Luton Town and Prostate Cancer UK
Luton Town Football Club have called Kenilworth Road their home for over a century. Plymouth Argyle were the visitors for the opening game on September 4th, 1905. Many things have changed in that time, the only thing that has remained was the name.
The stadium saw a new stand imported from Kempton racecourse in 1922. Floodlights were installed in 1953, with Fenerbahçe the first opponents under the lights. Kenilworth Road would hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in 1985, as fans from across London would converge upon Luton for an FA Cup tie with Millwall. Millwall’s hooligan element, and their temporary allies, would riot both inside and out of the stadium. Luton would also become a part of the 1980s experiment into artificial surfaces, with numerous teams complaining about the quality of the early ‘plastic pitches’.
There has been the row of executive boxes that replaced the Bobbers Stand. Non-league and the top-flight football have come and gone. The stadium became all-seater in the aftermath of Hillsborough. Again, the only thing that has stayed the same for 110 years is the name.
This week saw that name change for the first time. For Luton Town’s 3-2 defeat against Wycombe Wanderers, the name of the stadium that lies between Kenilworth Road, Hatters Way and Oak Road, became the Prostate Cancer UK Stadium. It’s not as catchy as The Emirates or Etihad, and it comes with no financial benefit, but that’s not what this is about.
Prostate Cancer UK is the official charity partner of the Football League, and their Man of Men logo adorns the squad numbers of every Football League team’s shirts. 10,000 men in the UK die of prostate cancer each year, roughly the capacity of Kenilworth Road. The hope is that this figure being more than just a number, but a stadium full of people for a live televised match, will show the extent of the losses that prostate cancer causes each year. Where breast cancer charities have things like the Race for Life, and the pink ribbon, Prostate Cancer has their own initiative in Men United, and matching football scarves. Further, they are appealing to pubs in the UK to become ‘The Mens United Arms’ for a day and host events in the aim of raising awareness.
Luton were intentionally very sly in the build-up to the announcement. They simply asked the question of how fans would feel about their historic home being renamed. 66% of polled fans were strongly against it, and it ensured fans would be glued to the planned announcement regarding a name change. Those fans, dreading the most embarrassing commercial name, suddenly felt relieved and proud that for 24 hours, their home would be the focus of the UK’s largest male health charity.
Luton Town chief executive, Gary Sweet, on how the renaming came to be:
"We had the opportunity when Mike [Summers, project manager for Prostate Cancer UK] and his guys approached us about the idea. With Kenilworth Road’s capacity being broadly the same number of people that lose their lives to the disease, every single year, we felt that was quite poignant. There aren’t many football clubs around that have that opportunity, where they don’t have a commercial brand associated to their venue, firstly, and where there is that number of people as their capacity. We thought it was an excellent opportunity. As football club owners, operators, custodians, we feel that we have a duty and responsibility by having this platform of having our communities hear the messages that we put out there. I think for us to support Prostate Cancer UK in this way is a terrific thing."
Luton Town have become known as a true people’s club in recent times. The club became the first English professional club to ensure that all staff are paid at least the Living Wage, something many Premier League clubs have declined to take part in, and a decision that immediately prompted Chelsea to follow suit. They also became the first club to give the fans a veto on any changes to the club name, logo, colours or mascot.
The contract signed with the supporters’ trust is something Hull City and Cardiff City fans would greatly appreciate after their recent troubles. The players have also taken to personally donating to the town’s food bank, and John Still invites two fans into the team’s post-match huddle after every single game.
Hatters manager, John Still, with his take on the club and league’s participation with Prostate Cancer UK:
"It’s an honour to be involved, and to be manager of the club that is hosting this event. I think all of us men, although we may be as aware as we should be, we’re not as forceful as we should be about our bodies as much as something like our cars. If your car isn’t working, you check it over and have a look. If something isn’t right in your body you say ‘Oh, it’ll be alright next week. I don’t want to go to the Doctor’. I think anything that promotes something that affects so many men, as prostate cancer, is an absolute must. If we can convince, or help, anybody to go see their doctor, that feels they need checking out, then we’ve played a massive part in what this charity is all about."
"We’re about playing football, but what’s more important than football is people’s lives."
You can sign up for Men United and join a team of over 200,000, including the likes of Band Of Brothers and Homeland star, Damian Lewis, Michael Owen and Paul Scholes. The campaign starts on the principle of ‘keeping friendships alive’.
One in eight men will face a diagnosis of prostate cancer. They are in need of the support of their friends, as are the relatives of sufferers. For those raising awareness, or money, by running a marathon or attending an event, the various forms of support from their friends is vital. Even something as simple as seeing and speaking to your friends about health issues is a great platform that Men United is built on.