Adventures in Football #14: Kenilworth Road (Luton Town FC)
August 7, 2021
LUTON TOWN vs. PETERBOROUGH UTD
Luton Town is a strange one for me. When I was a kid choosing my football club to support I lingered on Luton for the best part of a season circa 1982-83. I got bullied by kids to change to a better team, which ended up being Everton. In retrospect I wish I’d picked something closer but the appeal of the exciting and different pawed at my conscience. I always liked Luton, even though no one else did. It wasn’t that Luton were hated. The whole “no one likes us, we don’t care” mentality of a Man Utd or Chelsea wasn’t the issue here. Luton were just dismissed and had a tiny ground. Part of me wanted to be part of that.
This probably changed when Luton collapsed in the 90s and ended up in non-league football but what a rollercoaster ride its been getting back to the second tier of English football. Under Nathan Jones, they look a capable side and could push for the play offs this season if they can iron out some of the wrinkles. My resurgence of interest in Luton isn’t so much connected to their resurgence of fortunes but rather Mike Kilby. Mike is someone I met in Germany as part of my media obligations and we’ve since become really good friends. This whole groundhopping venture is partially my restlessness after Covid lockdown and partially Mike’s idea.
So, when he suggested I come down and watch Luton play when I had a weekend off I jumped at the chance. Kenilworth Road isn’t long for this world and I would have been kicking myself if I missed it. I caught a train down to Milton Keynes and Mike picked me up from the station. After negotiating our way through the grid system and making it over to Luton, we did a drive by of the ground. It’s a weird ground and I’ll go into some details later but here’s a view of the corner exterior staircases that you can see from the road.
After dropping my effects at the Kilby residence we took a pleasant stroll down to the train station to meet Barney, another Luton fan I’m now friends with, who has a season ticket. Luton is somewhere I’ve been before but I’ve only been to the airport. It’s surprisingly hilly. I keep thinking it looks like a mid-northern town. A bit like Sheffield almost. We walk past the station, because Barney’s train is late, and go for a pint in the Whitehouse. This involves navigating the “Mall of Luton”. This comes equipped with a bridge to a car park that’s been demolished. A literal bridge to nowhere.
I get some chili and a Tusker and contemplate reading the Halsbury’s statutes vol. 14 on ecclesiastical law. Sadly we don’t have the time. Another quick stroll follows, this time to Kenilworth Road. It’s a bizarre stadium. If you come at it from the south you have the main entrance with the club shop off to the side. This is where we hung out for a bit drinking Polish beer. There’s a lot of stuff happening here including a hot food truck and a kid’s play area. You can dump the little ones here and bugger off to the game.
To the right of the stadium is an alleyway, which apparently usually has a mattress in it. Someone has removed it. There’s still dogshit though so Covid hasn’t changed everything. The alleyway is littered with graffiti. The random “Sally Pablo’s” is odd. Barney tells me one of the toilets had graffiti on it for years reading “Richard Money sodimises dogs”.
At the end of the Beeches Alley is a left turn past a load of terraced housing and down Oak Road is one of the most bizarre things about Luton. The entrance to the away end is literally through the middle of the houses. So you’ve got #99, which is a nice little flat, then next to that is “Bobbers Club” and then you’ve got gate 8. The visiting fans then proceed up some steps and on either side they can see into the back yards of the residents of Oak Road.
It’s so weird. After doing the “tourist” bit we head back around to the front for beer and meet up with Adam and Dale from the Moyes Invitational! I’ve never met either in the flesh before so that was a cool experience. We stood outside chatting about Luton Town for a bit. The new away kit is a bit tasty. The nearby club shop caught fire in June. I’m not really sure if it’s open. If it was I would have considered nipping in for a shirt*.
*I’ve been informed there was a pop-up shop in front where you could buy shirts. There were so many people milling around I wasn’t really sure. I would definitely have scored a shirt if I’d taken the time to investigate further.
