Result: Luton Town 1-0 Morecambe (EFL League 2)
Venue: Kenilworth Road (Saturday 20th January 2018, 3pm)
Carrying on my quest to put a dent in the remaining ’92’ this season (of which there are many!), this dull Saturday in January saw my sights set on Bedfordshire and the town of Luton. Having had the Hatters’ Kenilworth Road home pencilled in for a long while, I’d already decided I was going in the away end whenever I ended up finally visiting, due to the famous entry ways to the stand which involve climbing up stairs situated in the back yards of the terraced houses which sandwich the Oak Road turnstiles. But of course, I’m sure I didn’t need to tell you about them!
Anyway, the third week of the “New Year” saw me setting off through the early morning murk and into Manchester where I’d catch the train down to Luton before backtracking slightly and heading back up to the Eastern Chilterns. The journey down was more eventful than it usually would be as, having been situated in the designated “quiet coach”, this of course meant that phone calls weren’t well received (though a woman near me didn’t particularly follow this instruction) and so my first ever booking of a match ticket whilst in a train toilet came into being. I’m not sure it’ll ever be repeated and thanks to the twitter-using enigma known as Breezeblock for coming up with ‘Michael’ for my new middle name. Football – it’s what I need!!
Following the problematic call to Luton’s ticket office, I eventually got my ticket sorted and now had a little extra time to spend in Luton upon my arrival, though I’m not sure many would have seen that a positive necessarily? Not for me, however, as I would find it a pretty decent place, the people especially being more friendly than many places I’ve visited of late. Anyway, without getting sidetracked to early, I arrived into London at just after eleven and undertook the short walk over to St. Pancras for my connection up to the home of the Hatters.
I at just after midday but just as I did so, the rain began to fall once more. ‘No worries’ I thought to myself, ‘there’s a couple of pubs around the station I can dive in and get myself out of it’. Alas, no. All the pubs were “home fans only” and I reckoned that, with the difference in accent being more obvious down here, it wasn’t worth the bother that may come about as I’d certainly be more likely to be considered an “away fan” than I was in Sheffield for example. Either way, after getting a bit lost around the 10th-century St. Mary’s church and student accommodation areas, I eventually came across a pub I could get in. This was The Horseshoes and it proved a pocket-friendly find as a pint of Amstel set me back just £2.70. Bliss!
Being on the far side of town, which I hadn’t intended, meant this first pint had to be fairly swift as to move on and see a bit of the town centre. It didn’t take me long to get there, though, as it turned out I was a bit closer than I’d imagined and I arrived at the Brewery Tap, just up the road, a few minutes later. Any ideas I’d had of Luton being a mad cheap town soon went out of the proverbial window though, as my pint of Estrella in here set me back a full £4.50. I did at least get my change, which almost ended up in the hands of another punter as the girl serving lost where I was at the bar! Very friendly in here and my table was cleaned upon me sitting down too. Good stuff.
With the time quickly passing, I went just around the corner and into the centre itself where there was a choice of four drinking holes pretty much all neighbouring each other. Bypassing the Yates’ and Crown, I found myself more enamoured by the Castle and the Red Lion Hotel. Both had something more to them just by appearance alone and that goes a long way to enticing me in. As it was I had only time for one more pre-match, with a good 25 minute walk apparently ahead of me and so I plumped for the Castle, named after the town’s former castle which is now… a Matalan! I was soon patting myself on the back as they had the brilliant Frontier on draught and at only £4.20, which is a good price for it I find. After saying hello to the recently arrived and friendly dog, I quickly found myself a seat and got about drinking it, though I was slightly concerned about the passive aggressive guy muttering behind me….
I survived and headed on down towards Kenilworth Road with a good half-hour to kick-off. Despite finding myself at the far side of the ground from where I needed, I soon spotted a stream of people exiting a narrow alleyway down the side of one of the stands. After purchasing a programme (at the usual £3), I took the pathway and found myself alongside the turnstiles. Finding out which steward had my ticket was the next job, though this was fairly easy as I think I may have been the last one they were waiting for. I was definitely one of the last anyway and they were quite surprised by the fact I’d travelled down from Manchester for the game, why I was in the Morecambe end and perplexed that I’d taken the four-hour trip. I’m sure the Morecambe boys had taken longer though!
