the current Board that has any stadium (re)development experience and given the size of the project one would have expected far greater independent expertise to be used. We only have to look at Wembley to see what happens when developments are not effectively and professionally project managed.
LLSC has also not entered into public slanging matches like some of our opponents have as they look to belittle our campaign for transparency and honest and respect towards such a long history and connection with the town, the identity of which will surely be negatively effected by moving outside the existing boundaries.
When John Mitchell was appointed as CEO there was much criticism, including from LLSC members, given his recent business failings/ background. However, we have cast that aside and not let that effect our views or judgement in dealing with him although have always said he will be judged upon results.
Through its independence LLSC will always continue to question any owners of LTFC until we are happy with the direction it is being taken in. Unsurprisingly the only people who never seem to like this approach are those with something to hide. Too many people have historically tried to make too much personal gain out of the FC.
As a fan do you want to know exactly what direction the Board is taking the Club in and how it aims to get there. In line with this everyone should have goals which they should be judged upon in a reasonable and sensible timeframe. Therefore should we as fans be asking John Mitchell as the new CEO what he actually aims/ promises to deliver over the course of the next 12 months. That way we have clear roadmap of where we are going and we also bring some accountability to what is currently the most senior position in the Football Club.
LLSC has no financial gain to be made out of stadium move so can always maintain this independent standpoint. There are those that are out there that stand to make considerable profits from a stadium development but are these always aligned with what is best for LTFC in the long-term?
The truth will always come out in the end. If you have full confidence in John Mitchell and his fellow Board members, their honesty and their transparency, then please ask him the following questions and demand direct answers;
- How much did you pay for your initial 20% stake in Jayten (this equates to an 18% share of LTFC);
- How much have you since invested;
- Despite trading losses significantly increasing what is the current fair value of this 20% stake; and most importantly
- If a fan with the future of LTFC at heart (and I am not talking of anyone connected with Sheila Watson-Challis) wanted to take-out your shareholding what price would you be willing to accept today.
(Just playing around with numbers in my head and being devil's advocate let's say for example that the initial 20% stake was £250,000. We can then assume a more than reasonable equity return in today's markets, particularly noting the significant increase in losses, may be put around 20% p.a. Therefore over a 3 year period this would equate to total capital return of £432,000).
Indeed maybe these questions should be asked to each individual shareholder and then maybe this can lead us all to having the requisite faith that the current Board has the interests of LTFC and the fans ahead of the possibility of making any personal gain.
As previously mentioned if given the right answers to the questions we seek and also obtaining the comfort that everyone is working for the long-term benefit of LTFC as opposed to personal gain then we should only be too keen to help everyone move this in the same direction. Unfortunately, the issue remains that we are not getting this transparency and total honesty sought and surely that has to be a concern. Alternatively are you happy to fully believe the propaganda machine being thrown in our direction and make compromises which may not be for the best. Especially as you will still be there supporting the Club well after any of the existing owners have departed.
In the meantime we continue to work tirelessly to help this FC move forward and maintain our regular contact with John Mitchell (and sometimes these are involving weekly meetings) to work through a number of issues but first and foremost we continue to pledge our full support behind the team.
We dread not even think of relegation but that has to be fully considered within all plans now being drawn up.
I hope this proves many answers to the questions you have raised. Should you or anyone wish to find out more then they are always welcome to attend our open meetings, the next which will take place before the Wolves home game and details of which will be posted on our website www.loyalluton.com
I trust this mail will also be posted on the luton vitalfootball website and the Outlaws messageboard as per your original mail.
Chairman - LLSC
Date:Monday February 19 2007
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