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    Luton Town FC


    John Gurney
    John Gurney

    Trouble at the Top: Luton Kicks Off

    After months of waiting, Hatters' fans finally got to see the BBC documentary exploring the take over of Luton Town FC. Trouble At The Top focused on the summer of 2003 when John Gurney arrived - but did we learn anything new? Simon Oxley watched.


    Remember what happened in summer 2003

    Mike Watson Challis decided to sell the club to a consortium led by John Gurney, a businessman who had previously tried to move Bedford Rugby Club to either Coventry or Kent a few years earlier.

    Gurney claimed he would turn Luton into a club equal to Manchester United, and came up with ideas including turning their potential stadium site at Junction ten into a formula one race track.

    Peter Miller from the board at Northampton Town was put in charge of running the club, who immediately appointed the former Peterborough United chairman Roger Terrell and ex-Posh striker Lee Power to take over the team. At this point, Joe Kinnear and Mick Harford were sacked.

    The hostile reaction of the fans to this move immediately caused Terrell and Power to quit before they'd started, and Miller also beat a retreat.

    The fans were then asked to vote on who should become the manager. The outcome of this process was the appointment of Mike Newell who, it was claimed, had won the vote.

    Gurney and his consortium were then removed by the club being placed into administrative receivership by its major creditor.

    Mick Harford agreed to become Newell's first team coach, and declined Joe Kinnear's offer to move to Nottingham Forest with him.

    The club was then sold by the administrators to a consortium headed up by former Luton director Bill Tomlins.

    Billed as "the extraordinary events surrounding the buying and selling of a football club" this BBC2 documentary was part of the Trouble at the Top series and entitled 'Luton Kicks Off'.

    It told the story of how last summer business man John Gurney took control of Luton Town Football Club but upset the fans so much that they managed to oust him.

    The truth is, for the fans this programme was nothing sensational and didn't really tell them anything they didn't know. But this was a documentary for a national audience and therefore was never going to go into the nitty gritty that you would expect from a local angle.

    There were certainly no revelations about who the consortium were, if indeed a consortium existed!

    It was, however, very interesting to see behind the scenes and there were one or two highlights here. One of these was when one of the staff said to Mr Gurney that they couldn't trust a word he said.

    What came across was that the staff were completely at the end of their tether and understandably so. They were waiting for their wages to be paid and they were just getting one excuse after the other.

    London Luton
    Could the name have changed to this?!

    At this point John Gurney decided that he wasn't going to take any more stick and just walked out of the meeting, and it's fair to say that Gurney didn't come across too well throughout!

    Again, this was going out to a national audience and as there have been rumours about him appearing at other clubs in the past few months, anybody who watched the programme will probably stay well clear if he came along to enquire!

    The events before the press conference were also interesting because it was well-known that Mike Newell had turned up and was going to be the manager, despite the fact that Mr Gurney kept popping his head round the door and saying it was very close!

    The ironic thing about the whole situation is that Luton now find themselves top of the League. Mike is doing a splendid job and if they get promoted at the end of the season - will Hatters fans raise a glass to the man who appointed him?!

    But in fairness to Mike, he looked incredibly uncomfortable by the whole situation and wasn't really enjoying the prospect of discussing his contract in front of the cameras. He made a point of talking round that.

    It was also interesting that there was no mention of the previous ownership. There has been a debate as to whether this programme had been pulled because the Watson Challis's weren't happy with it and had apparently threatened legal action.

    There was no mention of them in the programme but it did beg the question - how on earth could anyone have sold the club to that group of people?

    "I was the most hated man in football."
    John Gurney

    It short, it was interesting to see. But it's now in the past, with lessons to learn, and it's time to move on.

    last updated: 29/10/04
    Have Your Say
    Tell us what you think of the programme.
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    The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

    Joe
    Priceless. Just priceless. I didn't think it was possible to appear more inept than David Brent but your man Gurney pulled it off, no problem.

    Sat
    has trouble at the top finished this week because it is not on??????????

    Bonkers
    Of course, LS, what we really need is ALL clubs with less than 10 million in the bank, a poor ground and less than 40000 gates to go bust. No doubt that would delight Sky. Then we could enjoy the delights of the overpaid being over-hyped to appease the masses who say they 'support' Arsenal or Man U by buying a shirt and watching them on the telly every week. The entertainment provided by the likes of Luton, Northampton, Wycombe etc is REAL football. If only a few more people would get off their backsides and support their local teams they might realise this

    Louis Shapiro
    It may not be nice and it may not be pretty and people may not like it. But as even the trust's lawyer's point out, what John Gurney does is not illegal and the biggest problem most dissenters have with asset strippers, is they are neither caple of doing it themselves and they don't have the chutzpar to do it. Personally I have no axe to grind either way, but when a beast of burden is in its death throes, the vultures will always begin to circle. So for now good luck LTFC, long may it continue, but don't be surprised if things go pear-shaped in the future, if another 'John Gurney' descends from on high!

