15 January 2014

Steve McNulty: (Cult)ured hero

If there’s one thing Luton fans love it’s a cult hero; someone to sing songs about on train journeys and at chucking-out time long after the player has moved on. A man that’s more than just a player, at least in the imagination of the terraces. Think the bespectacled Ian Roper or the giant Enoch Showunmi; wonderfully brief cartoon asides in the funny pages of the history books. Our Steve McNulty however, is no cult hero. He’s much more than that.

January is dragging its soggy, shivering, dripping trainers; sodden-step after laboured-step towards an end of the month pay day that seems never to arrive. For almost the entire month so far England’s green and pleasant pitches have been deluged in relentless rain, and nowhere was quite as soggy as the Great Lakes of the centre circle at Kenilworth Road way back on New Year’s Day.

The conditions that day would make even the most pretentious, delicate Premier League star look Sunday League; they were destined to embarrass defenders and make long-ball merchants out of proper footballers.

But not Luton Town’s Steve McNulty.

For 90 minutes (plus that bit when the ref picked up the ball and thought about going home for a while) he out-thought the weather and the Barnet players that were covered in it. With a calm head and by example he settled a side that could easily have descended into panic. He passed it and passed it, found the space (and the islands of grass) and with measured touches and through perfectly timed interceptions set in motion attack after splashy attack.

McNulty’s been doing it all season too, a feat made all the more remarkable when you consider that he has been carrying one of the Premier League’s deadliest strikers, Christian Benteke, around in his pocket since the pre-season visit of Aston Villa.

I digress. All season he’s been at it: every long ball is met with a swift rebuke from Scouse forehead or instep. For every fledgling attack, an assured first touch followed by a thoughtful pass; a settling of nerves. And for every athletic young striker that looks to bully his way into the box, and for every unsure look on the face of a young Luton defender... there, reliable, focussed, assured, stands Luton Town’s Steve McNulty.

Every now and then there is magic too. The stuff that makes you stop, mid-celebration and check the faces of the massed ranks of Lutonians behind you to ensure they saw it too.

Here, brothers and sisters, we have a centre half who can, in the same game, evoke Beckenbauer and Cruyff with his faints and disguised turns in the middle of the park AND THEN bury a dipping first-time volley from 30 yards, calling to mind the highlight reels of Scholes and Van Basten. Bestseller is our Steve, not cult classic.

We’ve always been happier with a Steve at centre half, and like Davis and Foster before him, this generation’s version is not only a leader at the back but his influence spreads throughout the squad, to all areas of the pitch and even into the reborn, soggy optimism of the stands.

A Steve you can build a team, nay, a little empire around.

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