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Luton Town F.C.

Luton Town Football Club are an English football team based in the town of Luton in Bedfordshire. They are nicknamed The Hatters due to the historical association of the town with the hat-making trade. The club compete in the Football League Two for the 2008-09 season, following their relegation from League One. They are currently managed by Mick Harford, who was a playing legend at the club from 1984 to 1990, and then again from 1991 to 1992. Harford was appointed during the second half of the 2007-08 campaign.

Luton Town won their first (and so far only) piece of major silverware in 1988, when they won the League Cup under the management of Ray Harford, beating Arsenal 3-2. Luton also reached the final the following year, but failed to regain their crown, losing 3-1 to Nottingham Forest. The two teams also met in the 1959 FA Cup Final, Luton Town's first appearance in a major final, with Nottingham Forest winning 2-1.

Luton Town were the first professional club in southern England, making payments to players as early as 1890. In 1936, Luton striker Joe Payne scored 10 goals in a single match which remains a football league record.

The club are also known for having a series of financial catastrophes which have plagued its history, the controversial "plastic pitch" of the 1980s, a notorious incident involving rioting hooligans at a match against Millwall in 1985 and the subsequent ban on visiting supporters that lasted until 1991. Financial mismanagement has caused the club to enter administration three times in recent years. Luton's old and historic Kenilworth Road ground has caused the club to run at a loss for decades, and the club have been looking for a new ground for much of that time.

Luton are one of a relatively small number of teams to have played in all four divisions of the Football League. Rarer still is the fact that Luton have achieved this twice. Their most recent spell as a top division club was from 1982 to 1992. They then fell through the leagues and were relegated to the basement division in 2001. A brief rise to the renamed Football League Championship in 2005 proved a false start, and they were relegated twice in a row, for a third stint in the bottom division.

The club is currently owned and run by the Luton Town Football Club 2020 consortium, fronted by Midlands Today presenter Nick Owen.

History

Creation (1885)

Luton Town Football Club was formed on Sunday, April 11, 1885 at a meeting convened at the Village Hall "for the purpose of considering the advisability of forming a town football club". The new club was effectively a merger of the two leading local teams, the (Luton) Wanderers - a well-organised and ambitious club who had played in the FA Challenge Cup - and Excelsior, a local works team whose ground was to become the first home of the new club.

Early team selections consisted of five former Wanderers players and six from Excelsior, or vice-versa. The Wanderers briefly continued as a separate club, and in fact advanced further in the FA Cup during the 1885-86 season than Luton Town did.

Early Years (1885-1900)

In the early years there were commonly 35 matches between October and the following Easter. Most of these were friendlies arranged by the club's secretary, but Luton also competed in the FA Cup. They had little success - it was not until the 1891-92 season that they reached the first round proper.

Luton played in three stadia at this time, all of them in the same area of the town near the Luton-Dunstable railway line. From 1885 the club played at a site in Dallow Lane. There are several contemporary reports mentioning the problems players had seeing from the smoke from passing trains. In 1897 following financial problems the club moved to a site at Dunstable Road (also called Bury Park, now the site of the UKGC Church). In 1905 the club were required to move again, at very short notice, to the current Kenilworth Road site.

Luton's first achievement was perhaps to become the first professional club in the south of England, at a time when professionalism was restricted to the north. As early as 1886-87 it is claimed that three players received the proceeds of a match, although the details remain unknown. The 1889-90 season was the last one of amateurism. On December 15, 1890, the sum of 5 shillings a week was offered to three players: Frank Whitby, Harry Whitby and Tom Read. Frank was the first to sign and became the first professional footballer in the south. In August 1891 it was decided to pay the whole team 2 shillings and sixpence, plus expenses, per week. Arthur Taylor of Bedford, who played for the Club from 1885 until 1894, was their first professional captain. Woolwich Arsenal became the second professional club a few weeks later.

Luton Town were founder members of the Southern League in 1894-95. Their first competitive league match was on October 6, 1894 - a 4-3 home defeat to Millwall, who went on to win the league in its first two seasons. Luton Town finished second both times. The sparse programme of league matches was still supplemented by numerous friendly matches at this time.

After two seasons of success, Luton applied to join the Football League's Division 2 in 1886 but their application was unsuccessful. Instead, they joined the new United League. With only eight members the United League was a failure and produced a damaging financial loss for Luton Town. In the 1896-97 season Luton again finished second behind Millwall.

The financial problems caused the club to move to a new stadium at Dunstable Road and to become a Limited Company. The following summer, Luton Town applied again to the Football League, and this time were elected members. They stayed in Division 2 for three seasons while, at the same time, continuing to field a team in the United League. In the 1897-98 season they won the United League and enjoyed moderate success in the Football League Division Two. Their second season in Division Two was considered a failure and their third so disastrous that the club did not bother to apply for re-election. With wages spiralling out of control and attendances collapsing, it was decided to return to the Southern League, where they remained for seventeen seasons 1900-01 and 1919-1920.

Pre-War Years (1900-1919)

The following years established a pattern of short periods of success followed by periods of instability that have persisted until the present day. In the 1900-01, 1901-02 and 1902-03 seasons Luton Town finished 10th, 7th and 11th respectively, finally making a profit for the first time since turning professional in 1903. The 1900-01 season was the first season of the great Bob Hawkes who continued playing for the club until 1920.

