Local Rivalry

What makes an ordinary chap like me hate another club?

Is hate the right word? Of course not. Is it just intense dislike? Is my distaste for Watford greater than say a Burnley fans is for Blackburn? How do you gauge it? Can you gauge it?

I’m going to attempt to examine some of the nature of our rivalry. Bear with me.

First of all what is rivalry? Some clubs have sort a of friendly rivalry the sort where old boys at the club might joke “ho ho, we’re up against our old rivals such and such next week” and that is that. The sort of Oxford vs Cambridge boat race rivalry or rugby club rivalry.

Some clubs have a more fierce rivalry where the sets of fans are ‘dead against’ one another but that is that. I would consider rivalries like Liverpool/Everton to be in this category. I’ve spent too many FA Cup final days watching grinning scousers with their arms around each other dressed in opposing shirts to be convinced that it is anything more than Tarby-esque friendly rivalry. Similarly, any city where you can legitimately walk around the city centre in either clubs shirt without let or hindrance must fall into this category.

There is a further sort of rivalry, an intense and focussed loathing where there is always an undercurrent of detestation and violence. I guess I would put ours in this category. Rightly or wrongly. Others in this category would certainly be the Celtic/Rangers one, Burnley/Blackburn, Saints/Pompey, Darlo/Hartlepool, Villa/Birmingham and Millwall/West Ham to name but a few. Of course all fans think their rivalry is the most intense.

Now I could leave it at this. But I guess all supporters will fit into a spectrum of antipathy to their nominal rivals. The degree of club rivalry and hatred is an intangible, subjective and relative thing.

How do we measure it? I don’t think we can. The only figures we might use are the number of arrests per local match, or the number of police deployed or the extent teams go to avoid playing the game at 3pm on a Saturday. Documentary evidence is few and far between. I recall Simon Barnes in the Times saying that outside the Celtic/Rangers derby ours was the most disgustingly nasty. I also think a football magazine (was it 442?) saying that ours was worse than all but the Old Firm. The football fans survey tried to quantify it a few years ago and there is a link to their results here.

I’m going to have a go at quantifying it in my own way though. Please bear with me for a bit longer.
Imagine a ‘scale of rivalry/hatred’ if you can. I will list a suggested selection of traits from ‘best’ to ‘worst’ and I guess all fans would sit somewhere in respect of their local rivals. Some might fit in more than one category, but by the end of the list you will see where I am going. Hopefully.

a. At one end is someone who is not bothered by rivalry in any way and would treat their rivals like any other team. I’ll give these a nominal rivalry score of ‘0’. My father would sit in this category. He’s been a Pompey fan since he was a boy and used to watch Jimmy Dickinson from the front of the terrace (like I used to watch Bob Hatton from the front of the Oak Road – ah those were the days) but if you say Southampton to him his pulse doesn’t even rise a fraction. He can’t understand (but doesn’t object to) why I can’t even speak the W-word.

b. From there perhaps someone who looks forward to a game with their rivals and has a joke about it at work but that is it. They get a score of ‘1’. These first two stages would both fit into the first category I listed in the fourth paragraph – the Oxbridge/rugby club sort of rivalry.

c. Next perhaps there are those who like to gently boo whenever their rivals score is mentioned at half time or at the end of game. These will get a ‘score’ of 2. These first three stages would both fit into the first category I listed in the fourth paragraph – the Oxbridge/rugby club sort of rivalry.

d. Another level might be those who might never shout ‘scum’at a Watford player but would boo and shout. They get 3.

e. Next, someone who would perhaps join in with a jovial song about the rivals, but not the nasty ones. They get 4. Perhaps fans that fall into ‘d’ and ‘e’ might fall into the second category of fan – the ’friendly’ rivalry.

f. Along from that there might be another one who would shout scum periodically, they might also join in with the sort of song that you wouldn’t sing in front of your wife or mum. Score 5.

g. Along from this perhaps someone who would happily chant ‘scum’ for 90 minutes . Score 6

h. Along from this you might have someone who would stand up and use the C word throughout the derby game – I used to sit in front of one of these – they score 7.

i. Along from that you might have a fan who would throw a coin, or shout violent abuse at a player to his face. They get 8.

j. Just along from them you might have fans who seek a meet and greet with the opposition outside or in the ground on the pitch. These get 9.

k. At the far end you will have fans who if they saw a rivals shirt anywhere they might attack them; the rabidly violent. I’ll give these a score of 10.

Now I would suggest that the majority of fans would sit between 0 and 3. Most fans might groan and shout a bit or even sing a few songs but wouldn’t go to the ends of having “F*** Watford” tattooed on their forehead. All clubs have people in each category.

