I woke up late feeling rough after a heavy day’s decorating and was unsure whether to head up to Luton or not but having pulled on the red and white shirt and got some grub down my neck I felt up for it. I left home in West London at 10.45 and was in Luton just after midday. Kenilworth Road seemed further away than I remembered it and there weren’t many red and white shirts in evidence. What was worse was that there weren’t any pubs to be found anywhere. The ground was well barricaded by police and stewards who were only letting those with tickets through and there was one little problem – I didn’t have a ticket. I wasn’t worried though as I thought I’d have a decent chance of getting hold of one and if the worst came to the worst I could hang around outside and soak up a few vibes. In such situations you’ve got to be all ears and I tagged along after a group of young lads who mentioned the word ‘tickets’ several times and had gleaned from a cop where the nearest boozer was.
The Bedfordshire Yeoman was busy with lots of fans from both sides mingling in a friendly manner. I stood outside in the sunshine and slurped a pint of Kronenbourg as the songs rang out and friendly vehicles tooted by. I headed back to the ground and noticed on the way several folks buying tickets with £30 being mentioned. I got back to the barrier about 12.50 and there weren’t many people around. I didn’t ask anyone about tickets but I knew from experience that those selling them get itchy at such times. Sure enough a guy approached me and asked how much I wanted to pay. I said, “Thirty quid”. He said “Fifty”. I shook my head and he went away with a face on him. Another guy behind him asked me the same thing and he too went away but almost immediately turned back and we agreed on thirty. I got into the main stand just as Stokes had scored and was the only Sunderland fan in a sea of locals. There were about eight empty seats around me. I’d just got my bearings – I was very near the front and almost on the half-way line with a certain Mr Roy Keane standing arms folded right opposite me – when Murphy scored a great second and I forgot where I was as I roared my approval.
At half-time I noticed a small plaque attached to a seat in front of me – ‘Ozzy Oliver’s. Wish we were here’. The sounds coming over the p.a. were pretty tasty with the Stone Roses featured among others.
No doubt you’ve all read the match reports many times by now so you know what happened. Luton’s manager Kevin Blackwell said it was men against boys and that seems fair enough. Apart from a more sustained flurry near the beginning of the second half when we were already three up, Luton didn’t threaten much at all and the result was never in doubt. The local wasps were more threatening – maybe it was all those orange Luton shirts? Having lived through the radio hell of matches like Goodison Park in May 1977 when the vast amount of Sunderland fans had ceased to watch the game and were listening to two blokes with transistor radios, both giving different results from the rival match, I was very wary of believing what was being reported from the Preston v Birmingham game. However, about ten minutes from full-time a tremendous explosion of joy erupted in stages around the ground and the mobile phones among the group of fellow Sunderland fans who’d arrived in the vacant seats behind me confirmed that Preston were one up. For me that was the best moment of the afternoon. I know there were rumoured to be twenty thousand Sunderland fans heading for the game but I’d say that there were around five thousand there.
I don’t agree with the F.A. policy of not presenting trophies at away grounds but as it could have gone either to us or to Birmingham, up in Preston two hundred and fifty miles away, I don’t see how it could have been handled in our case….or am I missing something? The post-match celebrations were marvellous and I found that it was possible to be very mobile within the ground to make the most of what was happening. Nos was photographed with loads of the faithful around him and one of the Hatters’ boaters on his head. Niall came on for a brief wave after much chanting of ‘Disco Pants’. Shirts were thrown into the crowd and players shook hands endlessly as they returned to the tunnel. Two Luton fans shook hands with me and, after a quick cider in The Bedfordshire Yeoman, two more locals stopped me for a friendly chat as I headed homewards.