These programme notes were written by Associate Director Stephen Browne, for the Lincoln City edition of This Is Our Town.
A very good afternoon to everyone. Everyone at the Club hopes you are enjoying the festive period and have had a great end to 2017. We all wish you every success, health and happiness for 2018.
A warm welcome to the travelling fans, who are sure to give excellent support to their management team of Danny and Nicky Cowley, their staff, and their players having sold out their allocation of 1,032 tickets. It's also good to see Ollie Palmer return to Kenilworth Road. After a headline making season in 16/17, they will be out to do the same again and achieve back-to-back promotions in the process. So far the season has gone very well for the Red Imps and they are most definitely eyeing the top spots, too. It is sure to be hotly contested three points with so much at stake.
So far (I am writing pre-Port Vale), Nathan and his team have had an excellent Christmas period with good wins against Grimsby and Swindon, seven goals, two clean sheets. The win at the County Ground had the home fans scratching their heads trying to remember the last time the Robins let in five without reply within 45 minutes at home – that goes to show just how good the second half performance was, and we were treated to some excellent moves and superb finishes. It was fantastic to see all four strikers take their goals so well and that must really give Nathan a selection headache!
It is these 'headaches' that can make or break team spirit – of course everyone wants to play in a winning side but there are only eleven places. The squad we have has huge depth and skill, and we are far from having a 'nailed-on starting 11', so the competition for places is immense. In these situations, it is all too easy for some to feel they are being overlooked or are not getting their chance.
And it is here that we are building the 'off-field strength'. Every player supports their team-mates, and they are genuinely delighted when their colleagues put in a top-drawer performance, assists, saves, or scores. There might be eleven on the pitch, but there are another dozen or so that not only give everything in training but also play every minute of every game from the bench or stands. We all want success together and we all know what part we have to play in achieving that, as a team. We all know that over the course of a season we will all have to play a role and, when we are called upon, we need to deliver excellence, whether that be on or off the pitch.
The team spirit has been fantastic all season. It would have been easy to wallow in missed chances, and the play-off defeat of 2017. Instead, we learnt from that result and know that we just have to push on even harder to get what we want. Everyone is firmly focussed on those top three automatic promotion places – being top is fantastic, we are not complaining, and the lads fully deserve it, but the top three is the first and primary target.
After the frustration of the first three or four months of the year when we couldn't quite get into a rhythm to be the real threat we so desired (and starting off at Pompey with Cam's broken leg didn't help), we then endured another play off head-to-head. We were just 15 minutes from Wembley and then we managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory....let's not go there, eh?!
The close season then allowed the management to add to the squad, attract some very talented players, and to work on being the best. We got off to a cracking start with eight goals but then we were up-and-down results wise, including an early away defeat to Barnet. But by early autumn we were getting into our stride. The hard work of the close season started to bear fruit. Big results at Mansfield, Accrington and Exeter really announced to the league that we are serious.
The run-up to Christmas got us to the top of the table. It's a place we like being. But we are not the only ones who covet that position and we are only just over 50 per cent of the way through the season, so there are a few other teams that want to have a say in that! We must just concentrate on each game as it comes, one by one, and if we do the right things, work for each other and get the right results, the reward will be waiting for us come the end of the season.
As I write (before the Port Vale trip) we are 11 points clear of fourth place. We know we have a lot to do and there are still 22 games to go, but if anyone had told us we would finish 2017 in such a position, we would have bitten their hands off! And to get promotion you have to place yourselves in such positions and build from there. We are half way through the season and Nathan and the lads have placed us in the best place to push on.
So, what will 2018 bring? Who knows, but I bet it will be exciting! It always is at Luton and we wouldn't have it any different, would we..... would we?! Nah, being a Hatter with our associated ups and downs is great for conversation, if not the heart!
One thing I know for sure is that the effort and commitment from you all will remain undiminished and the best in the country. Again, our away support has been superb over the festive period with some getting absolutely drenched at Swindon with only five goals to keep them warm. Whilst Nathan was also suitably wet from a day of miserable weather, he does have the consolation that he had a warm coach trip home – unlike those supporting heroes cheering on the lads from open terracing!
Also, I know the lads are truly amazed by the tickets being sold for our FA Cup game against Newcastle. As I write we have sold out our third allocation of tickets, we are pushing Newcastle for our full 15% allocation under competition rules, and so we are guaranteed to have 7000 there and hopefully the full amount of 7860. That will mean that over 3.5 million miles will be travelled by Hatters fans already for the Newcastle tie, which could potentially approach four million if we received our rightful allocation! What a staggering fact that only emphasises your loyal support, and you are showing the whole town, county and region what our Club means to the community and identity of Luton and Bedfordshire. This also shows why our off-field plans and developments are so important to the whole essence of Luton, and why our Club is part of Luton's DNA.
Off the pitch, all the Directors and Vice-Presidents met up the day before the Grimsby win to reflect on the season so far. All of us remain totally committed to both supporting Nathan's on-field ambitions, and to ensuring we secure our new ground and associated permissions off-field. As Gary has said previously, 'we all need to remain patient' and ensure our plans are the most professional we can do. We are well on track and very happy, so we are confident that 2018 will bring us all news that we want to hear.
Finally, we should all give a thought to those we have lost in 2017 and who are not here to witness our table-topping performances. Every person was loved but it would be unfair to all, and there are too many, to selectively name some dear absent friends here. Whether they be a Vice President, or an 'unknown from behind the scenes', or a player who thrilled, or a fan who sang. Or whether it be a person that helped our Club either on or off the pitch, to our closest loved ones who maybe support other clubs.....let's all remember our special people and give an extra cheer for them.
From us all at LTFC2020, the staff, and the volunteers, thank you to each and every one of you for your amazing support during 2017. Here's to a fantastic 2018 and may it bring you memories that last forever.