This article was first published on The Match web site in July 2014.
There was an open top bus parade for the Skrill Premier Champions (inaugural and unique as it turns out!) a few weeks after the 2013/14 season finished. On the erected stage in St. George’s Square in Luton and under the basking hot May Bank Holiday weekend sunshine, Andre Gray was casually asked if he was going to be at Luton next season. He laughed somewhat nervously, and avoided answering the question in front of twelve thousand Hatters fans. At that moment, the tongues started wagging, the texts started texting and the unthinkable became… thinkable.
In hindsight, it was inevitable. After all, in two and a bit seasons he’d scored 57 goals for Luton. He was the Skrill Premier Golden Boot winner the season just finished, scoring 30 goals as we romped to the title and gained promotion back to the Football League. Andre had a year to go on his contract and hadn’t quite turned 23. If that’s not a recipe for a transfer to a club in a higher division, I don’t know what is.
So, the announcement last week that Andre Gray had been sold wasn’t that much of a shock. Disappointing yes, but quietly expected. The selling price was initially announced as an “undisclosed fee”, which is something supporters never quite get their heads around. It was down to the local press to reveal that the fee was in surplus of £500,000, which is a tidy profit on a player who cost the club £30,000 from Hinckley in 2012. Credit must go to Gary Brabin for realising Andre’s potential during an F.A. Cup clash earlier that season, when Luton beat Hinckley 3-0. Thanks Brabs!
Some supporters expressed surprise that Andre went to Brentford, but consider this; they’re two leagues higher than we are at the moment, having just gone up into The Championship. It’s Andre Gray’s chance to prove whether he really has it or not at a much higher level. We might get back there ourselves in the hopefully not-too-distant future, but it’s like playing snakes & ladders and declining the opportunity to climb when you land on the bottom rung of a ladder. Good luck Andre and thanks for the memories.
Of course, we have signed a few new players as well as release a shed load of old ones. Our current manager – the wily John Still – has a proven track record of signing players from lower leagues who then go onwards and upwards after a season or two under his tutorage. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the new crop make as good an impact in League 2 as the majority of his signings did last season when we finished a record-breaking 19 points clear of second place in the Conference on our way to being crowned Champions.
One player who turned down a new contract and left was the club Captain, Ronnie Henry. Being honest, he had an inconsistent first season at Luton – putting aside the giant Killing F.A. Cup tie against Norwich for a moment – but he was much more solid and dependable last season. However, some supporters remained unconvinced that he was ever really Captain material. We’ve had some cracking Captains down the years, with Steve Foster and Kevin Nichols as two terrific examples, but Ronnie wasn’t that type of character. Regardless, he helped to get us back into the Football League, so again we need to say thanks and good luck in the future. It’s telling though that the reason he turned down a new contract was because it was apparently less than he was on for the past two seasons. Interesting!
One other story turned a few straw boaters recently. A week or so ago it was announced that we’d put in a bid for Crawley Town’s Andy Drury. Andy briefly played for us three years ago in a six month spell that quickly proved he was capable of playing at a higher level. A few cracking performances (and goals) in the F.A. Cup got him a transfer on the back of a Tractor, but a year or so later and he ended up at Crawley, who had tried to sign him before we bought him from Stevenage in 2011.
The first bid for Andy Drury was immediately dismissed by Crawley as being derisory, so a second bid was put in that was also rejected and then – to quote an often-used football terrace chant – it all went quiet over there. The weekend came and went and suddenly, there he was back at Luton Town where he felt he had “unfinished business”.
It’s no secret that some of the money from the Andre Gray transfer helped activate a release clause in Andy Drury’s contract that meant we could poach him, whether Crawley wanted to sell him or not. Since the news broke, Crawley have moved into damage limitation mode, making it clear that the player had insisted on the clause in his contract when he signed for them. Crawley’s loss is hopefully our gain.