Luton Town FC are a football club from the town of the same name who made its name through their hat making and Vauxhall car plant and airport in later years. The town is located in the county of Bedfordshire, thirty miles north of London.
The club were formed following a meeting at the Village Hall on 11th April 1885 after a merger of prominent local team Luton Town Wanderers and a works team called Exelsior, who played at a ground on Dallow Lane, which became the new clubs' first home. Luton were admitted into the Southern League as founder members in 1894.
1897 was an eventful year for the club as they were elected to the Football League after a couple of finishing as Southern League runners up and moving to a new ground in Dunstable Road because of financial strife. Sadly after three years they found themselves back at that level. The club were asked to leave their new ground at shoert notice a few seasons later, but the directors quickly established a new site and the club kicked off the 1905-06 season at Kenilworth Road.
In 1920 Town were re-elected back into the Football League, changing to a kit of white and black to replace the previous blue and white colours. The Main Stand burnt down a year or two later, but a new structure was ready for the start of the 1922-23 season. 'The Hatters' as the club were nicknamed won promotion after finishing as Division Three South champions in 1937.
After World War Two, Town began to figure well in the league, culminating in promotion to Division One in 1955 to secure top flight football for the first time with Syd Owen and Jesse Pye starring. In 1959 the team reached Wembley for the FA Cup Final, where in a famous encounter Nottingham Forest won 2-1. The following season saw relegation back to Division Two.
A further relegation came in 1963 as attendances dwindled causing financial worries, and this was not helped by a further demotion to the League's bottom tier a couple of years later. In 1967 a reinvigorated team featuring a young Bruce Rioch won the Division Four title with gates more than doubling.
The team just missed out on a second successive promotion, but under the managership of Alec Stock they made no mistake in the 1969-70 season, as converted defender Malcolm Macdonald scored the goals and comedian Eric Morecambe became a club director.
Sadly after a near miss on a return to the top flight the accounts showed a large loss so Macdonald was sold to Newcastle United. Stock was replaced by Harry Haslam as manager who took his side to promotion in the 1973-74 season. Unfortunately their spell in Division One lasted just one season as orange, white and navy clours were introduced. Finances were in a perilous state with the directors having to pay bills and only the sale of Peter Anderson to Royal Antwerp saved the club from liquidation.
|Kenilworth Road in the early 70's as scanned from the Football League Review|
Haslam moved on in 1978 to give young manager David Pleat his opportunity. He made some astute signings such as Brian Horton to supplement the youngsters like Ricky Hill and Brian Stein. The 1981-82 season saw The Hatters romp to the Division Two title as Paul Walsh was brought in. In their first season back at the League's elite, they escaped relegation on the final day by winning away at Maine Road, sending Manchester City down and seeing Pleat make a famous jig across the pitch.
|The turnstiles at the Kenilworth Stand still had the old rusting |
membership card readers on them when I visited in July 2012
In March 1985 visiting Millwall supporters rioted and caused major damages to the ground and surrounding areas, which led to a ban on away fans from the start of the following season, with home fans only being admitted by owning a valid membership card. At the same time the turf was dug up at Kenilworth Road to be replaced by an astroturf surface. The ground also got a facelift at the same time under the chairmanship of David Evans. At the end of the next season Pleat departed to be eventually replaced by Ray Harford. He took the side all the way to the League Cup Final for a glorious day as Arsenal were defeated 3-2 in a tremendous match.
To see what happened, click on the link below:
Sadly players began to be sold after this victory to balance the books. Harford and then Jim Ryan were dismissed as manager before Pleat returned in the summer of 1989. Mick Harford was brought back to play up front, but the season ended in relegation. They nearly went down for a second succesive season as further players were sold, but there was some success in 1994 when the club reached its fourth FA Cup semi final. On this occasion Chelsea ended their dreams in the Wembley encounter.
In the 1994-95 season youngster John Hartson starred before being sold as Pleat left once again. After a couple of changes in manager Lennie Lawrence was in charge as the team were relegated to the third tier. Lawrence remained in charge as the team missed out in the play offs in 1997. The club was sold to Cliff Barrett in the summer of 1999 as young stars continued to be sold. There were attempts earlier to move the club to a new stadium away from the ageing Kenilworth Road, with one idea being the Kohler Dome by the M1.
