Luton Town Football Club came into being in 1885. As the more reliable sources say, the Bedfordshire club was formed after a meeting between Excelsior and Wanderers. As the story goes, a disagreement/argument broke out between the two parties. Those present at the meeting representing Wanderers claimed, they had in fact been using the "Luton Town" moniker already for quite some time. Apparently, that claim was "thrown out" and the meeting resulted in Luton Town Football Club being founded during the April of 1885, first playing their home games at Excelsior's Dallow Lane ground, a ground with a 7,000 capacity. In those early days Luton played almost entirely friendly matches (in a blue and pink kit) with the occasional sojourn into the English Cup, a cup tournament we know today as the FA Cup. About five years into its footballing life, Luton Town decided to start paying its players a regular wage, it was decided that only three players would be waged that year, the following year 1891, they would all be on the pay roll. The industrial revolution was well under way and the county of Bedfordshire was ever growing. In the late 1890's Luton Town moved to the new Dunstable Road ground, another step in the right direction for the Luton board. The board of directors had reason to feel confident about their clubs future; however with its new pay roll for its playing staff the club needed to look for ways to increase its income, the club needed more than an itinerary that consisted of mainly friendly fixtures.
Fortune was smiling upon Luton Town when, in 1894 they were invited to become a founding member of the Southern League. 1905 saw Luton Town open its brand new home stadium, Kenilworth Road, said to have a capacity of well over 30,000, barely a spits distance from Dunstable Road. The following years saw relegation for Luton. They gained promotion back to the Southern League just before the onset of the First World War. After the First World War, with everyone making attempts to get back to a normal life, the Southern League was reformatted and renamed Division Three. Shortly after Luton began changing its team colours again, the 1920's began with Luton playing in a rather plain black and white kit, quite a change from the somewhat flamboyant blue and pink colour scheme. The clubs emblem, like those of other clubs like Manchester United, was heavily influenced by its town council's original coat of arms. On the coat of arms sits a bee, in the centre of the white cross, the inclusion of a bee something in common it has with Manchester's coat of arms, a symbol of industry and endeavour. There is also a bee hive on there, particularly interesting as it's said to symbolize the straw plaiting industry, which was a method of manufacturing textiles by braiding straw, one of the things Luton became famous for. Another thing the Bedfordshire town became famous for was the manufacture of hats, something Luton has been known for since the 17th century. In the years leading up to the next world war, Luton spent its time in that middle tier of English football, during the '30's the powers that be at Luton Town made a concerted effort to win promotion into Division Two.
One of the famous names in the history of Luton Town makes an appearance around this time. In 1936 Luton managed to finish second in Division Three, Coventry City finishing top. Unfortunately for Luton, in those days only one team won promotion. On the upside, that season a midfielder/winger by the name of Joe Payne was given his debut for Luton Town. His debut was against Bristol Rovers, and Payne was about to add his name to the record books. Luton won the game 12 - 0, Payne scored ten of them. Joe Payne's good scoring form continued into the next season and Luton won promotion into Division Two! Luton of the late 1930's was turning into quite a decent side. As the season was drawing to a close in 1939, the Hatters found themselves in with a realistic chance of promotion into the top tier of English football; unfortunately they spewed it with only a handful of games left. The 1950's saw Luton Town come to prominence again and would feature other famous names of Luton Town. The early part of the '50's go close to being relegated back into Division Three, luckily for the Hatters they were able to turn things around with little to spare. This brief dalliance with relegation seemed to spur Luton into action as an improved show of form saw them shoot up the table and only just miss out on promotion in 1953 and again in 1954. Luton Town's all-time top goal scorer Yorkshireman Gordon Turner, was turning out for Luton at this time in the clubs history. Gordon made his full debut for Luton in 1950 against Coventry City, Luton being beaten 4 - 1. He began playing in the middle of the pitch but was soon moved to the centre forward position, and it paid off, very much. He quickly became the Hatters main man and enjoyed a great career at Kenilworth Road, he was at the club until 1964 scoring 276 goals in all competitions. Luton made it sure it wasn't three disappointments on the trot when in 1955 they were successful in achieving promotion to Division One. The following season started well for the Hatters, alas it all went a bit wrong for them, after a run of below par results they finished that season mid table. As the decade wore on, they recorded their highest finishing position when they finished in 8th place. A year or so later in 1959 Luton would appear in their first ever FA Cup final. The FA Cup had never been a happy hunting ground for the Bedfordshire club in the past, never getting past the quarter final and as their FA Cup campaign began that season, no one was really expecting anything from Luton Town. However, they progressed from round and to round, slowly building up momentum and after some close games in the latter stages, player manager Sid Owen's Luton Town won through to the final against Nottingham Forest at Wembley Stadium. It was an interesting final to say the least, yet sadly for them Luton would be the team going home empty handed. Forest started well scoring two goals in the first fifteen minutes. Unfortunately for Forest, with only about 30 minutes gone Forest goal scorer Roy Dwight broke his leg in a challenge with Luton's Irish defender Brendan McNally. Despite being 2 - 0 down Luton took control of the game, yet were to find the Forest goal elusive. Luton did manage to get one back about half way through the second half, locally born midfielder Dave Pacey scoring for the Hatters. This particular final is known for the high number of stoppages by the referee.
