If today is as exciting as the previous week has been then one thing’s for sure, we’re going to be in for yet another amazingly memorable afternoon.
Speaking as a long-standing fan, I’m not sure there have been many more optimistic times we’ve enjoyed as Luton Town supporters.
We’ve just experienced a week which began seeing us through to the fifth round of the FA Cup courtesy of an away win at Goodison Park, earning a home tie with the current cup holders, followed by perhaps one of the most electrifying performances here at Kenilworth Road for decades, before finishing with an eight-goal thriller draw at St James’ Park.
Eight days, three matches, 860 miles, ten goals, seven scorers, four points and a prize cup draw!
Exactly 14 years before the victory over the Seagulls, any such optimism would barely seem plausible as we watched on in horror as Ebbsfleet United beat us 3-2 here in the Conference National. Looking back at such moments can be a cathartic experience. Often, we have spoken of how playing in non-league gave us an undivided resolve, a thick skin and, importantly, enabled us to humbly learn to keep our feet on the ground and never take the upsides for granted too much.
“Never too high when you win, never too low when you lose”, as a great man once said.
The most refreshing aspect of the victory over Brighton – a thriving club who have shared a similar rise from League Two to breaking into European competition – was the manner in which we won the game, with an evolving style of football that has become a joy to watch in recent weeks.
For that to roll on to Newcastle United in their grand, atmospheric cathedral of football (which we could almost see through the blizzards from the open terrace at Gateshead), was an enthralling experience which enriches one’s love for the game. There have been few 4-4 draws in our history – eight now, I’m reliably informed. So, to be first up on Match of the Day and be involved in a game considered to be one of the most exhilarating in the top-flight this season, shows how far we’ve come, especially when there’s a tinge of disappointment that we didn’t take all three points!
In those three matches last week, our starting line-ups were collectively assembled for way less than £10m with a few acquired on free transfers and most who had been a part of our journey from the Championship. Not only is this a real testament to our first team coaches and sport science team for their excellent care and development of those players, but clearly the strength of our recruitment team in how we identify top characters that fit into our structure and culture.
Usually, the January transfer window is our most hectic time of the season and the window we’ve seen slam shut by Sky felt somewhat like a damp squib. Whilst we were more active than ever behind the scenes, it was probably the quietest market in memory with only 10 per cent of last year’s expenditure changing hands between clubs.
We always see January like a scene from an Indiana Jones film – an obstacle course full of traps and danger that carefully requires navigating to the safety of February. We always enter it feeling that if we can keep our squad intact, we become stronger. Statistically, the fewer changes a club makes in this period, the stronger they perform in the back end of the season, so unsurprisingly, our business this year was very tactical and financially positive.
We safely exited the bear pit in a better place with minimal day-to-day disruption to our momentum.
Of course, we were delighted to unveil our newest face, Daiki Hashioka, to you at half-time against Brighton and are excited at the impact – on and off the field – ‘Hashi’ will have with us. If his performances are as excellent as his warmth and friendliness, then we’re in for a treat.
Earlier in the window we secured the signing of Tom Holmes from Reading, before sending the defender back out on-loan to the Royals. Tom is a player we’ve looked at in each of the last four windows so we’re more than happy that he can be involved in our future. And we ended the window by welcoming the highly-rated young attacker Taylan Harris to the club, who will be a terrific longer term prospect for us to monitor.
Like any transfer window, we tried to be creative, trying a few bits of ‘brave’ business which didn’t quite come off, but we often returned to the same question – “…but who would he replace in the squad?”
We also said our goodbyes to Ryan Giles, who left us for Hull. It was difficult for us, and Rob in particular, to stand in the way of Gilo given his desire to play first team football. The performances of Alfie Doughty, the continuous development of Joe Johnson (how good was it to see him get minutes at Goodison?) and the effective squad replacement of Hashi, made the decision an easier one to take.
The lack of activity in the transfer window is symbolic of the nervousness shown by so many clubs who are operating financially, close-to-the-bone, pushing the boundaries of the Premier League’s Profit & Sustainability rules, which are being treated more seriously than ever now our authorities are delivering some long-awaited sanctions.
As you would expect, but for your peace of mind, I can inform you that we are nowhere near such scrutiny and would most likely exhibit a greater expenditure headroom than any other Premier League club.
By the time you will have read these notes (albeit after me writing them), David Wilkinson and Tom Schofield, our finance director, and I will have been involved in various meetings addressing the future of cost controls in the Premier League, the New Deal For Football, which sees more equitable distributions throughout the pyramid, and other important matters.
We are optimistic that these ongoing discussions will result in an improved competition with a great level of financial sustainability than ever before and when punishments for financial misconduct can be dealt with almost in real-time, rather than have cases drag on for months or even years.
And now, with the window shut and with football looking to repair itself, we can push forward with more confidence than ever on other matters, such as Power Court. Yesterday, some eagle-eyed supporters may have seen that we submitted a regular planning application for groundworks on the site which will see us materially begin moving earth in the next couple of months.
This encouraging milestone comes after receipt of a definitive programme to move the sub-station by UKPN, which will see this vitally important project begin next month and which will allow us to synchronise our schedules for detailed planning for the stadium and plan the programme for its construction.
Further details on a redesigned stadium itself will become evident as detailed planning draws nearer.
Back to the present day, today we welcome the players, officials and supporters of Sheffield United, to whom I extend a warm Bedfordshire welcome to our home this afternoon, for a game which the Blades will see as a ‘must win’ if they are to survive this season. With the quality and grit and determination they will have in their side, it will also be a game which we will see as a big challenge that will require our full attention.
After the excitement of the past few weeks, it is only going to get more and more fascinating, with Manchester United here in front of live Sky Sports cameras a week tomorrow, a trip to Anfield a week next Wednesday and an FA Cup fifth round tie against Manchester City the week after that.
So, enjoy it and drink it in. Has there ever been a more exciting time to be a Luton fan? Well, we hope this is just the beginning.
Enjoy the game and get behind the lads – not only have the noise levels here this season been intimidating for opposition players but the rising decibel levels have given greater encouragement to our own players and staff. So more of the same this afternoon, please.
Come on Luton!