The only way appears to be down for Luton Town as they await an FA ruling, writes Neil Rose
It says much about lower-league football that the benefit in kind supposedly offered by Luton to encourage one player to re-sign was laying his patio and landscaping his garden at a cost of £7,000. It is also perhaps the only faintly amusing aspect of the FA’s record 55 charges over Luton’s transfer and loan dealings and contract renegotiations between 2004 and 2007. A bad week then got a lot worse when the club were put into administration for the third time in eight years.
The main thrust of the FA charges is that various payments were made through Jayten, Luton’s holding company, rather than the club as required by FA rules, and thus were not disclosed, while the club are also accused of dealing with unlicensed agents and misleading the FA among other misdemeanours.
Fans have long been concerned about Jayten and were rightly unconvinced by reassurances that the FA investigation was of little concern. The trigger was an admission earlier this year – to the FA and the Daily Mail – by former chairman Bill Tomlins, which he appears to have been effectively forced into ahead of a takeover, as well as Mike Newell’s claim for unfair dismissal, during which the irregularities could well have come to light.
Tomlins says he was compelled to act this way because of Newell’s well known hostility towards agents, but the latter’s claim shortly before he was sacked late last season that the FA should send the boys into Kenilworth Road certainly proved true. Tomlins argues that nothing illegal went on and fans hope the FA consider this when determining a penalty – speculation has suggested a heavy fine, transfer ban, points deduction or even automatic relegation. Also in the club’s favour is the fact that they came forward – heroic club secretary Cherry Newbery supposedly provided most of the evidence – and that the then owners are history. But many fear the FA will make an example of Luton – a far easier target than a Premier League behemoth.
Newell was officially sacked for gross misconduct in relation to his public attacks on the board, although on the pitch he had also lost the confidence of some (but by no means all) as he seemed unable to halt a dramatic downward spiral that ended in relegation. Then again, having to sell Steve Howard, Kevin Nicholls, Rowan Vine and Carlos Edwards was always going to make life tough and ultimately the sums look stark – the club may make heavy annual losses, but with a transfer surplus over the past two years of something like £10 million, the common refrain is: where has all the money gone?
This has become all the more acute after local businessman and British Touring Car racer David Pinkney, who only took over the club in the summer, put Luton into administration on November 23, citing “changing circumstances and the huge potential liabilities”. With a ten-point penalty already incurred, anything the FA now impose could be fatal. Perhaps they’ll show mercy.
The machinations had combined to leave fans disillusioned like never before, although administration may well bring them back together. The Pinkney regime had hardly endeared itself anyway by denying the supporters’ trust its rightful place on the board and full access to the books. Crowds have declined, and with them the club’s income.
The fans simply do not know what is going on, but lurking in the background is without doubt the never-ending saga of leaving Kenilworth Road. A site by junction 10 of the M1 (hence Jayten) was ditched and hopes, if they could be called that, were pinned on a site by junction 12. This was unpopular for being outside Luton and with local residents, but seemed the only realistic relocation plan and could still be the pot of gold that encourages someone to save the Hatters.
The one winner of sorts from all this is likely to be manager Kevin Blackwell, who has yet to convince fans. The circumstances he now finds himself in, bottom of League One with worse possibly to come, are not of his making, and presumably nobody could afford to sack him anyway, so he has some breathing space (assuming there is still a club to employ him). But it is all deeply depressing for a club that, just a couple of years ago under Newell, were riding high and daring to look even higher. Now we know the cost of all that dreaming.
From WSC 251 January 2008