We head on in and inside Kenilworth Road is a bit of a maze. There’s loads of weird staircases and bits that disappear under other bits. It feels like the whole thing has been tacked together and had bits and pieces added for 50 years. I instantly like it. My first sight inside the ground is a massive flag with “Luton Town. Established 1885. Betrayed by the FA 2008” on it. In 2008 Luton had points deducted for “financial irregularities”. They started the season on –30 points. The club is still so hot about it that they allow a massive banner with that incendiary language on it to hang from their stadium and it’s moving to the new one too! Two fingers up to the authorities. Luton are the cool kids here. The FA are basically trash and deserve it.
Across from where we’re sat are a series of executive boxes. They run the entire length of the one side of the ground. Each one has only eight seats and there’s nothing else on that side of the ground. This is another curious choice but Luton are far from a regular club. They cost something in the region of £250 and if all the lads are in Luton at the same time I would consider going in on that. The views look incredible.
In the main stand we sit. Leg room is…just about ok. I’m glad of having a seat at the end of a row. The entire stand is made up of odd bits of seat. When a seat breaks it gets replaced with whatever they’ve got spare. This creates an insane patchwork of colours. The stand is from Newmarket* and it’s made of wood. It makes me intensely uneasy, sitting in a wooden stand on a hot day. Bradford City 1985 is still fresh in my memory. Apparently, some daft sod set fire to a Welsh flag in the stand when Luton played Cardiff and got beaten up for it. I’m just glad they don’t allow smoking in there. The peculiarities don’t even end here. You need a ladder to get to the vertigo inducing press gantry and everywhere I look are weird shaped areas of the ground that don’t look right.
*Apparently this is a myth. I was trying to source the story but several people on Twitter have pointed out it’s not true. I’ve heard Kempton from some people as well. If any Luton historians can give me the factual accuracy I’ll change it in here.
There are flags and banners around the ground including “Scandinavian Hatters”. I imagine a bunch of crazy Swedes in a tiny room somewhere screaming at the TV for more updates on Luton Town FC.
The pre-match is a nice experience with both mascots strolling around. That’s Harry and Harriet Hatter. I believe they’re siblings rather than man and wife. The crowd do a minute’s applause before the match in memory of Luton fans who passed away during the Pandemic. I believe they left the season ticket holders seats empty who died, as I saw empty seats dotted about but it was a sell out. The home end display placards before kick off sending support to Luton legend Mick Harford who is battling prostate cancer. Harford played for Luton in the 80s and 90s before a few short managerial spells at the club too. The fans sang his name throughout the game. It was really quite lovely.
One final note on the ground before getting the game itself. The weird backless chairs on the lower side of the main stand are just weird. I asked Barney what it was like to watch a game in there and he said it kills your spine. The fans are quickly into the action for the first game of the Championship season. The referee in particular comes in for some derision. He’s not popular on either side of the ground, giving Peterborough a series of decisions that are questionable. On the flipside he only feels the need to dish out booking to Peterborough players until Luton’s dumb right back James Bree picks up a deserved yellow card for kicking the ball away in injury time.
The first half is all Luton. I barely have to look to the right hand side, apart from a comical near own goal from a dodgy back pass. Once Luton have nosed in front the nerves improve. Adebayo opens the scoring with a scrambled goal from a cross. In the second half Luton add a second goal through Cornick. Then they turn on the panache and start playing some lush football. Onyedinma fires home for 3-0 but it could have been far more. Peterborough capitulated.
There are causes for concern at both clubs. Luton gave the ball away in stupid positions a lot in this game and Nathan Jones was fuming despite the score line. There was plenty to cheer though in their domination of the play and Carlos Mendes Gomes sleek skills in the final ten minutes. As for Darren Ferguson…I imagine he’ll be less than pleased. His dad, Man Utd legend Sir Alex Ferguson, was in the crowd and saw his son’s team muster only one shot on target. The most danger Luton were in all afternoon was from their own defenders back passes. If Peterborough are relegated this season it will not surprise me one bit.
In closing; Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road is an incredible patchwork quilt of history that you rarely see in a football ground. The bits and pieces that have been cobbled together to form the home of this proud team are well worth seeing before Kenilworth Road disappears and all these stories are just that. I’m glad I went. Don’t miss your chance!