In 1903 the club were contenders for the title, but in the second half of the season the challenge faded and they finished 8th. The following season was greeted with great optimism but nearly ended in disaster. The club finished 17th - second from bottom - and were told to leave their Dunstable Road stadium at short notice. Fortunately, the club's directors quickly found a new site and the 1905-06 season kicked at the new, modern Kenilworth Road stadium. Luton Town had been re-elected unanimously to the Southern League and the first game at the new stadium became known as the "Green Game". Their opponents, Plymouth Argyle, played in green on a lush new green playing pitch. The game was kicked off by J.W.Green of the local brewers of the same name and the name of both the referee and the club secretary was also Green. The game finished 0-0 but the season was a success, seeing the club finish 4th. The following year they again finished 4th with almost the same line-up. Bob Hawkes, in his second season as captain, was chosen to play for the full England side.

In 1907-08 a new set of forwards were signed but goals were hard to come by. The club slumped to 18th place and made a loss. The following year the team recovered to 9th place but the financial situation worsened. The forwards finally found the goal in 1909-10 but the defence was leaky, and the club finished 15th. The continuing financial problems caused the sale of two forwards - John Smith and Thomas Quinn - to Millwall. This has been claimed to be the start of the Luton Town's reputation as a selling club.

By 1910-11 gates were up, finances were being brought under control and the club challenged for the title before eventually finishing in 9th place. Optimism was in the air at the start of the 1911-12 season but it was to finish in tragedy. Popular full-back Sammy Wightman died from injuries sustained in a match against Brighton in April 1912. Ever-rising wage bills, a spate of injuries and a lack of goals contributed to the club being humiliatingly relegated to the Southern League's 2nd Division, to date their lowest ebb.

The club planned to bounce straight back in 1912-13 but even with a team of strong new players they could only finish 5th. The formation of the Supporter's Club, who raised £60 in that season, helped the club to stem the losses. In 1914 they finished 2nd and were promoted back to the 1st Division, just as the Great War was about to begin. The 1914-15 season was the last complete season before competitive sport was mostly abandoned. Among the Luton Town players who lost their lives was James Robinson, the club's top score in the 1912-13 season.

Between 1915 and 1919 football was played sporadically. Most games were friendlies but Luton competed in the London Combination for a time. Ernest Simms achieved the feat of scoring 40 goals in the 1916-17 season. During these years, it was the club secretary, Charles Green, who is credited for keeping the club afloat.

Interwar Years (1919-1937)

The interwar years were characterised by under-achievement. Well-fancied teams continuously failed to win promotion from the Third Division (South) until the triumph of 1937.

The era started badly for Luton Town. When the Football League resumed in 1919-20, not even return of Ernes Simms could stop Luton finishing 20th in the Southern League. Luckily, no clubs were relegated; instead, Luton joined the new Football League 3rd Division. This season saw the introduction of the club's now traditional colours of white shirts and black shorts.

Feeling confident of promotion from their new division, Luton finished 9th in 1920-21 and enjoyed a good cup run. 17,754 fans saw the cup defeat by Preston North End, which was then a record attendance. Simms scored 34 goals during the season. Such was the quality of Luton's squad that three of their 3rd Division players played in a single international in 1921-22 - two for Ireland, and one for England. Despite their playing resources, they disappointingly finished only 4th. The main stand was destroyed in a suspicious fire and rebuilt before the start of the 1922-23 season.

The next three seasons saw many players leaving and arriving. The club finished 5th, 7th and then 17th, and hopes of quick promotion seemed to have evaporated.

The 1925-26 season saw the emergency signing of Luton-born Harry Mingay since there were no other native Lutonians on the books. It also saw the appointment of Luton's first manager, George Thompson. The club finished 8th and Thompson departed after just eight months in charge. He was not replaced until 1927. The following season saw another 8th place finish and following a shareholder revolt, there was a boardroom clearout. Only the long-serving chairman Harry Arnold survived.

The boardroom changes created optimism in 1927-28 that was again dashed with a 13th place finish. A former player from the 1890s, John McCartney, was appointed manager. In one famous Boxing Day game, Luton Town lost 6-5 after leading 5-1. It was a high-scoring season that saw the club scoring 94, but conceding 87. The following year saw McCartney guide his team to 7th with help from young Andy Rennie who switched to centre-forward and scored 43 goals in 41 matches. McCartney suffered from persistent ill-health and was replaced by assistant George Kay in December 1929. His team slumped to 13th place, but improved in 1930-31 to 7th.

Before the 1931-32 season, Kay left to manage Southampton and was replaced by Harold Wightman. Despite the presence of great players like Frederick W. Kean, Charlie Fraser and Andrew Rennie, the club was beset with injuries and finished 6th. The following season they finished 14th, perhaps distracted by an amazing cup run which finally ended against the eventual winners, Everton, in the 6th round. Charles Jeyes, who had served on the board for six years, became chairman in the 1933 close season and secured the purchase of the club's Kenilworth Road stadium. The Bobbers Stand was constructed and 18,641 spectators saw Luton beaten in the cup by the great Arsenal team of the time. Promotion still eluded Luton.

Luton were denied promotion in their Jubliee season of 1934-35, finishing 4th, due to the sale of two vital players (Bill Brown and Sam Bell) and the terrible injury to Charlie Fraser whose leg could apparently be heard snapping over the crowd noise at Kenilworth Road.

The 1935-36 season marked the start of Joe Payne's greatness. He started it as a reserve winger with an uncertain future, but finished it as the club's most famous player. The season started poorly and fans were shocked by the resignation of Harold Wightman in October 1935. With team affairs controlled by the directors, the club went unbeaten for five months before crashing out of the cup against Manchester City in January. On Easter Monday 1936, Payne was drafted into the first team due to injuries and scored an incredible ten goals during a 12-0 defeat of Bristol Rovers.

In August 1936 the directors recruited Edward Liddell to fill the vacant manager's position. Nevertheless, it was the team Wightman built which finally won promotion on May 1, 1937 with a 2-0 victory over Torquay. Payne scored both goals that day, and 55 goals in 39 games that season. Luton Town won the Third Division South. The club also beat their traditional rivals Watford, both at home and away. The clubs would not meet again in the league until 1963.

