“You’ll not have seen our centre half then? He looks like he’s just come off a building site.” John, one of the merry band of the Hulcote Hatters, has seen it all before. Through all the years of supporting Luton Town, through thin and thinner, has it ever been this bad? Luton, through keeping true to their philosophy of playing passing football find themselves still playing in the Conference. Recent managerial appointments have seen them slowly, and unsuccessfully, lurch away from this style in order to achieve their goal.
Formerly the Arsenal of the Abyss, as the fans chants cling on defiantly to their past successes with no immediate prospect of their fortunes being reversed, the Hatters sit firmly now as the Liverpool of the Lower Leagues. Yes, it’s a pretty rotten job supporting Luton these days.

6,108 tragics piled into the Theatre of Broken Dreams on this chilly, grey afternoon for the visit of league leaders, Kidderminster Harriers. Same shit, different day is maybe an motto they could translate into Latin and sew on to the club shirts underneath the badge. Kasabian’s Club Foot and the thirty seconds of sunshine is probably going to be the highlight of the afternoon for me and the rest of the home faithful, and the match hasn’t even started yet.
The gallows humour and self deprecating barbs have never been as comforting. Luton string three passes together and fashion an early opportunity within the first five minutes. “We’re all over ’em” roars Matt before breaking into a huge grin.

The aforementioned builder’s mate has to be seen to be believed. A fat, grey short bloke wearing five, it’s as if, as Julian suggested prior to the game, his opportunity in orange has come by way of first prize in a raffle. It turns out he is in fact captain for the day too. His name is Steve McNulty. And he is in no way fit enough, in every sense of the word, to wear the shirt synonymous with past Town greats Owen, Futcher and Foster.
This is evident in the twelfth minute when Harriers’ star player Anthony Malbon, easily rounds McNulty but sees his powerful shot well saved by Mark Tyler. From the resulting corner, Luton fail twice to clear and Josh Gowling puts the visitors ahead with a low drive that goes through a cluster of despairing Town players. Twenty minutes later, either side of two spurned chances by Scott Rendell, McNulty is in the thick of the action again, making a hash of possession before being bundled off the ball by Malbon. Amid the protests, the Kidderminster man homes in on the exposed Luton goal, rounding Tyler and doubling his team’s lead. McNulty makes way soon after, humiliatingly subbed on forty minutes. In the Kenilworth End we pondered this dramatic withdrawal. Was it tactical? Was McNulty injured? Was he hungry? Or did he have an early shift to get ready for the next morning a hundred or so miles away?

As Kidderminster celebrate, the home fans fume. Turning their vitriol on the referee, the new manager John Still and the shoddy bunch on the pitch in front of them.
The particularly inept right back Simon Ainge comes in for some particularly ripe abuse. Goalkeeper Tyler seems to get shorter every time I see him, as well as more hapless. Indeed, Luton are even second-best in the battle of the side partings. Kidderminster midfield schemer Danny’s U-Boat Captain easily out does Tyler’s matinee idol look. Pilkington class. Millwall loanee Jake Goodman, the other centre back looks awkward and far too brittle for basement football. Left-sided utility man Jake Howells, sadly, will never amount to anything and forward Jon Shaw is an apparition of the man who finished up as the division’s top scorer last season.

It doesn’t get better in the second half. It does get colder though. On fifty minutes, the referee breaks up Luton’s best move of the match, seamlessly positioning himself in the way of the ball as it makes its way towards the feet of one of our misfiring forwards. One of whom, the erstwhile FA Cup hero Rendell, is removed soon after. His replacement Andre Gray shows just why he’s so highly rated by Kenilworth Road regulars, neatly finishing from close range and setting up a nervy ten minutes for the away side. Alas, Gray’s goal is as good as it gets on another afternoon of negatives for the Hatters.

With the season already all but over, figuratively and literally, another season in the Conference beckons for Luton Town. If things really do have to get worse before they get better, this afternoon is possibly a very good example of this lazy expression. All the talk of Kenilworth Road is about building for next season now.
Andre Gray must be retained. John Still must be given a year to show what he can do. In recent signings Scott Griffiths and Solomon Taiwo there are two reasons for optimism, both look a little short of fitness currently but there are promising signs.

Damn that hope. Damn it.

Advertisements