The birth of Luton Town Football Club was never going to be easy. At the meeting called to discuss the formation based, supposedly, on a merger between local clubs, Wanderers and Excelsior an argument ensued.
Officials from the Wanderers club maintained that they had been using the name ‘Luton Town’ for several months and that the meeting was pointless. Nevertheless that particular point of order was rejected and ‘Luton Town Football Club’ was dragged screaming into the world on April 11th 1885.
Early games for the newly formed club consisted of friendlies, apart from annual excursions into the English Cup as it was then named. With a strong committee behind them pushing all the way, the club began to attract stronger opposition, better players and more spectators such was the growth in industry in Luton at the time.
The foresighted decision to pay three players was taken in 1890 with the remainder being included the following year. Clearly because of this expense friendly matches were not enough to keep the finances straight and an invitation to become a founder member of the Southern League in 1894 was grabbed with both hands.
1900 - 1939
The Town did not manage to recreate their glory days of ten years before and were unable to make a challenge for the title. In fact, they suffered relegation to Division Two where they had to ply their trade against a string of Welsh sides for two seasons before fighting their way back just before the Great War.
After hostilities ceased, the Southern League, en bloc, was asked to form a new Division Three of the Football League and the Town then enjoyed 17 seasons at this level mostly as a 'middle of the road' club. With the population growth of the town and surrounding area, the board, in the mid-1930s, decided to make a concerted bid to achieve a higher status.
Players were brought in to help them achieve this objective and their highest ever position was achieved in 1936 when they finished runners-up to Coventry in the days when only one side was promoted. During this campaign, a wing-half, Joe Payne, was handed his debut at centre forward against Bristol Rovers and he altered the record books at a stroke when scoring 10 goals in a 12-0 victory. Payne continued into the next season as he left off the last and it was his remarkable 55 goals out of a total of 103 that helped secure promotion to Division Two on the back of a tremendous home record.
Decisions were immediately taken to extend the Kenilworth Road ground, where the Town had moved in 1905, with the capacity increased to a supposed 34,000. This limit was never seriously tested as the Town held their own in the new higher sphere. In their second season in Division Two, however, a strong and settled squad, ably led from the front by local boy Hugh Billington, nearly achieved promotion to the top flight.
Over Easter 1939, a series of good results had forced the team into the promotion positions, but a draw and two defeats from the final three games meant that they missed out. Unfortunately, no-one will ever know how far this squad could have progressed as in September 1939, with the Town sitting proudly at the top of the table, war broke out.
1946 - 1960
After a seven-year break, it was back to a few seasons of mid-table mediocrity until, in 1950/51, the Town came perilously close to suffering relegation back to Division Three, only surviving by dint of a three game winning run as the season drew to a close. Luckily this scare was not repeated as the Town's youth policy, nurtured by manager Dally Duncan, began to bear fruit. Future all-time leading scorer for the Hatters, Gordon Turner, learnt the ropes under the expert guidance of ex-England international Jesse Pye and, with a settled side, the Town just missed out on promotion in both 1953 and 1954.
The final push in the fight to earn a Division One spot came in 1954/55 when the Town eventually won through in a titanic struggle with Birmingham and Rotherham. The Hatters finally clinched the runners-up spot on goal average with the Millers the unlucky side to lose out. The Town swept all before them early in the following season and were the talk of the football world after beating Newcastle, Blackpool, Wolves and league leaders Sunderland in quick succession, and all by big scores. But the euphoria did not last and a mid-table position at the season's end was still probably more than the supporters expected the previous August.The Town finished in eighth position in 1957/58, their highest ever, and early in the following campaign actually hit top spot before dropping back to mid-table. If the failure to maintain the challenge for the championship was a disappointment then the supporters were in for a treat in another way.The Hatters had never progressed beyond the quarter-finals in the FA Cup before but, in 1958/59 after a slow start, the Wembley band wagon took off as the Town fought their way past Leeds, Leicester, Ipswich and Blackpool before seeing off Norwich in the semi-final. Cup euphoria had struck in a big way with a record Kenilworth Road crowd of 30,069 turning out for the quarter-final replay against Blackpool and as many travelling to White Hart Lane for the semi-final which was drawn with the Town winning through in the re-match.The final itself was a massive disappointment compared to the run up, with the Town not performing on the day, leaving ten man Nottingham Forest to win comfortably 2-1.