Mid-Century Years (1937-1955)

Luton Town remained in the 2nd Division for 18 war-interrupted years culminating in their promotion to the top flight for the first time in 1955. Throughout this period, Charles Jeyes remained the club chairman.

The 1937-38 season was tough for the Hatters. Their opening home matches were against Aston Villa, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Luton battled relegation for much of the season but finished 12th and reached the 5th round of the FA Cup, losing 3-1 to Manchester City. Late in the season, manager Ned Liddell left for Chelsea as did Joe Payne days later. Payne's replacement was Hugh Billington who scored 28 goals the following season. Neil McBain became manager and led the club to a very creditable 7th place. Rumoured disagreements between board and manager saw McBain leave after just one season. He was replaced by George Martin, whose Luton team won the first three games of the 1939-40 season and thus were top of the 2nd Division on the day war broke out.

Organised football was abandoned during the war years. Luton players Joe Coen, Charles Ladd, Charles Clark and James Gillespie were among those who lost their lives.

The Football League resumed in 1946-47. Coach George Martin was promoted to manager and Dally Duncan, a celebrated Scottish international, was signed as player-coach. The season saw a number of giantkillings including a 4-3 victory over Newcastle (who had led 3-0 at half-time). Martin was poached by the northerners at the end of an inconsistent season.

Dally Duncan was promoted to manager in 1947. The next four seasons were a transitional period in which aging pre-war players were gradually replaced by a younger generation, often by means of unpopular sales of the best talents: Billington, Frank Soo, Billy Hughes and Bob Brennan were all sold for big fees. Luton finished 13th, 10th, 17th and 19th during this time.

After a large financial loss and declining attendances, optimism was not high at the start of the 1951-52 season. However, performances were boosted by the debut of wing-half Gordon (went on to score 243 league goals for the club between 1949-64) and by the growing maturity of players like Syd Owen, Charlie Watkins and Bob Morton. Luton Town challenged for promotion before finishing 8th and again reached the sixth round of the FA Cup.

1952-53 marked the signing of Jessie Pye, still regarded as perhaps the finest player ever to play for the club. Luton made a poor start in the league but then went on a run of excellent results. It was enough to finish 3rd, the club's highest league finish at that time. Pye fractured his ankle in December 1953 and sat our the rest of the season; many fans believed the club would have won promotion had he stayed fit. As it was, the club finished 6th.

After 27 years as chairman, Jeyes stepped down in 1954 in acrimonious circumstances. He had long harboured the ambition to bring 1st Division football to the town, and in 1954-55, during his replacement Percy Mitchell's first season, promotion to the top flight finally came. Pye had moved to Derby after just eight games, but Gorden Turner had by then matured enough to fill Pye's boots. Turner scored 32 in 42 appearances, a new club record. On April 30, 1955, Luton were 3-0 winners at Doncaster and thus secured promotion in second place, behind Birmingham (and ahead of Rotherham) on goal difference.

Mitchell boasted that the club would be able stay in the top flight and talked of his plans to build a new 35,000 seater stadium. Modern-day fans of the club are still waiting.

In the Top Flight (1955-1960)

Luton have had two spells in the top flight. The highlight of these years was the FA Cup Final defeat against Nottingham Forest, Luton's only appearance in the Final to date.

The backbone of the 1954-55 promotion team was retained and many fine performances contributed to a 10th place finish in 1955-56. Syd Owen replaced the Tom Kelly as coach but lost three months of the season as a player after a thigh injury. Other injuries and spells of extraordinary bad luck had put paid to the possibility of challenging for the title. There were still no big signings the following season (until the arrival of Allan Brown in February) as the club relied on youth development to finish a respectable 16th. Turner scored 30 league goals that season and 33 the following season as the club rose to 8th place.

Luton's cup exploits of 1958-59 disguised the beginnings of an era of decline. The Team that Dally Duncan built was beginning to show its age; Syd Owen himself was 37 and already taking on coaching responsibilities. Duncan left for Blackburn in October 1958. For the rest of the season team affairs were managed by committee and the club struggled to a 17th place finish.

Luton accomplished the rare feat of fielding the same team of eleven players all the way through to the 1959 Cup Final. Gordon Turner had lost his place through injury problems and it was a great controversy when he was not selected to play in the final. Luton were the pre-match favourites having beaten Forest 5-1 just weeks before, but on the day of the final their star players failed to perform and they were beaten 2-1. Arguments over the preparations for the big match would persist for years to come.

Syd Owen was chosed to take over as manager for the 1959-60 season. His one season at the helm was a catastrophe for the club as it finished bottom with just 30 points from 42 games. Owen had complained that the club's directors had denied him control over transfers, while at the same time signing players behind his back. Owen resigned over the matter in April 1960 and Luton were relegated back to the 2nd Division.

Decline and Recovery (1960-1970)

In the 1960s, Luton Town fell through the divisions, recording their lowest league finish of 17th in 1967. By that time, recovery was already underway, and the club achieved two quick promotions.

Sam Bartram, a former player, was appointed manager in July 1960. The club had a long list of injured or unsettled players on its books and many old favourites from the 1st Division years were sold. The abolition of the maximum wage in football hit the club's finances hard. Attendances dwindled (and continued to decline for several years) and the club finished 13th in 1960-61. The season was notable for a cup match against Manchester City in January 1961. One of the game's great stars, Denis Law, scored six goals against Kenilworth Road but still ended up on the losing side: a snow storm led to the match being abandoned, and Luton won the replay 3-1.

