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Luton Town FC in the 1970s by Paul Rance

An extract from the 1970-71 season

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A 3-0 win at Kenilworth Road against Bristol City meant that, when the mighty Arsenal came to the Hatters home patch for a League Cup tie, Luton had yet to concede a goal in their first 6 home League and cup games of the season. A huge crowd of 27,023 turned up, and I was one of them. It was the biggest crowd at Kenilworth Road since the late 1950s, and a plucky 1-0 defeat wasn't too difficult to bear. More so, if I'd known that Arsenal would win the Double that season. Arsenal were also my second team. It seemed as if all the football mad kids in Luton then had either a second team, or didn't support Luton at all, but the Manchester Uniteds and Leeds Uniteds of this world.

Luton hardly had a hangover though from the Arsenal game. Five days later a kickabout with friends in Laburnum Close came to an abrupt end as we rushed home to watch The Big Match. The nation was about to see the birth of a superstar, and it was Malcolm MacDonald. Supermac had hit a hat-trick in a 5-1 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough the previous day. The Owls had also been a First Division side only a few months earlier, and it was, in truth, a staggering scoreline. Two successive 2-0 home wins, against Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers respectively, further emphasised that the Hatters were serious promotion contenders.

With no goals conceded at home in the League until a 2-1 loss to Sunderland in late October, and impressive away form, Luton had players who were to become big names in English football in the '70s.


Luton Town FC in the 1970s Paperback Cover

Luton Town FC in the 1970s. One for Luton Town fans - and football fans generally, who have a fondness for the good old days. Available from Amazon in paperback, hardback and Kindle formats.

Luton Town Squad: How The Hatters Look Ahead of Next Season (lastwordonsports.com)   -   Luton Town Championship Challenge Embraced by Fans (lastwordonsports.com)


Malcolm MacDonald was certainly not the only star in the team. Centre-half Chris Nicholl was also a highly promising young player, and Don Givens was MacDonald's strike partner. MacDonald became British football's most expensive striker when he moved to Newcastle United in May, 1971 for £180,000, and World Cup winner Martin Peters, then Britain's most expensive player (when joining Spurs from West Ham around a year earlier) had gone for only £20,000 more.

Don Givens would go on to become a key part of a QPR side that narrowly missed winning the League title in 1976. He also went on to become Eire's leading goalscorer, while Supermac achieved two noteworthy feats when capped at full level by England. He scored one of the goals that helped defeat world champions West Germany 2-0 at Wembley in 1975, and he scored all 5 goals in a 5-0 thumping of Cyprus, again at Wembley in the same year. The old stadium wasn't to be so kind to Malcolm re cup finals, though, as he was on the losing side in all three finals he played there - two for Newcastle and one for Arsenal.

MacDonald and Givens would have graced any top flight side in the '70s - even a title-winning one. But Luton always needed the revenue generated by transfers. While, good though Givens was, I think his miss in one game was the worst I've ever seen from a Luton player. In front of an unguarded net he somehow managed to smack the ball over the crossbar - shades of Ronny Rosenthal.

Englishman Nicholl would go on to captain Aston Villa to League Cup glory in 1977, and he also became an international - with Northern Ireland. Other players of the '70-'71 side included John Ryan, who exceeded expectations when he had a successful career in the top flight at Norwich City years later as a midfielder, fans favourite, winger Jimmy Ryan, and Alan Slough, who played in the 1975 FA Cup final for Fulham alongside the likes of Bobby Moore and Alan Mullery. Slough was a stalwart of Luton's Division Four days, as was the eccentric John Moore, Nicholl's partner in the centre of defence. Midfielder Mike Keen, who had had a great career under Town manager Alec Stock at QPR, captained the 1970-71 side.

Luton Town FC programmes, 1970-71 season

NB. This image appears as black and white in Luton Town FC in the 1970s.


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