A change in format this weekend….A match report first, followed by an exclusive chat with Luton Town’s Mick Harford in his last ever public interview as the Hatters Manager, the newest fan of the Blog. And what a game it was. Seven goals, appalling refereeing, a sending off, the first appearance of the season of the riot police, Football Jo on her best behaviour for some reason and a reality TV star…not often you can say you see all of that in 90 minutes of Indian Summer. All that was missing was my EFW logo…Please forgive me Danny…
Cambridge United 3 Luton Town 4 – The Abbey Stadium -Saturday 26th September 2009
Forty three minutes into this game Liam Hatch needlessly challenged late for the ball in no-mans land near the Cambridge by line and was shown a second yellow card. Luton were 2-0 down, playing against Cambridge and a referee who seemed to be blind to what had gone on before, and coming on the back of some important defeats on the road recently, had nearly two thousand away fans baying for blood.
The game had started well for the Hatters. They passed the ball well, creating some early chances for Hatch and Gallen up front. But in the twentieth minute it was the home team who took the lead against the run of play as Courtney Pitt turned in the ball from close range after Mark Beesley had squared the ball. One became two thirteen minutes later when the referee saw a challenge in the box Anthony Tonkins that nobody else in the stadium saw and he awarded a penalty. Liam Hatch protested too much and was booked for his haranguing of the official. Holroyd made no mistake from the spot, and it looked all over for the visitors. After recent away defeats at Oxford and Wrexham many of the fans had come expecting a better performance, and despite the efforts of the players, they had been done up like a kipper by the officials. The away fans occupying the terrace along the side of the pitch let their feelings be known and some over zealous policing took a manageable situation to the brink of all out hostility.
On the other side of the pitch in the Main Stand the non-playing Luton Town players had had enough of the abuse being levelled at them, and led by Kevin Nicholls they attempted to head to the South Stand, only to be blocked by the police who insisted they went down the tunnel instead. Harford looked in disbelief as Hatch picked up his second yellow and stayed behind on the edge of the tunnel to have “a word” with the referee, knowing that public opinion was definitely swinging against him.
What was said at half time will remain a mystery (we did ask him afterwards) but whatever it was it deserves to be up their with Al Pacino’s speech in The Whole Nine Yards. Three minutes were on the clock when the veteran Kevin Gallen turned the ball in from close range after the keeper had made a great save. Luton went on the attack immediately afterwards, coming close to an equaliser before five second half minutes were on the clock. They did have to wait though until the 60th minute for that. Gallen picked up a loose ball outside the penalty area and squared it to Ross Jarvis who picked his spot and gave the Cambridge keeper no chance. The fans went wild, quite unsure as to what they were seeing on the pitch. The local police took the jubilation for some sort of mass violence and went into the crowd to try and remove a few of the most “boisterous” fans. A minute later it was 3-2 to Luton as Kevin Gallen found himself one on one with the keeper, and despite his effort being saved, Jake Howells was on had to complete a remarkable recovering. In the ensuing celebrations Howells hurt his leg and another twist to this amazing game took place as he could take no further part.
So three goals in eighteen second half minutes had left the home teams and fans stunned. Martin Ling made a tactical change, and for the first time in the half Cambridge launched an attack against the ten men. Two minutes after Luton had taken the lead it was 3-3 as the impressive Tyler in the Luton goal made a great save from Hatswell’s header only for Holroyd to smash the ball home form the equaliser.
Five minutes later Cambridge almost took the lead as another Tyler save rolled along the goal line just needing a touch from anyone. The crowd were then treated to ten minutes to relative calm until the referee decided to take centre stage, awarding a penalty to Luton after some pushing and shoving in the area by Brian Saah, who in fairness had actually been booked for a similar offence a few minutes before. Harsh, but equalling up the decision from the first half. Up stepped Gallen and it was 4-3 to Luton.
Five minutes of injury time proved too much for many fans who could not watch, but the final whistle was greeted by jubilation from the 1,700 away fans (including Cerys Matthews from Catatonia), although the scenes of Riot Police on the field, police dogs outside the gates and a police helicopter flying overhead was hardly what you expect from Blue Square football. Game of the season so far and a win that took Luton shooting back up the table.
The team here at The Ball is Round pride ourselves on our contacts within the game. After a year of working with Danny Last and his magnificent Logo gallery with all of the good and famous in Non-League football, I though it was time I delivered a big fish of my own. After all it’s not what you know but what you know about someone else that you can use to your advantage that matters. Now I am not revealing any of my sources, but when I approached Mick Harford, current manager of Luton Town and generally all round nice guy, he agreed to a chat within seconds after the game versus Cambridge United with Football Jo, Lolly and myself.
Harford build a reputation through his career as a no-nonsense type of centre forward. Blessed with height and more than a match for most centre backs, he played for ten clubs over a career that spanned over 20 years, 600 matches and nearly 200 goals. A goal every 3 games is a decent return in anyone’s book and coming in a time when the Premier League was at an embryonic stage and the foreign invasion had not yet started you can only wonder was he would have achieved in the modern game where training regimes would have strengthened his game, and the quality of the ball into the box would have been so much better for him to get on the end of.
He was also known as someone not to mess with. Legend goes that when he joined Wimbledon in 1994 he was spared the usual new signing initiation ritual for the other squad members fear of reprisal – and this included a squad including shrinking violets such as Vinnie Jones, Robbie Earle and Marcus Gayle. He stayed on at Wimbledon after his playing career ended at the grand old age of 38 and picked up his coaching badges, and working with Joe Kinnear. When Kinnear went onto Luton a few years later Mick went with him and masterminded their promotion season in 2001/02. Spells at Nottingham Forest, Colchester United, Rotherham United and Queens Park Rangers followed before the opportunity arose to return to Luton Town in February 2008. He joined a club in turmoil from the previous management and coaching staff, a club destined for relegation and being investigated by the Football League for all sorts of “irregularities” he inherited. Try as he could the club could not avoid Administration and the ten point penalty that went with it effectively ended all hope long before the final ball was kicked.
