When one thinks of pitch invasions at Kenilworth Road, one might be inclined to think of the infamous mass fight between Luton and Millwall supporters at an FA Cup match in 1985. Last night, there was a pitch invasion at Kenilworth Road but there was no violence involved this time, merely an explosion of anger, defiance and celebration at one of the more unlikely cup final appearances in the recent history of English football. Last night, in what will almost certainly be their last season (for now) in the Football League, Luton Town booked a Wembley appearance in the Football League Trophy with a penalty shoot-out win against Brighton & Hove Albion.
Luton’s plight has been covered on here before. In a measure so punative that it borders on being sadistic, the club was docked thirty points at the start of this season. It was a hammer blow to the club and, moreover, it wasn’t even the fault of the people currently in charge at Kenilworth Road. Over the last two seasons, they suffered at the hands of a boardroom who were either amazingly incompetent or deliberately negligent (their can be no other reason for their behaviour). At the start of this season, they had a completely threadbare squad and an uphill battle to retain their league status which has proved to be insurmountable. Even now, they sit at the foot of League Two with just two points, twenty-one adrift of third from bottom Barnet. What is more amazing than anything else, however, is that the club’s financial difficulties weren’t even the responsibility of the consortium that currently owns them. The current owners only took over ownership of Luton Town in February 2008, but such is the perversity of the people running the Football League that they have punished the current owners and the long-suffering supporters of the club whilst, of course, the perpetrators of this particular crime have got away scot-free.
The result last night cast into sharp contrast the sudden decline of Brighton & Hove Albion. Last season, Albion finished in seventh place in League One, just one place away from the play-offs. However, during the summer they sacked manager Dean Wilkins and replaced him with Mickey Adams, a decision which seems to have been very costly indeed. Albion have struggled all season after a reasonable start (during which they knocked Manchester City out of the League Cup on penalties). Adams has been widely criticised for playing such an unattractive style of football. His brand of long ball game has one significant flaw – when one plays a game that is entirely geared towards getting results, it is shown up as the emporers new clothes when the results don’t come. It becomes merely bad football. It would be surprising if Adams lasts the summer at The Withdean Stadium and one suspects that if he makes it to the end of the season, it will only be because this is such a difficult time of the year to find a decent replacement.
Last night, however, was about Luton Town. The Football League Trophy (currently sponsored by Johnstones Paints) is the competition for the clubs of the bottom two divisions of the Football League. It’s a massive achievement for Luton to have reach the final of it. Whether it will come to rank as highly in the memories of Luton’s supporters as their 1988 League Cup final win at Wembley against Arsenal is difficult to gauge at present. If one thing is for certain, though, it is this. Luton’s supporters should turn this Wembley final into a protest against a decision that was unexplained, unjustified and disproportionate to a ridiculous extent. Many peoples image of the club is still tarnished by the plastic pitch and the membership card experiments of the 1980s, but football supporters should put that stereotype behind them. All of that was carried out by David Evans, the former Conservative MP who died last year. To continue to hold a grudge against the club on the basis of a long-departed (and, indeed, now deceased) former chairman is petulant in the extreme. Luton should be congratulated on their one major achievement – they should do everything that they can in order to bow out of the Football League with a bang against Scunthorpe United at Wembley next month.