From that moment on, the Hatters' fortunes went into a steady decline. Manager Dally Duncan had left in the October before the Cup run started, and it was not until after the final that recently-retired captain and centre-half Syd Owen was appointed into the hot seat.Owen took over a side that was growing old together and, with the difficulties encountered in moving from the changing room to the manager's chair, the upshot was that the Town had a disastrous 1959/60 season and finished bottom, to be relegated after five years at the top.
1960 - 1966
Syd Owen was replaced by ex-Charlton goalkeeper Sam Bartram, but the rot had set in and 33 players were used in the 1960/61 season but the Town could not manage to finish in the top half of the table. The board were blamed by the supporters for allowing the money earned from the 1959 Cup run to be handed over to the tax man rather than be spent on players, but it was all now too late.
There was a general feeling that Bartram was slowly turning the ship around after he finished the 1961/62 campaign in mid-table but he was not given a chance to regain past glories, being relieved of his duties 'by mutual consent'. His replacement was to be ex-Town coach Jack Crompton but he changed his mind after a week in the post on medical grounds.
Bristol City coach Bill Harvey then took over and presided over another relegation campaign as the Town sank dismally to Division Three at the end of 1962/63. Unfortunately, instead of being allowed to consolidate, the team plunged headlong towards Division Four at an alarming rate, only saved by an unexpected nine game unbeaten run as the season drew to a close.The stay of execution was only temporary as the Town, only six years from their FA Cup Final appearance, slumped to the football basement in 1965 amidst apathy and crowds of less than 3,000. Harvey had resigned mid-season to be replaced by ex-Town player and manager George Martin and although he introduced some discipline behind the scenes, he was, frankly, too old.Having said that, the Hatters made a good effort at escaping Division Four at the first attempt and were only let down by rows over player bonuses as the season entered its final couple of games. No money, all experienced players released as a legacy of the bonuses row and crowds at an all time low left a tired George Martin with no option but to resign, to be replaced by Allan Brown, who had starred for the Town in the 1959 Cup run.Brown had some work to do! With the team in second bottom position, soon after he rejoined the club in November 1966, they crashed 1-8 to bottom club Lincoln, arguably the club's lowest spot in their history.
1966 - 1974
Gradually things improved with Brown's enthusiasm and astute playing of the transfer market ensuring a final position of 17th which was looked on as a success.
In his first close season in charge, Allan Brown lost no time in attempting to piece together a squad that would take the Town back to where the supporters felt they belonged. The free-transfer signing of veteran centre-half Terry Branston was the catalyst that welded together a mix of youth and experience and after the Town went to the top of the table in February 1968 they never looked back and walked away with the title.
Buoyed by this success, along with the wealth of new directors Reggie Burr and Tony Hunt, owners of insurance giant Vehicle and General, the new season opened as the old one had finished, but the mid-season sacking of manager Allan Brown for 'disloyalty'- he applied for the Leicester job - shocked the football world.
The new man, Alec Stock, failed to make it two successive promotions but made no mistake in 1969/70 aided by the goalscoring exploits of a £17,500 signing from Fulham, Malcolm Macdonald.
At one time, the Hatters seemed capable of walking through Division Two back to a top flight they had left in 1960, but the March 1970 announcement of the collapse of Burr and Hunt's Vehicle and General and a disastrous Easter, when all three games were lost, meant that the meteoric rise came to an abrupt halt. The Vehicle and General collapse reverberated around the corridors at Kenilworth Road for some time and regrettably made the club sellers rather than buyers once more. Macdonald was sold to Newcastle for a then massive £180,000 and without a proven goalscorer, the 1971/72 season was a complete anti-climax after the excitement of the previous four years.
A weary Alec Stock resigned at the season's end to be replaced by Harry Haslam, who had originally come to the club as promotions manager. Although the Town boasted an amazing away record in his first season in charge and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since 1959, the home record was poor. This was put right, however, in 1973/74 when promotion from a very average Division Two was achieved.
1974 - 1985
Behind the scenes the directors felt that promotion had been won far too early and their fears were justified with the Town rock bottom at Christmas, but the introduction of youth and a spirited fightback in the second half of the campaign ended with unfortunate relegation in a blaze of glory.