However, if you could take each fan and work out the numbers (and thus the score) in each of my categories listed above, all clubs would end up with a final average score for their club. Whatever that might be. For example perhaps Rangers fans might average 4.5 in their attitudes to Celtic, Millwall fans 3.9 in their attitude to West Ham, Luton fans 3.5 etc etc.

The only way to gauge the hatred between clubs would be to get an average score of the reaction of the fan base. Obviously it is impossible to do this. But if we did I am suggesting is that Luton’s score concerning Watford would be higher than Liverpool’s for Everton. Both fans would have their fair share of nutters willing to do the opposition in, but we have a higher average score of antagonism/hostility: a higher proportion of genuine hatred for our rivals than Liverpool have for their local rivals. Call it passion or anger or whatever you like, but I suggest our average score would be higher.

Of course, perhaps Liverpool are a poor example. Whilst Everton fans would list Liverpool as their main rivals, I suspect the majority of Liverpool fans hate Man Utd more. I would certainly suggest that our average score would be higher than Watford’s is for us.

Furthermore I think true rivalry is between two clubs who are each other’s main rivals. It is strange and bizarre if your anti-love is unrequited. Stockport for example can’t stand Burnley, but Burley fans hatred is focussed on Blackburn. Coventry hate Villa, but Villa hate Birmingham. Walsall hate Wolves, but there is no love in Wolverhampton for West Brom. Similarly QPR fans hate Chelsea with a passion but Chelsea fans hate Arsenal, Spurs and Fulham much more.

Next – why Watford? Obviously initially it was the proximity between the two towns – the fact that we are linked by the M1. Is it convenience? If Watford never existed would we have Peterborough as rivals or Wycombe Wanderers? Do fans feel as if they should have a rivalry however tenuous the reasons why?

I read that our rivalry was pretty minor before the sixties. The two clubs had hardly ever met and when they did Luton usually had the upper hand. Violence flared towards the end of the decade and I have programmes from the late sixties and seventies where the club secretary urges the fans not to indulge in ugly hooliganism any more. It intensified in the eighties, generally with the rise in football violence but also with the rise of our clubs into the top flight. It remained at high level in the nineties and of course came to its most recent head in 2002 in the League cup where Hertfordshire police, happily chatted and texted each other outside the ground oblivious to what was going on inside.

When discussing our rivalry with Watford some folk (not locals) just shake their head and can’t fathom why it is so bad especially as we are 20 miles apart. They chuckle and they take the mickey. First of all I think the people with whom I have had this discussion invariably themselves fall into the Tarby-esque ‘all rivalry is is a bit of friendly banter’ category – so they don’t understand anyway. Secondly I think it is the fact that we are 20 miles apart that makes it more intense. If Watford was merely a part of Luton (God forbid) then you could expect to see Watford shirts in the Luton town centre as well as vice versa. We would be more used to each other and thus the tension and antagonism would be reduced. The fact that we are a significant distance apart means that very few fans have much business in the other ones ‘territory’ and the mutual distrust intensifies behind our own battle lines. I think Newcastle and Sunderland and Derby and Forest are similar to this.

So, why do I ‘hate’ Watford? What is it about them that I dislike so much?

Personally, I think they are a nasty little club, with their modern history based on long-ball football, with managers who think that cheating is acceptable. Generations of misguided kids going through the turnstiles at Vicarage Road would have been deluded into thinking that whacking the ball up the middle is the best way to play, and surely that is a form of cruelty or neglect?

I don’t like the town itself much either. I think their fans tend to be arrogant – even though they have absolutely nothing to be arrogant about, having never won anything. I also think their fans are good at talking us down, but are very wussy when confronted.

Most of all what annoys me above all else is the fact that they would still be a perpetual League One or Two team, like they always were, were it not for the money that was pumped into the club by the alcoholic, junkie, song-writer whose uncle scored the winner in 1959.

Perhaps this is jealousy? But they have been punching way above their weight since the late 70s and have got above themselves. Traditionally they are a Lincoln City or a Stockport but Elton’s riches gave them an ambition not becoming of them. Their progress through the leagues is owed to Graham Taylor, a terrible manager and a subscriber to Charles Hughes’ methodology, and whose brand of football set the English game back 20 years when the idiots at the FA gave him the national job.

They also have the luck of the devil. They have all of the luck that we never have.

There, I’ve got it out of my system. But is my dislike rational? Is it any more or less than the average fan? At least I can back up my dislikes with reasons – I’m sure some fans (Luton or otherwise) would just hate the opposition for the sake of it. I’m a successful family man, with a degree, with a lovely house and good income yet I have an irrational hatred of the club not so far away from where I live. My wife can’t understand it. What makes it so? What has turned me into this?