Upon entering I soon found myself in that strange position of being in the position to look into people’s homes if I had the intention of doing so. I’m not of that mind, however, though I did think how weird it’d be in any other situation to take a picture in a strangers back-yard. It’s the norm for these residents I guess! Either way, I headed into the stand and found famed Morecambe fan Paul, once again complete with Mohican – the way it should be! After a quick chat the players were soon entering the field for the usual pleasantries and a minutes applause for numerous people, which included both those connected with the Hatters who have recently been lost and, of course, the legendary Cyrille Regis.
Kenilworth Road is a strange ground in some ways, but it’s age and the individual style of it really appeals to me. The Oak Road Stand is the smallest stand in the ground (if you don’t count the hospitality boxes) and is, of course, the usual away end, though it was being shared with home fans today. Opposite is a pretty sizeable covered stand, which still shows signs of its former existence as a terrace. The Main Stand runs the length of the pitch and has both corners filled in on both sides. It is a tow-tiered affair and dates in some parts from 1922. The other side of the pitch plays host to the aforementioned boxes and atop these is some netting, to avoid balls being hoofed out of the ground and into the neighbouring gardens of the houses visible behind it. These replaced the former Bobbers Stand (so named as, apparently, entranced used to be a “bob”). The ground definitely has its own identity and is why I wanted to get it in while I still can, as plans are still afoot to move out at some point in the future to a new stadium. Before we go into the future though, let’s delve into the past of Luton Town….
Luton Town Football Club was founded in 1885, a product of the merger of local sides Luton Town Wanderers and Exclesior and was the first Southern football club to turn fully professional, this happening in 1891. They initially played at Excelsior’s Dallow Lane ground and began to pay players for the first time in 1890. They latterly became a founder member of the Southern League in 1894 and ended as runners-up in each of the first two seasons of the league’s existence. It then left to become a founder of the United League, again finishing second at the end of the club’s first season (they entered a team in the league the next two seasons too, winning it in 1898) before joining the Football League for 1897-’98 and moving to a new ground on Dunstable Road, Luton having crossed the rail line and sold their Dallow Lane ground in an attempt to allay their financial issues.
The club’s original stay in the League was a bad one and the club’s finances took a turn for the worse. As such, the club returned to the Southern League in 1900 and moved into Kenilworth Road five years later after the club were forced to sell their Dunstable Road ground at short notice for housing. After entering a second side in the Western League’s Division 1 ‘B’ and ‘A’ for a season each between 1907 & 1909, 1912 saw Luton relegated to the Southern League’s Second Division in 1912, though the Hatters would be promoted back to Division 1 just two seasons later as Division 2 runners-up, prior to the outbreak of WWI. The wartime years saw Luton take part in the London Combination in 1915-’16 before playing in just friendly matches for the remaining years of hostilities.
Post-war, Luton took on their more traditional black-and-white colours in season 1920-’21 which also saw the club re-join the Football League, having previously worn numerous colours but largely blue-and-white kits. They remained in the Third Division South through until 1937 when the club were promoted as champions, having finished runners-up the year before. The championship season saw striker Joe Payne net 55 times in just 39 games and scored ten in one match (vs Bristol Rovers) which remains a Football League record.
The early 1950’s saw a golden period for Luton as they fielded English and Irish internationals on a regular basis. These aided the club in reaching the top-flight in 1955 as the Hatters finished as Division 2 runners-up and so were promoted to Division 1. They would enjoy a five season stint in English football’s top division, including reaching the FA Cup Final in 1959, losing to Nottingham Forest, before being relegated at the end of the following 1959-’60 season before a drop-off in form saw the club relegated back to the third tier in 1963. Further disappointment on the pitch was to follow not too long after, with Luton dropping into the Fourth Division in 1965.
Despite this drop, Luton would soon surge back through the leagues. They won the Fourth Division title in 1968 and this period also saw locally born comedian Eric Morecambe become a club director, in a nice link to today’s game, with Morecambe taking his stage name from the town. 1970 saw Luton return to Division 2 as Third Division runners-up and 1974 saw the return through the leagues completed as the club got back to the top table, again as runners-up. Unfortunately, the Hatters’ stay back in the big-time was a short one, lasting only one season prior to the drop, the club being relegated by a single point. Later that decade, David Pleat was put in charge of the team and 1982 saw the club back in Division 1 once more, having won the 1981-’82 Division 2 title.
