After a strange, rollercoaster week, there have been four more twists and turns in the past 24 hours in the developing and ongoing soap opera of Luton Town FC.
I say rollercoaster rollercoasters have ups as well as downs. Our week was more like a go on the dodgems.
First of all, last night at tea-time the board threw us a strange curve ball in the shape of Lil Fuccillo. Now the fans today and 3CR were full of intrigue and gossip and rumour about why Lil has been brought in. Manager in waiting’ Director of Football’ Breathing down Brabin’s neck’. For all the hidden agendas (and of course time will tell) I’m happy to go on what the press release said and what Gary Sweet said in his programme notes (more of that in a second). All the Board know Lil quite well, he’s a local man and a Luton chap and they want someone Footbally’ on the board. Despite his grandiose title of Technical Director, Sweet suggested that whilst they are all football fans on the Board, none of them has a soccer background and Lil adds that experience and knowledge that they haven’t got. Presumably he will help in negotiations with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea as they snaffle our promising youngsters and give the benefit of his footballness in recruitment policy. I was suggesting a similar role for Big Mick, when he stepped down. Actually I’d still have Mick at the club but as both head coach and Director of Football but presumably he’s had enough of us (for now) and so now we have Lil. I always thought Lil looked bloody grumpy as a player, but apparently he’s a charming chap and Luton through and through. If it gives the management structure of the club an edge over other clubs and helps the board’s decisions then I’m all for it.
The second twist and turn was the pre-match notes by Gary Sweet. Gary has been under intense pressure this week to both act in terms of sacking GB, but to come out and say something about the current state of affairs. Now he said nothing all week which I commented on yesterday but I think he was unequivocal in his programme notes today. I predicted that it would be full of the usual warm words about giving the manager support. But, ahem, I’m delighted to say that it was full and frank and left us in no doubt as to his, and presumably the board’s position. I think it mirrored most of our opinions and certainly all of the comments left on here in the past week or so.
I’m going to quote some of the best bits bear with me the italics are mine:
“…I’ve been left disenchanted and dejected after some dreadful league performances…
“I can’t remember when I have ever felt embarrassed about …the Hatters, past or present. Tuesday night though truly dented my pride after witnessing one of the most abject and sterile performances…from a Luton team.
“As a club official…I feel unreservedly apologetic for letting every one of you down…
“…what we have delivered recently has not been acceptable.
“…what decisions we make from herein [sic] are of paramount importance to us all. We are in control and know what needs to be done to ensure that these performances are not repeated.
“I was particularly disheartened…by the apparent lack of fight and drive from almost every member of the team…
“Like it or not, Luton Town players need to fully embrace the fervent, passionate and…volatile culture of this Club. This Club is clearly not for the faint-hearted…good nature wins nothing out on the pitch.
“At this time of year football players and staff all need to impress ahead of pre-season and contract renewal…very few are demonstrating the required ambition to be rewarded.
“We have demanded that a substantial improvement is expected from all directly involved that this ship is firmly placed on course without delay and starting this afternoon.
Well, if that’s not a bollocking, I don’t know what is. I wonder if all of the elements of the phrases above were communicated to the staff and players, or just basically the last paragraph. Even if it was only the last paragraph then the rest of it is now in the open and is direct and open in its meaning and intent. Hats off to GS for saying what he did. He’s restored my confidence.
To paraphrase: shape up bloody quickly or ship out. I suspect GB is on the equivalent of a final warning and another performance like Tuesday’s today would have meant the end of him. I think the 1-1 leaves the board between a rock and a hard place. Whilst the attitude was improved, the result did us no favours, we are still going backwards, and if York win their game in hand on Tuesday (at Bath) then we are out of the play offs altogether. Yes, my friends, we will have to fight just to get back in the play offs we won’t be in the top five in the fifth tier. Incredible. How did it ever get to this?
I’ve been at businesses where the employees treat work as if it’s a jolly where you are given an inch but take a mile and take the piss and don’t care about the work. But I’ve also been in ones where everyone is pulling together and their roles and success are interdependent, but you are left in no doubt that you pull your weight or are shown the door. Our club is like the former, successful clubs are like the latter. There has been nothing to suggest from the players’ demeanour, comments and attitude that some of them see their time at the club as anything but a big party and a country club. I get the impression that some of them don’t give a stuff about Luton. I can tell you now that if that group of players had had the talking-to on Tuesday night that I would have given them, or that they would have got at my work place, they wouldn’t have been messing around on the pitch before kick off or laughing and joking on twitter. They would have had very solemn, stern and determined expressions and demeanour. They would have been very, very focussed indeed. They would have had some manners stuck on em.