The following season saw a remodelled team again finish 13th. Attendances had dropped to dangerous levels and the club were losing £400 a week. Bartram's departure at the end of the season was accompanied by some sensationalist articles in the Sunday press. Jack Crompton was appointed manager on 29 June 1962 but resigned six days later citing his doctor's instructions. An increasingly desperate search for a manager ended with the appointment of Bill Harvey late in July. Harvey was a hands-on manager with a strong personality, but he could do nothing to stop the club's decline. They finished with just 29 points are were relegated to the 3rd Division.

Boardroom changes saw Mitchell replaced as chairman by Tom Hodgson. The club were already in serious relegation trouble in December when the signing of a young goalscorer, John O'Rourke helped improve performances. O'Rourke scored both goals in the last home game of the season against rivals Watford, preventing their promotion and guaranteeing Luton's survival.

Poor results continued in the 1964-65 season. Harvey resigned as manager and was eventually replaced by George Martin returning for his second spell as Luton manager. Luton finished 21st and were relegated to the 4th Division for the first time, but the season marked the arrival of three legends: David Pleat, Bruce Rioch and John Moore.

Martin set out to improve discipline and results improved dramatically. Had it not been for an infamous row over bonuses late in the season, which saw several players dropped and eventually sold, the club would probably have been promoted; instead they finished 6th.

The 1966-67 season marked the club's lowest ever league finish but also the beginning of a recovery. Results were initially poor and Allan Brown took over as manager in November. Luton were in 91st place (of 92 clubs) when they lost 8-1 to Lincoln in December, but the team steadily improved in the new year. Luton finished 17th and attendances doubled in just a few months.

By the end of 1967 Luton, led by ever-present captain Terry Branston, were a team transformed. That season the Hatters notched up 66 points (equalling the record for the division) and scored 87 goals. Average attendances jumped from 5,364 to 12,400 which helped the club's directors to say "no" when richer clubs came knocking for the free-scoring Bruce Rioch. Rioch scored in a 1-0 victoryt at Halifax on April 20, 1968 to clinch promotion. Four days later Luton beat Crewe in front of 19,000 delirious fans at Kenilworth Road to seal the 4th Division Champioship. The victorious side included such names a Graham French, Keith Allen, Max Dougan, Ray Whittaker, Freddie Jardine, Pleat and the fashion-conscious goalie Tony Read.

Luton needed two seasons to clinch another promotion. 1968-69 was a frustrating season that saw Luton finishing 3rd, narrowly missing out on promotion. Brown resigned as manager in December 1968 under pressure from the board; it was part of a new trend of rapid hiring-and-firing of managers. His replacement was Alex Stock who brought Malcolm Macdonald to the club in the summer of 1969. Macdonald was converted from a full-back to a centre-forward and scored 25 goals as Luton stormed to 2nd place. Promotion was clinched on the last day of the season with a tight 1-0 win over Southport. 1970 was the year Eric Morecambe became a director of the club, remaining there for five years and bringing national exposure to the Hatters.

Gradual Rise (1970-1982)

Macdonald took his fantastic form into the following season as Luton did extremely well in their first campaign in Division Two, finishing 6th and just seven points off off promotion to the First Division. MacDonald was absolutely on fire again and he was consistently scoring goals, his strength in the box and deadly finishing and heading prowess striking fear into every defence he came up against.

He netted on the opening day of the season, in a 4-2 loss at Bolton Wanderers, and it spurred a rich run of goal scoring as he bagged ten goals in the following ten League matches, which included 2 goals in a 4-0 home win over Oxford United, another two goals in a 4-0 home win over Orient, two goals in a 3-0 home victory over Bristol City F.C. and a hat-trick in a 5-1 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.

However, with clubs from the top flight sniffing around MacDonald, it was always going to be hard for Luton to keep hold of their prize asset – and so it proved when in the summer of 1971, he was sold to Newcastle United for £180,000 as the Magpies’ manager Joe Harvey sought to revamp a Newcastle outfit that had failed to build on their European successes. MacDonald’s departure was a bitter pill to swallow for the Luton fans, his goal scoring record had spoken for itself – 49 goals in 88 League matches.

The Hatters mounted a couple of seasons challenging unsuccessfully for promotion before the departure of Harry Haslam to Sheffield United gave the young assistant manager, David Pleat, his chance. The club came close to the drop under Pleat's first full season in charge but following the skilful acquisition of a number of key players that was to lay the foundations for the most successful decade ever, the club were soon challenging for promotion. Pleat built a squad the likes of which Luton had never seen before, the likes of full-back Kirk Stephens, central defender Mal Donaghy, winger David Moss, skilful midfielders Raddy Antic, Ricky Hill and Brian Horton, and striker Brian Stein. A couple of top-six finishes followed before, in the 1981-82 season, the side romped home as Champions, spending only one week off of the top spot from October onwards, amassing 88 points and clinching the championship by 8 points from second-placed arch rivals Watford.

Under Pleat, the club had developed a cavalier and attacking style of play. Luton scored the second highest tally of away goals that season, only one less than Champions Liverpool, and had many memorable away days during the campaign, including a 3-3 draw at Anfield when Luton used three different goalkeepers. On the last day of the season, Luton needed all three points against relegation-rivals Manchester City at Maine Road, to stay up. City, needing only a point to survive the drop, defended resolutely and few chances came to Luton - but with only four minutes remaining, Serbian substitute Raddy Antic slammed home the winner to secure Luton's top flight status and send the 5,000 travelling Luton supporters into a manic frenzy.

