Sunday 25 February 2018

Aidan O’Hara: Hats off to little guy for break from the cynical normality

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

THIS column was going to be easy to write. It was going to be about the nonsense of the 'magic' of the FA Cup, how it's over-hyped by whichever TV company has the rights to show it billed as a David versus Goliath battle when, in reality, Goliath gives David a good hiding almost every time.

Even on occasion when an underdog does win, it's usually because the higher-ranked team have discarded the competition in favour of gaining more points to help them to their goal of finishing 16th in the Premier League, which, in this era, is seen as a greater achievement to many clubs.

It was going to ask if you could name the last five winners of the competition in the correct order like you would have been able to do when you were an 11-year-old; point out the poor attendances at the weekend's games and ask if the managers don't care, why should the supporters?

It was going to do all of those things with the cynical eye of somebody who questions a player's ability after they've scored a hat-trick or points out the faults in a team who are clear at the top of the league.

Instead, this column will be about Luton Town.

Ashley Grimes, the plastic pitch, Mick Harford, the airport, Brian and Mark Stein, David Pleat dancing a jig across Maine Road, Nick Owen, Ricky Hill, Eric Morecombe, the bizarre executive boxes that stretch the length of one side of Kenilworth Road and, again, the plastic pitch.

Mention Luton Town and these are the responses you'll usually get.

Unless you trick readers by not referencing them until over 200 words into an article, most don't want to read about them either but, on Saturday, they came back into football's conscience when they beat Wolves 1-0 in the FA Cup third round and many found it amazing just how far they had fallen.

For those who have supported them through the years, 'amazing' wouldn't quite be the first word of choice.

The summation of the last six seasons, which started in the Championship, reads: relegated, relegated, relegated, beaten in a play-off semi-final; beaten on penalties in a play-off final; beaten in a play-off final by a goal that was a long way offside.

In the few years before that, there was an owner who had proposed changing the name of the club to London-Luton so that it would be more affiliated with the airport and even building a 50,000-seater stadium which would be supported by concrete rafters over a motorway, incorporate a removable pitch and have a Formula One track running around it.

The same owner sacked the popular managerial team of Joe Kinnear and Mick Harford and replaced them with Mike Newell, who was hired after winning a phone-in poll run by the people who were in charge of Pop Idol.


From there, there was the famous day in October 2006 when Luton beat Leeds United 5-1 to move to fifth in the Championship, just over six years later, they are sixth in the Conference.

In the time it took to get there, they were deducted a total of 40 points for various misdemeanours, which included a 30-point deduction at the start of the League Two season of 2008, a decision justified by Football League chairman Brian Mawhinney because "the board's primary responsibility is to protect the integrity of their competitions".

By the end of that year, Mawhinney was being barracked at Wembley by 40,000 Luton supporters as they beat Scunthorpe 3-2 in a final act of defiance in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final before their inevitable relegation. At least it's never boring.

Much like winning an FA Cup third-round match against Wolves, or life in general, it's remarkable the pleasure that can be derived from little victories.

Already this season, they had come through three rounds of the FA Cup before beating Wolves, they have been beaten 3-2 at home to Braintree Town in front of over 5,000 supporters and lost 3-0 at Alfreton Town.

Tomorrow night, they will host bottom-of-the-table Barrow before Saturday's FA Trophy game against the well-known and widely-respected Skelmersdale United and the football world will go back to not caring.

Instead, it will explode in furore and sanctimonious nonsense over the latest Luis Suarez incident or, next week, find something to crib about when Manchester City play Arsenal or Manchester United host Liverpool.

Maybe a goal won't be awarded after a ball crosses the line and spark a debate about video technology or somebody will wear a dodgy T-shirt or not shake an opponent's hand.

That's now the normality of the football world. The FA Cup might not mean a sliver of what it used to but, just occasionally, especially when your team unexpectedly wins a match, it's good to get a break from such normality.

Irish Independent

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