Greatest final ever? When Luton’s ‘plastic fantastics’ toppled Arsenal

first_imgArsenal were huge favourites. Luton’s “plastic fantastics” had won only once on grass in three and a half months and their first-choice keeper, Les Sealey, and midfield enforcer, Darron McDonough, were injured. In the official programme the Gunners’ sponsors, JVC, had an advert for their PC-V2 portable sound system with a cutting tagline: “The best thing you’ve heard since getting Luton in the final.”Arsenal were battle-hardened while Luton had the 19-year-old Kingsley Black, who looked more like a choirboy, playing in his 11th professional game. As he cheerfully admitted to Jim Rosenthal beforehand, he was “very nervous” and “hadn’t had a good night’s sleep”.The omens were not good. Yet at least half the 95,000 fans stuffed into Wembley that day were from Luton and their noise, perforating and relentless – like the London 2012 Super Saturday on steroids – inspired the Hatters. They scored early through Brian Stein and had the better of much of the match.I remember I stood behind a large advertising board for Gola and touched the ball once – although rewatching the match recently I was horrified to see myself pogoing as Mark Stein cut inside Tony Adams’s sliding tackle during the second half only to shoot over the bar. Perhaps that was not a surprise: if Opta had been around back then, Stein’s chances-spurned ratio would have been higher than anyone else’s.Yet increasingly Arsenal took control and, when they scored twice in three minutes through Martin Hayes and Alan Smith, Luton supporters felt a familiar tang of dread. A month earlier they had reached the Simod Cup final, only to be smashed 4-1 by Second Division Reading. A fortnight after that they lost 2-1 to Wimbledon in the FA Cup semi-final in a half-empty White Hart Lane (my main memory is of my brother repeatedly getting car sick on the North Circular). Suddenly a season that had fizzed with possibilities was going horribly flat. Since you’re here… Share on LinkedIn Topics Arsenal fans ambivalent despite win as Arsène Wenger starts long goodbye Luton Town Share via Email Share on Messenger … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Share on Pinterest Luton celebrated by partying for 48 hours and damaging the trophy. We ballboys had to settle for some cold chips Share on Twittercenter_img Tuesday marks the 30-year anniversary of one of the great Wembley cup finals – perhaps even the greatest. It was Luton versus Arsenal in the League Cup, underdog versus coming force, and to these eyes it had everything: four goals and a penalty save in the last 19 minutes, a whirler‑twirler of a match that swung one way and then the other and ended in a shock 3-2 win. Then again I am horribly biased, given I enjoyed my only experience as a ballboy that day.Even as a 13-year-old it felt like an out-of-body experience. How many kids are fortunate enough to get changed in a Wembley dressing room – in my case swapping a Luton Schools Under-13 side shirt and tie for an official white and green Littlewoods Cup tracksuit? Or, as a few of us did before the game, get to play keepie‑uppie with the Luton midfielder, Danny Wilson, in the Wembley tunnel?The venerable David Lacey, in his preview for the Guardian, had warned that “it would be unwise to expect too much – both teams use the offside trap as an easy defensive option, so Wembley could be in for a whistle-stop game”. Yet for once in his long career he was proved wrong. features Arsenal Support The Guardian Arsenal should have put the game to bed at 2-1 up. They had six great chances in three minutes, only for a combination of bad finishing and the 22-year-old Andy Dibble to keep them out – once with a brilliant penalty save from Nigel Winterburn. If expected goals had been a thing 30 years ago, the models would have overheated.Yet while Luton had been beaten up, they were not knocked out. And somehow they were able to fight back and produce a comeback worthy of Rocky.It helped that Arsenal had Gus Caesar, who became a byword for hapless incompetence in Luton playgrounds for years afterwards, at centre-half. First he miscontrolled a header from Winterburn, then he swung and barely connected with his follow-up before falling over in his own box, and the Hatters had hope.After Caesar had fallen, Luton twisted the knife. Within seconds Wilson headed the equaliser. Then, eight minutes later, Brian Stein slotted home Ashley Grimes’ cross and suddenly the Luton players were celebrating in front of their fans – and about 20 metres from me.After the game I wanted to ask the Arsenal keeper, John Lukic, if I could have his gloves as a souvenir as I walked past him on the Wembley turf but I felt I would be intruding on private grief.Luton celebrated by partying for 48 hours and accidentally damaging the trophy. We ballboys had to settle for some cold chips from a Wembley van.It has not exactly been plain sailing for the Hatters since. They were relegated four years later and at one point had a chairman who proposed building an F1 track round a 50,000-seat stadium off the M1 as he drove the club towards enforced bankruptcy. In less than a decade they went into administration three times, had 40 points worth of deductions and endured four relegations.Not everyone has cared either. The legacy of banning away supporters from Kenilworth Road after Millwall fans ran riot in 1985 or having as chairman David Evans – a Tory MP whose calls for cat o’ nine tails to be used on hooligans made Thatcher appear almost liberal – has taken a long time to shift.Watching some of their football on the way to gaining promotion to League One, achieved at Carlisle on Saturday, offered hope for a brighter future. But nothing, surely, will top that glorious April day in 1988. Sportblog Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp Read more Reuse this contentlast_img read more