The club that was sent to the non-league jail for five years, punished for the sins of others, has worked diligently to be freed. Finally, after much soul searching and a lot of tears, through hard work redemption is ours.

If you throw an apple into a deep well it will always bob to the surface. How long it takes depends on how hard you throw it in the first place. The FA and FL threw us pretty hard. And it is only now that we realise how much you have to go through to get out of non-league.

Finally, finally, finally. All good things come to those who wait. It has been 1810 days since the last league game against Brentford and now with 3 games to go nothing can stop us from coming back, not the FA or the FL. We are the ‘nasty little club’ they did their very best to kill off, but which refused to die.

It has been a horrible, messy, uncomfortable and occasionally fun ride. The board have learnt so many lessons. As we tumbled out of the league they were learning about how to run a football club from scratch amid crisis after crisis and it has been a tricky job to try to learn and master at the same time. They inherited a juggernaut, careering out of control downhill, plummeting through the divisions at top speed. When Pinkney bailed out and the administrator was looking for a driver to take over the controls, 2020 stood up and said ‘we’ll have a go’. They had to learn how to stop the vehicle, master the controls and turn it around all at once. The learnt on the job, made mistakes, but in appointing John Still made the soundest decision for many a long year at this club. My hearty thanks to them.

You could argue that the sale of Curtis Davies on 31st August 2005 was the start of the downfall when Jayten cashed in their chips and lost their bottle, hastened on that sad afternoon at Ipswich, escorted downwards by Blackwell, then given a huge shove by the FL and the FA. Appointing 2020 was the beginning of the end of that process, they had to put the brakes on, but the journey was by no means over. Five long seasons of our history had to be endured in non-league before we could get back to where we belong. But you have to prune a rosebush back to allow it to flourish. Consider ourselves pruned. Consider ourselves flourishing.

The turning point this year? As plain as your nose on the face it was the 3-2 win against Lincoln where that fan let his thoughts be known at half time, and Ronnie Henry let his be known at full time. Within a week the fan was at the training ground and then in the huddle, and by the next home game we were all on board. Tories or Labour, whoever you vote for, either could take lessons in PR from John Still.

How significant is this season’s victory and promotion? Let’s think of the recent successes we’ve had. BFJ’s 100 points to get out of Tier four were great but we relied on Mike Watson-Challis’ benevolence. The Newell years and promotion were fantastic, enjoyable and we should savour the success, but that success was built on a lie, built on money we never had from a group of men who had one eye on levelling some ground near Harlington. The JPT victory was a wonderful day out and it gave us one last chance to enjoy ourselves before entering into the unknown. This victory is fundamentally earned. We’ve done the hard yards. The club is still run at a loss, but is not beholden to one individual for funds. It is as sustainable as it can be. We’re no Crawley or Fleetwood. No longer are the club’s foundations built on sand, reliant on the money of an Evans, or a Watson-Challis or living on the never-never like the crooks of Jayten. The club now is more true to itself, more true to the traditions of Luton Town than any time in my lifetime. 2020 have brought us back to the league on our terms and no one else’s. The club is more Luton now than ever. Pure Luton.

We invest in the future and nurture the youngsters as they are our lifeblood. And in John Still we have a manager that has the experience and knowledge of how to harness those youngsters around a core of canny, talented and experienced professionals. We’ve not bought promotion, we’ve merely realised our potential.

 Do I stick two fingers up at non-league as I say goodbye? They say those who forget their history are forced to endure it again. Are there any lessons learned? Take nothing for granted. Just because you are a massive club in non-league it counts for nothing. It is Tier five – it’s not really non-league when so many ex-league clubs reside there and Tier four are afforded the false security of only 2 relegation spots. I remember speaking to a colleague who is a St Albans fan about 10 years ago. I asked him who he supported. He said St Albans – I asked him who his proper team was. No – he said – just St Albans. How big do I feel now? I recall luxuriating in singing “We’ll never play you again” to Paul Allen’s Brentford when we were promoted in 2005. I’ve not sung it since and certainly not this year. I wish the likes of Kidderminster, Salisbury, Woking, Dartford, Gateshead and Tamworth well.  I hope Grimsby find a way back, and Wrexham too. Mind you, Cambridge can go **** themselves…

On 26th February John Still described the club as reinvented – and reinvented it is. In August we reclaim our birthright. We are closing the latest (and hopefully last) non-league chapter in our history-book.

Congratulations to the players, to John Still, his team and everyone at the club – you’ve given us a season to remember. I’m prouder than ever to be a Hatter.

For all of the stick and grief and pain they had to endure, 2020 can hold their heads up high now, as the first part of their plan has been achieved.

 But I’ve got a feeling that the journey is just beginning. Haven’t you?


