Luton Town: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

A FRIEND who ran the London Marathon once explained to me that, because of the sheer number of competitors, it took him about 15 minutes to cross the starting line. It has taken Luton Town quite a bit longer, but they’ll know the feeling.

Luton have been League Two’s equivalent of the marathon runner dressed as a chicken this season. Last night’s 2-2 draw at Chester meant that the Hatters finally reached zero points – wiping out the 30-point deduction they were handed before the season kicked off.

If the average London Marathon runner has to begin a few hundred yards behind the start line, Luton’s task this season has been the equivalent of starting the race from, well, Luton.

The club were deducted 10 points last summer for paying players’ agents in a manner that broke Football League rules. They then had another 20 knocked off for failing to agree terms with creditors that would have allowed them to come out of administration.

In explaining the unprecedented points deduction, the Football League pointed out that it was the third time in a decade that Luton had been insolvent. Luton’s fans have pointed out that the offences were committed by a previous regime and that it was club secretary Cherry Newbery who blew the whistle on the agent payments.

Luton’s long-term future is at least looking brighter under the LTFC2020 consortium, fronted by Nick Owen and strongly backed by the fans, even if this season has been agony.

The punishment, allied to 17-point deductions for Bournemouth and Rotherham, has made a mockery of the League Two relegation battle this season. Only Grimsby’s utter hopelessness (now under the guidance of former Luton manager Mike Newell) has given them any hope of completing an impossible escape.

And yet against all those odds, Luton have actually had a decent crack at pushing for safety. That 30-point gap to the teams who started without a deduction has been closed to 14 in just over half-a-season. And even though they let a two-goal lead slip at the Deva Stadium last night, the Hatters are unbeaten in eight matches.

This has been achieved under the management of former Luton goalscoring hero Mick Harford, brought back to the club last January. Harford – a part of the last Luton side to play top-flight football – has tackled the job with a resilience that was evident throughout his playing career.

His sense of humour isn’t always quite so evident – but Harford does have one. When Luton hosted Morecambe just before Christmas, a group of visiting fans turned up in flat caps and spectacles. It was intended as a tribute to Eric Morecambe, born in the Lancashire town, and a former Luton director.

Sky Sports News turned up to film a piece on this tribute, and decided to get Harford and Shrimps boss Sammy McIlroy to conduct their post-match interviews in Eric Morecambe garb. The sight of Harford deadpanning his way through a series of questions about Luton’s performance while wearing a flat cap and glasses was a piece of comedy gold of which Eric himself would have been proud.

(As an aside, I can’t mention Eric Morecambe without making reference to his legendary appearance on World Of Sport, which culimated in him pulling on Dickie Davies’ moustache and exclaiming: “The last time I saw anything like that on a top lip, the whole herd had to be destroyed!”)

There’s not been much sunshine in Luton’s season so far, but I’m old enough to remember the days when dramatic relegation escapes were their speciality. (Along with plastic pitches, away fan bans and ID cards, but we’ll gloss over that.) And if they get to the last game of the season needing a win to stay up, who would bet against another Raddy Antic popping up out of nowhere?

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