The club’s first season back in the top-flight saw them escape the drop by defeating relegation rivals Manchester City on the final day to ensure survival via a late Raddy Antic goal. 1987 saw Luton end up 7th in Division One, their highest ever league finish and won the League Cup a year later by defeating Arsenal, a late comeback sealing a 3-2 triumph. They reached the final again in 1989 but lost out to Nottingham Forest in a final once again. The club continued on in the top-flight through to the end of the ’91-’92 season when they were relegated but remained in Division 1 which became the new second-tier for the following season, with the newly created Premiership usurping it as the top division in England. This again signalled a rather swift drop through the leagues and relegations in 1996 & 2001 saw them back in Division 3, having struggled for the most part, year-on-year since their drop from the top-tier. The exception to this rule was in 1997 when they finished 3rd in Division 2 and reached the play-offs but lost at the semi-final stage.
Their stay back in Division 3 lasted just a sole season, however, as Luton returned to Division 2 at the first attempt as runners-up. They then competed in Division 2 for the next three seasons, winning it in 2005 at the end of its first season under the moniker of ‘League One’. Remaining in the Championship for the next two seasons, the club was relegated in 2007 and spent the latter part of 2007-’08 in administration which led to a ten-point deduction and relegation from League One. Worse was to follow. The following year saw Luton deducted 30 points for financial irregularities in previous years and it was this that led to their eventual relegation at the end of 2008-’09 which saw Luton playing in the non-league system for the first time since their Southern Premier League stint pre-WWI. That season did see some sort of silver-lining though, as Luton did lift the 2009 Football League Trophy for the first time.
Playing in the Conference National, Luton reached the play-offs in each of their first three seasons in the league but lost out each time. Despite finishing runners-up in 2010, they were knocked out in the semi-finals and would reach the final in 2012 but lost to York City on both occasions. They also reached the 2011 final where they were on the wrong side of a penalty shoot-out against AFC Wimbledon. After two further seasons in the Conference, the club would win the title in 2014, breaking the 100-point barrier in the process. Since then the club has remained in League 2, and have been competitive each time. Indeed, they spent only a week outside the top seven last season in reaching the play-offs, but they ultimately experienced heartbreak once more in these, losing out in the semi-finals to eventual winners, Blackpool.
The game was soon underway with Luton’s leading scorer Danny Hylton’s full-fledged part in proceedings lasting just five minutes before he appeared to tweak a hamstring and was replaced shortly afterwards. A fan across from us also seemingly had his match cut short too, disappearing out the back of the stand while flanked by a number of high-vis clad staff. No idea why this happened, or if he got back in later. Anyway, the injury to Hylton didn’t put off the League 2 leaders though and Morecambe ‘keeper Barry Roche had to be alert after a quarter-hour to beat away a stinging drive from range by Andrew Shinnie. A show of support for Morecambe’s (Plymouth’s current) centre-back Ryan Edwards also emanated from the small band of away supporters, showing their backing for Edwards in his battle with illness. Hopefully all is well with him soon.
Despite having the majority of the play in the first-half, the hosts never looked an overly threatening presence for the Lancastrian visitors and despite chances for the likes of Luke Berry, who fired over and into the fans just the other side of the segregation and Glen Rea, who’s drive flew wide of Roche’s upright, they were almost caught napping as Aaron McGowan forced Luton’s Czech stopper Marek Stech into his first meaningful stop of the game.
Brother-Lee action (see what I did there?) then followed with both Elliott and Olly Lee fashioning late chances, but the half would end all-square, with the stewards near us not being quite as confident as they probably ought to still be, on account of the recent couple of slip-ups that the Hatters have endured. With the game still goal-less, action at a bit of a premium and decently sized sausage roll (£3, not the advertised £2) polished off, I decided I needed a half-time drink. To the bar!
Arriving at the bar along with one other guy, I was soon told off for not joining the queue by the girl serving there. I’m far too rebellious for my own good sometimes! Regardless, I was soon in possession of a Kopparberg complete with plastic glass for a further £4 and took up a spot on one of the vacant shelves mounted on the wall to watch the half-time scores from around the country come in via Jeff Stelling & Co before the big news soon spread around the away bar that the toilet seat had become detached from the toilet which, despite having “Ladies” scribbled on it, was a unisex one today. The drama subsided and, after getting in on the fans’ photo, it was back up into the stands for the second half. Could Morecambe hang on for a fine point (or more?) or would the Hatters rekindle the form that saw them net eight a couple of weeks back?
