In the normal run of things, Luton Town would trot out for their home FA Cup third-round tie against Liverpool tomorrow afternoon with nothing to lose. But things are far from normal at a club which faces extinction after dropping into administration in November. Luton will learn by Monday evening deadline 5pm if anyone is prepared to bankroll their continuing existence.
Truly, Luton's players will be playing for their futures against a side 60 places above them in the football hierarchy. Their manager, Kevin Blackwell who finds himself a similar situation to that which he was in at Leeds just over a year ago reflected yesterday upon the importance of the Liverpool game. It will mean players who have received wages for two -and -a-half weeks in the last nine will get a payday a first since beating Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup second round on 11 December.
"The better we do, it will make it a much more attractive proposition for someone to buy [the club]," said Blackwell, who has sacked his scouts and returned all loan players. "So the pressure is on, not just to get the results but to create something someone would like to buy into.
"If anybody had the nous, the wherewithal and the drive they could have a fantastic facility here. Luton has always had a good reputation for developing players and playing good football. But I think things have gone on for too long and it's still a dangerous situation."
Blackwell, who steered Leeds through administration and took them to the 2006 play-off final only to be sacked four months later, accepts that a poor showing tomorrow could trigger the break-up of his squad. "That's a real possibility," he said, adding that his players will soon have to decide whether to give the statutory fortnight's notice to the club, if they want to move in the current transfer window. That means making a decision by Monday week.
A reprise of Luton's showing against Liverpool two years ago, when they went 3-1 up but lost 5-3, would inspire hope. Blackwell, who has fielded tearful calls from players' wives and who donated his last pay-packet to his 70-per-week YTS players, retains an understandable black humour.
Asked if he saw any light at the end of the tunnel, he said: "Yes. It's a train." He arrived at Luton in March, attracted by talk of a new stadium and player investment. "What I was told was economical with the truth, to say the least," he said. "Subsequently the whole lot's been pulled from nderneath me and I'm really frustrated and angry. For it to happen twice in the last 14 months is particularly galling. But you've got to get on with it." Predators are circling. "I've had some really cheeky bids," said Blackwell; the worst was 175,000 offered by Forest for the Wales international Dave Edwards worth around 1m in his manager's estimation.
"Its the law of the jungle," Blackwell said. "When you are weak you get ravaged and my word are we getting ravaged at the moment."
Blackwell, however, is full of praise for his players, who but for the mandatory 10-point penalty for going into administration would be well clear of the League One relegation zone.
Luton knocked Sunderland and Charlton out of this season's Carling Cup and very nearly managed to do the same to Everton.
"We have had a great season so far, but it feels as if it has been a disaster," Blackwell said. Tomorrow, for his club, it could be a case of death or glory.
Club's appeal for Christmas charity wasted on Liverpool
Liverpool have apparently played the part of Scrooge over Christmas by turning down a request from Luton, who are facing extinction, to donate their half-share of the gate money for tomorrow's FA Cup tie at Kenilworth Road to the home club.
A sell-out crowd of 10,226 will earn an estimated 100,000. "That has been asked by the administrator," Luton's manager, Kevin Blackwell, said. Asked for Liverpool's likely response, he added: "They probably said: 'We have to pay players 100,000 a week. You must be joking! Otherwise we will be like you!'"
Chelsea donated 25,000 to Scarborough after their 2004 Cup tie.Reuse content