I remember the night well. It was Friday 13th of September 2013. You might have been at the match in Wrexham. I was in a north London pub ignoring my mates and watching the tragedy unfold on BT Sport. The dismissed Alex Wall sat alone in the dressing room, head down, whilst the remaining dire minutes of a non-league football match ebbed away painfully on the pitch. Luton hearts sank from Stopsley to Stockholm, from Barton to Bury. The rain outside was unrelenting and the fixture list stretched out in front of us all, just as slippery and exhausting. This was our 5th year of Non-League football, and it would be our last. The year we finally made it back.
Hang Luton flags from your Bedford Trucks, dust off your boater and ask your kids what a hashtag is. Take a photo of Ricky Hill into the Barbers and one of Wegerle’s pout to your plastic surgeon... Because Luton ARE back.
Get tattoos. Get Luton tattoos. Get John Still quotes inked on your boat and smile at passers-by with a Champions glint in your eye because now is the time to let the world know you’re Luton.
Luton are back. We’re actually back! Back in the Football League. They are literally going to have believe us! Why have you worn your Luton shirt to work? You’re a 45 year old accountant, man. Show some fucking decorum.
The night we finally did it will live long in the memory. But it’s a football memory unlike any other in the booze-drenched misremembered Cup runs and occasional promotions of my teens and twenties, or those fragile early years watching TV with my dad while I naively tried to understand the gravity of the big moments.
On Tuesday night, when the final whistle finally went in Kidderminster and Lutonians the world over could stop holding their breath and refreshing their twitter feed, I let out the celebratory roar of a blood-thirsty psychopath across the terraced streets of south Tottenham, my current place of exile. I hugged my wife and poured an irresponsible measure of Scotch into a glass and stood arms aloft in my living room alone as tears streamed down my face. I am 31 years old and I have a Luton problem.
Frantically scrolling though twitter I soon found that I was not alone. There were thousands of you. Thousands around the world just like me, pathetically crying, smiling and drinking and taking stupid photos of your dog and your baby dressed up in orange black and white. There were ex-players and sort-of-famous people and fans of other teams all wishing us well too. My mum even rang me up.
Kidderminster 2 Cambridge 0. The stuff of absolutely no one’s dreams ever.
We’d become obsessed by how and when we’d do it hadn’t we? The Braintree game couldn’t have been more perfect. Everyone was there. 10,000 or more returned to Bury Park, bathed in the spring sunshine of Eric’s famous smile. The TV cameras were there too. The cursed TV cameras that when pointed in the direction of a Luton match this season have turned champions into also-rans with the devastating certainty of a David Moyes team talk.
I’d written in the programme that we would be champions by the afternoon. The talk in the pubs before was of people’s various pitch invasion plans. “You going on straight away or you gonna wait for the Trophy?” “Stuff the TV cameras I’m going on the pitch, it’s been five years”. As you know the invasion was eventually aborted thanks to 3 goals from a Braintree side that had absolutely no sense of occasion and to be honest, I’m never having them round again.
Fearing the unthinkable and pretty much impossible, and with the perfect moment out of the way the mood across Lutonia well and truly shifted from “I want to be there when we win it” to “JUST CROWN US FUCKING CHAMPIONS NOW PLEASE”.
The journey from Alex Wall’s lonely dressing room vigil in Wrexham to drunkenly tweeting YouTube clips of break-up songs to The Football Conference account on a Tuesday night in April (again, I’m 31 years old) has been a staggering one, and I feel privileged to have shared it with you, mate.
How did we get here? Well I’ve come to the same conclusion as you.
From day one, John Still has been a manager that we so wanted to believe in. He’s pragmatic, he’s realistic and he doesn’t get too carried away, but the over-riding sense that he exudes at all times is that everything’s going to be alright. Stick with me, lads, I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it before.
The thing with Luton is we know managers and players who have been successful elsewhere. We’ve turned promising young strikers into bench warmers and coaches with Premier League pedigree into shadows of their former selves. What has been the difference with our John Still?
Our John is a root-to-branch reformer; A father figure for the unruly bastard children of modern football that roam the terraces of Kenilworth Road. He may have more catchphrases than Roy Walker but the glint in his eye and the points on the board tell a deeper story of a serious professional, a man of gravitas and contacts and tactical nous. A man whose substitutions always score.
A cynic might call his rapport with supporters “good PR”, but with Still it’s natural. He came here with a plan to lead all of us out of the mire; not like a bull in a china shop, rather a lighter of many small fires to spark a revolution. More than anything else, he is a bloke who knows what it really means to support a football club. And my god do we love him for it.
We told men like John Still, his staff and his players that if they did it, if they could become the manager and the squad of players to get us out of this forgotten quicksand pit of a league, then they would become legends overnight. Their names would rank up there with the FA cup-setters of the 90s, the beige suited jigs and top-flight stints of the 80s, the flair and swagger of the 70s and the England Caps and Wembley finals of the 50s. A history that, for the first time in years, we feel confident can stretch further into the future than it stretches into the past.
This team and 2020 behind them become legends because we knew that this was a mountain that, if we were unable to climb soon, it felt like we might die trying. Well do it they did and legends they are, and I just cannot stop smiling.
While the rest of the world comes to terms with what thousands of the most dedicated supporters in football have known for months, be safe in the knowledge that whatever was thrown at us over the years, you’re not only part of a Luton Town that are finally back... you lot reading this, you’re the Luton Town that just wouldn’t go away.