Academy graduate Upson backs the Town class of 2016
Former Hatters youth team captain Matthew Upson’s advice for the Town team at Blackburn tonight is simple: enjoy it!
Centre-half Upson was part of last Luton youth team to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 1996/97 when they beat Watford on penalties in a replay at Vicarage Road.
And the former England international, who appeared just twice for the Town senior side before a £2m switch to Arsenal in 1997, says the current group should have every confidence of a positive result this evening.
“I’d say to them in games like this just treat it like you are playing in the park with your mates,” said Upson, now 36, but first joined the Town aged 14.
“The pitch is the same size, the ball is round, the goals aren’t any bigger…Don’t treat the game any differently – just go and enjoy it.”
Upson skippered the Town youngsters all the way to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup that season.
A group led by coach John Moore – and which contained future pros Matthew Spring, Gary Doherty, Liam George, Emmerson Boyce, Andre Scarlett, Jimmy Cox, Michael McIndoe and Stuart Fraser – lost to eventual winners Leeds in the semis.
That run to the last four remains a vivid memory for Upson, who went on to forge a top-flight career spanning almost 20 years which included 21 caps for his country.
“I remember we had plenty of goals in the team and we were really organised. We were a really effective group,” says Upson who was in the final year of his YTS contract that season.
“It was a great run in the FA Youth Cup and the best thing about it was that the games were always played at the clubs’ main ground.
“That gave us all a buzz. You knew if we drew a big club we’d get to play there and knew if we were at home we’d play at Kenilworth Road.
“We went to Sunderland and their old Roker Park ground and won 5-1. We went to local rivals Watford and won there too. It was a great experience for teenagers like ourselves at the time.
“We eventually met Leeds in the semis and they had a really good side. Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate and Paul Robinson were in their team and I remember a lot of people were talking about them as future stars. Stephen McPhail and Alan Maybury were also highly-thought of.
“I remember coming off the pitch in the first leg against them, having earned a draw, but thinking ‘that was the toughest match I’ve ever been in, we’re lucky to have drawn’.
“We lost the second leg at Elland Road but the run in the competition is something I’ve never forgotten.”
DID YOU KNOW? The group of players involved in the Town's run to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals in 1996/97 went onto make a total of 923 appearances for the club: Mattthew Spring made the most of these, playing 357 times in two spells, while Upson played the least - just twice - before he moved to Arsenal.
As the discussion continued, Upson recalled trips to Hereford, Oxford and Torquay en route to the semi-finals, and reminisced about his time in the Town academy.
“It’s a good old trip down memory lane, this,” said the defender who also lifted the South East Counties League Division 2 title that season with the Hatters. “We were a strong group and well organised.
“We had a great atmosphere in the dressing room. That had a massive impact – the team spirit was very important to us.
“I found my time in the YTS [Youth Training Scheme as it was then] at Luton vital for me growing up as a young player.
“As players we were in each other’s pockets 24/7, living together, socialising together, training and playing together.
“And out of that group a lot of us went onto become professional and have careers in the game.
“John Moore was good for me too. He was a centre-half, he knew what made a good defender. He was a no-nonsense character and he was demanding, but I liked that.
“Luton was a great grounding for me as a person and as a player.
“It was never glossy at Luton but the club was renowned for developing young players. The YTS was hard – there were some jobs that had to be done then that you’d never get young players to do now.
“But it gave me the grounding that helped me survive anywhere where I went around the country to play football.”
Tuesday’s tie kicks-off at 7pm at Ewood Park. Entry is £4 for adults and £2 concessions. Town supporters will use turnstile L of the Jack Walker Stand and can park in car park B at the Darwen End of the stadium.
lutontown.co.uk will also be live from Ewood Park with live text updates together with post-match reports and reaction.
will be broadcasting live commentary from Ewood. Live Sports FMFor those not travelling who would like to listen to the game,