No Place to Hyde

An unconvincing first half but a sizzling second half saw the mighty hatters extend their unbeaten run to seven games and move up to third.

I’d been looking forward to this game so much, from the second the final whistle blew on Tuesday night. Strange isn’t it? Infectious – being near the top of the table, scoring goals and entertaining. I just couldn’t wait, wishing the week away.

Wonderful to see and hear the Oak Road full of Hatters again. Lovely to hear songs sung at home which haven’t been sung in a while and some great banter. Strange to think of Hatters on three sides of the ground – just like a proper club.

JohnStill warned us against complacency. He didn’t need to – let’s remember this is Luton Town: the same team that can beat a premiership away but lose at home to today’s visitors within six weeks. For every fan who was going to the ground predicting an 8-0 there were those of us who thought traditionally it was the perfect opportunity for a banana skin. As it happens it was sort of halfway between the two.  To be absolutely fair to Hyde – after ten straight defeats and no goals in six – to beat us at the Kenny this year would almost have been a bigger shock than us winning at Norwich.

One thing to be wary of – when a side is expecting to win, and when you have so much possession early on teams often lose their intensity and focus. However easy it is, however much possession you have you still have to stick it in the net.  When a strong team plays a weak team often an early goal can be the downfall too – you think it is going to be so easy that you take your eye off the ball. Remember the Liverpool 5-3? Gerrard’s early goal actually played into our hands. They thought it was going to be a waltz and adjusted accordingly. You have to be careful – the mind plays funny tricks when you think that it is going to be like a pre-season knock about. It can deflate the intensity and purpose you left the changing room with.

The team started with Tyler, Henry, McNulty, Lacey, Griffiths, Lawless (in for Howells), Parry, Smith, Guttridge, Benson and Gray.

We had by far the best of the opening exchanges, but Tyler kept out a sharp shot from Reece Gray, just to wake us up.  It was in effect the cold shower that we needed.

Shortly after, Scott Griffiths put in a lovely pinpoint cross playing in Andre Gray on the edge of the box who controlled, wriggled, jiggled and slotted home a lovely goal. To quote Yoda “on fire he is”.

Hyde – despite being low on confidence (and goals and points) played nice football and were no mugs – testing Mark Tyler and forcing McNulty and Lacey into errors. Dear Scott Griffiths escorted cross after cross into the box – but we held firm. Hyde came back into the game more and more and we got dragged into playing the first half on their terms. By the time Hyde equalised our tempo had dwindled into nothing. We were going backwards. That’s not to say we didn’t have chances, Gutteridge came close and I recall that Benson came close with a header.

It was a comedy goal for the equaliser, which we sleepwalked into: a high ball from Brizzel was neatly headed past Tyler by McNulty of all people. Hyde’s first goal for half a day and they didn’t even score that.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall at half time.  Out we came in the second half a team transformed. That’s what’s supposed to happen isn’t it after all? Please take note G Brabin Esq for whenever you manage another team!

The difference was the tempo. In the second half we came out fast paced, and apart from a brief spell it continued unabated. The main beneficiary of this Andre Gray – who else?

It only took six minutes of the second half before we retook the lead, Gray fed inside got into the box and a pinpoint cross from the byline picked out Guttridge for his sixth goal of the season. That’s one improvement from last year already – Andre couldn’t cross for toffee this time last year.

The third goal came shortly afterwards – Tyler’s free kick was nodded on by Benson into the path of Gray who lashed home a glorious left footed strike from the edge of the box. Had it not hit the net it would still be going high and wide and curling. It was almost overkill –he was through on goal – a side foot would have done, instead it was emphatically whoomfed. It was like buying a pint using a commemorative gold sovereign. Andre has his shooting boots and his confidence back in his kitbag.

We were stretching the play- utilising Gray’s pace by playing the ball in front of him, getting behind tired defenders. Benson and Gray interchanging and linking up well.  Ashworth was given a straight red for dragging Gray down when again he had been played in by Benson and was clear through on goal. It was a straight red and the ref, who had an outstanding game had no choice.