In like a lion, out like a lamb

So, farewell then Tamworth. Archetypal non-league side who we’ve had the privilege of playing ten times in five seasons with seven wins. If I was ungracious, with them going down and us going up, I might wonder if our paths will ever cross again – but recent history has told us never to say never again.

And to be completely fair to Tamworth, they snuck the first half, without having Tyler in much trouble. They did pass the ball crisply and confidently and, with the likes of Macclesfield, Woking and perhaps Aldershot you wonder why they are not higher in the league. Perhaps, like the Queen only ever smells fresh paint, we only ever see the best of these sides as they raise their game.

Next season will be interesting then. Will the incumbents of League Two treat us as the unwelcome upstarts and try to put us in our place? Or be cautious and wary and park the bus? Let’s hope they try to smack us down. And let’s see them try. It will be fascinating to test ourselves against League Two’s finest to see quite how the likes of Mansfield, York and Oxford have progressed or stagnated in our absence. I think we can probably say, that bank balances aside, they are probably not relishing our re-acquaintance.

But in the first half at least we struggled to dominate. Again, we struggled to impose our tempo and character on the game and as such it was more of a tempestuous midfield struggle than a flowing game of footie.

Andre Gray went off with sore leg (news to follow) and was replaced by the ever effervescent Mark Cullen, a permanent threat. Cullen, like on Saturday looked full of running and this came to the fore in the second half.

Clearly told to up the tempo at half time the Hatters came out with all guns blazing and upped the pace and tempo and we looked a little more of our old selves. Cullen’s shot and then Benson’s header signalled our intent.

But it was a ball from the otherwise muted Rooney which set the ball rolling – a deep ball from Rooney to Cullen who expertly laid it off to Howells on the left, who for the second goal running put in a lovely cross, into the path of the oncoming, stumbling McGeehan who one way or another stumbled, bumbled and slotted the ball into the net.

Rooney was substituted and replaced by Alex “I’m not keen on being dropped, judge my performance to see how much I care” Lawless who was nearly man of the match for his second half performance. It was Lawless who was the creator for the second goal, a lovely weighted ball from the edge of the box into the pass of Mark Cullen who then took the ball and forced it in near post with a beautiful, quality finish. If Andre goes in the summer, what a hardship it will be to have the likes of Cullen or Mangan on hand to put these chances away next year.

It was from 2-0 game over, poor old Tamworth had been snuffed out and done for at that point. I feel sorry for them. Much as I dislike their ground, I neither want them nor Dartford to go down. Just like I don’t want Northampton nor Portsmouth to come down from league two.

It wasn’t a glistening performance or game, but it was expedient and sufficient for the win and we kept on plugging away. Again to labour a point, it was the sort of game that would have been 0-0 under Money and a defeat under Brabin and Buckle.

92 points then, and if Cambridge draw with Woking then we would have won the league on goal difference, even if we lose all of our remaining games and they win theirs. In the unlikely event that Woking beat Cambridge then we are the winners on points alone. Why this mathematical charade goes on I’m never sure. We’ve already got more points than Cambridge will end up on – but there you go. Either we will have won the title by 10pm on Thursday or more likely if we beat Braintree on Saturday then the celebrations and trophy-fun will occur at around a quarter to three. And those celebrations are long overdue.

So the Luton machine ground on tonight and consumed another non-league team. 92 points is an amazing tally in any division and 93 goals is superb. It would be good to target 100 points and 100 goals. That, for me, would be a fitting finish to the non-league years.


"Scrappy Goal, Scrappy Match"

Are the words the gent behind me in Hazelbury Crescent said on the way  back and he wasn’t a million miles off the mark. Fortunately the Aldershot strikers were a million miles off the work otherwise we may have been in a bit more bother.

Fair play to Aldershot, whilst they were quite happy to waste time, they didn’t park the bus. They made it difficult for us to play and closed us down. To quote JohnStill, it was tough. Or rather, because they didn’t allow us to get the ball down and dominate for great periods we weren’t able to dominate and had to scrap old-style. They are fighting for their lives in this division. But, unlike Luton sides in recent past we stuck it out and won a game we would have lost last year. Once again my thanks and full marks to JohnStill and his staff for the transformation of the squad from victims to victors.

The game wasn’t without chances and we gave it a good go – but like the Dartford game and the Halifax game before, we weren’t at our best. The match wasn’t helped by some comedy officials and officialdom. How many of us would have taken a scrappy 1-0 if offered it at the start? Me for one.

The comedy officials consisted of a linesman who looked like Boris Karloff, the other one who looked like Pinhead off the Hellraiser films (minus the pins for health and safety reasons) and a ref who looked like a nervous accountant. Mind you – I’d be nervous with those two as assistants. What he wasn’t nervous of was of making the wrong decision. Where a Luton player was pushed or hacked down he turned a blind eye like a sixties copper, but half a nudge by a Hatter and he was all over us like a Health and Safety official armed with a new clipboard confronted with a puddle on a shiny floor or a waste paper basket partially obscuring a fire exit.

