Friday 11 July ~
Luton Town are 10/1 on to be relegated from League Two in 2008-09. If you fancy a flutter, put your money on soon because the bookmakers will surely stop taking bets by early in the season. The club were already burdened with a ten-point deduction, for having paid several players' agents in a way that contravened League rules. Now a further 20 points have been added as punishment for the club failing to agree terms with creditors that would have allowed them to come out of administration. In explaining their unprecedented judgement, the League pointed out that this was the third time that the club have been insolvent in the past decade. As soon as the news was announced, League chairman Brian Mawhinney's Wikipedia entry was targeted by Luton fans with one of the amendments suggesting that he is the leader of the secret society that the noted conspiracy theorist David Icke believes to be in control of the world. While it may seem too far-fetched to suggest that there is a plot against Luton, it's plausible that their disablement would be to the benefit of a certain football franchise in Buckinghamshire.
Luton's catchment area for support overlaps with that of MK Dons whose crowds went up by 56 per cent last season as a consequence of their winning promotion from League Two. In permitting the relocation of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, the League set a precedent for clubs to be uprooted, though there has not yet been a second case for them to consider. The argument goes that if MK Dons are able to build on their recent success, and at least become an established team at League One level, they would serve as a model example to be cited by any other entrepreneurs who either own, or are proposing to take over, an ailing lower-league club and relocate it to a expanding conurbation that does not currently have a professional league team. The League board, already in thrall to marketing hyperbole – as exemplified by the ludicrous renaming of the divisions as the Championship and Leagues One and Two – gets to welcome another neatly packaged success story while jettisoning some “dead wood”. This is, of course, speculation.
What is not in doubt is that such a hefty punishment for Luton will destabilise League Two next season. If the club fail in their appeal against the recent 20-point deduction, they will need to maintain promotion form throughout the season simply to avoid relegation. It will become clear within the first couple of months whether they have any chance of succeeding. If, as seems likely, the deduction is too much to overcome, they will have nothing to play for for two-thirds of the season, which is likely to be to the benefit of the teams who get to play them after their fate has been sealed.
The consortium who are in the process of taking over Luton have argued that the club is being punished for the transgressions of a previous regime. This shouldn't be a conclusive argument against being sanctioned – but it helped West Ham, whose current owners were able to successfully argue the same point during the investigation into the club's relationship with MSI, the part-owners of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. The League were apparently satisfied that Luton's previous owners were “fit and proper persons” to run a football club, so they ought to consider themselves to be partly responsible for the mess that the club's new board are to inherit. Instead they appear to have acted vindictively, but they at least have the chance to correct that impression by amending their verdict when Luton appeal.