The Glory Years: Luton at the top (1982-1992)

1988 Littlewoods Cup Final starting lineup.
The most successful years in the history of Luton Town F.C. were the 1980s, beginning with the already-mentioned promotion to the First Division in 1982. The club celebrated their proudest moment at Luton Town Hall with their most famous fan, comedian Eric Morecambe. Pleat maintained Luton's First Division status over the next four seasons before moving to Tottenham. He handed over the reins to coach John Moore, who guided Luton to a seventh-place finish before handing in his resignation and being replaced by Ray Harford. Harford inherited an impressive Luton squad including Les Sealey, Brian Stein, Danny Wilson, Ricky Hill, David Preece,Mal Donaghy and Mick Harford.

During the mid-1980s the club became famous for instituting an "away fan ban", following a pitch invasion and hooliganism in an FA Cup match against Millwall on 13 March 1985. Luton had refused Millwall's request to make the game all-ticket. After the final whistle, and a Luton victory, supporters invaded the pitch in what was described as "all hell let loose" and the small number of police and stewards could not cope. Of the thirty one people arrested, many of them turned out not to be from Millwall, but to be supporters of West Ham and Chelsea. It was suspected that it was a riot organized as much by outside sources as Millwall followers, a suspicion strengthened by the estimates of 10,000 travelling supporters behind one goal which was double the club's average home attendances at the time. The ban and associated membership scheme was the idea of then Luton chairman David Evans. This led to the club being expelled from the League Cup in the 1986-87 season as they refused to relax the ban in order to allow Cardiff City fans to attend the two-legged tie. Also in 1985 the club introduced their infamous artificial playing surface, which would become known as the "plastic pitch". Remnants of this surface remain between the stands and the grass pitch at Kenilworth Road to this day.

The 1987-88 campaign was the most successful yet - Luton achieved a famous 3-2 victory over Arsenal in the League Cup final at Wembley. After Luton stunned the holders by taking a shock 1-0 lead early on and led by that score at half time, they seemingly ran out of steam, and by the 74th minute Arsenal had overhauled them. Arsenal were still 2-1 up with ten minutes to go and Luton's goal had been continually under siege throughout the second half; however, the match turned on its head when Nigel Winterburn missed a penalty - had he scored, Arsenal would have almost certainly have won the final 3-1, but goalkeeper Andy Dibble turned the spot-kick round the post, and in the last seven minutes Luton scored twice to win 3-2.

On top of this, Luton finished 9th in the First Division, reached the FA Cup semi-finals before falling to Everton at Villa Park, and played at Wembley in the Simod Cup final against Reading, which they lost 4-1.The League Cup triumph, still Luton's only major trophy, would have been enough for UEFA Cup qualification; but at this time all English teams were banned from European competitions due to the Heysel Disaster.

Harford was sacked less than two years later, in January 1990, with Luton battling against relegation.

Following the decision to ban artificial pitches in 1991, the club took out their artificial pitch, which had undoubtedly been an advantage to them at home matches.

Jim Ryan took over from Ray Harford as Luton's manager and was sacked after 16 months in charge despite securing First Division survival again at the end of the 1990-91 season. David Pleat was then appointed manager for the second time, but Luton were relegated on the last day of the 1991-92 season and have been outside the top flight of English football ever since.

Fall From The Top and freefall (1992-1999)

Pleat remained in charge at Luton until the summer of 1995, when he moved to Sheffield Wednesday. His successor Terry Westley was sacked in December 1995, after just six months in charge, and Westley's successor Lennie Lawrence was unable to prevent Luton from finishing bottom of Division One and suffering relegation to Division Two, after losing top-scorer Dwight Marshall to a broken ankle in the relegation run-in.

The Hatters came close to promotion in the 1996-97, finishing the season in 3rd place. But after play-off heartache against eventual winners Crewe, the Hatters failed to build on the relative success, and soon flirted with relegation, before entering mid-table obscurity during the late 1990s. The Hatters were also forced to sell many talented players during this era, players such as Kelvin Davis, Matthew Upson, Steve Davis, Tony Thorpe, Graham Alexander and Chris Willmott.

Administration and Relegation (1999-2001)

The club was forced into administration after the failure to gain planning permission for the 'KohlerDome', a stadium for multi-purpose usage, and this led to many first-teamers leaving the club over the next few months. The club was pulled out of administration by director Cliff Bassett the day before the 1999-2000 season started. Lawrence kept a young, inexperienced side up successfully, despite being forced to sell youngster Gary Doherty late in the season.

Mike Watson-Challis then purchased the club in 2000, and Lawrence was sacked after four unsuccessful seasons which had seen Luton miss out on the chance to gain promotion. He was briefly replaced by Ricky Hill. Ricky was given over £500,000 to spend on players, but it was squandered, and the club plummeted to the foot of the league. Hill was dismissed in November 2000, due to the dismal form the Hatters were displaying. He was in turn replaced by another Luton legend Lil Fuccillo, who was also sacked within months after no significant improvement was made. Former Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear took over and brought towering forward Steve Howard, a player who would later leave for £1,000,000, to the club for only £50,000. Despite Kinnear's best efforts, the club was ultimately relegated to the basement division for the first time since 1968.

Promotion and Takeover - Resurgence (2001-2006)

Kinnear took Luton back up at the first attempt following a huge over-haul of the squad. In came players like Chris Coyne, Russell Perrett, Adrian Forbes, Carl Griffiths, Aaron Skelton and Kevin Nicholls. Kinnear's team rampaged through the season, playing the last 14 games undefeated including a spectacular 12 game winning streak, ended by Macclesfield Town at Kenilworth Road. Luton finished the season as runners-up to champions Plymouth Argyle with an impressive 97 points.

The team next season had to deal with the loss of talented left-siders such as Matt Taylor and Jean-Louis Valois - however they still managed a ninth place finish in the 2002-03 Division Two campaign.