Whalley mark two came on for Guttridge and stayed on the left, where LG had been playing.

Despite being down to ten men and visibly tiring Hyde didn’t give up. It could have been more, but they limited us to four. Gray picked up his third from a corner Lacey’s header falling to Andre who banged it home for his third, our fourth,  and his sixth in five.

Cullen and Robinson came on for Lawless and Parry. The result was in no doubt and the Hatters largely knocked it around with impunity at this point.

A good game, and an entertaining second half. Memorable for Gray’s hat trick, the Oak Road being full of noisy Hatters again, a comedy own goal and the poor Hyde keeper who pulled his hamstring with about a quarter of an hour to go but had to soldier on with no keeper on the bench.

A rewarding win. With more or less a full squad to choose from JohnStill does have a bit of a nightmare picking a 16 now – today Charles and Justham were on the bench but didn’t play – but we have Martin, Howells, Taiwo, Shaw, O’Donnell, Stevenson, young Mr Banton and last week’s hero Wall kicking their heels too. Thank goodness for all the reserves (‘development’) games we have now, keeping these players hungry and keen to catch the Gaffer’s eye. After Tamworth we have a couple of cup games to look forward to and so perhaps there’s an opportunity for the others to get a game – who knows what JS does with the cup games.

Gray and Benson look good together as part of a 4-4-2. A big man and a fast-man up front, whoever would have thought it? Revolutionary thinking. How many years have we been suggesting that formation and combination? But we know JohnStill picks a horses-for-courses team and formation, so don’t get wedded to it.  

Things all seem happy in the Luton world at the moment. How often have we been able to say that recently? Reserves beat West Ham in the week brilliantly drilled by Hakan Hayrettin, the u19s can’t stop winning under Paul Driver (I hear that the conveyor belt is well and truly working churning out more good youngsters) and the fans are happier with the team and the performances. Things are definitely looking up at the moment. Long may it continue. About time too.   

Tamworth next Saturday, another struggling team, they’ve scored three goals in seven games. I can’t wait for another episode in this intriguing season. Roll on Saturday.

 

Thank you for all of your comments after last week’s post. The number of daily viewers after that post hit a new record I think even outdoing bus-sheltergate four years ago. 

PS – I can’t post a link to this blog on twitter. They’ve disabled my Twitter account for some reason(hopefully temporarily) I’ve no idea why.

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A New Covenant?

Have JohnStill’s and Ronnie Henry’s impassioned and proactive appeals for the boo boys to shut up hit home? Hakan Hayretin thanked the crowd 5 (five) times in his post match interview on 1CR after a great result.

But was what JohnStill wanted, and has experienced elsewhere, an unobtainable Luton crowd utopia?  E.g. the more we go behind the louder we get? Is that possible? Do other clubs experience this? Yes to an extent I think they do – remember Leeds in 2006? Certainly the more we scored the louder they got. But perhaps that is a poor example. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the away support of one club with the home support of another.  The more committed and noisy fans generally go to the away games and there must be a correlation between that and the noise and support they generate. I love going to away games because of precisely that – the camaraderie and focussed noise at away games is generally better than the Kenny. Or at least parts of the Kenny. Mind you – as Still and others have always alluded – when the Kenny is rocking, it is something very special indeed.  And today, again it rocked: crowd and team in mutual admiration.

As an aside, talking of our away support, it’s not always been fulsome support away from home of course, as Messrs Brabin and Money will tell you – I’ve been to games where the players, and moreover the manager were getting full on stick from the start. On those occasions I guess it was a means to an end…those managers weren’t wanted and so it was ultimately a way of getting him shown the door – purely borne out of frustration with our long term plight and the plight at that time with those managers. It doesn’t help the players though – and what did one opposing chairman or manager say to Richard Money? “You’ll get nowhere whilst you’ve got that lot as supporters” – seemingly appalled by the total lack of support and criticism.

