A cold night in Luton


Published in the match day programme: Bradford City v Luton Town, 12th March 2019 

Luton programme Jan-88.jpg

Featured today the programme from what was possibly the biggest game between City and Luton, the League Cup Quarter-Final tie in January, 1988.

It was not until the 1965/66 season that Bradford City played Luton Town and today is only the 19th occasion that we have met. Notable is that a large proportion of those games – five – have involved cup matches.

We were knocked out of the FA Cup at Luton in 1973/74 and then at Valley Parade in 2003/04. In the League Cup we were beaten 0-2 in the Fifth Round, quarter-final in January, 1988 but we secured revenge in October, 1990 by defeating Luton by penalties after extra-time in the Second Round, Second Leg at Valley Parade.

The League Cup meeting 31 years ago was particularly memorable. It came at a time when Bradford City sat among the leading clubs of the second division and it felt equally surreal that we should be entertaining the prospect of an appearance in the semi-finals of a national cup competition. Luton Town was then a first division club and in fact of the eight quarter-finalists, five others – Arsenal, Everton, Manchester United, Oxford United and Sheffield Wednesday – were in the top tier whilst Manchester City and ourselves were members of Division Two.

Football aside, what I remember of that day is travelling to the match on a very cold day with a couple of colleagues and seeing for the first time a ‘car phone’, a brick sized gadget that provided mobile telephone connectivity and which has evolved into the indispensable pocket gadget that we all carry today.

Sadly, a giant-killing never happened and City were defeated 0-2. Luton went on to beat Oxford in the semi-final and then Arsenal in the final. By contrast our season ended in disappointment with play-off defeat at Middlesbrough in what later became known as the ‘nearly season’.

All of the league games with Luton have been in the lower divisions. The league record is pretty even and out of 13 games the two sides have won four apiece. Three of those defeats for City have been at Kenilworth Road, comprising two 0-4 reverses and once, 0-5. The latter was in December, 1969 when City were challenging at the top of the third division after being promoted the previous season. That result proved something of a reality check with regards to the prospect of a successive promotion success and it punctured the team’s momentum. Yet whilst City fell away to finish mid-table in 1969/70, Luton secured a runners-up position.

The nagging statistic however is that we haven’t beaten Luton Town in league competition since our away win more than fifty years ago on 27th April, 1968 in a fourth division fixture.


John Dewhirst

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