The brief stay at the top had its financial repercussions and by the middle of the following season only the eleventh hour sale of midfield favourite Peter Anderson prevented the club from folding.Haslam departed in early 1978 for the security of a longer contract at Sheffield United to be replaced by David Pleat who had started the campaign as reserve team coach at Kenilworth Road.
Pleat's first full season in control almost ended in relegation but his coaching skills and astute transfer dealings gradually came to the fore and after near misses of a return to Division One in 1980 and 1981 promotion came twelve months later in devastating fashion.The championship was won in great style with a brand of attacking football that was to become the Pleat hallmark.
Goals flew in at both ends as the Town became the darlings of the television companies in 1982/83 but it still took a last gasp win at Manchester City to prevent a quick return to Division Two.Visions of David Pleat skipping across the Maine Road turf after the 1-0 victory remain some of television's enduring images.
Unfortunately the Hatters were unable to build on this narrow escape and by late autumn 1984 were once again struggling at the wrong end of the table.Boardroom reshuffles and the loosening of the purse strings for David Pleat enabled him to buy the players necessary for long term survival.Amazingly most of these new players were 'cup-tied' as the Town fought through to the F.A.Cup semi-final where they were narrowly and unluckily beaten by Everton.
1985 - 1988
The installation of an artificial pitch in the summer of 1985 was warmly greeted initially by the footballing press but gradually mutterings of discontent grew and by the time the Town went back to grass in 1991 they had reached a crescendo. Also unpopular was the decision to ban away supporters in the wake of damage caused by so-called Millwall supporters in an FA Cup match at Kenilworth Road.
Perversely, it was during this period that the Town enjoyed the most successful period in their history. A position of ninth in the table was reached in season 1985/86 at the end of which David Pleat found the call of Tottenham too great and he departed amid much acrimony.
His replacement, John Moore - a stalwart defender from the Fourth Division days - led the Town to their highest ever placing in Division One of seventh in 1986/87 and then resigned due to his dislike of the high profile nature of the job. Moore's assistant, Ray Harford, was next in line for the hot seat and he presided over a momentous 1987/88 season which included three trips to Wembley as well as yet another FA Cup semi-final, this time against Wimbledon.
Defeat in the Simod Cup final, the Mercantile Credit Centenary Tournament and the FA Cup semi-final appeared to signal a season of glorious failure but on 24th April 1988, an army of 35,000 Luton supporters saw the Hatters win their first ever major trophy. A last-minute strike from Brian Stein saw the Town finally overcome Arsenal 3-2 at Wembley in a see-saw thriller in which Arsenal, leading 2-1, were awarded a penalty, which was brilliantly saved by Andy Dibble, before Town came storming back, leading to skipper Steve Foster lifting the Littlewoods Cup.
1988 - 2007
The Hatters reached the Littlewoods Cup final again the following year but went down 3-1 to Nottingham Forest as the era of success came to a gradual close. A last gasp home win over Norwich in 1989 saved the Town from relegation but was not enough to save Ray Harford, who was dismissed mid-way through the following campaign. Ex-Hatters star Jim Ryan took over to see the Town escape the drop at the last over the next two seasons before he was replaced by the returning David Pleat.
This time the Town had used up their nine lives and sank back down in 1992 after 10 years at the top. They did not find life much easier at the new level and struggled to adapt and almost dropped again in 1993.
Surprisingly, the Hatters fought through to the FA Cup semi-final once more in 1994 after seeing off Premiership high flyers Newcastle and West Ham along the way. Unfortunately, defeat by Chelsea in a lacklustre game at Wembley meant that all the Town had to look forward to was another fight against relegation which was mercifully achieved.
Pleat departed once more at the end of 1994/95 and his replacement, Terry Westley from the coaching staff, was unable to prevent the team dropping like a stone to the foot of the table. After only a few months in the job he was replaced by the experienced Lennie Lawrence who initially got the side to put together an unbeaten run.
The loss of talismanic goalscorer, Dwight Marshall, with a broken ankle, however, knocked the stuffing out of the side with relegation the inevitable consequence.
Back in a division they last left in 1970 the Hatters took a little while to acclimatise but when sharpshooter Tony Thorpe got his eye in, the goals started to flow and by Christmas they had hit top spot. Unfortunately, a late season wobble with too many points dropped at home meant that the Hatters had to settle for third at the death and a place in the play-offs where they were beaten by a superior Crewe.