But that was then, and this is now. Ronnie Henry said that with 100% support we would just be unbeatable at home. JohnStill has said that at home we need to be the extra man – be 100% behind the lads, because eventually the moans, the groans, the sighs en masse get to the players.

And yes, it does get to the players.

Why else do home teams tend to do better than away teams? There is nothing inherently different about 11 playing 11 on a pitch wherever it is. Ceteris paribus, the differences can only be the travelling and the level of support from the home fans. Support motivates, makes the body squeeze more out of itself. Discouragement or disapproval from the sidelines switches players off, deflates them. It shouldn’t do. But it does. It’s human nature.

So the more support we give: blind, naïve, childlike, unquestioning support, even when things are going badly, the greater positive effect it will have on the players. It is bound to. Even if it makes only 1% difference then that can be the difference between a player putting in that extra spurt of effort, or thinking ‘why fucking bother?’ Once again – it shouldn’t do, but it does.

I’ve always thought that in recent years we’ve always needed a spark to get us going at home. It has always been a slightly uneasy, uneven relationship between the stands and the players. And it is this difference that JohnStill is alluding to. For the last few years at home we’ve needed a jump-start of a goal to get behind the team. Give us a goal and we’ve started to get noisy, two goals even more so – but when there have been no goals, or even one against us there hasn’t been that noise, that injection of enthusiasm. A few limp “Come on you Hatters” but on the whole that has been it. The silence has been deafening on occasions. Even when there hasn’t been overt negativity from the crowd, the players in the past have been nervous and twitchy knowing that a stray pass or a poor cross will bring groans aplenty. They then play within themselves, and fail to excel. And because they fail to excel individually the team plays badly and the groans get louder and the players play worse. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. What JohnStill wants is the fans making the extra effort to sing and support even when things are a bit flat, not going for us – or even going against us – in order to spur the team on. Just like other fans do. And today, we had that. Just as well.

We fans truly are the 12th man- I now see this. We shouldn’t sit back and expect to be entertained, or assume because LTFC are a big fish in a small, crappy pond, we will walk over these teams.  We can actively influence the outcome with our support. It’s the observer effect. It’s Shroedinger’s cat*. If we go – we’re involved – it’s down to us.

Now, thinking more widely of Luton Town and our support, there’s two things to consider: Are we inherently moany as fans? And to what degree are we the best fans in the land?

To qualify what I mean by moany – I’m talking about dis-support. There are three things you can do when watching a game. Sing/shout your support – stay largely silent – or to register your disapproval, which is what I mean by dis-support.

 Now all fans groan (or go “ooooooh”) if the ball goes over the goal or if the ball is sliced by the keeper into the stand. But it is the immediate reaction afterwards which determines which side of the fence you are on. Do you then shout “come on Town” or “Fucking rubbish Tyler”? I’d suggest that traditionally it has been more of the former than the latter, but in the last few years the percentage of fans who do the latter has grown (no pun intended).  Can we justify that increasingly moany percentage? We’ve certainly been through the mill at Luton, arguably more than anyone else. Ever. I think the boos and negative shouting are borne from long-term frustration at our position in the scheme of things. I think that we fans grew fat on the success in the 1980s, and got too used to being in at least in the second tier. As we dropped further down, then went up again under Kinnear and Newell we were re-shown the light and our ‘natural’ home in the championship. The terrible plummet thereafter would be a shattering body blow to any set of fans and the enduring time in the fifth tier since with only a few glimpses of escape have been continued embarrassment and hardship. Is it any wonder therefore that the frustration has continually seeped from the stands outwards onto the pitch? Not really at all. We are like a sixth former demoted to sit with the 2nd form, and then to rub it in perpetually forced to sit wearing a dunce’s cap in the corner. Do you think that demoted sixth former would resent that?  No shit Sherlock. And so now do you think our position in the football pyramid would build angry frustration and resentment amongst those fans not able to cope with the demise? Same answer.