As it was and we come on the third bit the performance, but not the outcome, was improved. The players did play better, not brilliantly, but better. There was more passion, though clearly confidence and belief are still low. There were some nice touches and some good football. They dominated large chunks of the afternoon. Poku and Keano added some balls and crunch to the midfield. Lawless and Willmott showed glimpses of what they can do out wide. Even Big Hips Crow, even though he was out-jumped all afternoon showed some good touches and vision in the second half at least. The new lad, Gray deserved his goal and looked a breath of fresh air. I’ve got to ask, how long before his sharpness and eye for goal are dulled and he is turned into yet another toothless tiger (oh David you old cynic.). I don’t think we play to his strengths though. He is a quick nippy player, but we won’t exploit him unless we are quick to break downfield. Our tempo is normally far too slow. I could mention the interesting substitutions we got to enjoy this afternoon. But I’m sure much more will be written elsewhere.Y
But for a bit more luck in front of goal albeit Lawless’ shot, one of the corners, Crow’s lob, or that cross from Howells which just went over Gray’s head then the result would not have been in doubt. But that has been the case nearly all season. Crosses haven’t connected, shots haven’t found the target, penalties have been missed etc. It’s either just not clicking or we’ve run out of luck/karma or there’s something fundamentally wrong. I’ll let you decide which.
And so onto the result. Hands up who could see that coming? Almost everyone I suspect. How many times this year has a failure to extend the lead led to us being bitten on the arse by a late goal or comeback by the opposition? Some might argue that having failed to extend the lead, and with wins in such short supply recently that the team might just have decided to cling on to the 1-0 and get what would have been a well-deserved win. Others might say that once we went one up our change of tempo had already been enough to allow Grimsby a chance to get back in. Whatever it was, with about four minutes left, we were all up the field and exposed and mistakes from the defenders allowed them in to equalise. No change there then. Mike Newell always insisted that the only way to defend a lead was to score another goal but Gary Brabin is no Mike Newell.
The result is a shame really, because I enjoyed the game and thought we deserved to win. Perhaps you could argue we were unlucky. No – to sound very clichéd – you have to make your own luck.
Another enjoyable aspect of today’s play was the terrible ref. Well, he was terrible in some ways at least. Very keen to let play flow where he could, he certainly allowed plenty of challenges which would have been blown up and carded in the majority of games, but it wasn’t a dirty game. What he wasn’t terribly good at was getting the decisions right. Fortunately (for his own safety’s sake) most of the decisions went in our favour. There were too many to mention, about a dozen perhaps? But I think the best one of all was when Tyler did a beautiful tip over, a good save, only for it to be given as a goal kick. A wonderfully short-sighted non-league ref.
The last thing to comment on was the fans. Bearing in mind the poor performances recently, and helped perhaps by kids for a quid (note to the board: must do this more often) for 5,700 home fans to turn up today was remarkable. Every excuse to stay away. God knows how many we will get when we are half decent again next year.
Whilst there isn’t the singing that there used to be, there was more than there has been of late at home. The players were warmly applauded and supported all the way. The fans responded to the increased effort and determination and spurred the team on. The crowd erupted when we went 1-0 up and for a second we were lulled into thinking that, hey perhaps things have turned the corner and will all be okay from here on in. Though there was good reason for it to be like a morgue the Hatters fans gave it our all and kept our side of the bargain. At least the players weren’t given the option of blaming the result on a lack of vocal support.
What was fascinating was that when at the start of the game when Brabin came onto the pitch after the players the clapping noticeably died down, he got no plaudits and sought none either.
At the end of the game the players were applauded off, but oh dear, as poor GB ventured near the Kenny End boy did it vent its collective opinion he was left in no doubt as to what the feeling was on his continued presence at the club. The crowd turned on him like an angry bear. He instantly retreated from the cacophony of jeers like the neighbour’s cat when squirted with a hose. The applause resumed for the players when it was clear that it was not GB they were clapping. Sad really, feel sorry for the guy. Only promotion would grant him redemption I suspect, and even then with a multitude of reservations. Alas, I don’t feel confident that we will even reach the play offs with him in charge. So we won’t get the chance to see.
So, the board and the manager demanded a change in attitude and they got it. Though things were not perfect they were better. Taken on its own or in a different time and place, that performance would have been okay. Disappointing result but an okay day out. But because it came after the recent lows it will be judged in context and as another game we could and should have won.
In summary then Lil…interesting, Gary Sweet’s comments…spot on, the performance…better, the result…much the same, Andre Gray…promising, the fans…unstintingly supportive. Gary Sweet’s comments relieved some of the frustration I was feeling because they echoed how I feel. As I’ve said before though I can’t do anything about the present situation he can.