Conference champions 10 years on | Luke Guttridge

Non-league to Premier League in the space of a decade?

Yeah, that’s us. We’re proud of our story since 1885 but the past ten years have been special.

This season we’re celebrating the first of our four promotions with the first – and probably most important – one: the 2013/14 season when, ten years ago, a team led by a lovable London boy got back to the Football League.

In this series we talk to those heroes who made it all happen.

Watch past episodes:

Alex Lawless | Paul Benson | Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu | Scott Griffiths | Jake Howells | Matt Robinson | Mark Tyler

For some it’s the little things that make a team successful. For Luke Guttridge, a number of small components helped contribute to the Town’s success in the Conference ten years ago.

Sure Andre Gray’s 30 goals and Mark Tyler’s 23 clean sheets helped. As did Guttridge’s 13 goals from midfield in just 32 games. More on that later.

But it takes a team to win titles and in 2013/14 – after four failed seasons of trying – the Hatters got the job done. And Guttridge knows exactly why.

“In football you need chemistry and we had that in this team,” says Guttridge, now 41. “It’s not about necessarily having the best individuals. It’s about partnerships all over the pitch.

“You need a blend of characters which you develop as a team over time. You don’t know you’ve got it until you start to play. We had leaders and personalities that were all a bit mis-fitting but it worked.

“For me, in midfield, I had Jonathan Smith alongside me who loved to do the things I hated. And he was my roommate. We clicked instantly.”

Guttridge’s story of that season is a captivating one. Had Northampton won the League Two play-off final the season before he would have never even set foot inside Kenilworth Road.

“If we’d gone up, I would have stayed there,” he says. “But Bradford’s win paved the way for the midfield to question where his future lied. “That disappointment left a bitter taste that summer and I wanted something exciting. I wanted to go somewhere fun, somewhere to enjoy my last few seasons as a player rather than finish on a decline.

“I didn’t have an agent, I did the deal myself; phoned up John Still, asked if he needed a midfielder. The deal was done. There was no magic formula. They had players in my position already but I think John thought I could do a job, but I was excited by the opportunity.

“Dropping down to the Conference wasn’t an issue for me. I knew half the games at least would be on a decent pitch and we’d have sellouts at home games. I knew the project, wanted to play further forward and a bit more attacking and yes, it was a bit of a gamble by coming out of the league but I’m glad I took it.”

With the deal done, everything was going well. A positive pre-season out of the way, the Town headed for the opening game of the season at Southport full of confidence.

“I was telling my mates that we were going to win the league comfortably,” he says, laughing. “Then I sat on the bus after we’d lost thinking ‘what have I done?!’ We were horrendous.

“But it was a slow start. There was a defeat at Wrexham on a Friday night.

“A lot of the teams I could have signed for were in the play-offs in the league above so I was wondering what I’d done.

“But a few factors helped us turn the corner. We changed shape, we had changes in personnel – I remember Alex Lawless coming back.

“The game I first felt something click – like ‘we’re up and running here’ – was at Kidderminster.

“I never thought it would be as good as it turned out to be, though. We lit the blue touch paper, as John would say, and we just took off.

“Paul Benson made his debut at Kidderminster and I knew him from my Southend days. We complimented each other well. We knew each other’s game. That was a real bonus.

“Then there was Andre Gray. I said after a week ‘who’s that?’ because I thought he was unreal. I knew he would go onto play at a higher level because he had the attributes and the mindset. Moving him out to the right and playing to his strengths just worked wonders.

“It wasn’t just one or two players, though, it was a genuine team effort. Steve McNulty would dominate at the back and play out; Mark Tyler in goal was brilliant… anyone who came in did a job, the youngsters…Cam McGeehan, Pelly – they added the youthfulness plus a desire to learn and improve and then we had the older guard including myself.”

It was the perfect blend. Embarking on a long unbeaten run, that stretched from September to March, it was a sequence that all but guaranteed a place back in the Football League.

“The period around Christmas stands out,” continues Guttridge. “We had home games where we’d score lots of goals. We beat Kidderminster, again, 6-0 this time at home. They had players in their team that day – Joe Lolley, Marvin Johnson, Chey Dunkley – that would go on and play at Championship level. Tough games, full houses, blowing teams away… and I got a few goals and assists along the way.”

With the Town motoring towards the title, Guttridge’s involvement in the fun would be cruelly cut short after breaking a bone in his foot in the 3-0 home win over Alfreton.

“I’d already broken a bone in my foot and had a metal implant and the specialist said it was almost impossible to break – however I had a spiral fracture, it was split like a piece of wood. I knew I’d done it instantly and the specialist said it would be touch and go.

“From that point on I wasn’t involved. I’d scored 13 goals by the start of March and I wanted to get 20 goals and 20 assists and with 15 games left of the season and I was on target to reach a special total for a midfielder.

“But that got taken away and I never quite felt part of it. I was involved for a bulk of the season but towards the end, amid all the celebrations, I felt like a fraud. Yes, it was nice to be on the pitch with my daughter at the end, but looking back I felt wasn’t part of it.”

We remind ‘Gutts’ that he was anything but a fraud for his role in getting the Hatters back among the 92.

“I don’t like praise,” he replies. “My job was to come down to the level and help them win the league.

“But, yes, it is amazing to see where Luton are now. We laid a few bricks down at the start of the journey and other people have since taken the club further. A lot of people call us legends, but we’re not. “We’re just part of the history and we were a successful team. Of course I’m proud of what we achieved but it was a small part.

“To see Pelly in the Premier League… I don’t think he gets the recognition he deserves. To come in from the Conference days and win four promotions and still be playing in the top-flight now is a testament to him and how he’s developed.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for my time at Luton, though, being part of that process to see them where they are now. It is incredible.”

That season of glory meant a lot to Guttridge, now 41, still in the game and attempting to “bring a new twist” to being an agent. “The job these days is more than just money, it’s about supporting and helping players,” he says.

Especially as the triumph was towards the end of a career that would eventually end as injuries began to catch up with him.

And while the success might have been ten years ago, there’s a glint in his eye and a confidence about him that suggests he’d still be able to do a job for the Hatters this afternoon.

“Maybe for just 20 minutes and I’d fancy myself to change the game!” he laughs. “I’m still playing on Monday nights to keep myself going. I’ve gone quiet now, I’m not moaning so much.

“The reality though is my body physically can’t take it and, more importantly, mentally I wouldn’t be able to. I’ve still got a bit… so if there’s a summer tournament or a game to open a new stadium, I’ll be there.”

Don’t worry, Luke, we have your number. See you at Power Court soon.

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