The writing’s on The Wall

Another triumphant chapter in the long history of games against teams from Hertfordshire. Good to see that once again truth and justice defeated whinge and hack.

I do enjoy a local derby. Who doesn’t? Whilst this isn’t THE local derby, it is indeed a local derby as St Evenage with all its grace and charm lies nearer to us than the other comedy Hertfordshire outfit. It is games like these where the atmosphere and added spice can transcend league positions and form. The greater the intensity of the crowd the more it can become 11 men battling against another 11 men with quality and form meaning nothing. As it happens of course, the form team and better side won out over the cloggers from down the road, which was only fair.

Hopping into the car on the way back and shushing the kids it was fascinating to listen to 1CRs Simon Oxley describing Stevenage as a side that would be ‘up there’ at the end of the season, his strange assertions seemingly backed up by a random (and somewhat confused) caller from Hertfordshire claiming that Stevenage would not only finish above Luton but be in the automatic promotion positions. Other than the usual huff, puff and bluster I saw nothing about Stevenage to suggest they would be challenging for anything this year, other than perhaps the trophy for the most yellow cards. I suppose I can credit Westley and his team for something – they are the equivalent of the Wimbledon (the originals) of the 1980s, small budget, not much talent but they compete on their own terms by playing a brand of football with an aggressive ‘in your face’ style which enables them to compete on the same terms as everyone else. At the end of the day, it is still long-ball, dirty little kicks and shoves and constant bleating to the officials. There’s clearly something in the water in Hertfordshire because it’s a footballing theme.

One of the enjoyable asides during such an away trip is to spot the inevitable Luton fans in the away bit of the main stand, and there were quite a few, including somewhat incongruous Bruno Stein. Not sure what he was doing and for whom, but good to spot him. There were the usual exchanges, expulsions and dust ups which only serve to enhance the atmosphere adding an edge, a frisson to the argy bargy also going on, on the field. Not sure what to make of the stewarding – it was the usual mix of friendly banter and over-exuberant heavy handedness. But as we are not waking up to headlines of 40 fans arrested and tear-gas I suppose they must have done something right. Mind you, it never ceases to amaze me the broad spectrum of support our wonderful club attracts. I’m a broad-minded guy, I’ve been around the block a few times but even I overheard a few new terms of abuse yesterday that I had not heard before.

I’m glad we beat them to continue our excellent run. We played well enough in the opening spell to have finished the game off before the first Westley Time Out©. As it happens, by the time the normal Westley Time Out© occurs they were gradually clawing their way back into the game and presumably it was surplus to requirements. We did get one in the second half though right on cue, just enough to take the wind out of our sails and to break up the momentum. The cheats.
Pelly Ruddock was a revelation on the right. He gave them a real headache and they never came to terms with him at any point, for it was his turn and pass to Alex Wall which provided the winner. He was still terrorising and tormenting poor Charles and the Stevenage team at the end. He’s a brave lad, and just as well that he is quick and agile because their sights were trained on his shins.

But for Chris Day (good shot stopper, poor kicker) we would have been three up in 15 mins. One of his saves was as good at Tyler’s last week. He could do nothing about our first goal, another towering header from Luke Wilkinson, from another free kick served up perfectly by Drury, as simple as you like (the pass, not Drury – though as an aside AD is looking increasingly like mad-Alan White – see below) Drury played out on the left in a 442, and was effective in attack, mainly in the first half, but is less effective at tracking back, leaving Griff a little exposed on occasions. Griff got forward nicely yesterday, though won’t be happy with a couple of his crosses – another good couple of opportunities which on another day should have found a Luton player. Perhaps he reserves his best for the home games where he inevitably wins the man of the match award. 

Andry Drury or is it Alan White?

Cullen was replaced by Charlie Walker, and strange pink boots aside he looked slightly quicker and certainly keen to make an impression. Was his header over the line? Well, I thought it was. Charlie thought it was, John Still thought it was, and more importantly some of the Stevenage players thought it was. Shame that the combination of a dopey linesman and ref missed it. Look forward to seeing a bit more of Mr Walker quite possibly on Tuesday night. Perhaps not the boots though!
Speaking of dopey linesmen, was their goal offside? Well, at the time I thought it was. Certainly when the player picked the ball up on the right he was goal-side of the defence, but looking at it on MoTD last night and using the technology afforded me by Sky+ (believe in better) as the ball was kicked I think dear Macca just played him on. Perhaps knowing this, it was Macca who stuck his hand in the air to appeal for offside and was keenest to berate the lino after the goal.

Still on the theme of dopey linesmen, just how many foul throws did they do? How do they get away with that? Perhaps the officials are so numbed by the constant bleating and whinging by Westley that they ignore the little things. Anything for a quiet life….

So, 1-1 ten minutes to go in a local derby, a game we should be winning and what do we need? We need the Blunt Instrument that is Alex Wall. When you see him up close (as I did when the goal went in, a bit too close) flippin’ ‘eck he’s a big strong lad. A man whose pint you wouldn’t spill. In fact a man for whom I would buy a spare pint, just in case I did spill it. Pelly Ruddock picked the ball up from a poor throw by Stevenage and slotted the ball inside to Mr Wall who took a touch then struck a curling ball into the back of the net. Cue celebrations. I’m chuffed for him. Still not entirely convinced that he understands why he got a dressing down from JS a few weeks ago after the sending off in the 5-0 reserves win – but there you go. He redoubled his efforts on the training pitch, when it wasn’t his training and commitment which were in doubt. What he does give you is the occasional spark of match-winning magic and a battering ram up front. We’ve had a few of those down the years and long may it be the case. Good competition up front for the target man position. The experience and wiry strength of Benson, the energy and willingness of Lafayette and the sheer presence, strength and determination of The Wall.

Final words for our hardworking two starters in midfield Nathan Doyle and Smudger Smith. The two of them had to cope with three from Stevenage and outplayed them and out passed them. Bearing in mind Doyle isn’t supposed to be fit yet, he’s doing a very good job of sitting in front of the back four and stating that “they shall not pass”. Smudger was replaced with 25 mins to go by Jim Stevenson who upped the tempo and allowed us a degree of extra control.

So an excellent win and an enjoyable match and experience. A sound win against a difficult opposition which I’m sure absolutely delights John Still. A few years ago we might have buckled under the pressure and oppression, but not now.
On Tuesday we continue our defence of the JPT against another side whom we haven’t played since we met in non-league. I will be there, though I’m not sure who else will be. Currently playing for Crawley is a certain Mr Keet’ Keane. Whether or not he will play on Tuesday is anyone’s guess. I guess progress depends upon how seriously we or they are going to take it, though it is always nice to play in cup finals at Wembley.

Next Saturday we play Phil Brown’s Sarfend who despite losing yesterday are challenging at the top end of this division again. This is will our first game at home in the league against them since 2007 and the dark days of Jackson, Goodall, McVeigh and Currie who never seemed like Luton players at the time and I suppose never will. In 2007 we were on our way down, seven years later and our club, manager and players are on our way back.



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?







* 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.