Football: It’s Pre-Season… Season

This article was originally published on The Match web site in late July 2014.

Anyone who has supported a football club for any significant length of time can nod wisely when pre-season comes around, because you learn over the years that pre-season is not a reliable barometer for how your season will turn out. Like our last few managers have said, don’t get too carried away with the victories and don’t get too despondent at the defeats.

For example, in previous pre-seasons I’ve seen Luton lose friendlies 4-0 twice. The first time we lost 4-0 away the week before the season kicked off and we ended up being relegated. The second time we lost 0-4 at home and ended up winning the league. See? Told you so.

Ah, but it’s not as simple as that is it? Who were we playing? What league were in? How different was the squad from the end of the previous season? Did we have a winning mentality or had losing become a habit? So many variables to consider, and so little time to assess it all.

For the players, pre-season is only about six weeks long from the start of July to (typically) the first or second week of August. Of course, the management haven’t been resting on their laurels – if they had any – whilst the players have been off on holiday, keeping fit, getting married or spending time posting unintelligible mutterings on twitter. The management have been sorting out who is staying, who is leaving, who to sign and so on.

John Still and his team have been working hard to bring in new faces and if Luton fans have learned one thing over the last 18 months or so, it’s that we should trust his judgment implicitly. So, we welcome Curtley Williams, Ross Lafayette, Ricky Miller, Andy Drury, Paul Connolly, Luke Wilkinson, Lee Angol, Charlie Walker and Mark Onyemah and hope that they all enjoy being part of the Luton Town project (to use a Still-ism).

As for Luton’s pre-season matches, it’s a case of so far, so good. Wins away against Hitchin, Dunstable and Barnet resulted in ten goals scored and three clean sheets. Winning, drawing and keeping clean sheets become a habit and after 23 clean sheets last season, we’ll be looking to keep that habit and retain a solid defence this year, albeit against tougher opposition.

However, harking back to my opening remarks for a moment, the results aren’t necessarily what’s important. There’s fitness levels, tactics and a host of other factors that all contribute to what the management team gets out of these fixtures. Sometimes you learn more when you lose than when you win and if you’re going to lose, pre-season might be the best time to do it. We haven’t lost yet, but then the friendlies are going to get tougher over the next two and a half weeks before the big K.O. is upon us.

What else goes on in pre-season? There’s the usual wait for season tickets to arrive and this year there’s the issue of the new home and away kits. Last season’s white away shirt is now our third-choice kit, and at the time of writing the club haven’t yet revealed the new home and away strips to mark our return to the football league. We know the home kit will be orange, because that’s what the majority of supporters voted for a few months before last season ended.

The self-proclaimed traditionalists voted for white, but how long does something need to endure before it’s considered a tradition? Luton have had orange in its club colours since the early to mid 1970s. For those of us who have only been supporting the club (or been living!) since then, we’ve only ever known a Luton Town team with a dash of orange in it somewhere. For the next few years at least, the future’s still bright and still orange (rather than fizzy, presumably!).

Whilst on the subject of things being still, let’s hope we don’t stand still this season. We have a huge amount of momentum in regards to the team, the supporters and the direction the club is going in. The bookies are keen on us to go up again, and it would be a wasted opportunity to not aim high and really go for it. I’m hopeful that we’re at least good enough for the play-off spots and I’m quietly confident that we might be strong enough for an automatic. The problem is we’ve been out of the league for five years so it’s tricky to judge other than look at how other promoted clubs have fared in recent years. Certainly half of them have moved quickly through League 2 into League 1 so that’s what we have to try and emulate.

As for the title itself, we’ll have to wait and see. Personally, I’d love to see us win the league, as that would mean I would have witnessed Luton win four different league titles out of the five divisions we’ve played in. I think you can work out which one we’re missing for the complete set! However, to quote another often heard Still-ism, every game is tough, but if we’re mentally and physically ready then who knows?

(Oh, we lost 0-4 away to Cambridge Utd in a pre-season game the year we missed out on being in the Premier League due to relegated form Division 1 to … Division 1 (!) and we lost 4-0 at home to Ajax the year we won promotion to the Championship almost 10 years ago now)

#COYH!

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