Now Playing

Now Playing IconNow Playing:

Evolve Radio

Artist Name

Album Art

From Hereford to Man Utd – 10 years on from Luton’s seven heaven

“A Premier League club that happens to find itself in the Conference.”

John Still, Luton’s legendary former manager, knew even in the club’s darkest days they would rise again. It was a line he used on potential signings but one he believed in.

“Did I think they’d be in the Premier League this soon? Probably not but it doesn’t surprise me they are. The whole structure has been geared to it,” Still told Sky Sports on the eve of their landmark fixture against Manchester United at Kenilworth Road on Sunday.

Sunday 18th February 4:00pm Kick off 4:30pm

Sky Sports Main Event HD Sky Sports Main Event HD
Luton manager Rob Edwards highlights the progress the club has made 10 years on from beating Hereford 7-0 at Kenilworth Road

“All the people and the board of directors are the same as when I was there. Everyone works diligently to provide the best opportunity for the club. It was always going to go up the leagues.”

Still is hailed for setting Luton on their way back to the top flight. He took them up as Conference Premier champions in 2014, winning the league by 19 points and scoring 102 goals. It was 10 years ago this weekend they won 7-0 at Kenilworth Road as they hurtled towards the title.

“Can I take a guess? Was it Hereford?” asked Still. The 73-year-old has managed over 2,000 matches and watched thousands more but is razor sharp. “I knew it was around the turn of the year. We hit a couple of big scores at that time. Five at Alfreton. We had Kidderminster where we scored six…I was ill and missed it!”

Still almost missed the Hereford match too, discharging himself from hospital early to make it. Andre Gray scored a hat-trick on his way to finishing as the league’s top scorer with 30 goals which sparked a career at the top levels. “I can still see his goals now,” said Still.

Andre Gray finished as the Conference's top scorer with 30 goals in the 2013-14 season
Image: Andre Gray finished as the Conference’s top scorer with 30 goals in the 2013-14 season

Luton hit six in the second half. “I called it ‘magic moments’. We could suddenly score three in 10 minutes. We’d overpower teams.”

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who has risen through the leagues with the club and played 18 times in the Premier League this season, scored his first senior goal. Still had taken him on loan from West Ham before paying £25,000 to make the move permanent.

“Wasn’t bad, was it?” laughed Still. “I liked his versatility because West Ham used him as a centre-back in the U23s. I liked his strength and his power. We were looking for another midfield player who could supply that.”

Still is iconic in the lower leagues for unearthing gems like Dwight Gayle and Craig Mackail-Smith. Mpanzu was another.

“I can’t say that I knew they’d go to the Premier League or be internationals, but I always felt they had something about them that could give them a good career. They had the ingredients.”

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu has won four promotions with Luton since signing for £25,000 under John Still
Image: Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu has won four promotions with Luton since signing for £25,000 under John Still

Luton swept past Hereford on a pitch that was close to unplayable. The groundsman had worked tirelessly to get the game on while the club had helped by purchasing covers. It summed up the togetherness Still had built.

“I had this thing of, ‘Who’s part of the team?’ The groundsman is part of the team, the physio is, the ladies that do the food for the players at training are part of the team.

“If the pitch isn’t right, the players get the hump. If the food’s rubbish, the players get the hump. And if the players don’t play well on Saturday, the supporters get the hump. It’s a collective, you need every component to be together.”

When Still was appointed in 2013, he found a club still smarting over a 30-point deduction that had forced them out of the Football League and one now losing matches to the likes of Alfreton, Braintree and Dartford. He had to change the mood.

“I felt the support was angry, not at the club, but at the FA and they would take their anger out on the team. It wasn’t nasty but if things weren’t going well after 15 or 20 minutes they’d have a little moan. The atmosphere would turn negative. Other managers would tell their team about it when they came to play here.

“It was one of the first things I noticed. I would say to our supporters, ‘What if you don’t get on our back and you cheer louder? What will happen then?’ I tried to use a little bit of psychology with it.”

Steve McNulty won his second Conference title with Luton and went on to earn a third in 2018 with Tranmere
Image: Steve McNulty won his second Conference title with Luton and went on to earn a third in 2018 with Tranmere

Winning helps, of course, but Still went even further with it. At full-time, he would invite a fan into the post-match huddle on the pitch. “It’s their team, I’m just managing it.”

Still coined ‘The Luton Way’ – “respectful players who are hard-working and play to the best of their ability in every game” – which is still evident today.

He would tell his team it’s his “11 best not his best 11”. His squad had the perfect blend of experience, with the likes of Steve McNulty, Luke Guttridge and Paul Benson, mixed with the raw talent of Mpanzu and Gray. “The dressing room managed itself.”

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag dismisses any suggestions that his side will need any extra preparation for their clash against Luton at Kenilworth Road

Rob Edwards’ side, the fourth cheapest squad in the top five European leagues, is similar and has given them every chance of staying up.

“Rob Edwards is not just a terrific manager but a terrific person,” said Still. “They deserve every plaudit that they get. When someone asked me at the start of the season whether I thought Luton would stay up. I said I hope so, but it would be tough. My answer now has changed, they will stay up.”

A dream match-up against Manchester United is their latest chance to pull off the unthinkable. Still will be watching from home.

“I wouldn’t rule out Luton, but it doesn’t seem real that Luton are playing Manchester United in a league fixture. If you talk to the older element of football supporters, Man Utd are the figurehead of English and probably European football along with Barcelona and Real Madrid.”

Luton are now a Premier League club that happens to find itself in the Premier League thanks in part to Still.

“If you leave something behind that other people can come in and add to rather than take away and destroy, that’s fantastic. I try to do that. I get a lot of plaudits for my part in getting Luton to where they are but, in my mind, I have played a part but only a small part.”

Watch Luton vs Manchester United on Super Sunday from 4pm live on Sky Sports Main Event or stream the match with NOW. Kick-off 4.30pm

Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp!

Sky Sports WhatsApp channel

You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!

Find out more here…

Sky News
(c) Sky Sports 2024:Source