Saturday Night On Channel Five For The Football League
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Is It Time For A New Football Club For Newcastle?
Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
It is fifty years since Luton Town made their first appearance at Wembley, and twenty years since they lost the League Cup final. This weekend, however, in a show of defiance that must even have reddened the faces of the fusty old buffoons of the Football League and the Football Association, they took 40,000 supporters to Wembley for the final of the Football League Trophy and walked away with the cup. Luton, over the years, have found themselves much derided. Whilst local rivals Watford cultivated an image as a “family club”, Luton, under their now deceased chairman David Evans, became a byword for all that was wrong with football during the 1980s – the ID card scheme, the plastic pitch and the occasional bouts of hooliganism did their image damage which still hasn’t been completely rectified.
This may have been part of the thinking behind the draconian points deduction that they received last summer, a deduction which has effectively become a death sentence on their ninety year stay in the Football League. They certainly received less sympathy than many others likely would have when the sentence was passed last summer. Never mind that those in charge of the club had been nothing to do with the trouble that the club had got itself into, many were (and indeed still are) happy to kick this club while it was down. The club’s supporters have had almost a full season to prepare for life in the Blue Square Premier, but the Football League Trophy gave them an opportunity to put on one final show for the watching television audience and dignitaries of the game.
It seemed that beating Scunthorpe United, who lurk in the play-off zone of the division above them, would be a step too far. The joyous celebration at the end of their regional final win against Brighton & Hove Albion seemed to tacitly acknowledge this. The town has a population of 180,000 people, so it should perhaps come as no surprise that they sold out their original ticket allocation and requested more. This was a defiant two fingers up at their detractors and the authorities – as timely a reminder as possible that this is a club with a tradition, a history and a huge residual support.
Both sides played their full part in one hundred and twenty minutes of drama that was completely appropriate, considering the circumstances of the match. Scunthorpe scored first – Gary Hooper’s shot skidding in from just outside the penalty area – and one might have expected the floodgates to open, considering the forty-one league places between them. Righteous indignation, however, can have a strange effect on people, and this certainly seemed to be the case with Luton, who levelled just before half-time through Chris Martin and then took the lead through Tom Craddock with twenty minutes to play. It seemed as if Luton had done enough to win the trophy but, with barely two minutes left to play, Grant McCann curled in a beautiful shot from the edge of the penalty area to level things up again.
Five minutes into extra time, the moment of truth. A long ball through the middle left substitute Claude Gnapka in a race against Scunthorpe goalkeeper Joe Murphy to get to the ball first. Gnapka won the race – just – and lifted the ball over Murphy to give Luton an unlikely 3-2 lead. Scunthorpe pushed on and put Luton under incredible pressure in the closing stages, but Luton clung on by their fingernails to record a victory which may prove to be highly significant for the club. They may not yet be down but the gap between them and the safety zone seems to great to bridge. Winning all of their remaining league matches will give them a fighting chance of staying up, but even this might not prove to be enough.
What is important, however, is the message that it sends. Fifteen miles up the road from Luton is Milton Keynes, where ticket giveaways and a team being pumped full of money is giving an illusion of success amid growing rumours of a sizeable debt. This sham of a club, who would like to call themselves “rivals” of Luton when the truth is that Luton’s true rivals are Watford, won this same competition last year and the absence of applause within the game was striking. Luton may not have made many friends over the years, but they took 40,000 people to take to Wembley yesterday. Such a display – truly a shock and awe display for a side cast adrift at the bottom of League Two – may prompt more people to turn out in support of them for the remainder of this season and for next season. Their future as a Football League club remains bleak, but if they are dying as one of the exclusive ninety-two, this was quite a way to go out.
At ten o’clock last night, there were still Luton fans dancing around St Pancras station, celebrating the club that they support before boarding the train back to Bedfordshire, a county which seems likely to become a county without a Football League club within the next month or so. The circumstances of Luton’s financial collapse were not their fault, yet they have been made to pay for the mistakes and negligence of others in an unprecedented way. No club’s supporters could have deserved a day in the sun more, and the performance of both their team and their supporters would seem to indicate that writing them off completely would be more than somewhat premature.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Superb article, well done.
Luton Town will never die.
Thanks for that – a good well-balanced article.
