YOU would have to be mad as a Hatter to give more than a moment’s thought to Luton Town falling out of the professional league structure.
The relegation of Luton Town into – what will always be known as, regardless of sponsors’ name – the Vauxhall Conference has brought an outbreak of football nostalgia.
They are a team that, by association, bring out memories of a footballing era that is a world away from what we experience now.
Luton are also responsible for some of the abiding memories of 1980s footballing folklore – the dreaded plastic pitch, David Pleat’s jig of delight on avoiding relegation on the last day of the 1982-83 season – and some of the less welcome memories, including hosting rampaging Millwall thugs that led to a ban on away fans at Kenilworth Road.
Liverpool fans will remember, with some displeasure, being knocked out of the FA Cup in 1987 as holders, in a second replay at Kenilworth Road. The very words “second replay” would strike fear into the diaries of fixture-congestion obsessed managers of today.
Imagine four games in eight days – in January. That was Liverpool’s task which saw a League Cup win at Everton on Wednesday followed by a home win against Newcastle on Saturday, a draw in the first replay at Anfield on Monday before a 3-0 defeat in the second replay just 48 hours later.
Luton have also been an unfortunate club.
England defender Des Walker played 726 games for club and country and famously scored just one goal. That was against Luton, who were relegated four months later, becoming one of three teams to miss out on the Premier League and the riches that flowed from that cataclysmic shift. Fast forward 17 years and Luton can claim to be one of the big losers from those changes.
But while disappointing for their fans, we should not view their plight as a cause for concern. After all, sport is about winners and losers.
Luton’s predicament was made extremely precarious by the 30-point deduction at the start of the season for going into administration and for “financial irregularities” of paying agents through a third party was always likely to be too much for the team to overcome.
And while it was a harsh punishment on the club’s new owners, it was right that the penalty was enforced.
Clubs need to realise that there is a sanction for breaking the rules and that punishment is likely to seriously threaten their position in the league.
That can’t be avoided simply by changing the names in the boardroom, the collective responsibility stays with the club as a whole.
Rose-tinted memories of David Pleat’s jig and a nostalgic wistfulness for 1980s football cannot change that.