Last night’s victory for Kidderminster over Cambridge clinched Luton Town’s return to the football league after five seasons in the conference and this is good news not just for Hatters fans but it’s a huge positive for the English game as well.
The Hatters’ fall from grace has been painful to watch even as an outsider. They may have been a small fish in a big pond when they played in the Championship for two seasons before the first of their three successive relegations in 2007 but Luton are still a big club. Having also slipped out of League One, they were then forced to start their League Two campaign with an insurmountable deficit of -30 points which made a hat-trick of relegations inevitable. They incurred the harshest points penalty in football league history as a result of being found guilty of paying agents via a third party.
Whilst the club couldn’t have possibly gone unpunished, 30 points is unbelievably harsh and perhaps scandalously harsh. Minus 30 points gave Luton barely any chance of surviving the drop out of the league, which is by far the most painful relegation to endure. Falling out of the league and going into non-league can potentially prove to be fatal for clubs the size of Luton and even for a club of their stature, it has taken five years to recover from it. In giving Luton such a mountain to climb, the FA could have easily caused the death of a football club. I could be completely wrong but surely the punishment was disproportionately big for the crime. In fact, I’d suggest that if a similar thing occurred in the higher echelons of the game (Premier League), the offending club would probably only receive a fine.
As a result of the relegation, and the struggle which has followed in the conference, it is undeniably the fans who will have suffered most as they are the one “constant” of any football club. Changes at Luton have occurred in the last five years, just as at any club. However, the fans are still the same fans and always will be. Having to watch your team play at a level which they shouldn’t be at must be incredibly difficult to accept. Without the 30 point deduction anchoring them to the bottom of League Two, Luton wouldn’t have gone down in 2009 and would have finished comfortably in mid table.
Considering that Kenilworth Road has gone from hosting the likes of Sunderland, Leeds, Wolves and West Brom just seven years ago to now hosting the likes of Hyde, Nuneaton, Welling and Southport (with all due respect to them), the level of support for the team has remained excellent. For many fans of other clubs, one relegation would be too much to bear and enough to give up a season ticket, let alone three relegations consecutively. However, Luton’s average attendances in the fifth tier have eclipsed all of the other teams in the league. Saturday’s clash with Braintree drew in over 10,000 fans, which is the sort of figure that would attend a League One encounter.
Having seen so many clubs go into liquidation and having to be reformed under a new name shortly after being relegated to the conference, as an outsider it is great to see such a good club not only survive but come back stronger. Two of the teams which Luton played against in their last season in the Football League, Darlington and Chester City, are no more. Both have been reformed and their chances of reaching the level they previously played at are looking very unlikely. This shows that despite having their fair share of problems, it could’ve been far worse for Luton. However, it’s testament to how well the club has been run off the pitch and the continued support of the fans that the Hatters will be back in the fourth tier next season. Congratulations to them as it has not only been well and truly deserved not just for their efforts this season, but for all their efforts since been relegated five years ago.