I recall when we were going through our latest bout of administration Watford fans would leave messages of support on the outlaws message board. Part of me was very touched by this, as I could never imagine myself doing this for them. In fact when Watford toyed with administration a couple of weeks ago my wife suggested Luton needed their locals rivals and we would be sad to see them go. I replied that if they went under I would gladly dance on their grave. Which I would. I would see them disappearing as the final victory. Some hope, by the way, whilst Lord Ashcroft and the junkie singer are still around.

When attending a local derby I love the tension, the vitriol and the drama of the occasion. I love the fact that I can stand outside Vicarage Road in my Luton shirt watching the stream of coaches disgorge their contents 50 at a time, the length of Vicarage Road. I love the sight of the Luton hordes being frogmarched from Watford Junction by the police with all of the local shops closed and an alcohol ban as far as Bushey. I also enjoy it as it is the only fixture I ever get to walk to. In 1998 I took the newlywed Mrs Mosque to the Valentine’s day derby (her first and last ever football match by the way). She enjoyed the banter between the fans – especially when the chant “4-0 we beat the scum 4-0” was countered by our “10 years, it only took 10 years”. She said, naively, at one point, “why are they fighting?”

I love being part of the white-clad throng that poses a menace to Watford fans (who think we are all gypsies). I love the fact that Watford don’t sell out their end at Kenilworth Road because of the perceived threat from ‘us’. And because they are mostly chicken.

I don’t feel it is wrong for me to enjoy the edgy atmosphere of the derby especially as I will always contribute to the singing and the chanting. But is it wrong for me to enjoy the tension and anger our fans generate? Is it wrong to enjoy the sense that violence is potentially only a stones throw away (literally)? If it wasn’t for the police and stewards it would only take a few chaps to throw a few punches and we would have a riot – is this wrong for me to anticipate, to enjoy and to wallow in this climate of anger and fear -especially as I would never become involved in the violence?

After the 2002 game I recall listening to a woman phoning Three Counties Radio complaining that her 5 year old had been crying at the violence he witnessed. I recall thinking how naive and foolish she was to consider that a Luton/Watford game would be appropriate for a young child. I don’t take my boys to away games, let alone derbies. Clearly she thought everyone attending the game would or should also score ‘0’ on my scale of rivalry, above.

On my occasional sorties into Watford town centre I happily take a bit of stick walking through the Harlequin centre in my Luton shirt – but I would rather like to think that a scummer walking through the Arndale centre would be hounded out of town; but it wouldn’t be me doing the hounding – I would rather expect someone else higher up the categories I listed to do my bidding for me.

It is a strange one certainly. I always used to enjoy the home and away derbies more than all of the remainder of the games put together. In my mind our season was judged on how we got on against Watford more than our league position. And beating them was always a consolation for dropping down a league. For the most recent home Luton/Watford game in 2006 I made my family get up at sparrow fart so that Mrs Mosque could drive me down from the Lake District where we were on holiday at the time, in time for a few pre-match pints before the noon kick off. ‘Fan’ is short for fanatic of course. Some would say my attitude is blinkered, immature and foolish, others would say I am just keen: a Luton fundamentalist. I guess, once again, it depends upon where I am on the scale of 0-10 I listed, and where the person judging me is. To a person with a score of 0 to 3 I am over-passionate and take things too seriously, as it is just a game. To others with scores of 6,7,8,9 or 10 they might see my attitude to Watford as that of a girly lightweight.

I actually think that the average Luton fans antipathy to Watford has fallen in the past few years. Our average score, using my scale above, would have decreased. Once upon a time I thought that the majority of Luton fans were fundamentalists and in fact the only way to be a Luton fan was to be totally passionate, but if this were ever true, then I think this has declined in recent years.

Why do I say this? I think we are presently, as a fanbase, bloodied, bruised and shell-shocked after the three relegations and the financial nightmares in the past few years. Because of this our standards have dropped and we have had more important and vital things to worry about than our rivalry. It is for this reason I think that the fanbase didn’t wholly object to Paul Furlong, Matthew Spring and Clarke Carlisle coming to our club, however briefly. I know Spring is a special case, especially after the winner in 2002, but as far as I am concerned once you are sullied, you remain sullied. Now there was a time in the past, when we weren’t quite so crisis-torn, when I think that you would have seen demonstrations and bricks thrown in the car park if those players had come to our club; the same spontaneous passion that saw off Lee Power and Roger Terrell.A few years ago, when discussing with a colleague about the Southampton fans’ apparent tolerance of the recently-appointed Harry Redknapp, I was asked what would happen if Graham Taylor came to Luton. I replied that it couldn’t happen because our fans would just tear up the club. Nowadays, I’m not so sure.But am I just indulging in a myth? Would it ever have been the case?

