‘Mr Luton’ Mick Harford: This Is The Biggest Game In Hatters History

Luton Town take on Coventry City in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday
08:00, 23 May 2023

Mick Harford remains ‘Mr Luton’ in the minds of generations of fans and football followers everywhere – and the Sunderland-born former striker reckons cleaning the toilets is one of the very few roles he has not fulfilled at Kenilworth Road.

The Hatters take on a similarly resurgent Coventry City at Wembley in the Championship play-off final, football's annual ‘winner takes all’ £200 million showdown for a Premier League place at the weekend – a real fairy-tale occasion for two clubs who have come back from the brink.

And though the 64-year-old Harford hails from the north-east, it is his association with Luton Town through thick and often wafer-thin by which he is best known.

Harford has been player, goal-scorer, coach, interim manager, permanent manager – twice, technical director, and will be at the national stadium as current recruitment chief at the club.

In two spells as a forward he scored 93 mostly top-flight goals in 217 appearances. And he did not shirk the job of manager at a time of crisis in the 2008-09 season at the antiquated Kenilworth Road, with Luton relegated to non-league after being docked 30 points for illegal payments.

Even in that tumultuous and devastating campaign Harford led the side to Wembley glory in the Football League Trophy, though the club were not allowed to defend it.

And with the revival well under way – Luton were in the National Conference as recently as 2014 – he won Manager of the Year for steering them to the League One title four years ago.

Harford, who played in winning and losing League Cup finals at Wembley with Luton – a thrilling 3-2 victory over Arsenal in 1988, and a 3-1 loss to Nottingham Forest a year later – says: “There are probably still a few jobs there at Kenilworth Road that I haven’t done yet.

“The toilets need a good clean down there, and I haven’t had that pleasure yet. But you couldn’t write the Luton story and it’s no fluke, we were in the play-offs last year too.

“That season where we had the 30 points deducted by the FA and the Football League, lost our place in the league but also won the Trophy was a huge moment in Luton’s history. When we were relegated due to the points being taken away it was the start of a new era at the club really. We went down, but we were at last clean and free from our penalties.

“The new owners, the Luton 2020 consortium, came in and it was like a breath of fresh air. They got the club back on its feet, and got it back to where it is now. There was something about that season that fans will never forget. It brought a real sense of unity and togetherness, common purpose – fans and club and team all as one.

“A lot of people in this town thought it was very unjust, and rightly so in my view. But in a strange way it has maybe helped us to get where we are now – done through adversity.

“The manager Rob Edwards has done a brilliant job. And if we do it, he and the players will become part of the club’s history - be iconic names, and have legendary status.

“This is the biggest game in Luton Town’s history. Yes, we had a long period in the top flight in the 1980s, the old first division. The highest we finished was seventh, so we were competing well at that time. But it is just a different ball game now. And getting promoted would, I am certain, bring the building of the new stadium a lot closer. The process would move quicker.

“Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu is the talisman for this team. He was playing in non-league for Luton a decade ago, and is now a very good Championship player. He just keeps improving. He would be the first player to be at a club from non-league to the Premier League if we could do it, but no one is taking anything for granted. I have huge respect for Coventry and Mark Robins.”

The facilities at the 10,000-capacity ground in Bedfordshire would need a huge £10 million upgrade if they win on Saturday, and that even with a new stadium at Power Court in the pipeline. And there is a glint in Harford’s eye as he contemplates the possibility of Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes running out at the old place next season.

He adds: “I think the 10,000 sound like 70,000 when they are in full voice. It is just home to us, very special and holds so many memories. But to others who come here from other clubs with big stadiums and amazing facilities, the tight, small ground is a bit of a shock. If we did make it it would be an advantage, and an asset."

Among so many memorable highs with Luton, Harford still reckons winning his two England caps while with the Hatters rates highest. And the recruitment chief will be there clutching his two player lists on Saturday – one for another season in the Championship, and the other more expensive one for life in the promised land.

Luton Town are 8/11 to get promoted with Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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