The club was sold once more to Mike Watson-Challis a year later who dismissed Lawrence and two further bosses in quick succession before Joe Kinnear was appointed in 2001. However, he could not prevent relegation to Division Three (the old Division Four) but did take the side back up at the first attempt. He assembled a decent team but was hampered by lack of finances and players leaving.
John Gurney bought the club in May 2003 sacking Kinnear and assistant and former player Harford before trying to merge the club with Wimbledon and then holding a phone poll amongst fans to appoint a new manager. Mike Newell was appointed and brought back Harford as Gurney was eventually ousted by the supporters group, Trust in Luton. The club entered a period of administration as a legacy of Gurney's dealings until new owners, a consortium led by Bill Tomlins took over in May 2004.
Town went up as champions the following season, and consolidate their position despite having little investment on the playing side. However, the team were relegated the following season as Newell was replaced by Kevin Blackwell, with Tomlins selling up after an FA investigation into illegal payments being made to players agents. David Pinkney took over at the helm but could not prevent the club entering into administration once again in November 2007. The administrators sacked Blackwell who was replaced by Harford. A new consortium, Luton Town Football Club 2020 headed by TV presenter Nick Owen took over but the team hamstrung by a ten point deduction because of fincial misdemeanors were relegated.
Luton were given a further ten point penalty for the 2008-09 season but after further enquiries and investigations were only allocated their Football League share by accepting a further twenty point deduction. That meant Town starting thirty points adrift. It inevitably led to relegation from the League to the Conference. One glimmer of light on a disastrous season was a victory over Scunthorpe United at Wembley to lift the Football League Trophy in front of 40,000 ecstatic Hatters fans.
In their first season as a non league club for eighty nine years, Luton missed out on promotion over two legs in the Play Off Semi Final to York City with Richard Money as manager. In March 2011 Money's assistant Gary Brabbin took over in charge of team affairs as this time Town reached the Play Off Final. AFC Wimbledon edged them out in a penalty shoot out. Brabbin lasted until late into the next season when Paul Buckle was appointed as his successor. Yet again Luton missed out in the Play Off Final, this time at Wembley to York City.
Buckle departed during the 2012-13 season to be replaced by Dagenham & Redbridge boss John Still. Still worked his magic once again in the 2013-14 campaign as the team aided by the goals of Andre Gray won the Conference to return to the Football League with three games remaining.
Gary was sold for an undisclosed fee to Brentford as Still's side just missed out on a play off place on their return to the League, before an eighth place finish the season after. Still departed in December 2015.
Luton Town FC will play in the Football League One in the 2015-16 season.
Luton Town 4 Oxford United 2 (Saturday 25th September 1999) Division Two
The cricket season had finished after my first summer as an employee of the MCC at Lord's Cricket Ground and I was keen to get out and see some football at new venues when I couldn't attend a Scarborough game. I chose this third tier clash at Kenilworth Road on a pleasant day and made my way from my rented room in Willesden Green to Cricklewood to catch the train.
I had done some research before I travelled, so after a walk from Luton station through the town centre and along the heavily Asian influenced streets along Dunstable Road, I strolled up Kenilworth Road to suss out what was what.
The ticket prices seemed expensive for the home end and many required memberships for access. Instead I just bought a pin badge and decided on going in the away end. I wandered round the ground past the back of the Bobbers Stand on up Oak Road and over the bridge at the rear of the Main Stand. I once read in Simon Inglis fine book 'The Football Grounds of England and Wales' that you didn't know what cramped was until you visited the ground, and this was before Hatters Way had been built to cut across even more space. I continued down Maple Drive to enter a pub called The Bedfordshire Yeoman, which was friendly enough with fans of both teams inside.
With kick off nearing I went back and entered the Oak Road End, which was accessed by going through gates in a row of terraced houses with the ground floor missing. Unbelievably people lived above and you got to see them getting on with their everyday life when you went up the steps to the stand.
Kenilworth Road had been modernised bit by bit, but wasn't the best of stadiums although it did have plenty of character. The Oak Road End had a tiered roof with seats fitted onto the old terracing with not a great deal of leg room. The Main Stand was to the right, with its paddock converted to seating. Further along was The New Stand which was a raised seating deack at an angle awkwardly hanging on the space available, with the drop down to Hatters Way behind it. The Kenilworth Road end opposite had been covered in the eighties and then had seats installed. The back section appeared to be closed owing to safety precautions. Finally on my left was The Bobbers Stand. Once terracing and later seating, it was now a row of corporate boxes with a few row of seats at the front for patrons raised above the pitch. The dug outs were along this side at the front.