Worse was to follow in the summer when the club were hit with a massive 30 point penalty for various reasons by the Football League, including exiting Administration – which for some reason the footballing authorities deemed twice the sin as entering it in the first place. Harford vowed the club would try to survive against all the odds, and pulled off a remarkable achievement in guiding the club to the Johnstones Paint Trophy Final at Wembley, and then beating Championship bound Scunthorpe United in extra time. Without that penalty the club would have finished in 15th place in the division – justice? I don’t think so.
At what point last season did you realise all of your hard effort was in vain?
When I was told that we had been relegated after the match at home with Chesterfield in April. Whilst we came away with a 0-0 draw from that game Grimsby Town’s 2-0 defeat of Notts County meant it was mathematically impossible with just four games left.
What did you say to the team when relegation was confirmed in the dressing room?
There wasn’t alot of talking going on but after a while when the players had realised the situation I said “Look at the clock and remember this time and date. This is the new beginning of Luton Town FC. Thanks for all your efforts and I’m sorry it was all in vain.”
For the final four games when you knew you were going to be playing in the Blue Square Premier, how did you motivate yourself and the team?
Motivation to go out on the field and play our best was never an issue because we are professionals and we had a responsibility to the fans and the other teams in the league who still had something to play for.
Turning the attention to this season, what will you class “success” in May?
Promotion. Simple as that. Getting Luton Town back into the Football League.
Tuesday 11th August 2009. First home game at this level in front of an impressive 7,000+ crowd at Kenilworth Road. Eighteen minutes on the clock and Mansfield take the lead. What went through your mind?
Here we go again! But the plan worked over the ninety minutes and a 4-1 victory was a fair reflection on the chances we created.
How much homework have you done on the division as a whole?
A lot and it’s an ongoing process. There are quite a few teams we have never come up against and so homework is vital – Watching games, speaking to other managers and players. We only have one objective this season – Promotion. That is what I will use as the yardstick for success. In the first few weeks of the season it is obvious from the teams we have played (such as Forest Green, Gateshead, Kettering Town, etc) that they raise their game against us. We are a big scalp for them, and for many it is their Cup Final. The one game I am looking forward to is the one that wins us promotion.
After your success in winning the JPT at Wembley Stadium last year, what about a nice cup run?
Of course I wouldn’t say know but the league is the priority. If I had a hand in the draw I’d love to get Watford or Millwall – that would be quite an atmosphere!
So was that final the highpoint of your career in football?
As a manager definitely. Not many managers these days can say they have won a cup at Wembley. I have been very fortunate to win one both as a player and a manager but the win last season was special as being a manager means you are responsible for so much more. My highpoint as a player was my second cap for England against Denmark at Wembley in 1989. One of the lowpoints was the moment I realised that I couldn’t carry on playing. After Wimbledon played Aston Villa in 1998 I damaged by Achilles again and realised that I would need an operation. At the age of 38 1/2 I felt that was a step too far.
So you played for England under the late Sir Bobby Robson. How did you find out you had been called up into the squad?
At the time I was playing at Luton Town, and we were on a great run (it was the year that we went on to beat Arsenal at Wembley in the League Cup Final). England had a friendly coming up away to Israel in Tel Aviv. I found out I had been selected for the squad after the FA sent a letter to the Club, and the manager Ray Harford (no relation I should add!) called me into his office and told me. I made my debut in the second half when I came on for Clive Allen. The game ended up 0-0.
So some of the best moments of your career have come at Luton
Yes. Both as a player and a manager. And that is why it was so disappointing to be relegated last season because even with the 30 penalty point I thought we could get out of it. I had a great time with the club as a player and settled in the area. My son was born in Luton, I have so many friends in the area and have built a strong affiliation with the people at the club.
Who inspired you as a player, and as a manager?
I was a Sunderland fan from boyhood and was greatly inspired to become a player by Bob Stokoes team that beat the great Leeds United team in the 1973 FA Cup Final. Brian Clough stands out as a great inspiration as a manager – he wanted his team to play good football and never wavered or compromised.
Looking back on your career which I believe covered nearly 600 games for 10 different clubs, what stadiums stand out?
As a player I thoroughly enjoyed playing at Wembley obviously, as well as Old Trafford. As a manager I remember going to West Ham’s Upton Park at Christmas in 2004 when I was at Nottingham Forest and that was one of the most hostile places I had been – no Christmas cheer for us there!
Best player you played with?
Chris Waddle without a doubt! I was a strong, abrasive and technical player, and he was cultured and skillful. What a combination!
So lets turn our attention to the game today. What do you think about the events at Manchester City and Real Madrid in the past few months?
Good luck to them! But in the longer term it will push English players further down the ladder at Manchester City and could weaken our national side. In terms of the whole Ronaldo saga I am not sure whether they wanted the player or the brand. Either way £80million is a hell of a lot of money to spend on one person.
Talk us through some of your matchday preparations
I have a Lucky Suit that has seen me through some good times. After the game I will sit down and watch the video of the game, look at the components of the team and individuals and plan some ways to improve and ways to eliminate the mistakes. I then translate these into plans for training. Alas my knee is too sore for me to take part myself! I do make a habit of never listening to the football phone ins!
So there we have it. Mick has promised to give us more during the season, and we wish them well and officially appoint Luton Town our “Football Friend” of the Blue Square Premier League this season, and Mick an honorary member into the TBIR Hall of Fame.