    MICK H
    WE SHOULD JUST BE GRATEFUL THAT WE HAVE PEOPLE OF THE QUALITY OF CHERRY NEWBURY AT KENILWORTH RD , WITHOUT HER WE WOULD SURELY BE DEAD AND BURIED. AS FOR BERNARD COLON AND KEV THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY HORNETS AND WOULD NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT ITS LIKE TO HAVE TO FIGHT FOR EVERY PENNY AND STILL BE WINNERS , WE DONT HAVE AN ELTON WAITING IN THE WINGS , I'M BLAD TO SAY,JUST REMEMBER YOUR JUST ONE GURNEY AWAY FROM OBLIVION

    Andy C
    Well, mooneyman, at least we don't have to rely on a fairy godmother every time we're in trouble to bail us out. Going to be a bit of a rough ride though when Auntie Reg croaks it and leaves you lot zilch in his will isn't it? And "Louis Shapiro" - you must be one sad sad person if you have to post a message under a different name to agree with your earlier message, eh "Bernard"?

    mooneyman
    What a Carry On.... You can always rely on L*ton for muddle-headed mayhem.

    Kev
    It's a pity Gurney did not stay and complete the job.

    Phil Malone
    At the end of the programme Cherry stated that nobody should ever be able to do that to any club again. Have the authorities taken any notice? Just take a look at Wrexham. Iam so glad that our club has come through this but the vultures are still out there and nobody wants to do anything to stop them!

    Sid King
    It's all over; the fat man has left the stage.

    Ian Dudley
    Gurney came accross as a spiv on the make, you wouldn`t buy a used car from him so no one bought his bull**** either. Good riddance.

    Robbie
    A long list of mistakes brought in his own downfall. Sacking JK was a good move if reports were right that he was being paid far more than the average (now)League 1 boss. Mike Newell is class and showing it through. Maybe due to the public backlash, the 'consortium' probably backed out! Lets hope John Gurney never touches any other sporting establishment ever again!

    Vern in Brussels
    Excellent program. That man is pure evil :)

    Steve
    People will have seen Gurney for what he is, an inept businessman with no interest in football.

    Louis Shapiro
    Spot On "Bernard Colon" what nobody accepts is that in the real world LTFC is a dead duck and the only thing of value is the ground, just ripe for an asset stripper to step in. In reality although the faithfull think they have pulled off 'a clever rescue' it will only be a matter of months again before they re back in the clag, up to their necks in debt and completely out of their depth. So John Gurney may have been unlucky this time, but he or someone very like him will get them in the end. Although Cherry and the trust's efforts are valiant, they are doubtless in vain and in all of this, for the men with the money, football is not even a consideration. Think a few people should wake up and smell the coffee!

    James H
    When the programme finished off and they said Mike Newell was still the manager, it's a shame they couldn't have added that we are currently top of league 1. That would have been a far better end. But what a master stroke by Trust in Luton to buy shares in Hatters Holdings to recall the debt that got rid of Gurney! BTW, Bernard Colon is probably a watford fan, which is why he can't recognise good football!

    Andy C
    "Bernard Colon" - I assume you are trying to be witty. You failed miserably. If you enjoy looking at cars so much, then may I suggest you go and have a close look at some - the fast lane of the M1 should give you enough to be going on with.

    Howard Star
    Just showed him as the idiot he is and that crawling in front of the camera's from his " finance director" dont make me laugh !!!!

    Dave G
    Dissapointed that the programme did not show half of what happened at the club last summer. However, I'm very grateful for the work that Cherry, her staff Trust In Luton and the fans for saving the club I have supported for thirty four years.

    Lisa in Arlesey
    I watched trouble at the top and John Gurney made my blood boil. I worked at Bedford Rugby when he took over. I left immediately as I could not stand the way players and staff were being treated. Everything he said was not fullfilled and he turned a good working /playing team into a financial shambles. I know exactly how the Luton staff felt. Fortunately I found new employment immediately and now feel I am a wiser person for it. My advice to anybody is on the first day that pay cheque bounces or does not arrive start to look for new employment!

    Alan Deacon
    The programme didn't go deep enough. We fans knew what he, Gurney was up to but we were not told why or how Mike Watson Challis and his advisers came to let him buy the club so cheaply, with all the problems that followed.

    Bernard Colon.
    Lets face it, Luton Town are a pretty dire team, and this bloke Gurney would have been doing us all a huge favour if he put them out of business. I have endured a couple of Luton matches, it was awful to watch, and I would never put myself through it again. I hope Gurney manages to turn Kenilworth Road into something more interesting, like a car park.

    Stephen C
    I Watched the programme and right from the word go Cherry knew the was going to be hell 4 LTFC but like any other fan of football we saved OUR CLUB and TIL had a big part to do with that and the programme showed that.Very Intresting and explained alot

    John Pyper - LTFC Fan
    Very much looking forward to the showing of this long awaited programme, and will highlight to all those LTFC Fans, JUST how closed we came as a Football Club to being put out of business by a so-called businessman called Gurney. I hope one thing that it will be interesting viewing for any die-hard football supporter or anyone connected with the game throughout the country. More views to follow after the viewing....

    Phil Wain
    John Gurney has no right to try and make himself as some poor unfortunate person hated just because he had big plans.He is a man with no respect for those that really understand what LTFC needs and have a real care for it.And he is also as Joe Kinnear said a man with champagne dreams and coca cola pockets.

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