Mark Tyler's a Football League player again...The following was published in our sell-out edition of Talk of the Town for the visit of AFC Wimbledon
Like us all he felt the gut-wrenching disappointment of losing on penalties to AFC Wimbledon in the 2011 Play-Off final.
He shared the frustration at the offside goal that earned York City promotion at Wembley a year later.
The following season he was as proud as punch when the Hatters made history and knocked his beloved Norwich out of the FA Cup; his modest face and words adorning the back pages of the national papers.
Through thick and thin, as the last line of defence, from Dorchester in the FA Trophy to Wembley or Carrow Road, Mark Tyler’s seen it all from his position between the sticks for the Hatters over the last five years.
And then came last season. 101 points, 102 goals, 23 clean sheets. Finally, promotion back to the Football League – the home for his career for 10 years before he signed for the Hatters back in the summer of 2009.
“It’s been a long journey getting back,” Tyler told Hatters Player, just days after the Town’s winning return to the Football League at Carlisle.
“Getting promotion back to the Football League was the reason why I came here in the first place.
“In the first season I wanted us to bounce straight back up because the expectation was massive. Luton in the Conference was a big thing and that was a major reason why I signed. We all knew the club were in a false position, and I was determined to work hard to get the club back where it belonged.”
The Hatters’ first season in the Conference saw them finish as runners-up to Stevenage but lose out to York at the semi-final stage of the Play-Offs. The following campaign saw the Town finish third but AFC Wimbledon triumphed in the Promotion Final on penalties.
“That season was bizarre really,” admits Tyler. “We played Wimbledon three times and we kept three clean sheets against them. They beat us on penalties and they went up.”
A year later, under Paul Buckle, the Town then reached the final for the second successive year but lost 2-1 to York in front of almost 30,000 Hatters fans.
“Playing at Wembley was an incredible experience – especially seeing how many fans we took – but the result obviously was disappointing. Their winner was offside. I’m not bitter, I know that’s football and you have to deal with it.”
After such agonising disappointment at the final hurdle in two consecutive Play-Off finals, the Town number one never considered hanging up his gloves – even when faced with midweek Conference trips to Barrow and Gateshead.
“I love football and I love this club,” smiles the keeper. “Yes I’m coming to the end of my career but I knew this club would eventually return to the big time.
“Regardless of who or where we played, football is what I love. As a professional I’m privileged to play to entertain the crowds. I’ve had it for 20-odd years now.”
Tyler’s long awaited first Football League appearance at Carlisle was also technically his 200th ‘league’ appearance in Luton colours – if you include fixtures in the Football Conference.
And that’s not a bad record for a 37-year-old with history of back problems.
Tyler played every minute of every game last season in the Conference as the Town stormed to the title – his best seasonal record since joining the club.
So what’s changed?
“I’m not training as much,” revealed the stopper. “Over the years the endless training and diving to the ground really began to take its toll on by back.
“Touch wood I haven’t had a spasm in my back for over a year and that’s all down to the hard work and support I get from the people at the club. Dave Richardson, the fitness coach, Darren Cook, the masseur, Simon Parsell, a great physiotherapist; I see the chiropractor David Leu – aka ‘The Rock’ every Thursday. These people have helped me keep going and at the minute I feel strong, I feel fit and I want to be part of this team on the rise as I know I’ve only got a few years left.
“Personally I think I can play until I’m 40. I look after myself, I have a great family behind me, my fiancée Cindy looks after me and long may it continue.”
Tyler’s family witnessed him keep a clean sheet on his return to his hometown club Norwich in January 2013 as the Hatters pulled off one of the biggest cup shocks in recent years.
But despite that incredible achievement – it was the first time a non-league club had knocked a Premier League side out of the FA Cup – it is last season’s success that ranks highest for the Town stopper.
“For me the whole campaign was the most special moment of my time here,” says Tyler. “The way we performed was incredible. To be 10 points behind the leaders and then go on and win it by 19 points was amazing.
“We started slowly, but then we went on the 27-match unbeaten run and finished the season with 100 points and 100 goals, and kept a record 23 clean sheets – you just can’t top that. Last season will truly stay with me for the rest of my life.”
What’s remained constant throughout Tyler’s time at Kenilworth Road has been, says the keeper, the unwavering, loyal support of the Hatters faithful.
“Taking over 1,000 fans to Carlisle is astonishing – those numbers really speak for themselves,” says Tyler. “They have so often been our 12th man and it will be great to see the place packed out this season.
“It has been a long journey back for them after years of disappointment and frustration but I hope the supporters now know that they have a proper team representing their club who will fight for every ball in every game.
“We appreciate their support home and away and that’s why we go around to applaud them at the final whistle no matter what the result. I hope they’re cheering us all the way again this season.”
With the Town back in the Football League after an absence of five years, expectation is of another season of success given the ease of which promotion was achieved last term.
And Tyler doesn’t see why the Town can’t use the momentum from last season and achieve back-to-back promotions.
“We can take heart from what Crawley and Stevenage have done in recent seasons,” says Tyler. “Crawley are an established League 1 side now and Stevenage have only just come down. Fleetwood went up last season too, so we can only hope to replicate that.
“The belief is there – we want to be successful – and you can be rest assured that although it will be tough, we will never give up.”
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