By Jamie Holt
STEVE McNulty is known for having the broadest shoulders in the Football League – and the Luton captain says he needs them to bear the weight of expectation this season at Kenilworth Road.
Tipping the scale at 14 stones, and affectionately known as ‘Sumo’ by his own fans, McNulty isn’t your archetypal modern footballer.
Yet the 31-year-old’s barrel belly and grey hair have taken League Two by storm this term. Before yesterday’s clash against promotion rivals Burton, Luton were top of the pile after an 11-game unbeaten run in the league.
But 6ft 1in club captain McNulty claims he hasn’t been surprised by how quickly his side have taken to life in League Two.
“The momentum has just carried on from last season,” said McNulty. “We didn’t start too well but we kept telling each other it’s a long season and things can quickly change, and they have.
“I’m the first to admit I was out of form for the first five or six games, but it wasn’t due to pressure, it was simply bad form.
“I wasn’t worried about making the transition. People have always questioned me, saying this and that, but it doesn’t bother me.
“I have always been the same, since my time as a young pro at Liverpool. The comments have always just gone over my head – I’m too old and wise to let it affect me now.
“We went 25 games unbeaten in the Conference last season and the aim was always to see how far we could go in League Two.
“People were talking about us doing this and that this season, but you can’t do much about it. We were a massive club inthe Conference and we’re still a massive club at this level.
“It’s going to be tough. When you looked at the squad in pre-season, quite a few hadn’t played in the Football League, and there is that niggling doubt in the back of your mind.
“But we’re confident in our ability and it was only going to be a matter of time before we got things going again.”
McNulty, voted player of the year by our sister publication The Non-League Paper last season – has been in this position before.
Having quit his day job as a van driver to join Fleetwood in 2009, he helped lead the Cod Army from the Conference North into the Football League.
However, long-standing manager Micky Mellon left in December 2012 and McNulty found himself cut adrift – partly due to injury – under new boss Graham Alexander.
So does the Liverpudlian feel he has a point to prove with Fleetwood riding high in League One?
“I want to play at as high a level as I can,” he added. “I always want to have a go.
“I did play 20-odd games in League Two for Fleetwood, so I had no doubts about making the step up again, but I would like to test myself at the next level.
“I have no doubt I could do it again. You have to put your money where your mouth is though.
“At one point it did feel like my career was running away, but I’m picking up the pace even though I’m now in my thirties! I seem to be getting better with age. I’m really enjoying it and I’m hoping it will continue.”