I have been a regular Luton supporter since 1955 and yesterday was one of the happiest days of my football life. However like many of the 40,000 I am disgusted at the way we have been treated over the points deduction. The 20 points from the Football League I can understand; the 10 from the FA is totally beyond me. As has been said many times before the offence was a technical one committed by a man with no remaining connection with the club. Those actions had no bearing on any results or any other team unlike Tevez and West Ham. WE got -10 points yet West Ham got a fine. A points deduction it was said would have been unfair to the fans!
Try explaining the FA logic to the 40,000 Luton fans there yesterday
Thanks for this well balanced assesment.
We always seem to be more harshly treated. Our MOM on Sunday was the Captain Kevin Nicholls. Last week (leading up to the final) he was banned for 5 games for “inciting the crowd” which I believe involved him conducting the crowd as they sang. Contrast with Wayne Rooney who can throw a ball in anger, punch a corner flag, be called a crazy man by the England manager, and receive no more than a warning. Drogba throws a coin into the crowd(allegedly) and only receives a 3 match ban.
Of course FA/FL are too scared to impose the same disipline on Abromovich or Ferguson, so I guess we suffer as soft targets. So we enter the final games, bashed by points deductions, ridiculous suspensions, and the Daily Express yesterday saying that Lord Mawhinney did not know about the FL points deduction when he imposed the additional FA points deduction. Obviously oblivious to the plight of the teams in the league which he heads!! TO add insutl to injury this points deduction was agreed by a committee, members of which included the Chariman of Barnet FC, a team who will iikely escape relegation, simply because they supported our points deduction. Crazy world, but supporting the Hatters for 42 years, I’ve got used to it
Someboby definitely doesnt like us, but we are now a well run club, and we wil be back stronger than ever.
“It is fifty years since Luton Town made their first appearance at Wembley, and twenty years since they lost the League Cup final.”
CORRECTION: We WON the League Cup in 1988 beating Arsenal. We have now have two Wembley trophys to our name – League Cup and Football League cup.
I’m aware of that. Luton did lose the 1989 League Cup Final though, didn’t they? Because that was the match that I was referring to.
A great article which gives an impartial and honest account (albeit lacking in the finer details!) of the troubles Luton Town has had to endure recently. It is nice to see that there is an acknowledgement of our problems along with our victory and I commend the author for reminding all those who support teams that are not part of the Premiership Glory Boy Club that the footballing authorities in this country have no regard to the fortunes of club with a proud and long history. Their agenda now seems simply to allow smaller clubs to die off (sometimes giving a helping hand in this respect, as in our case) to enable a smaller, more profitable form of footballing league setup to come into being.
Beware, your club could be next.
The proudest day as a Luton fan…
Absolutely brilliant, nerve racking, great football.
Up the Mighty Hatters!!!!
Just a quick word about the match itself – fantastic. In particular, the quality of the goals – from both sides – was excellent. Thorouhly enjoyable stuff, and the elation on the face and in the voice of Nick Owen at the end was wonderful to see, the sort of joy you only get with real fans. Luton have been fucked over this season, but I hope Nick Owen’s view that this kind of performance will attract players to Luton will be born out, and that they’ll return next season.
A wonderful report that just about gets it all so right. It is a pity that the national press and other sections of the media had not used their influence better. They know the rights and wrongs of the situation. I am sure there would have been a different outcome if they had not chosen to ignore Luton’s plight. How can a club who has been in the FL so long be allowed to be drummed out in such a manner. The evidence was dubious and never warranted such a points deduction (which actually totalled 40). Maybe they would now like add some on as a reward for the dignified manner the directors, management, players and fans conducted themselves on Sunday.
The day proved to be everything Luton could have wished for. Actually it was of the finest games I have seen at Wembley.
Great article, Great Day as well for us Luton fans and also a great spectacle for the neutral fans. As a Luton fan I hope the press asks the League whether we can defend our trophy next season also you forgot to mention our under 11 team who won the Euro cup beating Bayern Munich 3-2 which was a fantastic result and one which we also will not be able to defend unless someone puts pressure on the powers that be. We have been picked on for many years now and have had to put up with the points deduction, people opposing any plans for a new stadium and also a franchise team being setup 15 miles up the road in Milton Keynes but we will get stronger and we will be back better than ever.