Not all revolutions are rapid, volatile and brutal affairs that take place in the space of a few short days and, like a passing storm, leave behind them a trail of destruction and debris that takes years to set right. Some are slow, precise and, like the changing seasons, far more measured. Luton Town have been slowly turning the tide left by the absurd decision, back in 2008, to dock them 30 points and with it, essentially guarantee them relegation out of the Football League.
Getting back into said League did not prove easy. In fact it was quite the opposite and was filled with pitfalls, play-off heart break, hope then finally elation in 2014 as the wily John Still finally assembled a group of players capable of traversing the Conference National season to get promoted as Champions with 101 points!
Their return to the Football League was, of course, a matter of when not if but huge none the less for a club with the proud history of The Hatters. No sooner had the side got themselves back in to League Two the target turned to advancing towards League One as soon as possible and why not? Luton Town are a big fish in the fourth tier, well supported and full of ambition but, like looking into a mirror reflecting their Conference National Campaigns, it was not going to be straight forward.
Still did his best but he was unable to find the right formula as Luton finished 8th and just 3 points out of the play-off places in their first season back in League Two. They took a step backwards in 2015-16 eventually finishing 11th but there were some signs that things might be heading in the right direction. Young players like Mpanzu and McGeehan were impressing with the latter netting 12 times from midfield yet finding that consistent level of performance and, more importantly, that 20 goal a season forward were still conspicuous by their absence. Another important addition during the season was Brighton & Hove Albion first team coach Nathan Jones being appointed Manager. The talented former left back had been assistant to the likes of Oscar Garcia and Chris Hughton during his time in East Sussex and he was clearly chomping at the bit to be given his chance as the boss.
He started with 11 wins in 21 games and this was a decent record but he was yet to have a full summer at the club to implement his ideas and embed a new philosophy of his own. The 2016-17 season was a huge improvement and should have seen The Hatters get promoted but this being Luton it was, of course, never going to happen in such fairy tale kind of fashion and another heart-breaking play-off defeat, the kind that was now becoming synonymous with that certain corner of Bedfordshire, ensued and yet again it was not to be for Luton.
But what Jones’ side were doing well was now clear for everyone to see. Signings like Danny Hylton and Isaac Vassell were excellent and Hylton became that goal scoring hero the club needed, netting 21 times in the league. McGeehan again reached double figures, Marriott and Vassell both scored 8. Mpanzu was strong in midfield and young full back James Justin showed real promise.
Despite the disappointing finish to the 2016-17 season there was a verve and determination from the club to kick on and have a summer that would improve the side further. The loss of McGeehan and Marriott could be seen as unfortunate but the club actually turned them into plus points, using the financial windfall wisely bringing in James Collins from Crawley, Harry Cornick from Bournemouth and Jack Stacey from Reading for undisclosed fees and the midfield was strengthened with the signings of Alan McCormack on a free from Brentford and Andrew Shinnie on loan from Birmingham City.
Perhaps the biggest statement of all was made with signing Mpanzu and James Justin to new long term deals despite there being reported interested from clubs in the Championship, as was certainly the case for the former. The fact that both wanted to stays says all you need to know about what Jones is doing at the club.
They opened the season by thrashing Yeovil 8-2 at Kenilworth Road, were given a slight reality check in the 1-0 defeat to Barnet but showed character once more by easily over coming Colchester 3-0 back at home. It is a decent start and despite the loss of Vassell to Birmingham you still feel that they have more than enough going forward not to miss him. Money from the sale of Vassell has already been invested in signing Cambridge United star Luke Berry, a huge transfer for The Hatters! Berry could easily have signed for a team in League One or even the Championship, such is his quality but the fact that he chose Luton says a lot. The fact that players like Berry are even targets for Luton is also a sign of the progress that the club has been making and testament to the way Nathan Jones can sell his vision for the Club.
You feel the next step will be moving to a new stadium where the club can really fulfil its potential. Luton Town could easily sustain a Championship club and a new home could make this a reality. A site at Power Court in central Luton has been selected as the favourable option but it is unclear whether this will be another false dawn. One thing is for sure, this club is going places and although it is early days you sense that the Luton Revolution may hit another milestone that sees The Hatters competing in League One next season!
words James Richards