Booing is easy and it is very infectious. Shouting encouragement or singing is requires more effort. But the big clue here is the word supporters – fans – fanatics. That’s why we go – that’s why we’re here.  To support the club. Anyone who turns up and continually abuses and boos – are they a supporter? They pay their money – but do we need them? Are they holding us back? Well the players say they are and so does the manager. Go figure. Go speak to Mark.

So – whilst Luton fans have collective wounds and current humiliation, what is so totally marvellous is that so many still choose to come. At other clubs the boo-boys would eventually just not come and others would drift away, and I guess that is the case to a degree at our club. But an average gate of 6000+ in non-league? Still? After five years? In the season we won the Littlewoods cup only 6,600 watched us play Southampton in the top flight.  A thousand more watched us play Cambridge this season on a bank holiday weekend in August for goodness sake. It never ceases to strike me as superb support.

Remember playing Chelsea (I think it was) and Newcastle when they were in the second tier? How many fans did they send to the Kenny on cold Tuesday nights in those days? A couple of coachfuls? Loyal fans there.  No glory hunters at those clubs, oh no. When we were in the championship our local rivals didn’t even sell out the away end. In contrast how many Hatters traipsed up to Wrexham on a wet Friday night when anyone in their right minds would be in the pub? Was it nearly 1000 to Southport?  4,000 at Norwich? Our fans are out of this world. Fan commitment alone and perseverance means this club deserves to be at least two divisions higher.  What’s more – the FA and FL notwithstanding – most football fans at other clubs out there would tend to agree. ‘Footballing club, fallen on hard times, mad fans, deserve to be higher’ is how we’re seen.

Our club’s policy towards young fans both off and on the pitch is something to be rightly proud of and applauded.  Remember – any young fan under about 12 will have no recollection of anything other than despair (with only the occasional trip to Wembley and Norwich to keep their spirits up). My kids still find it hard to believe we once regularly played against Man U and Liverpool at the Kenny.  Yet despite everything still the youngsters come. Gary Sweet and the board’s policy of encouraging the kids will ultimately bear fruit. The phrase “Ye reap what ye sow” can work in a positive way too. When we do start to climb the divisions again, there will be a generation of kids who have known only dire games against Shitstreet FC – and think of the magic that those promotions will bring to them. In the fifth tier, we oldies feel as if we are being held underwater.  Promotion will mean that the kids will feel as if they are floating on air. To those raised on steak, Tesco value burgers are a come down. After gruel, Cornflakes are a luxury. In the event we progress up the divisions, we’re going to need a bigger stadium to fit them all in, on top of the returning ones and the existing season ticket holders – but that’s a discussion for another day.

So onto my second point – do I perceive Luton fans to be better than any other club’s fans? All fans think that their club is special and they as supporters are unique. But I’ve said many times on here supporting Luton Town is a religion not a pastime.

Borrowing a little from Soccernomics (one to read if you haven’t already) the supporters at a club can be broken down roughly into five groups:

  • those who are fans but don’t/can’t come (an uncommonly large group amongst the bigger clubs and fans in general. In fact, most football fans don’t go to games)
  • those fans who come once in a blue moon (like my dad)
  • those fans who come occasionally (a handful of times a year, like my eldest)
  • those who come to most games (like me)
  •  those who go to all games (like PDW).  

Compared to other clubs I think a higher percentage of our fans fall into the last two categories.

Within each of the above five groups there will be what we can call the intense fans. Whether this means they can tell you who came on as sub in that game against Southampton I mentioned above (Big Mick as it happens) or get into stand up rows in the pub with Watford fans, or cover their walls in memorabilia, go into depression for a week after a loss, stick hundreds of badges on their hats, bore everyone silly by talking about Luton all or the time, or whatever. There is a larger proportion of these in those who attend more games, but certainly there are uber-intense fans in each of the five groups.

