My first love (before reading and books) was football. As a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I used to live and breathe football. My favourite team of the time was Chelsea and I can recall charging around my back garden in full kit, imitating my hero of the day Peter Osgood.
My first live match was a treat from my uncle – an opportunity to see West Ham take on my beloved Chelsea in December, 1972. A great day but marginally spoilt by the outcome; Chelsea losing 3 – 1 in East London.
My dad used to like Leeds, probably because of the little Irishman who used to run their midfield at the time – Johnny Giles. In truth though, my father was always more interested in Gaelic Games and how the All-Ireland football and hurling championships unfolded each year. Go on Dublin!
Early 1974, I probably started badgering my father to take me to a football match and eventually he relented. On a Tuesday evening, the 16th April, 1974 I visited Kenilworth Road for the very first time to see Luton Town take on Oxford United. Luton were flying high and seeking promotion to Division 1 – the top-flight of English football at the time. My first taste of Luton saw them lose 1 – 0, but the season ended successfully and promotion to the old First Division was realised.
No instant love affair or attraction developed. Luton spent one solitary season in Division One, before being relegated back down to the second tier.
A year and a half later – 29th October, 1975 I went to see Dunstable Town take on Luton in a friendly. The occasion was my 12th birthday and the excitement was exacerbated by Dunstable Town having in their line-up none other than the legendary George Best. Best by then was a shadow of the former player that had helped Manchester United ascend to the top of British and European football. I remember nothing of the game other than the score line – a 1 -1 draw.
At some point during the 1975-76 season, I started to regularly attend home games with some school friends. From memory there were 4 of us that used go and we would be down at the Oak Road end turnstiles at about 1.15 pm waiting for the ground to open at around 1.30. If we were lucky, we were first through the gate and could rush up the steps to the top of the terraces and would run down at speed to secure a spot at the front directly behind the goal. Admission used to be 30p for children. Kenilworth Road was (and still) is a tight, compact ground. Small in capacity but loud, noisy and heaving when Luton were playing well. 9,000 could sound like 10 times that amount!
Over the next couple of years, a lasting love affair with the club and the team developed. The following season or two the bond I felt for the club grew. 1978 was the year I bought my first season ticket for the princely sum of £15. Something I was to repeat for the following 20 years or so.
Late 70’s we had a decent side. David Pleat was manager and we had a couple of skilful, black budding stars in Ricky Hill and Brian Stein. We had a few unsuccessful seasons challenging for promotion back to the top-flight, before cracking it in 1981-82. That year we ran away with the title, ending the season above arch rivals – Watford and securing promotion with only 4 defeats. By this time, I was happily following the Town to away matches; particularly when they played in London, which was only half an hour away on the train.
1982-83 we were back in the big time! Man Utd, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham and the rest all rolled into town. Great days, great crowds, memorable victories and humbling defeats all followed. By the end of the season relegation loomed large. We travelled to Man Utd on a weekday evening and lost. Saturday we were back in Manchester playing their arch-rivals City in an us or them, do or die shoot-out. 85 minutes gone, a NIL-NIL draw seemed inevitable and a quick return to the second division. Up steps the most popular Yugoslavian in the history of the town – Raddy Antic who shoots and scores from about 12 yards out. Pandemonium ensued – 5,000 happy, delirious, dancing Luton fans – 38,000 disgruntled, angry Mancunians. The following 5 minutes were the longest of my life. City missed a chance late on to equalise and send us down, but we held on. You may dimly recall seeing footage of our manager dancing across the pitch, before players and fans were attacked by City supporters, triggering the intervention of mounted police.
We stayed in the top flight for 10 seasons in total. Most of them struggling to avoid relegation, but a few in the middle were relatively successful and in 1986-87 we finished the season in an all-time high of 7th position. I had some of the best days of my life following Luton with my friends. Sundays to Wednesdays would be spent reflecting on the game and performance and result of the last game, assuming we had no midweek fixture. Thursday to Saturday lunchtime was spent anticipating the next game on a Saturday afternoon, planning an away trip and organising transport and a driver.
I think what made these days so happy and memorable were my friendships at the time. It was never just about the football, games and trips away were social occasions and outings. Drink was never far from our thoughts – if we won we would drink to celebrate and if we lost we would drink to cheer ourselves up.
I used to be able to remember every away ground I visited watching Luton – 40 easily…..Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, QPR, Millwall, Leighton Orient, Southampton, Reading, Newcastle, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich, Norwich, West Brom, Wolves, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Leicester, Derby, Oxford, Watford, Cambridge, Derby, Stoke, Shrewsbury, Swansea, Blackburn, Liverpool, Everton, Man Utd, Man City, Cardiff, Brighton, Cardiff, Leeds, Notts Forest, Notts County, Rotherham, Northampton and Wimbledon.
My own life evolved and changed significantly in this period. In either late 1984 or early 1985, I left home and moved into digs in Leighton Buzzard – a quiet market town about 13 miles away from Luton. I gradually separated from my football friends and started taking my then girlfriend (future wife) to see super Luton instead. A shared passion.
On and off the pitch was a bit of a roller-coaster……….plastic pitch, the Millwall riot, causing Maggie Thatcher to show an interest in football and our chairman of the time, a Tory MP – David Evans to introduce a membership scheme and away fans ban, which helped make us the most unpopular club in English football.
|Luton - Millwall 1985|
Highlight and lowlights…….
