Is this Luton's year to escape the Conference?
Hatters have struggled since relegation
20 October ~ Ever since the injustice of a 30-point deduction condemned Luton Town to relegation to the Conference in 2009, the feeling has persisted among fans that the club is "too big" for this level. This is largely on the basis of crowds that have held up remarkably well. They have been around the 6,000 mark for more than three years now, far higher than anyone in the league and most in the two above. The 8,500 who attended the final regular home game last season was more than Hayes & Yeading attracted in their 23 home games combined.
One of the major stumbling blocks has been the emergence of non-League big spenders like Crawley and Fleetwood running away with the title and condemning Luton to the play-offs, losing in the semi-final the first time and the final the next two. If we had to lose to someone, it was good that it was AFC Wimbledon in 2011. Equally, York were the last team we wanted to be defeated by at Wembley in May.
Humiliation has been piled on as we flail around looking for the right manager – four in three years. A thumping at Braintree late last season sticks out as a low point among many, along with Stevenage, long the local rivals we looked down at from a great height, sailing past on their way up. Each appointment has led to a huge turnaround in players but the board and investors in the club have stood behind the new boss, before bowing to the inevitable as the quality of football has fallen.
At the same time, this league has provided two of the most amazing moments I can recall in 20-odd years of having a season ticket – being 7-0 up after 35 minutes against Hayes and scoring two goals deep into injury time, the second direct from a corner, to turn a defeat against promotion rivals Oxford into a win.
Paul Buckle is the man in charge now, the first boss to have a CV that includes promotion from the Conference, at Torquay in 2009. The football is good at times, not so at others, using a formation that mystifies many fans as Buckle tries to fit four strikers into the team at the expense of a midfield. The big worry is that Luton's uncanny knack of signing goalscorers and turning them into non-goalscorers is currently targeted at Jon Shaw, who scored plenty for Gateshead in recent years.
Next up in the league is a trip to Forest Green Rovers, this season's big spenders. But they are not on the Crawley scale, thank goodness, despite the considerable financial prize that promotion to the Football League represents. Being in the League also provides greater protection when other clubs look to poach your young players. This is an important source of revenue for Luton, who have developed more top-flight players in recent years than most – Emmerson Boyce, Curtis Davies, Kevin Foley, Kelvin Davis, Matthew Upson, Leon Barnett and Matthew Taylor to name a few, plus Arsenal plucked Jack Wilshere from us at a young age.
The good thing about this season in the Conference is that nobody looks like running away with it. Luton fans see this as their big chance, but after three years of largely tedious football, nobody is getting carried away quite yet. Neil Rose
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