Tuesday 7 April ~
It is often said in football that some player or team "wanted it more". Dubious though this may be, it was undoubtedly true for the 40,000 Luton fans who swarmed down Wembley Way on Sunday for the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final against Scunthorpe. This was more than just an echo of the Littlewoods Cup glory of 1988, more than a first trip to Wembley since the 1994 FA Cup semi-final, more than a chance to win a trophy that may seem meaningless to many. It certainly wasn't on Sunday. This was validation of a club that has been kicked from pillar to post over the past couple of years (we were fifth in the Championship in October 2006), whose programme for the first game of this season was filled with "TBC" on the squad list, but which is pulling itself together after the so-called justice visited upon it by the football authorities.
Out of the ashes has risen a new feeling, a confidence in the future even if the seemingly inevitable happens and the first professional club in southern England falls into non-League for the first time. Many dedicated the victory on Sunday to the 2020 consortium that saved Luton – few owners have the total backing of their team's supporters, but 2020 does, thanks to its honest and open dealings with fans and its evident belief in the club. 2020 rightly makes no grandiose promises (the name reflects the long-term strategy it is pursuing) but gives every reason to think the club is safe hands.
The east end of the stadium was a sight and sound to behold – packed to the rafters with orange and white – and would have been even bigger had the 13,000 tickets Scunthorpe sold been allocated more sensibly, as Luton could have sold many more but were prevented from doing so because of segregation, leaving 35,000 empty seats. But it was more than enough people to overwhelm the best efforts of the PA to drown out the boos that greeted Football League chairman Brian Mawhinney.
The game itself was excellent, with five really good goals – only one came from inside the box and that was from the best move of the match. Scunthorpe looked like they would give Luton a hiding in the first quarter of an hour, but after they scored the game became much more even and every Luton player put on a performance to live up to the support and the club's traditions. Sadly for the league table, the squad thrown together in August has only started putting it together like this consistently in the past month or so. The way they rallied in extra time after Scunthorpe had equalised three minutes from the end of the 90 was particularly impressive.
As were the celebrations on the pitch and in the stands afterwards – the sight of Mick Harford doing the Eric Morecambe dance will live long in the memory. It is back to reality on Saturday, away to Lincoln, and in theory we could be down by Easter Monday. But whatever happens, this feels like a beginning, not an end. Neil Rose