1985 FA Cup semi final, unluckily losing to the best team in the country at the time Everton.
1988 FA Cup semi final, deservedly losing to Wimbledon 2 -1.
1988 Simod Cup Final, getting spanked by lower league Reading 4 – 1 at Wembley.
1988 – 24th April – one of the greatest days of my life – with the exception of the day I set eyes on my future wife for the first time, the day I married my wife and the occasion of the birth of my three children. Wembley stadium Littlewoods Cup Final – LUTON TOWN 3 ARSENAL 2
|Cup Winners - Steve Foster, Andy Dibble, Brian Stein|
I can remember the match like it was yesterday. Luton went 1 – 0 up early first half through Brian Stein. Arsenal equalised second half, then went 2 – 1 ahead. A few minutes later, the referee awarded them a penalty and I thought it was all over. Up stepped Nigel Winterburn to seal the victory but our goalkeeper Andy Dibble makes the save. 7 minutes from time, Danny Wilson – who my wife hugged and kissed the following day at the victory parade through the town – equalises. In the 90th minute after a sublime cross from Ashley Grimes, Brian Stein strikes with his second of the game to snatch the win and secure the only major trophy Luton have lifted in over 100 years of professional football.
|Brian Stein's 90th minute winner!|
1989 – we returned to Wembley to face Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the final the following year. Despite an early 1 – 0 lead after a goal from Luton legend, Mick Harford we lost 3 – 1.
1992 saw us relegated from the top flight and saw the start of a downward spiral. From Luton’s Wikipedia entry………
The club was relegated from the top division at the end of the 1991–92 season, and sank to the third tier four years later. Luton stayed in the third-tier Second Division until relegation at the end of the 2000–01 season. Under the management of Joe Kinnear, who had arrived halfway through the previous season, the team won promotion from the fourth tier at the first attempt.
"Controversial" owner John Gurney unsettled the club in 2003, terminating Kinnear's contract on his arrival in May; Gurney replaced Kinnear with Mike Newell before leaving Luton as the club entered administration. Newell's team finished as champions of the third-tier Football League One in 2004–05.
While Newell's place was taken by first Kevin Blackwell and later former player Mick Harford, the team was then relegated twice in a row, starting in 2006–07, and spent the latter part of the 2007–08 season in administration, thus incurring a ten-point deduction from that season's total. The club then had a total of 30 points docked from its 2008–09 record by The Football Association and The Football League for various financial irregularities dating back several years. These deductions proved to be too large an obstacle to overcome, but Luton came from behind in the final of the Football League Trophy to win the competition for the first time.
Relegation meant that 2009–10 saw Luton playing in the Conference Premier, a competition which the club had never before contested. They remain there as of the 2013–14 season, having unsuccessfully contested the promotion play-offs three times in the previous four years. In the 2012–13 FA Cup fourth round, Luton won their away tie against Premier League club Norwich City 1–0, and in doing so became the first non-League team to beat a side from England's top division since 1989.
Over the past 15 years, football and Luton has assumed a lesser significance in my life. I had been previously spoilt – I had the good fortune to start watching my unfashionable but stylish and entertaining team at a time when they were about to enter the most successful period in their history. I enjoyed over 25 years watching them win, lose and draw with panache.
With the advent of our family in March 1995 and the subsequent addition of two further mini Keanes in 1996 and 1998, football and Luton was a lower priority. Money was tighter, time was tighter, work hours were longer, baby-sitters for 3 young kids every other Saturday was a stretch and an imposition on ever-willing grandparents. I/we gradually stopped attending matches and eventually the buzz and the passion and ardour dimmed.
Saturday’s at 5 o’clock would still have me looking for the Town’s result. But as the wiki entry above indicates, the club suffered through a long period of poor management and our fortunes on the pitch declined.
Harsh treatment from the football authorities saw us lose our Football League status in 2009. We have battled unsuccessfully to get back ever since, coming close but never quite succeeding. A succession of managers have tried and failed.
2013-2014 may finally see an upturn in our fortunes and the start of a renaissance. Just over a year ago we appointed John Still as manager and he has galvanised the whole club, uniting staff, players and supporters in a common goal of getting Luton Town back into the football league.
|Luton - Tamworth|
Tuesday night Luton beat Tamworth 2 - 0 to move 16 points clear of Cambridge United, who have 6 games left to play (possible 18 points). By 22.00 hours GMT tonight, if Cambridge have lost at Woking, Luton will be back in the football league. Should Cambridge draw or win, the champagne will be on ice until Saturday lunchtime when Luton face Braintree at Kenilworth Road. A victory then, if still required will get the corks popping. Should the unthinkable happen and we lose, we will still have a further 3 opportunities to secure the points required, but hopefully those matches won’t be needed. My nerves can’t take it!
These days, I monitor their fortunes from the vantage point of TV, radio, lap-top and newspaper, but my love affair and affections for the town have been re-awakened.
About 10 o'clock tonight - fingers crossed!
C’mon You Hatters!*
*Luton are nicknamed The Hatters because of the town’s long and historic connection with the millinery industry.