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?