In May 2003, the club was again taken over, this time by a mysterious consortium. Days afterwards, manager Kinnear and his assistant Mick Harford, considered a legend to Hatters fans were both dismissed. This sparked a protest by Luton fans, who demanded their instant re-appointment. The protest was fierce and led to the resignations of new chairman Roger Terrell and vice-chairman Lee Power. This forced the leader behind the consortium, John Gurney, to reveal himself.

Gurney then proceeded to announce his plans for the club. These plans included building a stadium over the motorway, including a Formula 1 style race track, and changing the club's name to London Luton Football Club. Unsurprisingly, Luton fans were very unimpressed, and they set up a supporters' group, Trust in Luton. Gurney appointed ex-Luton striker Mike Newell as manager following a phone-vote, dubbed 'Manager Idol' by the media - however it is believed that Newell had already signed a contract before the phone-vote, and that the vote was just a publicity stunt. The new owners were removed from power when TIL acquired shares in the club's major creditors, Hatters Holdings, and put an administrative receiver in charge.

Luton Town were among the pre-season favourites for relegation from Division Two in the 2003-04 season, but Newell surprised all the observers by taking the club close to a playoff place, although he wasn't helped by the transfer of striker Tony Thorpe to Queen Park Rangers (QPR) for £50,000, despite Thorpe being highly regarded at Luton, he upset the Hatters faithful after leaving just days after his interview on Sky Sports, in which he stated everyone should stand together. Thorpe has since been given a song by Luton fans, which was sung in part for several years - however Thorpe was taken back into the fold in 2008 after he appeared in a Luton Legends game at Kenilworth Road. At the end of the season, Newell also lost key players such as Emmerson Boyce and Matthew Spring to Bosman transfers.

Luton started the 2004–05 season strongly, winning their first 6 games, and remaining undefeated in their first 12 league games. They went on to finish the season in 1st position, claiming 98 points and scoring 87 goals along the way. Curtis Davies was named the League One Player of the Year, and he was one of 6 players from Luton in the PFA Team of the Year for League One, along with Marlon Beresford, Chris Coyne, Ahmet Brkovic, Steve Howard and Kevin Nicholls.

The 2005–06 season saw Luton again starting the season well, beating two of the relegated Premier Division teams, Crystal Palace and Southampton, in the first two games. They were not able to maintain this form, and finished the season outside the play-offs in 10th place, a feat few non-Luton fans believed was possible in August. A highlight of the season was the club's game against European Cup holders Liverpool in the Third round of the FA Cup. The Hatters appeared on course for an upset, racing into a 3–1 lead before eventually losing 5-3 in a game considered by many to be one of the competition's greatest ever.

Freefall : The Coldest Place in Football (2006–2008)

The start of the 2006–07 season saw club captain Kevin Nicholls, and top scorer for the last five seasons Steve Howard both sold on. Following assurances from Mike Newell, replacements were purchased with the funds raised, such as Adam Boyd, Sam Parkin and Richard Langley. Luton were near the top of the league at the end of October, their form culminating with a 5-1 victory over Leeds United. However the next week saw left back Sol Davis suffer a stroke on the team bus on the way to Ipswich, and a 5-0 defeat at Portman Road. A long run of bad results followed, and the January transfer window saw further large transfers out of the club, including Carlos Edwards and Rowan Vine. By the end of February, Luton, by now a shadow of the side that had won promotion to the Championship only two years before, were just above the relegation zone.

Following all of the big player sales, Newell sent a letter to the board of directors on 14 March 2007 asking many questions of the board. This letter followed up Newell's interview after the home defeat to Hull City on 13 March 2007 in which Newell criticized the lack of funds given to him following the player exodus and also told the surrounding journalists that they should be investigating what is happening at the club. On 15 March 2007 two directors from the board decided to sack Newell for gross misconduct following his comments. Following this, both Martin King and Liam Day, the supporters trust's representative, resigned from the board, feeling the process was undemocratic. First-team coach Brian Stein lasted just one game as caretaker before Kevin Blackwell was announced as Luton's new manager on a four year deal. Following a spontaneous protest following Ipswich Town's second goal in their 2-0 victory at Kenilworth Road, in which Luton supporters chanted "Sack the board" and "Where's the money gone", the board published a financial report on 19 March. This report failed to specify income generated outside of player sales and showed how the player budget began to spiral out of control, rising yearly despite the continual sale of the higher earners at the club. Following this confidential details from Newell's contract were alleged by board member Derek Peter, such as Newell receiving, what is stipulated as, 10% of the transfer fees.

On 11 April, Chairman Bill Tomlins resigned following an investigation by the Football Association into irregular payments made by the Football Club's parent company Jayten. Tomlins resigned as a director of both companies also, and confirmed that illegal payments had been made to incoming player's agents.

David Pinkney was confirmed as new Chairman on 13 April, promising to build a new stadium many miles outside the town at Junction 12 of the M1 motorway. He also acquired a controlling interest in the club's holding company, Jayten Stadium Limited. Pinkney promised a bright future to the fans.

Luton's relegation was confirmed on 20 April in a 1-0 defeat away to Derby County. They eventually finished 23rd in the league, only kept off the bottom by Leeds United, who had gone into administration, resulting in a ten-point reduction.

During the summer, Luton Town made a large number of changes both on and off the pitch - Kevin Blackwell brought in experienced players such as Paul Furlong, Paul Peschisolido and Chris Perry to aid Luton in their bid to go back up at the first attempt. However the league campaign started poorly and they were knocked out of the Football League Trophy by Gillingham, despite leading 3–1 with 20 minutes remaining. The League Cup did provide a good run for the Hatters, beating Sunderland and Charlton Athletic to become the only team from the bottom two divisions in the 4th Round, where they were defeated 1–0 by Everton at home, taking the Premier League team into extra time.

