A fo­cus on Lu­ton as they get set for their Foot­ball League re­turn

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

JOHN STILL cel­e­brated pro­mo­tion back into the Foot­ball League with a civic re­cep­tion in front of more than 10,000 Lu­to­ni­ans in the town’s St Ge­orge’s Square on Sun­day, but he ad­mits to hav­ing been “dev­as­tated” 24 hours ear­lier.

The vet­eran man­ager might be a Con­fer­ence cham­pion for a record third time with three dif­fer­ent clubs; on this oc­ca­sion Lu­ton Town, the team for whom he gave up his beloved Da­gen­ham & Red­bridge and hard-earned League sta­tus a lit­tle over 14 months ago.

But it is the for­mer em­ploy­ers he won’t be re­vis­it­ing in League Two next year that caused him grief last weekend.

Bris­tol Rovers, the club Still served as as­sis­tant-man­ager to Ray Gray­don for 18 months be­fore re­turn­ing to east Lon­don to mas­ter­mind the Dag­gers’ even­tual rise from the Con­fer­ence to League One in 2004, fell against the back­drop of pitch-in­va­sion pic­tures that Lu­ton know only too well.

Ad­vice

The Gas’ grief stems from the grad­ual de­cline that saw them drop into the rel­e­ga­tion zone for just 56 min­utes of the sea­son, as 10,594 watched them lose 10 at home to Mans­field.

Lu­ton had gone from the Cham­pi­onship to the Con­fer­ence in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, but their fans’ fury was vented fully at the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, whose 10 and 30-point de­duc­tions in Leagues One and Two pushed them through the trap door be­fore a ball was kicked in 2008-09.

“You know what, I was dev­as­tated,” said Still. “I’ve got lots of friends there and I’m ab­so­lutely dev­as­tated for Bris­tol Rovers be­cause that shouldn’t have been al­lowed to hap­pen.”

What ad­vice would he have for the Me­mo­rial Ground hi­er­ar­chy as they ap­proach Non-League foot­ball for the first time in 94 years?

“You have to have a plan, don’t be ad hoc about it…and don’t ex­pect it to hap­pen overnight,” which is some­thing he told Lu­ton when he be­came the fifth boss, af­ter Mick Har­ford, Richard Money, Gary Bra­bin and Paul Buckle, to try to bring their Con­fer­ence ex­ile to an end.

“The Con­fer­ence is very un­for­giv­ing. It’s tough, on and off the pitch. If you ex­pect just to go up, you are go­ing to end up with a Lu­ton sit­u­a­tion where dis­ap­point­ment will start to weigh very, very heav­ily.”

The un­prece­dented pun­ish- ment for fail­ing to exit ad­min­is­tra­tion prop­erly, and the fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties of those who ran the club long be­fore the LT2020 con­sor­tium, who have pumped in £12m over their six-year own­er­ship, have cer­tainly clouded the fa­mous old ground.

‘F*** the FA, we’re on our way back!’ has be­come a fa­mil­iar ter­race chant this sea­son, as Hat­ters put three play-off fail­ures and last term’s sev­enth-place fin­ish be­hind them to wres­tle lead­er­ship of Non­League’s top-flight from Cam­bridge United, as Still’s Da­gen­ham did Ox­ford United in 2006-07.

“It is to­tally dif­fer­ent to go­ing up with Da­gen­ham, as we started that sea­son at some­thing like 40-1 with the book­ies,” says Still.

Favourites

“Lu­ton would be among the favourites ev­ery year, but as ev­ery year went by the dis­ap­point­ment among sup­port­ers and ev­ery­one in­volved was greater.

“I felt it was im­por­tant that we didn’t lose the ex­pec­ta­tion, be­cause that in it­self isn’t a prob- lem. But the longer the wait, the ex­pec­ta­tion level gets out of con­trol and it drags people down.”

That in­cludes play­ers. Lu­ton made a habit of sign­ing lads who were proven at Con­fer­ence level and per­haps per­formed well in one-off games against them, but who failed to deliver reg­u­larly on the big­ger stage where mis­placed passes and wasted chances were un­der greater scru­tiny.

It took the sign­ing of for­mer Con­fer­ence win­ners who had ex­pe­ri­enced life in front of size­able crowds, like Still’s for­mer

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