Harford Must Stay
By Steve Moore
Updated Friday, 25th April 2008
Why Mick Harford should stay despite relegation
It was 20 years ago today, well it was actually yesterday but that mixes up the Beatles songs. Mick Harford beat John Lukic in the air and almost scored at Wembley before going off with an injured ankle and watching his Luton Town teammates win the Littlewoods Cup thanks to two goals from Brian Stein and one from Danny Wilson.
A year before that, he was leading the line as Luton were third in the old Division One with only the big two from Merseyside ahead of them. Only three games left and had only just dropped out of the title race.
Now, as manager, the man in the era of Keegan's rebirth could be termed 'the other Geordie messiah' has taken his beloved Luton down to the basement. This makes it the second time in seven years that The Hatters have hit the floorboards.
With only two wins and eight points since taking over in January. What's worse, they could well be starting their League Two campaign with a 15-point handicap, which will automatically put them into a relegation battle just to stay in the Football League itself.
It could be termed as the sort of form that would even put club legends on course for the sack. Especially when the last manager mainly responsible for taking Luton down was another Luton legend, Ricky Hill, who didn't even last the entire relegation season. So to say that, rather than the sack, Harford deserves to be given a new three or four year contract, seems like blind faith, extravagant optimism and loyalty or pure insanity.
But there are reasons why Harford must stay in charge at Luton as they try to recover yet another mess that has littered the last 20 years.
It may be fair to say that Harford has taken Luton down on paper. When he took over, despite the ten-point deduction, they were outside the relegation zone and they are now, not only down but stranded at the foot of the League One table. Which considering how poor Port Vale have been and the fact that, since he took over, Bournemouth have also been subject to a ten-point deduction, is almost an achievement within itself.
However, this is not looking within the actual Luton Town camp. Harford has been left a squad that is more unbalanced than Jan Molby sitting on a set of scales with Gianfranco Zola. Up-front, Harford has Sam Parkin, Paul Furlong, Calvin Andrew, Ryan Charles, Drew Talbot (when fit) and Paul McVeigh to choose from.
Looks strong, until you look back at the other end. His two centre-halves have had to be Keith Keane and Chris Perry. Basically, a midfielder and a right back, both of whom make Tom Cruise look tall. As shown by that now infamous picture of Keane marking Peter Crouch and his head barely reaching the beer advert on the front of Crouch's shirt. In a division that prides itself on big target men like Jason Scotland and Poul Hubertz, that's not especially impressive.
Well, it could be worse, Perry might be out on loan forcing him to pick an attacking midfielder like Don Hutchinson to play at the heart of defense. Oh wait, that's actually happened. Looking at that, it is an achievement that Harford has actually managed two clean sheets!
Another reason why Harford must stay is that four and a half months is nowhere near long enough to make an impact and stamp his authority onto the squad.
It was Sir Alex Ferguson that once said: "It takes any manager, 18 months to get rid of the players he doesn't want. Another 18 months to sign the players he does want and a third 18 months to train them up."
That makes, for those that aren't keen on maths, four and a half years rather than months. Which, as an interesting aside, shows that most club chairmen probably aren't that good at maths as that is over twice the average time span of a football managers job.
Back on the Mick Harford situation, on that statement, it would be fair to say that he deserves longer in the job than he's already had. To take it one step further though, due to administration, it may be fair to say he hasn't even started those first 18 months yet. If he can't get any players in, why would you even get rid of the players you don't want?
The only player that has definitely gone for good so far is David Bell, which considering that, according to the CVA forms season ticket holders received, he is almost costing the club twice as much on wages as any other player is fair enough. Although it wouldn't be too far off the mark to state that it was fair enough he was picking up so much, because he was twice as good as any other player at the club!
Various comments from Harford himself show that he believes he is at the start of this very long process. After relegation was confirmed against Brighton he mentioned that; 'there are some players I don't want and some I do'. These sorts of comments prove that, although he is only on a contract until the end of this turbulent and terrible season, he wants to be here for longer and he doesn't see himself as a short-term stand in.
This is only strengthened when you consider that the make up of most of the reserve sides now are trialists that Harford himself has brought in, like Adam Nowland and Brett Johnson. He has even brought in Michael Synnott, who isn't even out of contract at Ipswich until the summer. Harford has even talked about building a new Luton Town and that he wants to 'bring in new footballers who want to play and have passion.'
One final reason that shows why Harford should stay is summed up in one comment when talking about relegation:
"It is probably the best thing that could've happened to us as a business."
This came in the same interview as mentioning that 'being relegated is probably the worst thing that has happened to me' and 'I haven't had a worse hurt in my career than I am feeling right now.' It shows both a deep running and meaningful relationship that he has with the club, as you would expect from someone whose career is so intensely linked with Luton Town. But, more importantly, it shows that he is a realist and is able to step back and view the bigger picture of things.
These reasons show why Mick Harford should be allowed a much longer stay as manager of Luton Town Football Club. That's not to say that, if so, in 20 years time Luton will be back challenging for major trophies. Far from it, keeping hold of Harford may not even achieve the aims of the new 2020 consortium of top end Championship football in a new stadium by 2020. However, it certainly won't help trying to achieve these aims by bringing in yet another new manager when one who fits the bill and deserves a chance is already here.
Besides, 20 years is a long time and a lot of things can happen. Who would have thought, when they watched ITV's coverage of the 1988 Littlewoods Cup final that Ray Harford, David Rocastle and David Preece and even the, then injured, Les Sealey would no longer be with us for the celebrations next month.