Then we go and let Sam Ellis become Blackwell’s assistant, which turned my stomach and made me hate John Mitchell and co even more than I hated Watford, in the borrowed time they had left at our club.

So back to the nature of rivalry. Is it a contrived thing? Would I find something else to ‘dislike intensely’ were Watford not to exist? What if football didn’t exist – would I find something else to perturb the dark side of my soul? Is my dislike for Watford just a modified step down from those thugs who would gladly meet up with their kindred spirits from Watford? Because of my perceived ‘social standing’ should I not know better? And does my hatred help to legitimise the behaviour of those more predisposed to violence?

Young men in England have always liked a fight. More so than those in Europe. I don’t know why, but it is a fact highlighted and picked up by Jeremy Paxman in his book The English. This never excuses violence, but young men, with their behaviour modified by alcohol, packed full of testosterone, do like a bit of fisticuffs. Just go out to any town centre on a Friday or Saturday night. It is a myth to think it didn’t occur in the fifties or in the Victorian era either. It has always happened. For a thousand years. Wrongly maybe, but we can’t escape historical evidence. If pub fighting were an Olympic sport, we would get gold medals as a nation. And a proportion of those young men over time became attached to football clubs with their bunker mentality and tribal ethos, with the inherent goading and the warlike chanting on the terraces.

Possibly my dislike of Watford is piggy-backing on this violent history. Perhaps if I was less intelligent, more drunk and much braver it would be me in the frontline wanting to have a fight with them, and for all my long words (and even longer sentences) my dislike for Watford is just a genetically watered-down version of that violence?

Or perhaps my ‘legitimate dislike’ of the club just down the road is more of an inflamed, expanded version of the cheerful rivalry demonstrated by the old boy who sits next to me? Perhaps rather than me being a diluted violent lunatic, I am more of a puffed-up scarfer, with gaps in my nice middle-class life that I have self-indulgently filled with hate, when there is no need? Anger where there is no threat.

Maybe all football rivalry other than the jovial happy-clapper style rivalry is needless, self-indulgent and ignorant? Unless your mother was brutally beaten to death by Watford fans what legitimate angst has anyone got? But the world isn’t like that is it? We don’t live in a ‘well-done old chap, bravo, well-played, bad-show, ooh Watford you dirty-rotters’ world. We live in an imperfect world with suicide bombers, poverty, greed, and bullying. Hatred for another football club just a few miles up the road sits quite well in that company I guess.

Just a few more tales and I’ll sign off. I’m sure the psychiatrists would already have a field-day at my rantings, and if not with the rantings then with my obsessive navel-gazing.

About ten years ago – in the summer – I was sitting outside the pub opposite to where I used to live (which was convenient) discussing Luton loudly with my mate when I got into a bit of a ding dong with a Watford fan (there were a lot of them around, it was a Watford pub). Both of us had been on the pop for quite a while and our inhibitions were lowered whilst our tongues were loosened and we traded insults and nearly blows before we were physically separated by a more sober acquaintance and made to sit down and apologise. We actually got on quite well once we had calmed down and he sympathised with our recent (our first) administration and I pointed out where I lived and he put two and two together and worked out that it used to be his aunties house and was a bit miffed that it was now owned by a Luton fan.

Another occasion – just before Christmas, the day after the snow had first fallen – and this illustrates the wussyness of Watford fans – I was walking across our local park, very obviously wearing my Luton scarf, when a couple of yoof standing in the nearby tennis courts started making comments, which I ignored, but which got louder and more offensive to ‘LooTown’ as they seem to call us for some reason. I felt that I should point out the error of their ways, and I am a big lad, both tall and heavy, and turned around and made my way towards them. To say that they scarpered is an insult to scarpering. I fully expect them to be in the 2012 100m team. Happy to dish it out, but not happy to stick around for a debate. Proper Watford fans then!

Lastly – when I first moved to my present location in 1997 I moved next door to an ardent Watford fan. He was my age, a nice chap, a larger than life character, and a season ticket holder from a family of season ticket holders. He was also dying from cancer. When we first met, he said “Shit, I knew the Almighty had it in for me when he gave me cancer, but now I know he hates me as he has moved a scummer in next door.” He professed to prefer the cancer, which alas took him the following year. I attended his funeral, a very sad affair, but wore my Luton shirt underneath my shirt and tie and suit, which I know he would have chuckled at, then winced and put his head in his hands.

Congratulations if you have made it this far in this marathon piece. Apologies if you now think I am either a violent thug or a girly lightweight, or worse a ranting lunatic.