Rooney started in the Guttridge hole (if that doesn’t sound too rude) but wasn’t in the game as much as he would have liked for the reasons mentioned above.

Our first chance was a shot from PRM which the busy Morris pushed wide. From Lawless’ corner Rooney put it over. Alex’s corners were a bit hit and miss today – more overhit than miss. The best bit of the first half was a lovely through ball from Gray which put Benson through and he dinked the ball over and eventually it fell into the net. Alas, it was not to be because lino in his infinite wisdom adjudged it offside.

Then Rooney and Henry linked up well on the right and he crossed for Gray – shades of Tuesday, but it was not to be.

Benson was felled in the middle and we were awarded a free kick. “Surely he’s not going to shoot from there” we all said – but Rooney did – when perhaps the chance to stick on someone’s head would have been better – the shot went straight into the wall and bounced clear Rooney lashed the rebound towards Benson (perhaps something he could have done the first time?) and Morris saved it.

A couple of words about our centre halves in the first half. There was a comedy moment from McNulty where he let the ball bounce and it sailed over his head forcing Franks to take one for the team. McNulty owes his mate a drink for that one and came up all smiles, grinning like a Cheshire cat gloriously self aware of his error. Well – if you can’t laugh at yourself…

The other mention was for Franks again, having complained on these pages that his distribution was the weak side of his (improving all the time) game he played a glorious cross field ball into the path of Andre Gray which any premiership defender would have been proud of.

When we were able to get a little time on the ball and knock it around we were able to gain some control and getting the ball in front of Gray and behind the defenders made the difference. But for the first half we did tend to over elaborate. Perhaps the team were trying a little too hard rather than easing into it, we were a bit on edge. We were like a comedian trying too hard to be funny, rather than relying on his natural wit.

The second half promised more of the same and it wasn’t until JohnStill made the substitutions that there was a transformation. We are so fortunate to have such strength in depth.

The most obvious chance before the changes came from a nice exchange by Rooney and Gray, feeding Gray in down the right and he ran at the defenders, shimmied and got the cross in, only to find that Benson had advanced too far, as had Lawless and the ball sailed behind them.

The next time Andre was played in he did manage to find dear old Benson, who had his shot blocked by Morris.

Then two key changes were made within minutes of each other – Robinson replaced PRM and Rooney was replaced by Supersub Cullen. Pelly and McGeehan were a bit lost in the middle today, neither really able to stamp their authority on the game from that position. Once Robinson came on he looked a different class somehow. I watched him closely. Every single pass of his found a Luton player – a novelty in itself in our midfield today. He found calmness and composure where previously there had been only huff and puff. Cullen buzzed like a blonde bee.

The third sub was Howells for Lawless. Jake looked lively too and received a good pass on the left from Gray. He took on his man well and got round him and managed to get a nice cross in to the near post where Cameron McGeehan stuck his head – the ball was parried by the keeper but McGeehan followed up his header and forced it across the line for what turned out to be the winner and his first goal for the club.

As against Chester once the goal went in the pressure was off and, with Aldershot now pushing up more we had more space to play in. We looked more assured at this point, but without dominating in the way we know we can.

Tyler spared Franks’ blushes just before the end. A cross by Cormack I think it was hacked at by Franks only to alarmingly shoot towards goal. Tyler made a most stunning reflex save. That was two points earned by a moment of brilliance. How many times has he done that for us this year? And to be fair – how many times since he joined us? He has, without a doubt, been an absolutely remarkable keeper for us. Full marks to big Mick for his recruitment. As an astute an acquisition as any of his. And I think Happy Birthday to Mark Tyler for Wednesday last week.

So a win’s a win’s a win and a step nearer the title. Three wins is all we needed before today, and with Cambridge also winning, another two is all that is needed. Should we win on Tuesday and Cambridge not win on Thursday then we will have won it, albeit on goal difference. This time next week, I’m seriously hoping that that I can type ‘Champions’ but don’t expect a post on Saturday night – there will be far too much champagne being drunk at Mosque HQ for any typing to be done.

So – for the record, I haven’t done this in a while:

Tyler – 8

Henry – 7

McNulty – 7.5 (lost half a mark for the comedy leap/missed header)

Franks – 7.5

Griffiths – 6 (often skinned)

Lawless – 6.5

Rooney – 6.5

PRM – 6

McGeehan – 6.5 plus one for the goal 7.5

Gray – 7.5

Benson (knackered and bruised) 6.5


Robinson – 8