First posted on lutontownfans.co.uk on 24/11/11 On Sunday night I made the gargantuan effort to stay up and watch Bronson, the biopic of Britain’s ‘most violent prisoner’ following two (count them) roast dinners. Not because I gave a particular shit about the artistic merit of the film or the lead actor Tom Hardy, but because as a Luton fan, now more than ever, I’ll watch anythingon the telly that might give Luton - Charlie Bronson’s hometown - a mention.
I know it’s common for people to look out for their hometown in the media (especially when they move away) and to feel that connection even if they have never tasted football obsession. But my need to read about Luton or to see the town on TV (even in the twisted tower blocks depicted in Bronson) had become more desperate in recent weeks. Since theFleetwood Town home game to be precise.
As I lay Horizontal in front of the TV at 1am, full of red wine and delighted at the moments of Lutonia featured in the film; I wondered whether this kind of gratification also existed for other men and women who supported different teams. Or whether it was something uniquely Lutonand this season that had kept me glued to the box.
The drink fuelled conclusion I came to was this. As we seem doomed to remain in thecupboard under the stairs for another year with no hope of escape, I have developed an irrational fear that our football club and the town by association, is in danger of being forgotten by the outside world. Of dropping off the map in the same way we have dropped off the football accumulator slips in the bookies. Seeing Luton featured on national TV provided some comfort to my delicate condition.
For most outside the town, Luton is probably not known as the cultural hub or industrial giant that its residents and exiles know it to be. Plenty though will still know a town with a football club of some tradition; sometimes controversial, often in crisis, but able every now and again to capture the imagination.
But at the moment, for those of us who still care, the magic seems to be slowly slipping away, one grey Saturday at a time. It’s no longer only about the injustice of the Football League or the FA. Nor is it about property developers or the council, or the attendances (which are standing up well, even as we start to look a little too comfortable remaining at this level).
Wonderful young talent still comes through the development scheme at the club – as good as many who have gone before. The difference seems to be that today, instead of letting those fearless young players drag us through a successful season or two (before leaving to pursue their dream with whichever second-rate Midlands galactico is able to flash 500k at the time) they warm the bench, or are farmed out on loan.
And we still buy-in exciting bargains from other forgotten corners of the game: players that can thrill and tantalise the Luton faithful with every drop of the shoulder. But 20 minutes (or often 10 in Jean-Paul Kissock’s case) is all they are deemed worthy of these days.
Managers come and go and I’m no fan of employing a boss with a Luton pedigree for its own sake. But depressingly, the club seems to have lost something special in its failure to keep on an appropriate senior player in a coaching role. Having a ‘club man’ around as a mentor for the younger players in the dressing room has proved so important in the past; a player who has been there and done it, who understands what the fans expect and has a sense of the club’s identity; someone who can lead by example on the training field and help mould new arrivals into a certain style of play. It is men like these that build a team’s resilience when times are tough, providing stability and continuity; especially if managerial heads need to roll. And as good as he may be at what he does; Alan Neilson doesn’t fit this particular bill.
In boots once filled by legends on the field and mentors off it (men like John Moore, Marvin Johnson, Mick Harford and Brian Stein, the likes of whom we may never see again at Luton) a player new to the club will now find Paul Carden. A man who’s CV - as far as Luton supporters are concerned – reads simply ‘Gary Brabin’s mate’.
And if this stagnation continues for much longer, those traditions of youth development and playing ‘the Luton way’ will have been so eroded that there won’t be enough of the magic left to keep our own fans interested, let alone the outside world.