The Town then failed to hit the heights for several seasons and even suffered two periods in the hands of receivers as well as a season in the football basement. Thankfully, that period came to end in the summer of 2004 and with the new owners in place, Manager Mike Newell, oversaw the Hatters make a fantastic start to the 2004/05 season, winning their first six games and the players never looked back from that position. Records tumbled throughout the year as Luton ran away with the League One title, amassing 98 points and finishing 12 points clear of their nearest rivals Hull City.
The Hatters took the Championship by storm in 2005-06, surprising many pundits and finishing up in a creditable mid-table position. Sadly, finances dictated by a small, antiquated, low-capacity stadium meant that several players were then sold and not adequately replaced, leading to relegation at the end of the 2006-07 campaign.
2007 - TO DATE
Kevin Blackwell signed eight players during the summer of2007 in preparation for a tilt at promotion back to the Championship.
During the first month of the season it seemed that the Hatters stood a decent chance of doing so, after four wins from their first five league and cup fixtures including a 3-0 victory over Premier League Sunderland at Kenilworth Road.
However form began to tail off and had yet to win away from home but worse news was to follow when the club were deducted 10 points for falling to administration in November.
From being in a comfortable mid-table position the Hatters found themselves deep in a relegation battle but the first match following the points deduction the team rallied themselves to beat Southend 1-0 at Kenilworth Road.
Results began to pick-up in December and a FA Cup second round replay victory over NottinghamForest ensured the Hatters faced another cup clash with Liverpool atKenilworth Road.
On Boxing Day the Hatters were involved in a highly-controversial match at Bristol Rovers where incredibly they held out to record a 1-1 draw despite having to play half the match with nine men and the last 13 minutes with only eight men on the pitch following three sending offs.
And in the last match of 2007 we saw the first away win of the campaign recorded courtesy of a last-minute strike fromMatthewSpring.
With the administrator in charge however, the New Year saw the beginning of player sales which would go on to affect the team's performances later in the season.
But firstly the small matter of a game against Liverpool at Kenilworth Road in the third round of the FA Cup had to be settled and after going behind to a Peter Crouch goal, a John Arne Riise own goal 13 minutes from earned the Hatters a much needed money-spinning replay at Anfield.
At this point the administrator had been working on cutting the spiralling wage bill at the club and as a result club captain Chris Coyne was sold to Colchester United and midfielder David Edwards - only signed by Blackwell in the summer - was sold to Wolves.
Colossal Polish centre-half Jaroslaw Fojut returned to Bolton after his loan spell expired and would not return as the Hatters were unable to sign anybody while still in administration, which left the squad decimated, especially in defence.
Blackwell then decided to call it quits by saying he would quit the club following the replay at Liverpool.
Before the cup replay at Anfield it was announced that the administrator had chosen Luton Town 2020 Ltd as the preferred bidders to take over the club.
The consortium and was headed by famous Hatters fan and TV presenters Nick Owen and included former Hatters legends Steve Foster and Godfrey Ingram as well as other influential businessman all of which were Town supporters.
Buoyed by this news it made for an extra-special night at Anfield where almost 6,000 Luton fans out-sung the famous Kop for long periods before, during and after the game.
The team held on until the final minute of added on time in the first half before Ryan Babel struck the opening goal of the game to break the Hatters' hearts.
A Steven Gerrard hat-trick and a goal from Sami Hyppia in the second half cumulated in a 5-0 defeat but despite the scoreline the Hatters performance was far from embarrassing.
That was to be manager Kevin Blackwell's last match in charge of the Town as the administrator moved quickly to install legend Mick Harford as his replacement but despite a spirited display the team lost 1-0 in his first game in charge away to Leyton Orient on 19th January.
With the team struggling to find any form and with young players low on confidence, the side failed to win again until a 3-0 home victory over Oldham Athletic on 15th March, by which time they were already 12 points from safety.
But after picking five points from the following three games to give them hope the Town went onto lose all of their final six matches and relegation to League 2 was confirmed following the 2-1 home defeat to Brighton on 12th April.
With the new owners set to take full control of the club in the summer the only problem the Hatters prepared themselves for would have been beginning their League 2 campaign with 15 points deducted for failure to agree to a CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement).