In any case I’m off to Southampton on Saturday for the next instalment of the Road to Wembley 2010.

In his press conference Richard Money said that he was debating whether or not to extend Nwokeji’s loan because Hatch might be back soon. Blimey, I’ve seen both and I know which one I prefer. I’d have Rio and Basham ahead of Hatch and he is a long way behind Craddock, B-H, Gallen and Nwokeji.

And, after such a cheery post discussing violence and hatred I’d like to wish slightly ironic Happy New Year to my fellow Hatters: here’s to a successful 2010. Who knows what it might bring? Another trip to Wembley? Promotion? This time next year we might be 7th in the division above. Now that would be good progress in twelve months…

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No Holiday for Eastbourne

A first goal from Barnes-Homer, a poachers pair from Gallen and a cracker from Jarvis meant that the mighty Hatters humbled lowly Eastbourne Borough.

It was a funny game for me as I was one of the lucky Diamond season ticket holders to get a couple of seats in the beach huts to watch the game. It at least meant that I have now watched games from all four sides of the pitch which I guess not everyone can say! Whilst Beech Path has never been the most salubrious part of Luton to walk down – unless of course you enjoy doing the ‘dog-shit two-step’ – it is a bit of a transformation once you walk through the door into the Executive Lounge. A friendly greeting and having a programme passed to you made a nice change. And I was pleasantly surprised by the Executive Lounge. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t sure how they could fit a huge lounge in the inches they have between Beech Path and the pitch.

Anyway there was lager – that fizzy pop Amstel that you get when you go on holiday to Corfu – and plenty of things for the ladies. Then they brought out the food, and the hordes descended. The food definitely fits into the ‘boys party food’ category. There were pies, scotch eggs, pizza slices, more pies, sandwiches and some pies. The only downside was that the lounge appeared to be full of racist thugs from the EDL. Seemed slightly strange that 2020 had been so swift to distance itself from the Luton-badge-wearing anti-muslims in the demonstrations earlier in the year, whilst only too happy to let them into two of its executive boxes. I welcome any comments from Gary and Stephen on this.

Anyway that aside, it was slightly surreal that we had more people in our executive boxes than Eastbourne had travelling fans, even when the coach turned up at half time to double their numbers. Actually there was a danger for a short while of there being more people in my executive box than Eastbourne had travelling fans.

We were handed the team sheet and I couldn’t fathom the selection initially. No White, Blackett on the bench, three strikers and two right wingers. Only when they lined up at the start (and having braved the elements and dragged myself away from the prawn sandwiches) could I see the starting line up: Pilks in goal and his twin back at centre half with Keane. Jakey Howells on the left with Newton at right back. Craddock on the left wing, Gnapka on the right with Jarvis and Nico in the middle. Gallen was up top with Barnes-Homer.

However, it wasn’t long before it was a case of as-you-were. I guess we could have predicted that they might be a little slow out of the blocks having not had a game since the 12th and being as full of Christmas pud as I was of pies and scotch eggs. Eastbourne pressed forward well and Taylor got the ball to Crabb who seemed to slot the ball through Pilkington’s legs.

But that was it, we didn’t really look back from there. Claude bombed down the right, unfettered by their defence and over hit his cross to Craddock who picked it up on the left, powered into the box with the ball and shot at goal. The shot itself would have gone wide but fortunately Barnes-Homer was in the right place and side footed it hard into the net from about 5 yards out.

We pushed forward well from this point. One thing to note was the most spectacular, brilliant but inept dive from Mr Gnapka down the right wing, just inside the Eastbourne half. It would have given young Tom Daley a run for his money. He hung in the air for what seemed like two seconds, hands out in front as if leaping into a pool. I almost expected someone to appear with one of those huge paper rings they have at the circus for the human-cannon ball, (or those funny dogs with ruffs round their necks) and for Claude to perform a magnificent forward roll having dived through it.

Then Nico managed to find one of his own team from a free kick (a rarity in this game) Barnes-Homer layed off the the ball to Craddock who shot, and the ball was excellently parried by the unlucky Knowles only for Gallen to pounce at the post and to expertly slot the ball in from a couple of yards as easy as me popping a scotch egg into my mouth.

The attacking continued, the third goal was almost a carbon copy of the second: Craddock had a cross or was it a shot? Knowles parried and Gallen tucked it in from a couple of yards out, this time as if popping a nice slice of pork pie home. 3-1.

A comment on this stage about Tom Craddock. He must have got pretty hacked off last year with Mick hanging him out on the left to dry, but this game (and in the second half of Cambridge by all accounts) whilst he was out on the left he wasn’t too wide and looked to cut inside and shoot wherever possible. He was involved in each of the first three goals and looked lively. Okay, we can put it into context – Eastbourne are part-timers and not very good, but Craddock looks good under Richard Money. I love strikers dribbling into the box with the ball at their feet, it is what defenders like the least. Perhaps it is because I was brought up with a diet of Paul Walsh?

