You need more than the best players and manager to win the league. You need an atmosphere that gets you through the bad times and cultivates a winning mentality for the team. In short, we need the best fans in the best stadium.
The Stadium of Light is something special, something you can see for miles around, a beacon of hope and expectation. Welcoming for home fans, intimidating for away fans. Over the years, I think I’d taken it for granted. A trip to Old Trafford or Anfield and you appreciated that your home ground was average, the ‘garden shed’ chant sung more out of irony than fact. Yesterday, it all came flooding back to me.
Getting to Kenilworth Road involved walking down a small terraced street in Luton so quiet and anonymous I started to think that my phone’s GPS must be wrong. Surely there can’t be a football ground here… wait, what’s that?
We were shown into someone’s back garden as if to be shown a particularly impressive gnome collection only to find that, where you’d expect a coal house, someone had built a football ground. And it was the sort of football ground you’d build in a garden as a hobby - gradually, over the years, with spare bits of loft board and doors from failed DIY projects. It made me appreciate how lucky we are to have the Stadium of Light and our shiny new seats.
We must never take it for granted but rather use it to our advantage, a fortress against all first-time visitors, our fabulous supporters cheering for 90 minutes. Teams at this level will struggle to find their feet and we can be the twelfth man in an already intimidating environment.
But the players and fans have work to do to keep the intimidation up for 90 minutes.
At Luton our players and fans had a game of two halves. Magnificent in the first half with the fans, loud and passionate, helping the team to a deserved half time lead. But then the inevitable happened. We concluded that we were too good for the division.
We’re clearly a striker, or two, short but, fundamentally, it’s all looking rosy so, three points please Mr Ross, and we’ll be on our way back up the M1. Everyone decided it was job done and backed off in the second half. Maja seemed less inclined to put his body on the line, Matthews and Oviedo sat a little deeper and the fans checked their phone messages and planned for their evening out.
After one and a half games the expectation and assumption of victory was there. But we were quickly reminded that it won’t be a procession. Luton got stronger and we tired, not used to the physicality of the division, and their efforts were rewarded. We took our foot of the gas and dropped two points.
We have, in my opinion, the best team, the best stadium and the best fans in this league but, unless we use all of them 100% of the time we run the risk of giving up some of our competitive advantage. The job won’t be done until May, it certainly won’t be done by half time in the second game.