However the Football League decided that because the club had been in administration for the third time in nine years, they would punish them further by deducting a further five points.
But worse news followed.
The club were still being investigated by the Football Association for the past financial irregularities that had been made public during Mike Newell's time at the club two years previously.
As a result the club had a further 10 points docked by the FA which meant the club had to start the season with an incredible 30 point penalty.
Both Bournemouth and Rotherham suffered a similar fate for recent spells in administration and were hit with 17 point deductions by the Football League.
Once the club was officially taken over a week before the season started, the club only had six professionals on the books leading up to the home game with Port Vale.
Harford though pulled off one of the biggest transfer coups in the club's history when it was announced that former club captain Kevin Nicholls was resigning for the club.
Nicholls was joined by 10 other news faces either signed on a free transfer or brought in on-loan, as the manager pieced together a team fit for the campaign ahead.
Despite a slow and inconsistent beginning to the season the Hatters ended 2008 just one point away from wiping out the 30 point deficit and were only 15 points away from safety.
The season was also brought to life by the club's run in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy which was won in superb style at Wembley with a 3-2 victory over Scunthorpe United in April.
However, the burden of the points deductions proved too much to shoulder and relegation out of the Football League was confirmed following a goalless draw againstChesterfield on Easter Monday.
It means the club will start life in the Blue Square Premier in 2009/10 after 89 years in the Football League.
In their first season in non-league football the Town finished second behind champions Stevenage but lost in the Play-Offs at the semi-final stage to York City.
During that campaign Richard Money took over from Mick Harford where the Town also reached the third round of the FA Cup.
The Hatters again suffered Play-Off heartache in 2010/11 and again there was a change in manager - Gary Brabin taking over from Money in March.
After finishing third this time around and beating Wrexham in the semi-finals the Town lost on penalties to AFC Wimbledon in the Promotion Final at the City of Manchester Stadium after the game ended goalless after 120 minutes.
That meant a third season in non-league football for the Hatters and hopes were high of a tilt at the title in 2011/12.
Unfortunately for the Town inconsistancy dogged the team throughout the campaign as they played catch-up on runaway top two Fleetwood and Wrexham.
A terrible run of eight games without a win in March saw Gary Brabin lose his job. Paul Buckle was the latest man hired at to bring success to Kenilworth Road.
Having witnessed a 3-1 defeat at Braintree, Buckle went about ensuring the Town's place in the Play-Offs which was by no means guaranteed this time around.
However, a run of six games undefeated, including a final-day-of-the-season victory at champions Fleetwood, confirmed their spot in the top five and with it a crack at the Play-Offs for a third season running.
For the second successive campaign the Town were paired with Wrexham. The Welsh club had finished runners-up having amassed 98 points.
A 2-0 home victory put the Hatters in command in the first leg and, while Buckle lost his unbeaten record in the second leg when Wrexham won 2-1 on the day, the Town were in the final once more where this time they would face York City.
At Wembley 30,000 Hatters fans turned Wembley orange and were celebrating just two minutes in when Andre Gray fired them in front.
But joy turned to despair as Ashley Chamblers equalised for the Minstermen before a contentious winner ensured it was York and not the Town celebrating a return to the Football League.
Once again there were high hopes at the beginning of the 2012/13 campaign.
While the Hatters were challenging for a place in the top six all season, it was their run in the FA Cup that made the headlines most.
Wins over Cambridge, Nuneaton and Dorchester were rewarded with a home third round tie with Wolves. An Alex Lawless strike was enough to beat the Championship side in front of a sell-out at Kenilworth Road.
The fourth round pitted the Town against Premier League Norwich City at Carrow
Road. On that day the Hatters would make history. A fine defensively display looked to have secured a replay but, with 10 minutes to go, substitute Scott Rendell met a JJ O'Donnell cross to win the tie for the Town - and with it create history by becoming the first non-league side to beat a Premier League side.
The Hatters would fall at the fifth round following a home defeat to a Millwall side that would go onto reach the semi-finals.
By the now, though, the Town's league form was nosediving and, days after the Millwall game, Paul Buckle left Kenilworth Road by mutual consent.
The Hatters wasted no time in making their new appointment, hiring Dagenham & Redbridge manager John Still.
The Town ended the campaign in seventh place in the Conference.