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25 January 2013

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History lesson ahead of Saturday's cup tie

Club historian Roger Wash on the Town's most famous cup encounter with the Canaries...

The Hatters started off on the road to Wembley in 1959 surrounded by indifference.  Normally, the FA Cup competition attracted amongst the highest gates of the season to Kenilworth Road but, given the Town’s form at the time, only 18,534 bothered to turn up for the Round Three tie home tie with Leeds which was won 5-1.

The crowds obviously began to increase as the Hatters advanced through the rounds and cup fever took over and by the time Blackpool were seen off in a quarter-final replay a record crowd of 30,069 had filled Kenilworth Road.

By beating Blackpool 1-0 in dramatic fashion the Town now found themselves through to the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in their 74 year history where their opponents were to be Norwich from Division Three.  The Canaries would probably have been the Town’s choice, had they been given one, although they commanded great respect having already knocked out the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, Sheffield United and Cardiff on their epic journey from the First Round.

The semi-final clash was scheduled for Stamford Bridge, Chelsea but Norwich objected to this choice of venue as the Hatters were playing there in a League match the previous week.  The game was then switched, amidst much confusion, to White Hart Lane, Tottenham and when the tickets were made available, only six days before the tie, the vast queue at Kenilworth Road was headed by a couple of coachloads of Norwich supporters! 

The first half at White Hart Lane was totally one sided with the Town missing several good opportunities to bury brave Norwich and finish the tie as a contest.  For all their efforts only an Allan Brown headed goal separated the two sides at the interval which was to prove insufficient.

The Canaries, with nothing to lose, threw caution to the wind in the second period and were rewarded for their exertions when ex-Hatter, Bobby Brennan, celebrating his 34th birthday, hit a tremendous right foot volley past a flat footed Ron Baynham in the Luton goal.

The Town rallied after this set-back but could not find a way past Norwich reserve goalkeeper Sandy Kennon who put on an inspired performance and rescued his side time and time again.  His last minute diving save from Luton winger Billy Bingham was truly breathtaking and enabled his side to earn a replay.

The re-match took place four days later at St Andrews, Birmingham where this time the Canaries had much more of the play.  An open goal miss by Jimmy Hill, the little Norwich inside-forward, on the stroke of half-time sent the sides in level at the interval but in the second period one moment of First Division class turned the game.

A clever back heel from Bob Morton set up Bingham who reacted in a flash and hammered the ball into the roof of the net.  Although Norwich continued to steam forward they could not force a way past Luton skipper Syd Owen and his determined fellow defenders.

Back on the ground where he started his professional career, 36 year old Owen, playing his final season in football, was the rock upon which the wave upon wave of Norwich attacks foundered.  His reading of the game together with brilliantly timed interceptions and shrewd tackles saved half a dozen dangerous moments for the Town and produced probably his finest performance in a Luton shirt.

The Hatters hung on grimly and at the final whistle relieved supporters stormed on to the pitch and chaired off their heroes while the dazed Norwich players were applauded off by their own disappointed fans who had seen their hopes of being the first Third Division side to reach Wembley dashed at the final hurdle.

The last words were left to Owen who said, “This is a great day for me.  In my last season as a professional footballer I have achieved one of football’s most coveted honours – to captain a side at Wembley.”  No-one, not even an upset Norwich manager, Archie Macaulay, could begrudge him that.

Luton Town (both games):  Baynham, McNally, Hawkes, Groves, Owen, Pacey, Bingham, Brown, Morton, Cummins, Gregory.

Norwich City (both games):  Kennon, Thurlow, Ashman, McCrohan, Butler, Crowe, Crossan, Allcock, Bly, Hill, Brennan.

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