Well it’s been quite a weekend for the ‘little uns’. Sometimes professional sport can be very predictable, but every now and again something comes along which genuinely shocks and surprises. Unlikely victories in this season’s FACup competition came for Oldham, against Liverpool, Leeds against Tottenham and MK Dons, against QPR… but one victory, that of non-league Luton Town, away at Premiership Norwich City, really warmed the shackles.
I’ve been a Luton Town supporter for far longer than I care to remember, through thick and [mostly] thin. Their amazing FACup victory must rate as one of the greatest ever cup shocks. It was the first time a Premiership team had ever lost to a ‘non-league’ side. Their reward for victory, if that’s the right phrase, is a home tie against Millwall in round 5. A fixture that any Luton Town fan will have mixed feelings about, albeit that surely things have moved on since the dark days of yesteryear.
Sean Ingle wrote a piece in the Guardian last Friday, along the lines of how Luton hoped to emulate previous cup upsets. It reminded me of all the ups and downs the club has been through, and like he said, ‘there are those in football who think they’ve seen it all, and then there are Luton Town fans.’
There have been great highs, three FACup semi-finals in a relatively short period of time and victory in the League Cup final over Arsenal, plus being runners up the following year. European football was only denied because of the ban that was then in force after the Heysel disaster.
It’s the lows however that really make their journey a quite extraordinary one. To put it bluntly the club was run by a bunch of inept shysters who systematically destroyed it from within. Such was the scale of mismanagement that there were three administrations and 40 points worth of deductions in the leagues. Relegation after relegation was inevitable and the team who used to play the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool on a regular basis went all the way down to the Conference.
Much of the stability which has recently taken hold is largely down to a group of hard suffering supporters and the efforts of TV presenter Nick Owen. But the scars weren’t just financial. The club have endured a bigoted and somewhat fascist chairman, an awful synthetic pitch, a ban on all away fans totally killing home fixture atmosphere, plus harebrained schemes like moving to Milton Keynes, renaming the club London Luton after the airport, and introducing a pop idol type vote to install a new manager!
So when this particular underdog howled in victory last Saturday, it did so with feeling.