The club went into administration on 22 November with Pinkney stating he would fund the club's overheads. Ten points were deducted from the club as punishment. A further consequence was a period of non-payment for the playing staff. Meanwhile the FA probe on transfer irregularities dragged on; described by Pinkney as "a storm in a teacup", this probe would come back to haunt Luton.

An FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest enabled the administrator to pay a fraction of the players wages, as the club would be playing against Premier League side Liverpool in the next round. The Hatters forced a replay at Anfield, but on the Friday before the replay Kevin Blackwell and his assistants Sam Ellis and John Carver, announced their intention to resign from the club on 9 February 2008 after the Administrator had sold captain Chris Coyne to Colchester United and midfielder David Edwards to Wolverhampton Wanderers for £350,000 and £675,000 respectively.

On the same day as the replay at Anfield the administrator awarded "preferred bidder" status to Luton Town Football Club 2020, a consortium fronted by Nick Owen. On 26 February 2008, the LTFC 2020 consortium had their bid for the club conditionally accepted by the administrator. This meant that they were now custodians of the club until the end of the season, and that the Football League would have to negotiate terms to return the Golden Share to Luton Town for the 2008-09 campaign. Following a 5-0 drubbing, the management team were all sacked by the administrator, and Blackwell was almost immediately replaced by Luton legend Mick Harford, with Warren Neill as his assistant.

Luton were relegated to League Two following a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion on 12 April. The defeat left the Hatters rooted to the bottom of the table on 33 points, three points behind fellow strugglers Port Vale, who were also relegated on the same day. Luton lost all of their remaining league games and finished the season in bottom place and 17 points adrift of safety.

On June 3, the FA's probe finally finished, and Luton were found guilty of 15 misconduct charges. The club was handed a ten-point deduction for the 2008-09 campaign, and a £50,000 fine. However, it soon went from bad to worse, as since the club had violated Football League rules by leaving Administration without having made a Company Voluntary Agreement with its creditors, the Football League only offered to return the Golden Share (that would allow Luton to compete in the Football League) to Luton on the condition that they play with a further twenty-point deduction. Luton appealed against the FA's decision, but their appeal was thrown out. As a result, Luton Town began the 2008-09 season with an unprecedented -30 points, and facing a mighty fight merely to avoid relegation from the Football League for the first time in their history.

The Current Season

Manager Mick Harford faced a great challenge, and needed to practically rebuild the squad from scratch. Indeed, on the opening day of the season six new faces were in the starting lineup. Club hero Kevin Nicholls returned to captain the team from Preston, Claude Gnakpa joined from Peterborough, Asa Hall signed from Birmingham City, and many other players were signed including Michael Spillane and Chris Martin both on season-long loans from Norwich and George Pilkington from Port Vale.

Luton made a decent start to the season, beating Plymouth in the League Cup before going down 5-1 at Reading, and reaching -19 points by the start of October - however there was still a long way to go.

Players

Current squad

As of 8 October 2008.

Out on loan

Stadium

The club play at the 10,248 seater Kenilworth Road Stadium in the Bury Park area of Luton. The club have been reporting annual losses there since the 1980s.

The stadium was sold to the local council in the late 1980s due to financial difficulties under then chairman David Evans. During the 90s, owner David Kohler put in a planning application for a new stadium adjacent to Junction 10 of the M1. The application was refused. The site has since been purchased by the Watson-Challis family, who have frequently announced their intention to submit a new planning application there. However, issues arose over the viability of the site first after Luton Airport announced their plans to build a new runway, and then again after work to widen the M1 reduced the site's area.

In February 2008 a consortium led by local businessman Cliff Bassett applied for planning permission to build a large industrial estate including a stadium at a green belt site adjacent to Junction 12 of the M1. The application is opposed by all the local councils, most local residents and a majority of the club's supporters. The club's prospective new owners, 2020, have announced they will wait for the results of an independent feasibility study before committing themselves to any development.

Colours

Luton currently play in white shirts, navy shorts and white socks, with orange trim. The club decided on a return to these colours following a poll of fans. Luton had previously been using the club's traditional colours of white and black, following a return to that colour scheme for the 2000-01 campaign.

From the club's founding, Luton Town changed their colours regularly - their original kit was a claret and navy halved shirt, with navy shorts and socks and even replete with a cap matching the shirt. White and black were used for the first time in 1891, but were quickly abandoned in favour of a claret shirt, with navy shorts and socks. In 1896 they changed again, to a bizarre white, black and claret striped shirt that only lasted two years. Luton then wore a smart navy blue shirt, with white shorts and navy socks.

It wasn't until 1901 however that Luton took on a colour scheme that lasted - a much lighter shade of blue was adopted for the shirt, while the white shorts and navy socks remained. In 1910 a 'V' on the front of the shirt was added in royal blue, along with a royal blue collar.

In 1920 there was another overhaul, and Luton took on what is now seen as their 'traditional' kit. White shirts were adopted, with black shorts and socks. White and black had been first used way back in 1891, but had never been used again since. They were worn with black socks initially, but from 1947 to 1958 black and white hooped socks were seen. Eventually in 1966 Luton changed to white socks.

In 1973, Luton suddenly changed from the established white and black to orange and navy - this was to set them apart from the many other teams who regularly ran out in white and black, such as Derby County, Fulham and Port Vale. This new colour scheme was very recognisable and distinctive, and the club retains navy and orange in its colours to this day.

