As gloomy twilight descended upon north London, the persistent rain and my sodden work clothes transformed the awning-sheltered streets of Harringay into a scene from a Turkish remake of Blade Runner. Like thousands of dispersed Luton fans I was trudging my way to meet some mates in the pub that I’d convinced to watch the Wrexham game with me.
On Friday night landlords the world over were once again faced with the hopeful faces of Bedfordshire exiles enquiring as to whether they would mind awfully switching over to show some non-league football for 90 minutes. They’ve all got BT Sport now, so no excuses.
Finding a local London pub to watch a Luton game in the Conference has been an exercise in detective work and rejection involving a network of spies and often pockets of the city’s Gaelic Games community. I’d become used to following matches that I couldn’t make via stuttering laptop streams or on my phone. Private experiences connected by Twitter. But now that our locals can once again show the games, my Luton allegiance is very much out in public again, for better or worse.
One of the beautiful things about the size of Luton Town is that the relationship between the fans and the Club feels more personal. We feel more deeply the highs and the lows, the compliments and the digs.
Returning to our booth in the tatty but honest boozer playing host to the latest TV exhibition of Skrill and glamour, a local perched at the bar said to me “Did you ask him to put this on, what is it?” Immediately my back was up as I prepared to defend the virtues of a prime time TV spot for the Yankee-capped John Still on the screen behind him, as if the good name of a member of my family was about to be besmirched by this ignorant barfly.
“Yeah, it’s Luton Wrexham, why?” I offered back, spikily. “Luton, oh right” he returned to his beer. It was an innocent and understandable question. Bar stools and pool cues remained intact. I felt a bit silly.
There’s definitely something slightly strange about being the only person watching a football match in a busy Friday night pub. There’s a tangible sense of being on display as solitary gasps and groans are aimed at events unfolding on the flat screen above the heads of the throng of drinkers and their drinks. You only hope that the passion and romance of the game will offer some vindication for your unusual (in these parts) choice of football team and your dedication to ignoring conversations around you.
Friday’s game as you know offered nothing of the sort. Us solitary Luton exiles, tiny beacons of strange hope and defiant dedication in an ocean of Arsenal baseball caps and Liverpool tracky bottoms, slumped back on our stools as TVs prepared to flick back to Sky Sports News.
Rain continued to tumble down in the neon light outside. A dismissed Alex Wall’s head lay heavy in his hands in the dressing room in the corner of the screen, in the corner of the pub, as the home team celebrated on the pitch outside: his dejected frame broadcasting the mood of every Luton fan in every pub from High Town to Harringay.
Imprisoned by the rain. Hoping for a break in the cloud so we can make it back home.