In the second in our series of talking to Town fans on their experiences of watching the Hatters down the years, Gaby Kovacs explains how much of a role the club plays in his life
NAME: GABY KOVACS
DATE OF BIRTH: 9/8/1974
FAVOURITE GAME: Derby 2-3 Luton
FAVOURITE PLAYER: Mick Harford
FIRST GAME: Liverpool (H) 4/9/84
It’s a bit of cliché but it’s true: it is never dull being a Luton Town supporter.
“As a club we’ve experienced it all,” says Gaby Kovacs. “That’s what makes us unique. Never for one minute would you expect a club like Luton to appear at so many Wembley finals, to reach FA Cup semi-finals, to play in the top-flight, and the Championship…and the Conference.”
It’s all part of experiencing the rollercoaster of emotion when you attach yourself to the Town. A special football club, like no other, in every way.
If you read our first generations piece, Hatters fan Alan Adair admits he wasn’t keen on away fan bans and plastic pitches in the 1980s. Gaby, however, sees it differently.
“Ah, membership cards and the plastic pitch,” he says, taking a deep, reflective, breath. “Looking back at the time I started watching Luton in the late 80s, there was a real sense of belonging, because, with no away fans and a plastic pitch, it felt as though you belonged to something the rest of the outside world couldn’t belong to.
“I loved those times, it was magnificent. We played some unbelievable football on that pitch and beat some of the best teams in the country.
“I vividly recall so many players rubbing deep heat onto their legs that the whole stadium used to smell of the stuff – that flicks a big switch in my memory. I’d love to go back and stand on terraces at Kenilworth Road.”
Just like the remarkable and wonderful history of Luton Town, Gaby’s story of how he became a Hatter is just as fascinating.
His surname Kovacs, a familiar name on the Town teamsheet during the Conference years, is – like Janos’ – Hungarian.
Gaby’s parents fled Hungary during the Revolution in the 1950s and, as fate would have it, they were destined for Luton – jumping on a truck bound for England having spent months waiting for one to go to Australia.
Unfortunately for a young Gaby when he was born in Luton in 1974, his father Gaspar – who found a job at Vauxhall – had lost his enthusiasm for football. He had, after all, been weaned on the Mighty Magyars, the famous Hungary team of the 50s which lost once in six years and contained legendary frontman Ferenc Puskas.
For Gaby, though, his football memories were about to start thanks to a man intent on impressing his sister, Wendy.
“My sister’s boyfriend at the time was doing the ‘I’ll impress the family’ bit, and asked me if I fancied going to a Luton game,” explains Gaby. “He was a big Luton fan and my first game was a 2-1 defeat at home to Liverpool.
“It was such a good season to be introduced, we got to the FA Cup semi-final where we lost to Everton. What a first season to catch the bug.
“I was 10 at the time, and over the next few seasons I got to go to the bigger games. However my sister and her boyfriend split up and she started dating Alan O’Sullivan. He was a Luton player but I don’t think he ever made a first-team appearance.”
Without his sister’s ex-boyfriend about to join him at Kenilworth Road, Gaby got another opportunity to watch the Town through his sister.
“The main turning point for me in my supporting life was when my sister was working in an old peoples’ home,” he says.
“There was one resident called Larry who wanted to go to games, but needed a helper and she suggested if I could accompany him to games. It meant I had a free ticket and transport to all the home games and my first season ticket season happened to be the 1987/88 season. What a first season to see.”
Indeed. That campaign saw the Town lift the Littlewoods Cup after beating Arsenal 3-2, reach the FA Cup semi-final again and lose in the Simod Cup final to Reading.
There was no greater time to be a Hatters fan.
However for Gaby it was one game in particular that stood out and it came in a relegation decider two seasons later. It was enough for the then teenage Gaby to realise how much football meant to him. There was no going back after this…
“My favourite game is probably Derby away in 1990. It was the first away game where I went by myself. I got the train,” he recalls. “It was quite scary to be so young going alone to a game but it was brilliant. It was such a buzz. I remember coming out of Derby station and seeing a bridge full of people by the Baseball Ground. I was worried that they were all Derby fans but to my shock and delight I realised they were all Luton fans. There were thousands of us and I remember it being boiling hot.
“But what a special day. For me that afternoon I grasped what football was all about. It made me understand the game: the emotions and what it meant to people. I hadn’t previously thought about it. Going with Larry had slowly made me understand football as a game, but the Derby game was a culmination of everything I had watched and learned before – not just the game of football itself but everything else around it, and how it made people feel.”
Thirty years and hundreds of games later Gaby, like all fans from his era who have witnessed the Town in the top flight before the fall through the divisions, is now attempting to bring up the next generation of Hatters supporters.
“My son Thailer was mascot once before,” he says. “He’s 10 now, but was about five when he was mascot for a game against Forest Green. He’s even kicked the ball into the Kenny end goal but he’s not as interested in Luton so much. I think he was assuming that every game I took him to would be nice food in the Eric Morecambe suite, meeting the players before and after the game…not sitting in the cold and wet watching Braintree and going straight home!”
As we all find out, just like Luton Town, things are never that straight-forward.
And we wouldn’t want it any other way. Would we?