Barnes-Homer also looked promising. He is a strong player who thrives from driving into the box. If he hangs around he will get a hatful for us over the next couple of years.

Nico was disappointing. Clearly Money has been working on him playing balls through the defence for the oncoming strikers to run onto – a laudable notion indeed, but I counted three attempts before he found his own player. His delivery from corners was piss-poor. I know I sound like my Dad, but how difficult can it be to consistently play a ball at pace into the same area for a player to head? I swear I could have made a better attempt on two or three of them.

The second half was a much duller affair – but Money is a canny operator. He knew that if Eastbourne had gone one back (however unlikely that might have been) then 3-2 could become a disastrous 3-3. Instead, having to bring Gnakpa off for an injury he introduced Blackett, pushed Keane to right back and pushed Newton to right wing. We were less sharp in the second half but didn’t allow them to get back into the game. Once Barnes-Homer limped off with cramp and we brought on Hall into midfield we had the game in control. Ten players in the middle of the pitch largely cancelled themselves out. Nico was furthest forward of the midfield and linked up better with his pal Gallen who was on his own up front. It was quite surreal to see Nico further forward than Craddock for the latter part of the half. Who would have predicted that?

Anyway – the last significant action of the game came when Nico and Gallen linked up to send Jarvis clear outside the box and he finished brilliantly (yet again) to make it four. Jarvis had an excellent game, and it is his improvement which has given Money a headache in midfield. Personally, I would like to have Keane partnering Jarvis in there, but Money has carved out a new role for Nico and so he has to accommodate him somehow.

Apart from some amusing histrionics from the Eastbourne player who seemed to be named after Enver Hoxha (the former Albanian dictator) and a few more chances for both sides the game was sewn up and in the bag.

One thing to note was the funny little linesman on the touchline in front of the boxes. He would peer over the top of the corner flag at corners like a blonde Chad, and seemed to be on first name terms with the balding and hapless Knowles in the Eastbourne goal. In the first half as the Eastbourne defenders pushed up to catch Barnes-Homer offside he flagged, and when the ref blew up the Eastbourne players all seemed to turn and have a pop at the lino. When play restarted he piped up “Sorry keeper, I went too soon”. I couldn’t help advising him (from close quarters) “I used to have that problem son: it’s all down to experience”.

More scotch eggs anyone?

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Snow and Christmas

I haven’t gone away – I’ve been ‘snowed under’ at work but also literally as I have been stuck in Scotland too. Yes, I know they do have the internet there too, but my evenings have been in the pursuit of Haggis suppers and real ale, not sitting at a keyboard.

I didn’t go to the Cambridge game (probably just as well from the sounds of it) and obviously the Forest Green one was snowed off. If pitch hasn’t thawed or been cleared by Saturday then I suspect that will be in question too.

I am presently drafting a piece on our rivals from the allotments so hopefully I’ll get a chance to post that in the next few days too.

In the meantime, if I don’t manage to post between now and Boxing Day – Happy Christmas, and many thanks for the kind comments and emails you have posted and sent.

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Miller Time

A transformed Town team mauled the Millers to claim their place in the Third Round.

I must admit I spent the first half distracted by the glare of the floodlights off the balding pate of Andy Warrington, the Rotherham keeper. Or as the bloke behind me said “f*ck me, they’ve put someone’s Dad in goal”.

Because it was unreserved seating – or at least I hope it was, otherwise I may have pissed someone off by sitting in their seat – I could sit in my ‘lucky’ seat, where I did for the Grays game and the first half (please note) of the Rochdale game. It gave me a great view of the pitch from behind the goal, but I was put off by Warrington’s shiny skull.

I nipped in to watch them warm up as my usual drinking buddy was stuck in traffic and saw Gallen and Nico practising linking up on the edge of the box, I didn’t think to wonder why. Mind you Gallen missed almost all the shots on the open goal he had, a la Hatch the other week. Craddock made half of the team crease up, when he was retrieving a ball he had just shot into the goal and kicked it back to the edge of the box only for it to be intercepted by the side of Nwokeji’s head.

Then I noticed the team scrolling across the tiny scoreboard at the Oak road. Mmmm I thought, 4-5-1 – not my favourite formation – one striker up front – when we have hardly been banging them in with two strikers in the past two games. However I didn’t account for Richard Money’s tactical astuteness. We did a job on Rotherham in the way Stevenage did a job on us.