However this didn't last long - in 1979 another dramatic change coincided with Adidas arriving as kit manufacturer. Luton took to the field in an all-white affair, with orange and navy trim and an orange collar. This kit was unusual in that it saw the club badge on the right breast rather than the left - this was due to the orange and navy stripe down the left side of the shirt. Adidas's logo was moved below the sponsor to accommodate this. In 1981 Orange sleeves were added, as the club badge and kit manufacturer's logo returned to their traditional positions. Luton won promotion back to the First Division, and retained the orange sleeves for two more years.

For much of their time in the First Division, Luton were recognisable for their plain white shirts with navy trim, navy shorts and white socks. Indeed, their kit changed very little from 1984 until 1991. The only notable change was the removal of the orange trim on the socks for the 1988-89 campaign.

For the 1991-92 season, Luton changed to a very unusual white, royal blue and orange design - which was apparently designed to resemble tracksuits which were popular at the time. On top of the bizarre lines and panels on the shirt, a royal blue collar was added, along with royal blue sleeves and socks. The garish design did not fare Luton well, as they were finally relegated from the top flight after ten years, on the last day of the season (and, in fact, the last day of the old 'Four Division' Football League).

Luton returned to a more sensible outfit the next season, with plain white shirts, shorts and socks, all with blue and orange trim. After two years, navy sleeves were added, along with orange pinstripes that only lasted a year.

In 1997, royal blue returned, as Luton wore a white shirt with royal blue shoulders, with royal blue shorts and socks. In 1999 they bore a design reminiscent of the 1970's, wearing an orange shirt with royal blue trim, royal blue shorts and hooped orange and blue socks. The two colours clashed however, and after only a season Luton returned to their traditional white and black kit, however still bearing hints of orange trim.

The kit worn for the 2007-08 campaign was notable as it was the first since 1973 to be plain white and black, as there was no orange included at all.

Due to the club's chaotic season, the new owners, Luton Town Football Club 2020, were not able to get the new kit in on time for the start of the 2008-09 campaign - as a result, during some matches in August, Luton wore a replica of their 1988 Littlewoods Cup-winning shirt, with plain black shorts and white socks.

Change colours have tended to be either orange or navy (or a combination of the two, along with white trim). At present, Luton wear a navy blue outfit with white socks and orange trim.

Due to Luton's use historically of both black and navy blue, navy blue in their strips is sometimes misconstrued as black.

Rivalry

Watford

Luton fans maintain a rivalry with those of Watford. The two clubs met regularly in the Southern and Football Leagues from 1900 to 1937, but Luton's promotion meant that aside from a Southern Cup meeting, the two clubs did not meet again until 1964. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s they played each other sporadically, and the rivalry gradually grew in significance. They were both promoted to the First Division in the 1981-82 season, with Luton taking the championship ahead of Watford. Both clubs were also relegated together from the new Division One in the 1995-96 season. Watford's promotion from Division Two in 1997-98 meant that the two clubs did not meet again in the League until the 2005-06 season, when Luton were promoted into the Championship.

In all meetings between the two clubs, Luton have the far superior record, with 56 wins and 183 goals to Watford's 37 and 156. 29 matches have ended in draws.

Other rivals

There are lesser rivalries with clubs such as QPR, Millwall, and also with Stockport County, who are also nicknamed The Hatters.

There is also a minor rivalry with Brentford after several heated encounters including when Luton fans vandalised a local public house. This rivalry was recently inflamed when an injured Brentford player was spat on by a Luton fan during a game at Kenilworth Road.

Club officials

  • Chairman: Nick Owen
  • Advisory Board: Bob Curson, Godfrey Ingram, Mick Pattinson, David Wilkinson
  • Managing Director: Gary Sweet
  • Directors: Stephen Browne, Antony Brown
  • Secretary: Cherry Newbery
  • Commercial Manager: Tracey Maddox
  • Manager: Mick Harford
  • Assistant Manager: Warren Neill
  • Director of Youth: Alan Neilson
  • Sport Scientist: Neil Lewis
  • Physiotherapist: Harry Scott-Stackman

Honours

Notable former players

Greatest ever team

Greatest ever Luton team
A Luton Town fan site had a vote for the best team ever with the following results -

Subs:

Other Notable Players

See also: Luton Town F.C. players

Managers

Records

  • Year Formed: 1885, following merger of Wanderers and Excelsior.
  • Year Turned Professional: 1896.
  • Record Attendance: 30,069 against Blackpool in the FA Cup, on 4 March 1959
  • Record League Win: 12-0 v Bristol Rovers in Third Division (South) on 13/04/1936.
  • Record League Defeat: 0-9 v Small Heath FC in 1898.
  • Most Consecutive Games Without Defeat: 19 during the 1968-69 season.
  • Most Consecutive Games Without A Home Defeat: 39 from 1925 to 1927.
  • Most Consecutive League Wins: 12, during the 2001-02 campaign.
  • Most Consecutive League Defeats: 8 ,during the 1899-00 season.
  • Record Goals In A Single Match: 10 by Joe Payne in match versus Bristol Rovers in 1936, which remains to this day, a Football League record.
  • Record League Goals In A Season: Joe Payne with 55 during the 1936-37 season.
  • Record League Goals In Total: Gordon Turner with 243 from 1949-64. Gordon scored 265 goals in all competitions for Luton, more than any other player.
  • Record League Appearances: Bob Morton, with 495. During his Luton career (1948-64) he appeared 550 times in all competitions.
  • Most League Goals Season: 103 during the Division Three promotion season in 1936-37.
  • Most League Points In A Season: 98 during the championship winning season of 2004-05 in League One.
  • Record Transfer Fee Paid: £850,000 to Odense Boldklub for Lars Elstrup in August 1989.
  • Record Transfer Fee Received: £3,000,000 for Curtis Davies from West Bromwich Albion on August 31, 2005.

Supporters groups

References

External links

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