23 September 2012

If all the future held was non league football, would you hang up your hat?

I'm not saying this could happen. It couldn't. It's a hypothetical question. Christ, it definitely won’t happen. DEFINITELY NOT. There is no way in the world that we will never ever ever emerge from the Conference. Alright? Ending a week characterised by solidarity and reflection under the bright lights of another BSP banana skin, it got me thinking: If you knew, like some teams around us do, that we were probably doomed to remain at this level forever and ever (we’re not.... AREN’T YOU LISTENING?) would it be enough for you?

On Friday night we lost 4-1 to Grimsby Town, a team who for all I know could be the best Grimsby Town side ever assembled. I don’t know whether this is true or not because I watched the game from a North London bowling alley on the Sky Sports Football Centre app on my phone. No al calcio moderno.

I couldn’t have known it at the time, but watching little numbers change on a screen the size of a fag packet, wearing a pair of rented Velcro shoes in a room that smelled like a Barton Youth Club disco; I was the luckiest Luton fan alive.

Lucky, because 125 brave souls had actually made the journey all the way up to that fishy edge of Lincolnshire. Others gathered in Bedfordshire drinking pens cringing through their fingers at the Premier Sports coverage; the commentary consistently more ignorant than a Glenn Hoddle Paralympics special. Still more Lutonians hunched over their laptops frantically refreshing live internet streams so pixelated and stuttery that the Tetris song inevitably begins in their subconscious, drowning out the screeching frustrated voices. I glanced at twitter and felt the cold breeze of déjà vu.

Imagine for a moment a nightmare scenario: What if the Blue Square Bet Premier Football Conference was it for us? What if we never made it out of here?

As the memory of league football began to fade and your VHS tapes of ‘88 and ’94 finally started to disintegrate in dusty shoeboxes long-since consigned to the loft: faced with season after season of 70 away fans, £40 play-off finals, teams from places new to the national grid and Friday nights on the internet - would you remain loyal?

Don’t answer yet. Because as the cool evenings begin to draw-in on whatever pre-season optimism you managed this time around, there is something you should know. It won’t last forever. It might not even last this season. Why am I so sure? Well...

In the long term, professional football is and always has been a game of economics. While it may sometimes seem like Luton are the defiantly staffed independent corner shop of the Modern Football High Street, in the context of the Conference Premier we are fucking Tesco’s.

Sooner or later with the relative resources available to Luton - if the gates hold up as they always have at Kenilworth Road - the points, like the pre season odds, will eventually stack in our favour. And luckily for us, when we finally do emerge from this strange and unpredictable place (which we will, we DEFINITELY will), the chances of us finding ourselves back down here again are slim. The sad fact about the game as we’ll find again to our detriment one day soon, is that despite short periods of beautiful exception, it is the big boys that will eventually prosper. And while we're still not really used to it, at the moment, down here, that's us.

In this week of strained supporter solidarity, spare a moment’s thought for the loyal fans of Forest Green, Hyde and Alfreton – all real actual places that will never have 7,000 home gates or 1,500 away fans in any league to secure the stability of their club. Never be able to buy the best strikers in the league.

Giving up in September after a couple of dodgy results is for 11 year-olds from Hertfordshire with brand new Man City shirts.

If we continue to turn up August after August no matter what, eventually, for the same reason a town our size will probably never win the Champions League, we’ll make it back to the magic of League 2. And we can get on with moaning about how shit that is again. 


  1. As a very loyal fan, I have experienced some real lows. Friday night defeats are always the worst as it means waiting that little bit longer until the next game. Having watched the game - I am very worried. It just looks like last season all over again. Buckle's honeymoon period is well and truly over.

    This league is not at all enjoyable - 1 automatic place makes it very tough - especially for a team that cannot string together more than two wins in a row. Compare this to league Two - where 7th place is ok.

    The problem is that every defeat in this league seems like the end of the world and history shows us that 5 or 6 defeats is the most we can endure.

    So in answer to your question - yes - if we were in this league for say another 20 years - I might consider giving up being a Hatter ;)

  2. It's the hope that keeps us coming. If we knew for sure we'd NEVER rise out of the fifth tier then season ticket sales would plummet and gates would hover around 2,000. But thankfully of course we never know what is around the corner, for Luton have always been one of the most unpredictabe outfits in the land. Mid-table mediocrity is a real rarity with us (last time was the Lennie Lawrence era).
    So we keep on coming, even though it costs us time, money and there's loads of other useful things we could be doing.
    And even during the last 3/4 years of misery and anxiety there have still been occasional unmissable dramas to keep us interested (Wembley twice, including a dramatic 3-2 win, the Etihad shoot-out, plus great nights like Oxford and Wrexham at home).