The fifth in a six-part series of articles looking at the new sides we’ll be facing again in the 2014/15 season, by Dale Hurman.
Luton Town returned to the Football League after a five year absence after romping to the Conference Premier title in April. They finished 19 points clear of runners-up Cambridge United at the top of the table with 101 points and 102 goals from 46 games.
Palaeolithic encampments have been discovered in the Luton area as far back as 250,000 years ago and settlements re-appeared soon after the end of the last ice age approximately 10,000 years ago. A Saxon outpost on the River Lea was founded in the 6th century AD and the town was recorded in the Doomsday book.
Much of the town was destroyed by a fire in 1336 and a brick making industry developed in and around Luton in the 16th century. The hat-making industry was established in the 17th century, which soon became synonymous with the town. The population grew significantly at the start of the 18th century but it wasn’t until 1858 that the railway arrived in the town.
The hat trade declined at the start of the 20th century and was soon replaced by the arrival of Vauxhall, who opened the largest car plant in the UK. They built Churchill tanks and as a consequence the town was bombed heavily during the Second World War. It is the birthplace of singer Paul Young, cricketer Monty Panesar and Inbetweeners actress Emily Atack.
The Hatters were formed in 1885 and were elected to the Football League second division in 1897. They lasted just three seasons however before opting not to seek re-election due to travel costs in a predominately Northern league. They moved to their current ground at Kenilworth Road in 1905 and became founder members of the newly formed Football League Third Division (South) in 1920.
They were promoted to the first division in 1955, 1974 and again in 1982. They were F.A. Cup runners-up in 1959, losing 2-1 to Nottingham Forest at Wembley. The eighties were undoubtedly the Hatters' most memorable decade and made three visits to the Twin Towers in the space of a year, winning the League Cup in 1988 with a 3-2 win over Arsenal.
They lost 4-1 to second division strugglers Reading in the Full Members Cup final a month earlier and were also beaten 2-1 by Wimbledon in a F.A. Cup semi-final at Spurs’ White Hart Lane. They returned to Wembley in 1989 looking to retain the League Cup but were beaten 3-1 by Nottingham Forest.
They will also be remembered for installing a plastic pitch in 1985, following in the footsteps of Queens Park Rangers, and a year later banned all away fans whilst introducing an ID card scheme for home fans. The Hatters were relegated from the first division in 1992 and have yet to return to the top flight since.
The first decade of the 21st century has seen peaks and troughs with promotions in 2002 and 2005 followed by three successive relegations between 2007 and 2009. The last of those relegations was in no small part due a 30-point deduction, 10 of which were handed down due to illegal payments to agents and 20 as a result of the clubs recent history of administrations and it saw them lose their Football League status.
Luton Town finished as Conference Premier runners-up in 2010 but lost to York City in the two-legged play-off semi-finals. They reached the play-off final in both 2011 and 2012 but lost on penalties to AFC Wimbledon at the City of Manchester Stadium before losing to York City at Wembley the following year. After a 7th placed finish in 2013 they were crowned Champions under manager John Still in April.
The first league meeting between the two sides came in September 1996 when Alan Smith’s side hosted the Hatters at Adams Park still searching for their first win of the season. It was notable for the one and only appearance of Ray Wilkins in the light and dark blue stripes. Sadly the visitors won 1-0 courtesy of David Oldfield’s scrambled effort from close range early in the second half.
The last meeting was on a balmy April evening in 2009 with Peter Taylor’s men enjoying the smell of promotion in their nostrils. The hosts were on the brink of relegation but they had the better of a disappointing first half. The only goal of the game came after 56 minutes when loan striker John Akinde slotted home past goalkeeper Dean Brill from eight yards and the Chairboys held on comfortable to record a crucial 1-0 victory.
John Still needs no introduction to Blues fans having regularly faced each other for the last forty years or so. He played for Bishop’s Stortford, Leytonstone and Dagenham in numerous Isthmian League clashes in the 1970’s and managed Leytonstone, Dartford, Maidstone United in the 1980’s.
He was boss of Dagenham and Redbridge, Peterborough United and Barnet in the 1990’s but will always been associated with the Daggers, having returned for a nine year spell between 2004 and 2013 in which he led them to promotion to the Football League and incredibly a season in League One in 2010/11.
Still was tempted to take over the reigns at Luton Town in February 2013 with one aim, to take them back to the Football League. That was achieved in fine style last season and they will have big ambitions to follow it with another promotion this time around. He has already started work on strengthening his squad with the arrival of highly rated right-back Curtley Williams, who has signed from Lowestoft Town.
Striker Ross Lafayette has joined from Welling United whilst experienced marksman Paul Benson’s loan switch from Swindon Town is set to be made permanent at the turn of the month. Captain Ronnie Henry rather surprisingly rejected a new deal and has left as has defender Anthony Charles, midfielder Luke Rooney and striker Jon Shaw.
The Hatters have retained the services of midfielder Luke Guttridge, who was their player of the season in 2013/14, and striker Andre Gray, who notched 30 goals in a very successful campaign. Both players are likely to be integral to their success again this time around as they return to the Football League, although Gray has been attracting attention from clubs as high as the Championship.
We host the Hatters at Adams Park on Friday 26th December 2014.
We will travel to Kenilworth Road on Saturday 21st March 2015.