Imagine a club like Arsenal for a second; they will have, overall, across those five groups, more total fans. This is no surprise. They will also have intense fans in each group in the same way. And therefore more of them overall too.  However, and here is my point – I think Luton have a higher percentage of fans of the intense variety than other clubs. There are more Luton nuts in percentage terms than there are Arsenal nuts. You don’t get so many casual Luton fans (though you do get some Monty), if you are a Hatter you’re in. You’re along for the ride, rain or shine. It tends to be all or nothing. Once bitten fully by the Luton bug you remain bitten, whether you can still get to games or not. This is what marks us out as different. This is why we are special, from the oldest fans to the youngsters.

This, I think, might have contributed to the Wembley 40,000+. The hinterland of Luton fans is surprisingly enormous. The JPT game at Wembley gave more fans outside of the “attend every game, attend most games, come a few times a year” categories the opportunity to come. This bodes well for when (if) the new ground is built – there’s certainly a diaspora there to attract to a shiny new ground.

But talking about the overall mad passion for the club– I think down the years it has diminished a little (overall, as an average, not necessarily across all individuals). I think both the extreme elements of the fans and the intensity of the fans has been watered down by what has happened. It’s not quite there as much, but that is hardly surprising after what we’ve been through and what the fans have had to put up with. We are, in supporting terms punch drunk. Shell-shocked. Bloodied and bowed.

Remember when Gurney took over? Remember when a couple of his goons turned up in the car park to be met by a rather angry mob who gave them such an unpleasant and rough welcome (ahem), that they turned around and never came back, thus changing the history of LTFC forever. Would that happen now? Whilst you can’t condone threats, violence and intimidation, on that day it was, as it turned out, exactly the right thing at the right time. If those circumstances repeated themselves would as many fans spontaneously go to the ground upon hearing that Joe and Mick had got the push? It would be fascinating to see – but I hope we never have to test it out.  More evidence of the watering down of the passion is the reduction in the amount of singing/amount of songs at home.  The loyalty is there – there is no doubt about that – but have the rougher edges of the supporters’ passion been sanded off? Perhaps. But it’s hardly surprising. Perhaps that ultra-intensity will manifest itself as we climb up the leagues again.

In summary of what I’ve been attempting to say – have some of the fans been a bit moany? Yes. Is there a cause for that? Hell yes. Do I think that Luton fans are special compared to other clubs? Yes – because the very nature of our shared history and the numbers still coming. Do I personally think it’s right to go to a match constantly whine and to shout at the players rather than give support– no. Do I think we’ve turned the corner recently – I really hope so.

Political spin doctors can only dream of the recent events concerning Ronnie Henry and the confrontation with that fan (Mark). You couldn’t pay for better PR initially, this week, or today.  

To confront him at the end of the game and then to invite him to discuss his differences was inadvertent genius. For the club and the fan to then link up at the training ground on Monday and for Mark to then be given the chance to apologise and to share his views and passion and the reason for his problems with the performances was a master-stroke. To go one better and for JohnStill to bring him on the pitch to give a post-match talk to the players after a wonderful win is pure Roy of the Rovers. You couldn’t make it up.

So – if you’ve read to the end, you deserve a medal. I hope I’ve managed to get across my thoughts about it all. We are a unique club and the most special set of fans, we have every reason to stay away in droves, but we don’t. You can understand why some have been a bit moany recently– but let’s put that behind us now. 

Oh, and speaking of the game – we won a thriller 4-3 after being 3-1 down after only 23 minutes. Alex Wall scored a fantastic goal for the winner with 7 minutes to go. I think we might just be onto something here. I really do.

3-2 last time, 4-3 this, 5-4 vs Hyde anyone?

#COYH

 

 

 

 

 

* before someone points it out, it’s not actually Shroedinger’s cat – it’s the Quantum Zeno Effect, I think. But quantum mechanics isn’t really my strong point.

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