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Old 06-11-2003, 05:53 AM   #1
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poor Luton Town


Public relations disaster
Phil Holland

John Gurney, the man in charge of second division Luton Town, is in desperate need of a crash course in public relations.

Without it he and his grandiose plans for the club stand absolutely no chance of success, now or in the future.

Maybe it's already too late. Some incensed 'fans' have issued death threats against him, while other more rational supporters have initiated a determined boycott of the Hatters.

After three weeks marked by confusion, anger and silence Gurney, the 'chief executive designate' at the head of a mystery consortium now in control of the club, has revealed an initial report which includes a raft of proposed developments for the club and the valuable 55-acre plot of land it owns.

While some of the ideas appear to make sound business sense others are ludicrous and read like a naive schoolboy's business studies essay.

Proposing a move to an out-of-town stadium complete with leisure facilities to complement the town's successful airport would be a wise move and has long been a part of the club's aspirations.

However, linking this to an obviously unpopular name change for the club, and touting proposed new facilities as a home for NBA and NFL franchises and a motor racing circuit capable of staging the British Formula 1 Grand Prix is little short of fantasy.

For three weeks all the fans knew was that their successful and popular managerial team of Joe Kinnear and coach Mick Harford had been ungraciously sacked by the nameless consortium that had taken control.

Only in the last few days has Gurney's name been officially associated with the club. Up until that point the only information emerged via the the rumour mill.

Although Gurney has now begun to post statements on the club's official website (he has yet to speak publicly to press or fans), he has failed to appease the nervous fans.

Not only has Gurney made two fatal errors in keeping silent for three weeks and presiding over the removal of a popular managerial team, he also comes with some very unfortunate baggage.

Though never charged he was once implicated and questioned as part of multi-million pound drugs smuggling bust and he is also blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the near financial meltdown of Bedford rugby union club, which was once under his control.

Add this to some very unadvisable comments besmirching the club and its fans and it is surely not hard for Gurney to understand why local media and supporters have been so reluctant to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Gurney's initial report to prospective investors, posted on the Luton website, includes a mixture of sensible ideas and bold claims which 'Outline what could be the most exciting development in Europe in a decade. It would be a timely Anglo-American-European adventure.'

But it also includes ill-advised comments like: 'At the heart of this, completely by accident, is a small football club, which has failed time and time again in the past. The challenge would be to take the club and, based on it unique position, make it one of the most important clubs in Europe.

'The change will be radical and the small mindedness of the 'football club' people, who will want to maintain the status quo as they feel they will lose the identity of 'the rotten little football club' in a large scheme and the opportunities it provides for power to small egos and hooliganism, will be the biggest challenge.'

Thanks to comments like these and the actions of the Gurney consortium every prospective football club owner and investor now has an exact template of how not to win friends and influence people.

And the contradictions within Gurney's initial report make matters worse.

In one section of the report Gurney suggests that Luton might have to go into administration, while in another that the club will soon be capable of generating profits of 100million.

Gurney comments that he hopes Kinnear returns to the club, but then appears to slam the former manager for his earnings and his team, comprised of 'third division players earning first division wages'.

The amateurish report also includes plans for a new stadium with a capacity of anything from 15,000 to 75,000, with a pitch that could be wheeled in and out like Japan's Sapporo Dome and which could serve as the grandstand for a motor racing circuit.

In recent days Gurney has floated the idea of buying Wimbledon in order to gain promotion to the first division by the 'backdoor'.

Given that such a move is forbidden under the rules of the Football League its suggestion served to confirm fans' concerns that the consortium has no football know-how.

Then there is the name change, 'London Luton FC' to tie-in with that of the airport, and worse still the double resignation of trusted club director and company secretary Cherry Newbury and the fans' representative on the club board, Yvonne Fletcher.

On every level Gurney has failed to ingratiate himself and the consortium on Luton's fans and he only has himself to blame.

Small clubs like Luton need the vision and imagination of talented entrepreneurs.

In an increasingly commercialised game, match day receipts and the few thousand pounds from television companies cannot sustain even the smallest of clubs.

The problem is that Luton fans appear to have already decided that Gurney and his consortium do not represent the type of entrepreneur football that their club is crying out for.

Perhaps Gurney's only hope of winning over the fans is if ongoing talks with Kinnear result in his return. A figure of Kinnear's popularity might just be able to convince the fans that the club has a future under the stewardship of Gurney and his consortium.

Even then this will still have been a PR disaster for Gurney, the consortium and unfortunately for the club and its supporters.

Related Link: http://lutontown.rivals.net/default....2&stid=8308405
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