Stoke City v Luton Town, 1982
Stoke City welcomed Luton Town to the Victoria Ground in September 1982. It was a high-scoring day in the First Division – results included Coventry 4 Everton 2, Notts County 0 Ipswich 6, Spurs 4 Forest 1, Watford 8 Sunderland 0, and West Ham 4 Manchester City 1. The game at the Victoria Ground matched any of them for entertainment.
Luton had recently returned to the top division for the first time since 1975, as Second Division Champions under David Pleat. Richie Barker’s Stoke were in their fourth consecutive top-flight season, though they had finished 1981-82 only two points above the relegation places.
Luton midfielder Ricky Hill had just made his England debut in Bobby Robson’s first game as national team manager, three days earlier in Denmark. The goalscoring form of Brian Stein and Paul Walsh was an impressive feature of Luton’s return to the top flight. Stein would win a single England cap against France in February 1984 alongside Walsh, who broke into the national team at the end of the 1982-83 season. Hill and Stein were both playing in France at the end of the decade. Walsh scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win at the Victoria Ground the following season, in which he was named as PFA Young Player of the Year and earned a £700,000 move to Liverpool.
Stoke’s fine start to the 1982-83 season was inspired by their summer signing Mark Chamberlain, who had arrived at the Victoria Ground from Port Vale alongside older brother Neville. The winger was another to win international recognition during the season, scoring on his England debut in a 9-0 rout of Luxembourg at Wembley in December 1982. Ex-Manchester United duo Sammy McIlroy and Mickey Thomas were reinvigorated in the Stoke midfield alongside future England international and League Champion Paul Bracewell. An experienced back four was marshalled by England veteran Dave Watson, then approaching his 36th birthday.
Match details for Stoke City – Luton Town; Victoria Ground, Football League Division One, Saturday 25 September 1982
Stoke City: 1. Peter Fox, 2. Derek Parkin, 3. Peter Hampton, 4. Paul Bracewell, 5. Dave Watson, 6. George Berry, 7. Paul Maguire, 8. Sammy McIlroy, 9. Brendan O’Callaghan, 10. Mickey Thomas, 11. Mark Chamberlain. Manager: Richie Barker. Scorers: Berry (2), Bracewell, O’Callaghan. Sent Off: Fox.
Luton Town: 1. Alan Judge, 2. Kirk Stephens, 3. Richard Money, 4. Brian Horton, 5. Clive Goodyear, 6. Mal Donaghy, 7. Ricky Hill, 8. Brian Stein, 9. Paul Walsh, 10. Wayne Turner, 11. David Moss. Manager: David Pleat. Scorers: Walsh (2), Stein, Donaghy
Referee: Gilbert Napthine (Loughborough)
Referee Napthine’s controversial decision to dismiss Stoke keeper Peter Fox resulted in a common scenario, when outfield players routinely replaced goalkeepers either injured or sent off. However it was unusual to see three keepers in one game (Paul Bracewell initially took over the gloves, before swapping with Derek Parkin for the second half). The decision to allow a third substitute in the Premier League from 1992 and the insurance of a replacement goalkeeper largely ended this spectacle, though it remains an occasional sight.
The result meant Stoke dropped from 4th to 6th in the First Division table, and left Luton as the Football League’s top scorers on 20 from 7 games – though no-one had let in more than their 18. Their final league total was 65 goals scored, and 84 conceded in 42 games (by some distance the First Division’s worst defensive record). Luton dramatically escaped relegation with a 1-0 win at Manchester City in their final game, which saw David Pleat’s memorable jig across the Maine Road pitch. Stoke finished in a respectable 13th place. The return game at Kenilworth Road in May 1983 surprisingly ended goalless.
The two clubs had only previously been together in the First Division during the 1974-75 season, and after Stoke’s relegation in 1985 have not yet met again in English football’s top division. Luton enjoyed their greatest success in the second half of the 1980s before an eventful period which saw them spend time in non-league. Stoke left the Victoria Ground, their home since 1878, for the Britannia Stadium in 1997. They eventually returned to the Premier League in 2008 for a stay of ten seasons, and reached their first FA Cup Final in 2011. Both clubs are now in the second tier. Mark Chamberlain’s son Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also became an England international – the Liverpool player has 35 caps to date.
The ups and downs of Football League clubs is one of the topics in my book Before the Premier League: A History of the Football League’s Last Decades.