In the latest of our series of talking to Town fans on their experiences following the club, we talk to Steve 'Abbo' AbbottSteve Abbott has enjoyed a career which has led him to living and working in some of the greatest and most iconic cities in the world.
Yet regardless of his location on the planet, his heart will always be racing for a two-hour window whenever a football match involving his beloved Luton Town is being played thousands of miles away.
“I can’t imagine not knowing what’s going on,” says Steve, a stanch Hatter whose heart is also deeply entrenched in the music industry as a manager, producer and A&R executive. “I fidget. A lot. I’m sure it’s the same for many supporters who can’t always get to Kenilworth Road.
“I didn’t want to be transferred to New York when I worked for Virgin, but asked for a clause in my contract that they had to fly me home to any Luton game. It became known as the ‘Luton Clause’, and I wouldn’t budge on moving until it was agreed.”
We know the feeling. It’s just that indescribable pull of Lutonia that keeps him coming back for more and flying in from around the globe to take his seat in the front row of the enclosure every other weekend.
They say home is where the heart is. Steve’s love of all things Luton, including the Town, has led him to guest-curating a cultural literary festival of performance and poetry in the town which kicked off last week and will run until the start of April.
Some of Britain’s best wordsmiths, musicians and actors will descend on the Hat Factory and Luton Library Theatre to an event that Steve has titled ‘Lutonia’ in honour of his hometown. It will host the likes of Dr John Cooper Clarke, his wife – and now converted Hatters fan – Cerys Matthews and Mike Garry.
“We toyed with the idea of holding a literally festival in Luton,” explains Steve. “Last year we put on a Dylan Thomas poetry day. It was a great success – it sold-out straight away – I remember it well because it was the same day at Plymouth away and we won 1-0.
“The success of that got us thinking about how we could hold something authentic and dynamic that people would respond to. We wanted to host it in Luton to attract more people to town. We want people to realise there is more to Luton than meets the eye.
“We have artists attending who are recognised at the very top end of their game. We have some of the best new talent out there and from our point of view we want to also educate people.
“That’s where I see a link to football in that respect. Being a big Luton fan and having watched so many games and worshipped the likes of Ricky Hill and Graham French, I feel as though my knowledge of the game has improved by seeing the players in close quarters. My knowledge makes the connection with the game, and with the club, stronger and that’s the affect we want Lutonia to have.
“It’s exciting and spontaneous – very much like Luton Town! And it’s all about perceptions. The Saturday after the Plymouth game I sat in the enclosure and it turned out a man I met at the Dylan Thomas event was sitting next to me! I know sport and art aren’t exactly bed fellows, but there are football fans who interested in record shops and visiting the oldest pub in Halifax – and it’s all culture.”
‘Abbo’, as he is also known following his days as the lead singer of legendary Luton punk band UK Decay, believes football and culture go hand in hand – an image cultivated during the 1970s and 80s and mirrored by the Hatters’ success on the pitch in the latter decade.
“Culture defines a community,” he says. “We chose the name ‘Lutonia’ because we felt it was synonymous when growing up in Luton in the 1970s and 1980s. We had a great football team and they were entertaining 12-15,000 people every week.
“Now there is even stronger community support, the council, the fans are all making important decisions about supporting the team and backing the town.
“Swansea is a great example. They had always been in the shadow of Cardiff, both culturally and in football terms. But Swansea is now a real creative hub. They have a saying ‘Swansea pulls together’. There are music and poetry festivals in the city and the football team are now in the Premier League playing with some panache – Swansea City are embodying the place – and that’s how we want Luton to be.”
Steve’s passion for music, culture and making a difference, however, is probably engulfed by his thirst for Luton Town. Who else would honeymoon watching the Hatters play out a goalless draw at Bath City in the Conference?
“I get to 75 per cent of the home games and probably the same amount of away games, too,” he says. “My first game was a 4-1 win over Halifax at Kenilworth Road in 1965.
“I remember getting a clout round the head from my dad, Les, for laughing at him after his coat – an army ‘demob’ mac – was ripped after we’d scored one of the goals.
“There are so many amazing moments because memories in football always stay with you. I’ve been asked around the world ‘why do you support Luton?’ and the simple answer is ‘there is no choice’.
“I grew up in Farley Hill and always remember the ritual of walking down to the ground. After that I never imagined not being a Luton fan. As a young boy I hated the summer, even if there was a great holiday I’d miss the football and missed Luton.”
Like many Town supporters, the Littlewoods Cup win in 1988 over Arsenal at Wembley ranks highest on his all-time Hatters list of magical moments.
“It’s obviously a favourite,” says Steve. “It’s funny, I have five kids, the eldest is 23, and they have all been told the bed-time story of the day that Luton won the cup.
“There have been a lot of great cup moments down the years but I don’t think there have been any more dramatic. We really were the underdog that day. Even when I watch the game back I still don’t think we’re going to win!
“But there have been plenty of other incredible memories. Ricky Hill running with the ball seemingly glued to his head against Peterborough, Steve Buckley’s goal at Hereford, Wayne Turner’s winner against Watford in the FA Cup. I could go on…Jack Marriott’s lob at Orient…I lost my voice for 24 hours…”
The season the Town won the Conference title Abbo and UK Decay released an EP titled ‘A Wonderful Town’ – which included a version of the famous ‘Hatters, Hatters’ hit by the Barron Knights, which helped raise in excess of £6,000 for SOLYD and the Luton Foodbank.
If you haven’t listened to it, we encourage you to get yourself a copy.
“In What a Wonderful Town one verse reads ‘how lucky I was to be born 15 minutes up the road from the kick and run,’” says Steve.
“Even after 50 years the magnet is still as strong for this town, and I hope people support the Lutonia initiative as its success will prove a lot of people on the outside clergy wrong.
“For me it is like pulling the orange, blue and white shirt on, and despite the negatives that the rest of the world may throw against us, we are Luton, we’re proud, and everything is possible for us.”
*Lutonia is now on and runs until 2nd April. For more information visit www.lutonculture.com.