Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Just like buses posts to this blog come along in bunches and having written about Peter Swan's tackle in my last entry another "forgotten" moment featuring one of his team mates occurred to me although this one had no lasting consequences. Or maybe, eventually, it did...

As with all of these nostalgic reflections the time and the place are needed to lend context. From memory the time would have been about 16:30 on a Saturday afternoon and the place was Kenilworth Road in Luton. A quick look at confirms the date as being October 11th, 1997 and the Argyle team that day, not that they had much to do with it, as: Jon Sheffield; Simon Collins; Paul Williams; Ronnie Mauge; Mick Heathcote; Paul Wotton; Martin Barlow; Mark Saunders; Adrian Littlejohn; Chris Billy; Padi Wilson; Earl Jean (sub).

This match was played years before things got unnecessarily unpleasant between Argyle and Luton so all the Kinnear-inspired bile and vitriol plays no part in this. In fact there was very little feeling between the sides at all given the we had rarely played one another in recent history. If anything Luton were considered to be a bit down on their luck at the time and few eyebrows would have been raised anywhere in the country when Grandstand's teleprinter eventually blipped the scoreline Luton Town 3 Plymouth Argyle 0 to the nation's football obsessives.

This is not an orthodox thing for an Argyle fan to say but I have always looked forward to and enjoyed my trips to Luton's cramped little stadium. There a whole legion of reasons that can be summoned to justify giving a trip there a right old slagging and here's a few of them: "the town's a dump"; "the view is awful"; "the bogs are disgusting"; "the seats are too cramped";"there is always a pillar in the way wherever you sit"; "we never seem to win there".... But I don't see it like that at all. For starters my wife is a Luton girl so it is a chance for her to catch up with her family. This in turn means an easy stopover following the game and little objection to me making a trip up there. There is a cracking pub, The Two Brewers, which seems to have been adopted by Argyle fans as a base, sells decent beer and which has always been welcoming when we go there. It is none of those things that sits proudest on my list though. For me it is the grotty, ramshackle, cramped, idiosyncratic and, above all, noisy little stadium that is the unlikely star of the show.

In the modern era it all seems to be wraparound stands and stadia stifled by corporate anonymity wherever you go. Well there is none of that at Luton. The Kennel, as Luton's own fans like to call it, is unapologetically and irredeemably old school and it stands out like a dinosaur in a car park. The stands crowd the touchline and the roofs are low. When it all gets going in there it is one of the most intimidating grounds that I have visited as an away fan. The Kennel gives Luton a very real home advantage and is exactly what I would want from my stadium if I owned a football club ~ even if it does have almost too many faults to mention!

Well The Kennel didn't rock much that day. Only 4931 fans turned up to watch which means that the ground was around half full. The dirty, smelly, cramped away end with the awful view holds upto 1900 fans and it was about 3/4 full I would guess which is pretty much what might be expected for an Argyle game in the London area. I don't remember too much about the game other than the score, that we were pretty awful but the Green Army made a fair old racket under the low roof even so. Oh! and that Ian Feuer saved a Mickey Evans penalty.


Wearing the white of Luton that day was an old Home Park favourite who had departed some years earlier: Dwight Marshall. He had had a fairly quiet game and as time had passed he had lost some of his blistering pace, pace that made him such a threat for us not that long before, but he had tucked in nicely out wide and "put in a shift" as they say. He was a good player. A very good player. His pace helped but he had bags of ability too. With about 20 minutes to go a substitute warmed up on the touchline and Dwight's number was held up...

What happened next was incredible. Beyond incredible. Dwight trotted off the pitch and as the home fans politely clapped him off, and the new player on,  the Green Army as one took to its feet and the chant "there's only one Dwight Marshall" was bellowed around the ground so loudly that it echoed back off the other sparsely populated stands. It was a remarkable, spontaneous, passionate and affectionate tribute to a player we had all loved so much in the not too distant past. A distant past when things had been so much better for us as. The look on his face as he turned and looked over his left shoulder at us showed that even Dwight himself was surprised  before raising his hands to give a us a quick, appreciative, acknowledging clap back before taking his place in the dugout. I have never seen anything similar to that ovation for an ex-player either before or since. And I haven't seen much like it for a current player either!

I stopped over in Luton that night and the following day there was a family barbecue. One of the guests at the barbecue was a Luton Town season ticket holder and he had been watching from one of the little conservatory things that line one side of the pitch. Once he realised that I had been at the game the previous day I had to take the usual ribbing following what had been, basically, a damned good hiding the day before gracefully. There was no disguising the awe that his filled his voice awe as he mentioned the reception we had given Dwight as he left the pitch... "I have never seen anything like that in my life" he said. I didn't know what to say. Neither had I. Nor have I since.

Back in the opening paragraph I suggested that there may have been a lingering effect from that moment on that day. I guess I'll never know for sure. What I do know is that Dwight ended his career as a professional footballer by returning to Home Park for a year or two. His pace had all but gone, in comparison to his best days, but he was still lively and still had an eye for goal and he enlivened Kevin Hodges's rather pedestrian team whilst he was in it. He played every game I ever saw him play as though being a footballer was the very best job in the world and as if he could imagine nothing that he would rather be doing. I wish he was available, either in Bright Young Thing or Canny Old Timer mode for us today.


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