There was a good, if feisty atmosphere inside the ground as there was around six to seven hundred away fans in attendance. The local youths were located in the upper tier of the Main Stand looking down on the Oxford fans at that end while exchanging pleasantries. Even the punters in the nearest Bobbers boxes weren't shy in offering feedback.
It was a good game of football with both sides showing plenty of attacking intent. Luton looked a good side to my neutral eyes with Matthew Spring standing out. Oxford gave it a go and nearly achieved parity at one point, but the home side had too much in their locker.
At full time I went into the nearest bookies owing to the lack of any pubs on Dunstable Road on the way back to the station to catch the other full time scores, before heading back to the station for a train home.
Luton Town 3 Tranmere Rovers 1 (Monday 6th October 2003) Division Two (att: 5,002)
To supplement my winter wages at Lord's I took on a part time job doing event stewarding with a company called Recruit. It was interesting and sometimes a bit manic, but I got into football, cricket and rugby games as well assisting at concerts and hearing some great gigs. The company had the part contracts for Watford, Tottenham Hotspur and Luton Town.
I did several games at Vicarage Road, but I didn't fancy the poor jobs on offer away from the pitch at White Hart Lane or the confrontation I'd heard about at Kenilworth Road. However, they were stuck on an evening when I had nothing else on and the club were really struggling, which I hated to see anywhere.
I set off on one of the staff mini buses from Wembley Arena and dropped off far too early outside Kenilworth Road. This was nothing unusual, but at least the catering van was open after we had our briefing. As was usual of that time, I was to be placed at the front of the away end to show presence and to stop fans from getting onto the playing area. There were concerns of a home fans protest as the game was being shown live on Sky, so those in charge were on edge, especially as the contract could have been lost with a poor performance in front of the administrators.
I still got to see bits of the game from my position at the front of the Oak Road End. As I described above this end was previously a terrace, with the front couple of rows below pitch level, like the design at many old grounds. I was located on one of the sets of steps leading up to the emergency exit onto the pitch.
Things went well on the pitch for most of my colleagues as Luton played well, although one fan did get onto the pitch to stage a brief protest. There was around two hundred away fans for us to look after. They made a noise all the game to be fair to them. However, I experienced a bad situation.
I believe experience of stewarding and being a fan at hundreds of games gave me a good insight of who looked like trouble. Some of my colleagues looked for incidents, even if there weren't any. I looked up and a Tranmere fan in his thirties was being accused of racial behaviour by a black steward. All the fans around him, all of a mature age, denied any incident as did the accused. A supervisor attempted to calm the waters, but the steward insisted the man be arrested. It was unsavoury and extremely difficult to prove either way. It led to a nasty atmosphere for the rest of us, especially after the police forcibly removed the accused.
I got talking to a fan later who needed assistance to find his way back for a train back to London so that he could get back up north. He was a decent bloke but he couldn't believe how heavy handed we'd been. I assured him that we weren't all like that!
After the game we did the usual sweep of the stand to look for broken seats to be repaired before heading back to our buses for a ride to Wembley. I was glad to get to bed!
Thursday 26th July 2012
It was my day off work and I planned to meet up my good friend Gary Griffiths that evening for the Bedfordshire Premier Cup encounter between Dunstable Town and Luton. The weather was stunning and as I had to travel through Luton to get to Dunstable I took the chance of getting inside the stadium to update my photo collection for this page.
I caught a train from West Hampstead Thameslink, arriving into Luton at 4pm. I walked through a work in progress in the town centre and past a new leisure centre, up a side street and over a footbridge onto Dunstable Road. The streets were packed with Asian residents going about their business and the air was thick with the smell of spicy foods.
Kenilworth Road itself was missing a street sign so I took the next turning up Oak Road ending up behind the Bobbers Stand before walking round the back of the Kenilworth Stand. The turnstiles were all closed and it was interesting to see the old scanners intact but showing age from the old days of the membership cards. Someone was painting the outside of the club shop and the main gates were open, so in I went.
Kenilworth Road isn't the greatest football ground in the world because of its age and limited space, but it oozed character and looked as good as it ever would in the sunshine. Personally I'd take a ground like this one opposed to some of the shiny indenticate new models that are springing up around the world. In terms of structures it hadn't changed since my last visit.
I headed off delighted with my work, to call in on a relatively small team, The 61 Club, a mile up the road.