England: Premier League club's stadium was to be part of F1 circuit

source: StadiumDB.com; author: Maciek Ściłba

England: Premier League club's stadium was to be part of F1 circuit Formula 1 at Wembley or London's Olympic Stadium? Back in 2012, there was speculation about the possibility of hosting a race for the Queen of motorsport in the British capital city. As it turns out, 10 years earlier another English city had a similar plan.


Competition for Silverstone?

No F1 fan can imagine a championship calendar without the British GP race at Silverstone. The legendary venue has been a part of it since 1950, and since 1985 it no longer has to share the rights to host the event with the Aintree and Brands Hatch circuits. This means that the world's best drivers have been visiting the track continuously for 38 years. to fight for points towards the championship series standings. Few people know, however, that in 2003 the idea of building a race track in the UK that met the FIA's requirements for Formula 1 racing and threw down the gauntlet to Silverstone.

There would be nothing unusual about this story were it not for the fact that part of the proposed track was to be Kenilworth Road Stadium owned by Luton Town - current Premier League newcomers. Such a concept was born in the mind of the team's owner at that time - John Gurney. In May 2003, he acquired a controlling stake in the club for just £4. It is not hard to guess that The Hatters, playing in the Football League Second Division (now EFL League One) were monstrously in debt back then. The controversial businessman concluded that taking over the team with its debts would be a pretty good deal.

Kenilworth Road Stadium© Patrick Hendriksen

Gurney posed  as a wealthy person, but the source of his alleged income remained unclear. In 1999, he was arrested and charged with being part of an organised crime group involved in importing cocaine into the British Isles. He was initially believed to be an associate of Brian Brendan Wright - the gang boss sentenced in 2007 to a 30-year prison term. However, Gurney was soon released and in a later trial was acquitted of the charges against him. Before John Gurney acquired shares in Luton Town, shortly after leaving the walls of prison, he attempted to invest the money he held in rugby clubs. For £1 he acquired a controlling stake in Bedford Rugby Club (now Bedford Blues) from Frank Warren - a well-known boxing promoter who had worked with world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury for many years.

Luton owner had ambitious plans

The controversial entrepreneur fired manager Joe Kinnear and his assistant Mick Harford within three days after taking over Luton, and quickly came into conflict with club chairman Peter Miller. Gurney's strangest idea, however, was that of Kenilworth Road infrastructure. He planned to expand the stadium to 70,000 seats and build a Formula One circuit around, with the venue itself to become part of it. For the duration of the race, the turf was to extend outside the arena similar to that at Japan's famous Sapporo Dome. Gurney claimed that such an arrangement was expected to generate close to £50m a year for the club.

Business had a few other ideas in store, like changing the club's name to London-Luton Football Club. The aim of this was to associate it with one of London's largest airports nearby and reap financial benefits through its brand. Among the plans was also to buy a stake in Championship-playing Wimbledon F.C. and then merge the clubs, which would mean Luton Town could play a league higher without promotion.

Kenilworth Road Stadium© Stadiontour.at

Fans took matters into their own hands

Of course, John Gurney's plans didn't come to fruition as supporters of The Hatters decided to get rid of him from their beloved team. They set up a fund to take away his control of the club. It soon emerged that the businessman was failing to pay the wages of Luton staff and players, allowing the FA to impose a transfer embargo and withhold money from sponsors. A fund headed by Liam Day acquired a stake in Hatters Holdings. Luton Town owed several million pounds to this company. They demanded that Gurney need to repay the debt. It was no surprise that the businessman did not have the resources to do so.

On July 14, 2003, thanks to the actions of Liam Day, the club was put into receivership and a trustee was brought in. This meant that Gurney lost control of Luton Town just 55 days after gaining it. The BBC later made a documentary 'Trouble at the Top' based on this story. In 2008, Gurney declared bankruptcy. 20 years on from these events, there is still no plan to hold an F1 race in a classic stadium. The only minor exception is Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The track was built around the arena, while during the Formula 1 weekend the paddock is placed on the tarmac of the venue.

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