There have been many memorable matches for the Hatters over the years. Our famous win in the Littlewoods cup over Arsenal in 1988, the Johnstone's Pain Trophy final in 2009, our 1-0 over Dagenham and Redbridge last night...
But in the long history of our club, arguably one of the most famous would have to be our 12-0 win over Bristol Rovers in 1936 - the match in which Joe Payne scored 10 goals - a record which stands to this day as the most goals scored by an individual player in English domestic football.
Here's how it happened - words by club historian Roger Wash.
Over Easter 1936 the Hatters had the normal three games to play. On Good Friday they had earned a creditable point at Bristol Rovers and the following day had drawn at home to Millwall but at the cost of centre-forward Bill Boyd through injury.
The Town now had a crisis in the lead up to the return game with Bristol Rovers on Easter Monday as they had no centre-forward with Jack Ball and now Bill Boyd unable to take part.
Without a manager since the previous October, following the departure of Harold Wightman, a deputation of directors and coaches were left to pick the team and someone, and to this day no-one is sure who, suggested that 22-year-old reserve half-back Joe Payne be given a chance up front.
Bolsover-born Payne, who had seen time as a coalminer as a teenager, had been recommended to the Town by an exiled Lutonian two years before, but his few league opportunities had either been at full-back or wing-half.
In everyone’s eyes it looked as if Payne would not make the grade and he had recently been loaned out to the club’s nursery side Biggleswade Town, where he did not exactly pull up trees.
Reporting for duty at Kenilworth Road for the Easter Monday clash with the Pirates, Payne was as surprised as anyone to be thrown the number nine shirt and he immediately regarded it as a make or break game, especially as the retained list was shortly to be announced.
A respectable crowd of 14,296 (although 10 times this figure claim to have been there!) turned out on an unseasonably icy cold day, and with sleet lashing into their faces the fans probably had difficulty in recognising the ‘new’ centre-forward with Boyd being named in the programme.
Rovers were not going particularly well at the time, and the Town were expected to win comfortably, but in the first 20 minutes the two sides were evenly matched, although Payne showed willingness to get stuck in, as to be expected, but nothing more.
The breakthrough came on 23 minutes when Payne latched on to a long ball and gave John Ellis in the Rovers goal no chance, and it was followed up with number two shortly afterwards when Fred Roberts was quickest to react to a parry from Ellis to a George Stephenson shot. Payne was now beginning to enjoy himself and scored twice more before half-time, taking advantage of further clever play from Roberts and Stephenson.
The interval dressing room chat was centred around Payne and it was jokingly suggested that he could beat the record of Tranmere’s Bunny Bell who had scored nine goals in a 13-4 thrashing of Oldham the previous year. Sensing that Payne was having one of those afternoons where nothing could go wrong, the experienced Stephenson, Roberts and George Martin decided to make sure he saw plenty of the ball in the second half. The ploy certainly worked with Payne scoring from a Stephenson centre after 49 minutes, a Rich centre after 55 minutes and then a disputed effort two minutes later. Payne had headed towards goal and Martin bundled the ball and the goalkeeper into the net. The referee had, however, ruled that the ball had already crossed the line and awarded the goal to Payne. (This writer’s grandfather always maintained that Martin scored the goal but, there again, referees are always right!).
Stephenson then set up further goals for Payne on 65, 76 and 84 minutes before the new number nine, with the crowd baying for more, took his personal tally to 10 when he took a wild swing at the ball whilst sitting in the area and succeeded in deflecting it past a wrong footed Ellis.
Martin completed the scoring in the final minute to make it an incredible 12-0 win for the Town, a scoreline which surely will never be beaten. Many years later, Payne recalled the game with difficulty. “They told me to go out and get two or three goals if I could, but did not tell me what to do afterwards so I just carried on,” he said. “Time blurs the memory but I recall the Rovers goalkeeper making as many good saves as the goals he let in.”
“The chances kept on coming my way and after the first five, I had that much confidence I was beginning to think I could do it with my eyes shut, especially after that freak of them all when I fell over on my backside to fool everybody - but the ball still went in.”
As a sign of the times, Payne picked up a win bonus of £2 to add to his £4 weekly pay, and in the days of a strict maximum wage the club had to apply to the Football League for a special dispensation to give him the match ball as a souvenir. Only one representative from the London press was there that afternoon but news of the amazing scoreline soon filtered through to the football world and one of the first of many telegrams of congratulation received by Payne was from Bunny Bell.