At 11 years old your footballing hormones are all over the shop. I’d been to a few games in the years previously and on the mean streets of mid-Beds I already considered myself resoLutonly a Hatter, but that 1993/94 side was the first team I really fell for.
At school, your football team was everything. It dictated your choice of lunchbox, the posters on your bedroom wall, the design of your birthday cake; important things. I have vague memories of coming up with reasons why I supported Luton in arguments with my mates. Normally the debate was fairly high-brow: “Because Arsenal are poo” or “Man United are short-sighted, tra la la la la…” you know, stuff like that.
Though we were in a relatively lofty league position at the time I always sensed Luton had an underdog appeal, but it was the chance to actually go to games down the road with my mates swayed it in the end. There was and still is something more special about going, rather than being a fan that just lived through the football sticker albums and end of season VHS videos.
Though I had vague memories of mum buying me some moody looking Luton merchandise in Littlewoods in the Arndale during the late 80s, I was too young to go to Wembley then, or to really understand the magnitude of ’88, so the 1993/94 FA Cup run was my first taste of something close to football glamour.
The first game I remember was the Newcastle replay. We managed to get tickets from my uncle who had a corporate thing in the Main Stand’s Century Club (does that still exist?) It was fried chicken and chips, rather than prawn sandwiches, but still, it turns out I was well Modern Football before it was even a thing. Scott Oakes and a cartoon, teenaged version of John Hartson were the heroes that muddy day; Oakes’ goal featuring a typically rapid break followed by an unbelievably cool-headed assist from Des Linton.
West Ham at home was next. There was a mini-rivalry going in my village with some of the plastic cockneys that had led to a few posters and some graffiti celebrating an earlier 2 nil Luton win appearing in the alleyway that we used to kick a football down after school. I had no idea what it meant, but I wanted in.
The flying floppy-haired form of Oakes ripping the heart out of the mid-table Premier League side will stay with me forever. I watched it on TV with my Dad in a pub, and ate scampi fries and drank Coke out of a glass bottle. It was on Sky, which was like normal telly but better (#AMF). The setting couldn’t have been more sedate in hindsight, but I felt part of something bigger, shinier. At full time Oakes clung onto the match ball after his hat-trick, just as I did down The Rec a thousand times afterwards in imitation. Young Scotty Oakes could do anything. Luton could do anything too.
The semi-final was a bit of a let-down. A pigeon pooed on my programme before kick-off. Was I being punished for the Century Club and watching Sky? Almost certainly.
I’ve still got the Straw Boater I wore to Wembley that day. It’s got a special place on my old bedroom wall in my mum’s house and I’ll keep it forever. It’s a part of me, just as that glorious team of Oakes, Hartson, Preece, Linton et al are a part of me too.
You never forget your first.