First Team

The toss of a coin and much more – the Dan Potts story

In his nine years as a Luton Town player, Dan Potts’ final acts in orange were to be the most significant in our recent history. The biggest, easily, since 1988. Perhaps even ever.

It’s 27th May 2023, the Championship play-off final at Wembley. Once we drew breath after a nerve-jangling period of extra-time at Wembley – which had seen ecstasy cut-short by the stone-cold officials in the VAR room –  36,500 pairs of eyes were shielding from the blinding London sunshine to witness Potts, who had entered the chaos as a substitute and taken over the armband, contest the coin toss.

Referee Michael Oliver flung his flimsy disc skywards, not once but twice. Twice it fell in the Town’s favour. The penalties, to decide promotion to the Premier League, would be taken at the end decked in orange, followed by the confirmation that we’d be kicking first.

“To get the penalties in front of your own fans, subconsciously at least, gives you that lift,” says Potts, looking back at those tiny moments in this Luton Town career that became magnified with promotion to the top-flight on the line. “It’s harder for the other team to be kicking that way, and then to go first it adds a bit more pressure on them.”

It seems peculiar to be discussing at such length two arbitrary tosses of a coin given the 50:50 heads or tails chance. “They are the only variables outside of your control,” says Potts. “But everything else in the penalties we had planned like a military operation.” More on that later.

Yet those small moments of fortune, with the stakes so high, were not lost on Potts or the sweaty mass of orange-clad Lutonians, who very knew how much of an absolute psychological advantage the Town had received before a ball had even been kicked.

“I think the fans were thinking the same – they wanted the pens in front of them, so when we won the toss I wanted to make it clear it was at our end.”

However, any supposed advantage the Town had secured following the coin toss had soon evaporated as the Hatters and Coventry took it in turns to net perfect penalty after perfect penalty.

At 5-5, sudden death. Next in line, the sixth taker, was Potts.

“As each pen was going in I knew I was up and the pressure was on. I felt okay going up because all the penalties were so good. When Cov’s fifth taker went up I just knew he was going to score so in my mind I was taking a penalty. That helped.

“We had planned so much in the penalties in the lead up to the game – not just taking them. Right down to details of where we standing, our position on the pitch, grabbing the side of the pitch closest to the dugouts, and stepping forward into the eyeline of the goal ahead of the Coventry lads.

“So with all of this, I was confident. We had practised penalties. I’d asked James Shea before if he knew the way I’d go. He said ‘as a left-footer and a defender you’ll probably try and whip it’ so I practised going the other way.

“You don’t know where we’d be if it had been saved, so it’s a moment to cherish. To see everyone so happy – grown men crying – was special.”

The importance of Potts’ role in the play-off final cannot be overlooked yet, it is unfair on the 30-year-old to condense his nine years into those final moments alone.

And like many of his teammates past and present, Potts has climbed the pyramid with us, a vital part of a family on and off the pitch that has enjoyed historic success.

Indeed it doesn’t seem five minutes since a fresh-faced Essex boy first set foot in Bedfordshire in May 2015 having been convinced by a certain John Still to sign on the dotted line.

“John’s a brilliant man, a father figure, and that was a good experience. Those early days were authentic at the old training ground, the portacabins, the showers, people walking their dogs. They could have been scouts for all we knew.”

As you can watch in our final farewell video with him, Pottsy reminisces in detail about the rise and his role in the promotions from League Two and League One.

However, life as a professional footballer is never straightforward. No sooner are you riding the crest of a wave, playing a part in a club’s promotion to the top-flight, are you sitting out the following season, frustrated by injury.

And so it came to be that, in the pouring rain of western Germany, ankle ligament damage sustained in the friendly against Bochum on 5th August, would be the last time Potts would appear in Town colours.

“It was tough, but there’s this naivety that you don’t want to accept that it was as bad as you actually think it is. You think you’re superhuman. You push things to try and get back as quick as you can.

“The second injury I picked up in the season really knocked me. It was the realisation that I wasn’t going to get on the pitch.

“I kept coming in and tried to push the boys because you want your teammates do well and stay in the league, but it didn’t happen. From a personal point of view I wish I could have played a part and helped. We had some bad injuries and I think if we had a fully-fit squad things might have been different.”

Following relegation, Potts was one of five senior players who were released from Kenilworth Road this summer, ending a nine-year association with the club that saw him play 216 times and score 12 goals.

“It’s been a hell of a journey,” he says. “Nine years… When I first joined I could have never dreamt the way it’s gone.

“Three promotions in that time at one club. It’s probably exceeded my expectations.

“I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life and moments as a player you’d dream of.”

Thank you for the memories, Pottsy. From your debut against Bristol City to that last-minute winner at Oxford and everything in between that led up to your moments at Wembley. Go well and see you soon.

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