As has often the case with this club over the past 30 years we played much better against a club higher placed than us. Perhaps it is because in trying to establish their assumed dominance over us they give us more room to play and when a side lets us play it is to their cost.

In the first five minutes it was one way traffic, Rotherham must have had a couple of corners and a couple of shots, however after that it was mainly Luton. As previously demanded on this website, the team contrived to play fast close passing football. Well done to all concerned.

Gallen was on his own up front, however he wasn’t isolated by the long ball. Almost every pass to him whilst we were building the three goals went to feet, or at worst to chest. He laid the passes off to either wing or back to Nico who was playing the furthermost forward of a central midfield three with Keet’ and Rossi Jarvis playing slightly deeper. Claude Gnapka started on the right and Newton on the left and it was Newton who coolly finished for the first goal, which was our first attack. Again, though I was distracted by Warrington’s glinting scalp I think Gallen got a cross from the right which was knocked away Jarvis picked it up, passed it to Nico who centred it to Newton who controlled it well and slotted it past Warrington, who was just making his way down.

Bizarrely, but not as part of the goal celebration, Gnapka took off his shirt and whipped off his shirt, then t-shirt and Nico chucked it towards the enclosure whislst Claude popped his shirt back on.

Shortly Gnapka was involved again when he was ‘bundled’ to the floor. Claude did have his heavy shoes on that night. Anyway Nico took the kick a well weighted pass met by Alan White’s diving header and we were two up. Two assists to Nico. Some time later, Warrington dived.

We attacked again and again, Murray went on a strong and powerful run down the left flank only for his cross to clip the cross bar. There were more lovely football which involved spreading the ball nicely only for Gallen to head over.

Then it was half time – and I was thinking, we are Luton Town, we need four to be safe. But no, the first half wasn’t an aberation, we carried on in the second half and there was to be no comeback for the opposition, no pressing of the self-destruct button, they carried on passing and driving forward. The second half wasn’t quite as good, but it would have been a job to. Rotherham stepped it up a gear, but were still toothless with LeFondre doing his best to fluff his chances.

An excellent third goal finished them off. Newton and Gnapka swapped wings. The ball came to White on the edge of his box and the wet pitch meant that it didn’t bounced but bobbled and nearly went through his legs. His normal instinct from that position would just to have made it safe and cleared the ball, but there was an obvious change. Instead, he checked, turned around and played a lovely ball to Gallen who spread it wide to Murray. Murray charged down the left again didn’t get his cross in played it back to Gnapka who accelerated past the defender on the edge of the box and slotted a lovely ball into the left hand side of the goal, to confound the sprawling Warrington.

Gnapka celebrated as if he had scored the winner at Wembley again and when he was substituted for Craddock, stayed on the pitch to accept the standing ovation – lapping it up. At the end of the game he took a bow and lapped up the applause yet again. I think he enjoyed the match – and perhaps was sending a loud and non very subtle message to his manager that he should be the winger of choice, and not Mr Cain. I watched Alan White and he replayed the bobble incident to both of the Pilkingtons, he knew from his decision to play the ball rather than to punt it he had created a goal. And perhaps, just perhaps, there was the difference between what has gone before and what is in place now. I may be making too much of it, but for me that crystallised the change there has been in the past month.

Saying that, the last ten minutes saw the two keepers exchange long kicks as Warrington wanted to demonstrate that he could actually kick it (like my Grandad used to when he had his walking frame) and Pilkington was ensuring that the ball was down their end rather than ours. It was actually a sensible tactic to punt it down to Warrington, because when they punted it back, though they had brought on the beast ‘Broughton’, it made them stretch the play which meant we could catch them off-side, which broke the play up and passed the posession back to us.

They all played well. White and Blackett were strong at the back, I think Blackett was absolutely outstanding and didn’t put a foot wrong. Murray got forward and created a goal. The Pilkington twins were competent, at one point Kevin making an excellent save to keep it at 2-0. Keane was strong and passed well. Jarvis had an excellent game. Nico had his best game for a long time. Strangely it suited him that role in supporting Gallen, and on occasion was the futhest forward. I’m so chuffed for him that he is finding a bit of good form. Newton put in some great crosses, Gnapka was Gnakpa but instead of being frustrating he was on occasion sublime in his attacking. Gallen was the key – the link man. Most of the attacks went through him.

Craddock started on the left when he replaced Gnapka, but moved into the middle when Gallen went off (to be replaced by Howells).

So, all in all, a good, sound, very entertaining match and I went home with a big smile on my face. Long may it continue.

Cambridge away in the Trophy on Saturday – two games have already given us 11 goals, so it is bound to be 0-0 on this occasion.

