Football: Fan's eye view: A tale of Ricky, Brian, Gunners and glory

Luton Town
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The Independent Online
"SEX AND death", Woody Allen once remarked, "Two things that happen once in a lifetime - though at least after death you're not nauseous!" To this short list he might have added "...and Luton Town Football Club winning a major trophy".

Silverware on the Kenilworth Road mantlepiece really is a once in a lifetime occurrence, and 24 April 1988 was the day the club called in the engravers.

Luton then were as Bolton Wanderers today - up and down more often than Bill Clinton's zipper, our flirtation with the top division never quite blossoming into a full-blown affair. But in cup competitions we shone, as the mighty Arsenal were to find out that sunny Sunday afternoon on Wembley's manicured meadows.

Now let's get one thing clear right from the start. Unfashionable we may be. We could sign Owen, Kluivert and Ronaldo, bedeck the entire squad in Armani kit, and change our name to Real Luton, and we'd still be about as chic as Roger Whittaker. But, and this is a but not to be minimised... Arsenal took the field that day with four full internationals in their squad, we had eight (including a Nigerian attache's son - now tell me that's not fashionable!) And still we were the underdogs, 5-1 against as compared with Arsenal's 5-4 on.

But hey, odds are made to be confounded, and, impelled by our best player - perhaps our best-ever player - Ricky Hill, playing his first game since a Boxing Day leg-break, we fairly swamped the Gunners right from the off. A goal was bound to come, and it did, courtesy of Brian Stein, just as the quarter hour came up. The Gunners were stunned, and so, frankly, were we. This wasn't in the script, and mere artisans such as us are not supposed to improvise.

Now came the problem. Watch Luton often enough and you'll know our ability to protect a lead is virtually non-existent. Most games we win, we come from behind. But protect it we did, manfully, gainfully... until Arsenal woke up on the hour to just how much hard currency was riding on their collective butts to regain the trophy they had lifted the previous April.

A flurry of activity around our area saw scrambled goals from Martin Hayes and Alan Smith, to say nothing of a Luton crossbar more pockmarked than a Sarajevo appartment block. But were we to be denied? Were we heck!

Spurred by reserve goalkeeper Andy Dibble's heroic 85th minute penalty save from Nigel Winterburn, we staged the finale of which legends are made. This was Pulp Fiction, we were Samuel L Jackson, and did we ever strike Arsenal down with a vengeance! With the final whistle looming, Arsenal's Gus Caesar, like his Roman namesake, was caught unawares, and Danny Wilson stuck the knife in.

Extra-time seemed a formality, though if it was no one thought to tell our super-sub Ashley Grimes. Ashley probably fancied another half-hour. He'd only been on the pitch five minutes and was so full of running it was a wonder any of his team-mates could keep up with him. One who did was Stein, (what was he on - I never saw such energy!) who met Ashley's beautifully judged cross with his usual sure touch.

Fourteen seconds remained on the clock, we'd turned 1-2 into 3-2, and we weren't about to blow our one chance of glory in this, our 99th year. And nor did we.

Joy be unconfined, bliss be unmeasured. For 10 years ago did the team thrust upon me by a mix of kismet and perversity a rise from obscurity and a drink from the silver cup.

Granted it wasn't the Cup, as in FA. But it was a cup, and when you're as starved of success as we are, and endlessly vilified (plastic pitch, away supporters ban) by a nation's footballing folk, you take what you can get, thank you very much. And that we took it in such dramatic fashion as ill-behoves an unfashionable little club like Luton makes it taste all the sweeter.

And the fact that, like sex and death, we may never do it again - at least, not for another 99 years - makes it sweeter still.

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