I woke early this morning after another incredible week, we’ve reached match day. I decided to go for a walk to think about today’s game and walked up the downs. Locals know what I mean by that. Blows Downs is a great feature of our town that acts like a huge border. I reached the highest point where you can view the whole of Dunstable and Houghton Regis and I stood desperately thinking.
This is no village.
Over to my right is the M1 and I know those heading south have a great view of this great countryside with the famous white chalk hill in the middle. As you scan round to the left I can see thousands and thousands of houses. Sweeping round to the left I can see all the new type buildings that have gone up in recent years. The new Holiday Inn Express is on the border of Dunstable off to the left and dominates the horizon. New hotels like that normally supply demand of industry and as you scan the view you can see why.
As I start to sweep back right I catch a glimpse of the iconic Hartwell car dealership. The White Lion retail park hosts big brands like next and I can see Halfords. TK Maxx, DW Sports, Decathlon, Costa, Pets at Home, Laura Ashley, Holiday Hypermarket all trading here. Along with Pizza Hut and KFC if you fancy a bite to eat. I can clearly see the Sainsbury’s brand and the newly refurbished McDonald’s. I can see carpet right, B&M and Dunelm. Right next to the hill is the new Lidl and the famous Shell colours are up the road to compete with Sainsbury’s for fuel.
Dominating my king like view of the town is the awesome huge Amazon building. Up here you really get an idea of the scale of it. So many people are working down there and it’s no wonder I can see the bright red brick Modern home buildings that represent growth in population. I can also see the fantastic new college to educate our young people and give them life opportunities.
A bus is whizzing down the great new bus lane ferrying these people to and from Luton in a matter of minutes linking Dunstable to London via the train and the world via the airport. A load of lorry’s look ready ship goods around with Downtown blazed down the side of them. As I sweep further right I look over the Ewe and Lamb pub and I can just see the primary school I went to with the brand new road linking out the other border to the motorway which in years to come I’m sure will be flanked with more housing.
Smoke pours from the Luton & Dunstable Hospital and as I stand up here in peace I spare a thought for the sick people in there looking back up at the hill and the great staff running around doing their best for people in such difficult circumstance. Underneath it I chuckle to myself as I think of little Irish man Pat who is the barman at the hospital social club where I sneak to relax and every time I go in he smiles and says “don’t forget about us when your on the telly”. That’s even when we have been thumped 6-0 but he believes in me.
To my right hand side another huge brand, Tesco can be seen with its clock tower standing tall to attract this big population and next door, I know the Bedfordshire FA beaver away to make football a better experience for everyone around here. I can see Luton over in the distance. The high rise flats of Hockwell Ring and Marsh Farm clearly stand out. Looking back left I can just see a huge WHSmith logo which must be Woodside industrial estate way out north as I follow the new relief road back from the M1 to the A5 looking for floodlights.
Because over there, way in the distance near that A5 and the huge chalk cutting is a famous little football club. A club that has been around since 1883 when I’m sure standing on this hill then maybe I would have been able to see the football club. A club that is desperate for help. In front of me is a hub of industry and thriving population of circa 60,000 people and that’s a lot more if I look further right as I can see the famous water tower way over toward Warden Hill.
This is no village. This is a big town.
Kings Langley are in our league and they have barely 6,000 people living local. But they have a model that allows them to pay their players in a sustainable way. But with limited local resource it’s tough for them and that has to be applauded. Especially when like us, they have to compete with huge clubs like Hereford and Kettering. These clubs along with others like Weymouth and Kings Lynn all have populations of around 60k people but they average 700 fans every week with Hereford leading the way with an average of 2400. Ok, Hereford is a former league club with that famous FA Cup run and don’t have a club like Luton Town on its doorstep. Kettering have Northampton down the road though and Kings Lynn don’t have the history of Hereford. That’s not being disrespectful, I’m saying well done, they must be getting it right because they are able to support a healthy playing budget.
I feel like I want to shout through a mega phone and do a Delia “lets be avin you” If 1% of these people turned up that would be 600 people and that supports a healthy sustainable semi-professional football club and maintains the famous brand that George Best and Jeff Astle turned out for amongst others. We know as a club holistically we have to do more, we know that. The product has to be better. We just can’t beg people to come. You have to enjoy the experience. We are fully aware that we as a club and together with the council owned ground have to do more around the whole match day experience to make you want to come and not be dragged to come.
But bare in mind, in the summer there was not going to be a Dunstable Town Football Club. It was a small group of unbelievable people that give up their time and rescued the club. The gave the club lifesaving CPR and as the chairman reminds me frequently, it’s now in intensive care on life support. We know more than anyone that work is to be done. But we have a shorter term problem. We must stay in this league because that gives us a better product to sell in many respects.
I wonder as I look across the horizon if any of these major brands know the true value of a step3 football club to its community and the positive PR they can gain from associating themselves and supporting this great campaign and being part of growing it. I also wonder if there is a football fan down there of significant wealth that wants to be part of an amazing story.
But most of all I look at the houses and think how many people down there are paying £100 a month for Sky to watch Premier League Football. I know for certain that a large proportion of them cross that M1 into Luton to watch the Hatters and so they should. We are no competition to Luton Town, of course. But we certainly have some really talented players. One of them only this week was on trial at a premier league club. We have many that certainly could be football league players but they are young. They are learning and we have had some harsh lessons.
We have had to train on a third of a 3G pitch like a Sunday team once a week and then go and play in front of 1600 fans at Hereford. They got abused and mocked at Kettering for being unpaid footballers. Our average age in games is 19! We have played players aged 17 and we have promoted several players from our development squad. If we’re not for the great support of local school the Weatherfield Academy we wouldn’t even have transport and our lads already play and travel here from London, Milton Keynes, Hatfield etc, for free. They don’t even get petrol money. They are the only team in the league that have not been paid. They are doing that for Dunstable. Of course they want to reignite their careers also and despite the setbacks along the way they will make it happen. They are resilient and never give up.
We have 16 games left and they are 16 cup finals. 8 of them are at home and two of them are against the top two teams and we are still to go away to one of the top 3. We are young but we have a go. We try and play good football and it’s quick and exciting. Maybe one of those huge brands would like to put an incentive reward together for the players as a thank you for what they have done for the town? Maybe the council will personally thank them for what they did for the club.
But short term, it would mean the world to them if some more people came along to support them. Our current fans are so loyal and win lose or draw they have clapped them off because they are clever and understand what challenges we have had and how sometimes young people make bad decisions while they learn and at times they have been bullied.
If 10 more people came it would be great. If 100 more came it would be fantastic. In terms of effort I promise we will not let you down. The players have given everything and after a great win against title contenders we now need to kick on and it’s the best time to hit some form. Other clubs players are arguing over money, we don’t. We just want this club to survive. 8 games at home. Please, come, give us a go.
To survive this club needs to change. We need the club and the council to sit and be realistic about the future and that will change the culture which will then be attractive to our great community. In the meantime. Please help us get to that meeting in a strong position.
Luton Town are away today. Maybe come and see some football that might surprise you.