First posted on intostoppagetime on 29/1/11
Slumped in front of your monitor like a sopping wet 24 hour news sponge, one might be forgiven for forgetting that Luton, Bedfordshire’s extremist theme park, had a football team. Currently regrouping in the Blue Square Bet “Premier” – a league so freshly rebranded that it uses the Lenny Henry definition of the word – the Hatters lay a rather limp 3rd in the race for the red carpets and flash bulbs of League 2, our second season at this level. When we spoke in 2009 (via the internet message boards of the self-flagellating supporter) to the people of Cambridge and Wrexham, we were warned that getting straight back up to the league wouldn’t be easy…
Bollocks, we said.
Cambridge United? We remembered them of course. They were once one of our “localish” derbies – if you get your geographic identity from the TV regions rather than your own sense of distance and time. They managed to get their boots stuck in the Conference quagmire all the way back in 2005. The week their league status ceased, Luton were busy making headlines nearer the top of the slippery slope, lifting the League One trophy (I said near-er) and marching into the Championship with newly elected Mike Newell (the inventor of lady-linesman based sexism) at the helm. The following season saw the Town finish 10th. Top half!
What followed is still a bit blurry. Between 2007 and 2009 Luton managed to squeeze in 3 successive relegations, a couple of crooked owners and a loveless double penetration from the Football Association / Football League, totalling 40 points in deductions. The punishment for the actions of previous owners was an act of bungling goatscapery so cruel that 45,000 Luton fans forced themselves to a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match at the new, horrible, Wembley to moan about it.
The Football Conference – as its mum calls it – has become a frustrating limbo for many former League outfits. The class of 2010/11 can count Mansfield, Grimsby, York and Darlington among others who have failed to bounce back. For Luton Town, the grim reality of playing third fiddle to nouveau riche Crawley Town and 80s tribute band AFC Wimbledon is tough to take. Last season it was Stevenage who made it look easy, breezing to the title 11 points clear of the second placed Hatters. Politely asking “Don’t you know who I am?” and expecting the opposition to melt was never going to be the next chapter of the Luton story as last Saturday’s 90 Minutes’ Hate (also known as a draw) against the 10 men of Gateshead confirmed for the too-many’th time.
As supporters we’re a pretty hardy bunch. Some even relish the prospect of taking over the ground of the impossibly friendly Forest Green Rovers on a Tuesday night. And two points off top spot, there’s a lot of football to be played before we are consigned to another season in the cupboard under the stairs. The squad is good enough to win the league and the management team is well qualified, if eccentric. And in truth, for all the heartache and hoarse throats, most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. I mean what do Aston Villa fans talk to each other about?
The reality is that Luton Town still existing in its 125th year is a victory in itself. A fact that we too quickly forget when faced with the crushing depression of sentences such as:
The 3rd round FA Trophy tie against Gloucester City will take place on Friday 4th February, replacing the scheduled league game against Barrow, which was moved from Saturday 5th due to an English Defence League march in the town centre.