Hats off to Luton after Wembley thriller
Luton Town chairman Nick Owen described the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final to me as a "shining beacon".
Owen made the comment on Friday and was referring specifically to the game's context in a season that he says has been "desperately difficult" for his club.
But ultimately what happened at Wembley on Sunday stands out as a shining beacon on so many different levels.
Luton's 3-2 extra-time victory over Scunthorpe was a breathtaking encounter, worthy of any final.
To describe it as a great advert for lower division football would be nothing less than patronising. It was, quite simply, a great advert for the sport.
You could search far and wide before you stumbled across a match boasting five goals of such outstanding quality. Can you think of one?
There were no scrappy finishes, lucky deflections or heart-breaking own goals in this final, just ones of a quality to savour and admire. All but one of the goals came from outside the area and all were fit to grace a Wembley final.
The pick of the bunch was probably Grant McCann's equaliser close to full-time, a sumptuous left-foot strike that Luton boss Mick Harford paid generous tribute to afterwards.
Scunthorpe, supported by 13,000 fans, played their full part in the match and might yet be back at Wembley. That is certainly the aim now for manager Nigel Adkins as his team push for promotion from League One.
Adkins spoke eloquently afterwards about the need to bottle the negative feelings in his dressing room. Some of the younger players were in tears but Adkins wants them to remember how low they felt after this defeat and channel it into making sure it does not happen the next time they are at Wembley.
But Sunday belonged to Luton Town - to the 2020 consortium that took over a club in a desperate financial situation last year, their playing and coaching staff, and the supporters who turned out in great numbers.
More than anything it was a statement made by a club - a statement that said we are survivors and here to stay.
Luton started their League Two campaign with a 30-point deduction, 10 handed down from the Football Association after they were found guilty of misconduct by paying agents via a third party and 20 from the Football League after they failed to satisfy the League's insolvency rules.
Many people I have spoken to about the 30-point penalty feel Luton have been very harshly treated - a view to which Owen fully subscribes.
"We cannot understand the severity of it," he told me. "When a club is in difficulty it seems unjust to knock them on the head with a mallet."
Others would counter that if a clubs lives beyond its means in order to try to succeed and ends up going bust then it would be unfair on the other clubs if the guilty party were not punished.
It is an issue upon which I suspect it is impossible to satisfy all parties - and complicated further when you consider that it is a new consortium at Luton that has been punished for the actions of a previous board.
It looks as though the final conclusion of the penalty will be relegation from the Football League.
Sunday might have been a triumph for Luton but results in League Two on Saturday, with Chester, Grimsby and Bournemouth all picking up points, ensured it would never be a perfect weekend.
The Hatters remain in the distressingly familiar position of last place in League Two and are 12 points from safety with six games left to play.
"At the moment our Football League status is out of our hands," said Harford. "We could win all our remaining games and still be relegated."
But in a sense this entire season has been a triumph for Luton. They only came out of administration days before it began and their first match programme of the season was full of gaps next to squad numbers. Owen said it felt like players were being introduced to each other in the tunnel before the game.
Harford slowly assembled a decent squad and has been quick to pay tribute to players who have joined his mission knowing full well they could be out of the Football League at the end of the season. That they will at least end the season as victors at Wembley is just reward and vindication for their bold decision to accept the challenge at Luton.
The points deduction remains an open and very painful wound, felt keenly by the supporters and the victory over Scunthorpe was a triumph for them as well.
They sold 40,000 tickets and had more fans inside the stadium than any other club for a final at the rebuilt Wembley. T-shirts, banners and flags left one in no doubt as to their current thoughts on the footballing authorities. My personal favourite doffed a Hatters straw boater to the club's most famous fan, Eric Morecambe. It said "Bring me sunshine, the FA never will".
And if Football League chairman Lord Brian Mawhinney had still not grasped the depth of feeling then the booing that rebounded around Wembley as he was introduced to the teams prior to kick-off ought to have done the trick.
After the final Harford seemed to stand for so long in front of Mawhinney in the Royal Box with the trophy aloft that I almost suspected it was as though the manager was making a statement of his own. Mawhinney, ever the politician, grinned his way through it.
It felt like an afternoon rich in emotion and meaning, far beyond that which can be conjured purely as a consequence of events on the pitch. Before writing this article I looked on the 606 boards and read with interest the amount of messages of goodwill sent to Luton supporters by fans of other clubs. There was a genuine depth of feeling.
In a few weeks Luton's heroic attempt to stay in the league will be over. Owen says he is not even contemplating relegation but did state that the club's finances are now order and they would hope to keep as many players as possible to mount a serious push for an instant return.
It remains to be seen whether Luton will be allowed to defend their trophy if they do go down but that is an issue for another day.
What Sunday said was that everyone connected with Luton has the desire and determination to clear what further hurdles lie in front of them. It spoke of a club that has been battered and bruised but whose soul remains intact.
Or, to leave the last word to Owen: "It says that there are a lot of people who care about this football club. That they will not be ground into the dust by the authorities."