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Rotherham #2

The much anticipated replay against the League Two team is this evening, but which Luton will turn up?

The Luton who scored for fun against Rochdale, Cambridge and Rotherham? Or the dour, creativity-free side who have turned out against Kettering and Chester, and who dropped 5 points out of 6 and put us on the back foot for the remainder of the season?

I said in the post against Chester that I got the feeling that the ‘Nielsen bounce’ had finally worn off and we are left with the same attitude and approach that the players had in the last days under Mick. I do hope that is not the case.

There is divided opinion amongst our fans and those of other clubs that you need non-league players to get you out of non-league football, as ex-league players are out of place and demotivated by playing at this level. I disagree – football is a simple game (which is just as well because footballers are simple people) where the basics of what to do in a certain situation can be easily communicated. However, if a manager or coach cannot motivate a set of players week in week out to perform to a certain standard and to follow certain instructions then he is not fit to do the job. Motivation should be the easy bit, motivation is the icing on the cake, it is the tactics, skill and physical fitness which is the hard work.

The joy of having players who have played, and who are capable of playing at a higher level is threefold: Firstly, if you wish to play a game of fast short-passing football then players from a higher level should be more technically equipped to do that. Secondly, because of their background, their approach and superior coaching and facilities the players should have better physical fitness, which will enable them to continue to perform at a high standard for longer. Thirdly, if a player has previously experienced regular football in the football league, you would hope that they contain sufficient desire, motivation and ambition to want to return to a higher level, and a good manager should be able to unlock that desire.

So to summarise my point, I think it is too easy and simplistic to say you need non-league players, not league players to get you out of our division. I think you need good players, fit players, straightforward tactics and a coach who can motivate the side to play to or near its potential.

Perhaps what we have is a transition, perhaps the players are slowly coming to terms with the third approach and methodology they have had to face this year. I would be surprised if this was the case, because there has been one constant throughout this season, namely the coaching staff of Neilson, Watson and Kharine.

So, onto the match itself, which I am going to be able to attend after all, despite Mrs Mosque being at her Christmas do, because I have roped in the services of my sister-in-law, and childminder to look after the kids whilst I indulge in some FA Cup football. Actually, thinking about it I haven’t got a ticket yet. Presumably it is unreserved seating and pay on the night – I don’t think I’ll have to fight to get tickets…

Tyler is still out, as it Hatch. Gnapka returns from his suspension and presumably will start on the right. MBH and Cain can’t play in the competition so the rested Nico and Gallen return and slot into position, I presume.

Can’t say more than that really – I do hope the last two performances were a blip which we will be laughing about come the end of the season.

Predictions? Well – it wouldn’t have been straightforward, even if we had been flying high on the back of 6 consecutive wins, so to go into a game like this with the past two performances fresh in the mind will make it very difficult. At best I think we can hope to sneak a cheeky win, but more realistically, if the past two performances are the norm now, then we will really struggle.

However, stranger things have happened – let’s hope we can get a cheeky win then and all pile down the M3 with our two-day hangovers on January 2nd.

Come on you Hatters!!!

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This is becoming a habit

Another game, still no goals, I’m becoming a bit despondent. I don’t know what has happened these past two games but suddenly all the creativity has gone and our play has become depressingly poor.

Today we drew 0-0 away to the bottom club’s youth team who were reduced to 10 men for just over half the game. We had no shots on target from what I recall and it was largely drab and dire. A bit like Chester itself.

Where has the fast short passing game gone? It’s like the legacy of Nielsen and Watson has finally worn off and now we are playing Money’s way with Money’s tactics and some of his players too. I’m not impressed.

To the team: our back four remained the same, and whilst not really being troubled by the kids, looked a bit unnerved when they were occasionally called into action. Perhaps they were all snoozing?

In midfield Porno started on the left, in place of the suspended Gnapka, Newton went back to the right, Keet’ Keane was skipper and Nico was replaced by Asa Hall who looked as if he had just been shown a picture of Richard Money with his arm around his girlfriend taken at the Xmas party.

Up front MBH started for the first time alongside Tommy Craddock. Gallen and Nico weren’t even on the bench which would suggest they were having a rest ahead of Tuesday’s FA cup replay. MBH is cup tied I guess, so perhaps it makes sense to let Gallen have a breather.

After this performance I’m now neither confident nor looking forward to the replay on Tuesday or the FA Trophy game next Saturday. It could be that this time next week I will be summing up the fourth game in a row without a goal, and a winless streak of six games. I do hope not. I can’t even say that he’s got the team wrong because today’s starting XI can’t be far off the first choice. I don’t know what’s up with ’em. I do know they have got to sort it out quickly or we will be out of two cups and struggling to keep up with the play off teams.

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