Maybe it was the length of turf, maybe it hadn't been watered properly, but there was something wrong with the Wembley pitch that day. There was quite a number of injuries, particularly in the second half. Late in the game Forest's Bill Whare went down suffering from acute cramp, he spent the rest of the game on the flank becoming pretty much obsolete for Forest. Despite Nottingham Forest now being down to nine men, Luton were struggling to find the net. However, Forest held on to lift the cup and Billy Walkers team took the cup back to Nottingham. Things took a nosedive for Luton after that, aging players left and results started to go against them the following season, so much so they ended up bottom of the Division therefore being relegated. As the 1960's dawned Owen was replaced by Sam Bartram. The next few years saw Luton struggle to match their good form of a few years before and by the mid 1960's things weren't looking good for Luton Town. Interestingly, within that Luton team was a player by the name of David Pleat, a man who would go on to have quite a say in the history of Luton Town. Despite Bartram leading Luton to a better seasons finish than before, he was quickly replaced by ex Luton Town coach and former Manchester United star Jack Crompton, however Crompton resigned barely a week into the job for medical reasons. In came Bill Harvey, but soon after Luton found themselves back in Division Three. Things would get worse for the Hatters, the season after they were relegated to Division Four. Probably the worst moment in the history of Luton Town FC happened that season in the bottom tier when they were second bottom and lost to the team below them, Lincoln City, to the tune of 8 - 1. The late '60's saw things steadily improve for Luton, the former Hatters player and now new Luton team boss Allen Brown, who took Luton to promotion in '68. However despite doing well in the manager's hot seat, Brown would find himself replaced with Alec Stock. Stock brought in Malcolm MacDonald from Fulham, a very astute piece of business as MacDonald was a major player in Luton winning promotion back to Division Two. Back into the second tier they started so well they were looking like favourites for promotion. However, during the early part of 1970, Vehicle and General the company owned by majority club owners Tony Hunt and Reggie Burr, suffered heavily in business. Not surprisingly it was something that was felt throughout the club, even on the pitch. Newcastle came in for Malcolm MacDonald with a huge offer of ?180,000. The Luton board couldn't say no. Maybe at the end of his tether after all recent bad luck, at the end of the season Alec Stock handed his notice in. In came Harry Haslam and things started to take a turn for the better for Luton Town. In his first season as manager Haslam's Luton reached the quarter final of the FA Cup and had a season of great away form, however it balanced out by a season of poor form at home in the league. Happily for the Hatters, promotion came the season after when they finished in second place to Middlesbrough, Carlisle United would be joining Boro and Luton.
In 1978 the thirty three year old David Pleat, a former Hatters player, was named as team manager of Luton Town. A disappointing first season ended a bit too close for comfort for Pleat as manager of Luton, they managed to avoid relegation by a mere two pints as they finished 18th in Division Two. However, David Pleat was a good manager and an astute man, he managed to turn things around for Luton although the resurgence wasn't without its disappointments. Under Pleat the early 1980's saw Luton twice go very close to winning promotion back to Division One. For the 1981 - 1982 season Luton Town went again, this time making sure of promotion to the First Division after they finished the season as Division Two champions, joining them would be local rivals Watford and Norwich City. I think it's fair to say that by now Luton were a bit of a YoYo side. Once again, as soon as they had achieved First Division football they were to have problems holding on to that status. It was entirely down to Luton's up and down divisional form that gave Luton Town arguably its most memorable moment in its modern history. Pleat had built a side that was free scoring but also quite generous at the back if truth be told, they were certainly good to watch. However, entertaining they may have been but they paid for their poor defensive record throughout the season, they would once again be facing a relegation battle. Luton began that season with a new Adidas kit with sponsor Bedford Trucks.
The predominant colour of the home kit was white with orange sleeves on the shirt; the shorts were white as were the socks, the away kit changed to predominantly orange and blue kit, with shorts blue and socks orange.
As mentioned they were free scoring, they were the First Divisions second highest away scorers for that season. There was to be no cup success for Luton that season, they would go out of both domestic cups at the fourth round. As the 82 - 83 season was entering its home straight, the Hatters were locked in a relegation battle with Birmingham City, Coventry City and Manchester City. Swansea City and Brighton & Hove Albion proved to be sure fire bets for relegation. For Luton, again this would be a season that went to close for comfort; life in those days was never boring for Luton Town fans. Their Division One survival went down to the game of the season, if they took the points with a win over Manchester City and Luton would stay in the English top flight and it would be City that would be relegated. If I remember rightly, it was City that were favourites to stay in the First Division, they only needed a draw and were the bigger club, they were spending money they didn't really have on new players, something reminiscent of City today, no one was giving Luton much of a chance. Looking at this game from Luton's point of view, this game was what dreams were made out of; it was what people referred to as "Boys Own Stuff", comic book stuff. Luton's cavalier style was there for all to see at Maine Road, searching for that elusive goal, however City were proving to be resolute and stubborn in defence, time was ticking by for Luton, it looked like history was going to repeat itself as eight years previously it was City who had put Luton down. Without only minutes to go, Serbian Raddy Antic scored for Luton, a thundering shot from just outside City's eighteen yard box. City were stunned and were not able to rouse themselves, unable to score. Luton had done it, as John Motson said during his commentary for this game; it was indeed an amazing act of escapology for Luton. Cue those memorable scenes for the small Bedfordshire club, manager David Pleat half running half dancing his way onto the pitch to congratulate his players.