The second half began with Morecambe almost going ahead on two occasions via the slowest of ways which made the action seem as though it had been put into slow-motion. First, Adam McGurk’s shot took a big deflection off of a defender and looked destined to sneak into the corner. But Stech had other ideas and got down well to deflect the ball just past the post before, just a few minutes later, a carbon copy of this chance would occur with both protagonists again playing the same parts, just this time minus the deflection. The Morecambe fans, plus myself, couldn’t believe they weren’t one up. At least.
The Shrimps’ McGowan then forced the ever more troubled Stech into another stop prior to another Aaron, Wildig this time, seeing his header fly narrowly wide. But as all good teams seem to do Luton, despite not being at their best, would grab the initiative just a couple of minutes later. Olly Lee’s fine ball in caused issues within the box and Town skipper Johnny Mullins was in the right place to power his header past Roche and sent the ‘Kenny End’ into raptures. Morecambe meanwhile were left to rue their missed chances.
Roche then kept his side in the contest, denying sub Harry Cornick on a couple of occasions, the first being via a fine save, and it looked like those stops might have proven vital with around fifteen to play when Morecambe’s veteran striker Kevin Ellison found himself advancing on goal, with only Stech between him and the net but a fine recovery by Rea saw the chance snuffed out.
Ellison then fired wide as Morecambe still fancied their chances of taking something back up North with them, and Steven Old almost grabbed a late, late equaliser when, from a corner, he headed wide when unmarked. It was one of those days for the visitors who, on another day could’ve and probably should’ve taken at least a point from Luton and I don’t think many home fans would disagree. The Hatters held on comfortably afterwards though and took all three points to extend their lead at the top of the League 2 table. As for me, a swift exit out and back to the town centre was undertaken and with my train back not being until six, this meant a couple more drinks could be squeezed in. I mean it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it?
I returned to the town centre and to the Red Lion which, after being bustling earlier in the day when I visited the Castle, was now fairly empty. I opted for a Dark Fruits for this one, on account of me still having to walk over to the Wetherspoon’s and latterly the station, so didn’t fancy rushing anything too potent. This again set me back around the £4 mark and so I was in need of the friendly Wetherspoon’s pricing strategies! My, now usual, bottle of Hooch was purchased with the guy behind the bar being one of the more interactive of bar staff I’ve come across in a branch of J.D.’s – and he was fairly pleased I decided to spare him a glass. I headed upstairs to the bookcase lined upper floor and wasted away the remaining time before exiting back to the station.
Arriving with a few minutes to spare, I was soon on a packed service heading the short twenty minutes down the line to St. Pancras. Arriving back at just after six, I reckoned I’d get back to the Doric with a good 25 minutes in hand for a final Amstel. This went fairly well, though I ended up having around five minutes less and made myself look far drunker than I was by attempting to squeeze down the side of a table before trying to move it and spilling the head of my pint. Ah. Luckily the guy who, by this time, must have been regretting allowing me to share the table with him must have thought I was ok by deciding I could guard his stuff as he returned to the bar.
Soon enough it was time to return to the train and the journey back passed with little incident, the match programme proving a fine read for the last hour or so of the trip. Upon arriving back in Manchester, I had a good half-hour until my connection so, having neglected it somewhat of late, I thought a trip to the Piccadilly Tap was on the cards. A half of the guest cider was had (can’t remember what it was) to end off the day and it had certainly been a good one.
Kenilworth Road is a great ground in my opinion. I like its own unique vibe and the traditional feel it exudes, not to mention the novelty factor of its Oak Road entrance. Luton as a town (pub-wise anyway) definitely surpassed my expectations and everywhere I visited was welcoming and just decent overall. £18 entry was very fair too, so can’t complain with that. The game was decent if unspectacular too, so a successful trip on the whole I’d say. Next up is a trip to Walsall for what should have been the Bescot and Walsall vs Rochdale. Unfortunately, Dale’s selfish cup-run has left me without a game, but I have a feeling non-league could help me out. Wood it….?
Food: 5 (lose a point for misleading info!)
Value For Money: 6