Down an alley along a country path to a cow shed terrace on the way out of Cambridge. For 89 minutes, the brooding frustrations of old: then suddenly pandemonium.
Photo by @jenn_ifer_jenn
With nearby pubs bolted shut like a seaside town preparing for a tsunami, the away areas of Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium were strangely full a good 10 minutes before kick-off. Surely a Luton record.
The U’s mascot, a grown man sporting the over-sized head of what looked like a cartoon dog that had lost a fight, lifted his shirt to reveal a “Why always me?” T-shirt and waved-on the traditional volley of abuse. Fitting perhaps.
Fitting because the air of Cambridge-as-victim would hang heavy atop the corrugated iron and scaffold of the Abbey tonight; victims of our superior financial clout and fan base. Victims of the success of the team “down the road”. Or so we thought.
Because without threatening Tyler too much, the team in Amber looked unnervingly confident on the ball and largely got the better of our young upstarts in the middle of the park. The Guttridge shaped hole glared almost as brightly from the pitch as if his shiny dome had been on there.
The ease by which we’ve brushed teams aside in recent months means we’re less used to an even contest, and so the sense that we were being given more than a run for our money was exaggerated perhaps. Speaking of Money, with deep banks of four swelled by the imposing Elliot, the manager’s tactics were sound and the team’s resolve strong. For 89 minutes...
At one nil down a hint of mild panic crept across the Cambridgeshire night. Though this may not have been “a mustn’t lose” game in the mathematical sense, for the massed ranks of Hatters who had braved the queues and the engaged tones to get a ticket, losing to this lot would more than stick in the craw. But we don’t panic on the terraces anymore, because we’ve got a not-so-secret weapon.
Standing just in front of his dugout across the pitch, a man dressed all in black, like an effortlessly wily old Milk Tray Man too enraptured with passion for his work to ever retire, took it all in. Off went Howells, who had been flying in the last month. Then Pelly, Still’s big signing from his bit-on-the-side West Ham. Next he took off the league’s top scorer, Gray, at a time when the desperation for a goal had left those of us in the Habbin Stand hoarse just 50 or 60 yards away.
The sound of the lonely virgin drumming from the home end began to throb quietly like a vein in 2,200-odd Lutonian foreheads as cross after cross was cleared by Cambridge’s lean and lanky back four; the referee playfully adding to the tension with hilarious decision after mindboggling call.
Then suddenly, unbelievably... relief.
From the jaws of defeat the persistent crossing of Henry finally found a proud Luton forehead, and on the stroke of 90 McGeehan nodded down for Cullen who spun like a rabid David Platt-a-like to volley it home. Two thousand journeys home rescued.
The finest sight and sound in football followed: the singing and pogo-ing continued to the final whistle and long into the night. I kissed a man, maybe two.
In the away end, as the weekly lap of honour approached, all eyes were fixed on Luton Town’s John Still. Because as our heart rates recovered and the distant drummer retired, we were certain that it was all because of him.