3 October 2012

Buying Kenilworth Road: time to take out some Gurney Insurance?

Luton custodians 2020 have announced they are in discussions with our landlord (Luton Borough Council) to buy back our much loved family home, Kenilworth Road. But if (and it remains an IF) the council are interested in selling, could the fans get in on the deal and help ensure we are never held to ransom by opportunists again?

As the Luton story rattles on to Season 4 of the Conference Years (a DVD box-set no one will ever ever buy) 2020 have rightly decided that with gates of 6,000 we are in no real hurry to outgrow our century old ground and, secondary to efforts to improve on the pitch and create the need for more capacity, have taken steps to try and buy back the freehold from LBC.

If the club do get to buy the ground, does this represent an opportunity for the fans to take out some long overdue Gurney Insurance? 

I'll explain in a sec, but first a quick word on the council: Luton fans have always moaned about the lack of support in relocation as we see example after example of football clubs around the country given help to relocate by their local authority. But as the seemingly unevictable non-paying tenant, the club’s relationship with the council must be forever tinged with frustration and petty annoyance on their part as the need for more affordable housing grows.

From this negotiating point, I’ve always wondered if it’s been difficult to make our case for support from LBC and owning the ground would surely strengthen our position with them if or when it came time to move on (... if it did, I would definitely cry actual tears).

Another important question to ask is, even in the relatively stable financial position we find ourselves in, what exactly is The Club today? Some transitory players, a boardroom consortium of supporters and businessmen who with the best will in the world will not be around forever, a council rental agreement and several thousand ugly, partially ginger supporters?

To have any stake in the future of this game, Wimbledon proved that it is essential to have some roots in the ground too. Should the worst happen again and administration were to strike, without those physical roots - a ground of our own - it’s all the easier to be lifted from the town by money hungry Modern Football capitalists like Gurney.

Karl Marx, a more beardly wise man than I, often banged on about the politics of capitalists. He once said that with no ownership of the ‘means of production’ people will always be doomed to a life of exploitation. To Marx and his mates in 19th century Manchester ‘means of production’ meant the factories and manufacturing equipment of our dark satanic mills. In 21st century Lutonia this means a football pitch, turnstiles, seats, the club shop, bars, changing rooms and those beautiful executive boxes. Our football factory.

Don’t forget that Chelsea fans were once faced with a similar fate to Wimbledon when Stamford Bridge fell into the hands of property developers in the 80s and 90s. After much wrangling and with no small contribution from man of the people Ken Bates, in 1997 Chelsea fans formed the Chelsea Pitch Owners to secure the future of the club and to ensure that their identity and history remained rooted in their West London home. The CPO bought the Stamford Bridge pitch, the turnstiles and the name ‘Chelsea FC’ and lease/license them back to the club for a peppercorn rent to this day. Ken helped them do this by securing a non recourse loan, which they pay back by selling shares to other supporters. Sort of like the Herbal Life scheme, except you get a football club to support at the end of it instead of fuck all.

Today, even shady billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovic can’t shift Chelsea from Stamford Bridge without securing the consent of the supporter shareholders.

I wonder, if the opportunity to buy back Kenilworth Road should present itself, would it be a good time to think about securing a permanent stake in the future of the club for the supporters? Or could a Luton Pitch Owners style agreement be a part of any deal for our boardroom representatives, Trust in Luton?

If not, anyone up for sorting a whip round?


  1. Great idea, I'd love to have KR back in the clubs hands so long as:

    a) it doesn't become a financial millstone around the club's neck
    b) a supporters trust can own a portion of the ground to stop the likes of Gurney, Jayten etc. getting their grubby hands on it

  2. You know what, a Luton Pitch Owners idea isn't a bad one, have you forwarded this idea to the Club?

  3. No, it's more a question for supporters at the moment I think. Given that Gary Sweet was very involved with TiL during the Gurney era, I'm sure it's something 2020 would see the value in though.

  4. I think that it would be strange if the investors or management would acquire the property through the main club anyway, so would probably be in some offshoot company - However I think it is something that is important to raise with LTFC and may already have been done.

    I'll copy the link to Gary Sweet - if he hasn't already seen it and ask him to comment.

    Kevin Barrett - Chair, Luton Town Supporters Club

  5. Cheers Kevin, appreciated. Be interested to hear what they say. And what you lot, TiL and LLSC think..?