Luton

In December 2016, Luton Town, through sister company 2020 Developments, announced the purchase of derelict land between St Mary’s Church and the narrow River Lea.

Operation Power Court is now in full swing, the blueprint for a new stadium that will move the club from hemmed-in Kenilworth Road to a site near Luton station, not five minutes’ walk from the town centre.

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Welcome to Luton/Peterjon Cresswell

The project signals the end of football in Bury Park. Bisected by Dunstable Road, Dallow Road and the Luton-Dunstable busway line in between, the Asian quarter of today is where local football has been rooted since 1880.

Its economy driven by first hats, then cars and now planes over the course of those near 140 years, the manufacturing centre and transport hub of Luton made one club the focus of its support quite early on. Proposed at public meeting in 1885, Luton Town were created from an unpopular merger between Wanderers and Excelsior.

Excelsior had played their first match in 1880 at Dallow Lane against Luton Rovers, about whom little is known.

Diplomatically comprised of an equal number of players from each founder club – the remaining Wanderers carried on regardless under their original name – Luton Town also began life in Dallow Lane.

Soon after the merger, the go-it-alone Luton Wanderers made it to the First Round of the FA Cup, losing 3-1 to Old Etonians. Luton Town soon eclipsed them. Even before the new club had joined a league or progressed in the FA Cup, it was the first in southern England to pay its players. Professionalism had been legalised in 1885 but only adopted by clubs in industrial hubs further north.

The first regional competition, the Bedfordshire Challenge Cup, was established in 1894 and won by another Luton side, Montrose, beating Dunstable Town at Bury Park.

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Welcome to Luton/Peterjon Cresswell

The Hatters of Luton Town had higher ambitions. Inaugural members of the Southern League in 1894, the club still had to play occasional lucrative friendly matches – and pay players. Overstretched and out of funds, they were forced to move from Dallow Lane to Dunstable Road in 1897.

The club duly won the United League and was admitted to the Football League Second Division – keeping a reserve side in the United League. Unable to meet the onerous travel expenses of trips to towns such as Newcastle, Blackpool and Grimsby, the first team soon slipped back into the Southern League, then sold up again.

This time, the move was a few hundred yards away, to Kenilworth Road, in 1905 – the same year that Vauxhall Motors came to Luton.

In many ways, the rise and decline of football club and local automotive industry have intertwined. In the late 1980s, when Vauxhall were challenging for European Car of the Year awards, top-flight Luton Town appeared in two Wembley finals, winning one League Cup and losing another.

In 2002, as the last car rolled off the production line at the century-old plant, close to the airport, The Hatters were scrapping to get out of the lowest league tier.

Five years later, a complete collapse saw the club plummet three divisions in as many seasons and fall out of the Football League altogether.

In 2014, The Hatters bounced back up, just as annual passenger numbers at Luton Airport broke the ten-million mark. Airport services now provide the bulk of local employment in the private sector.

The Power Court stadium development – so far including a hotel, live venue, 500 apartments, hypermarket and adjoining Newlands Park leisure hub – will help, of course. All the same, Luton supporters must bitterly regret the untimely last-day relegation of 1992, their club missing out on all those potential Premiership riches. The Hatters’ decade-long stay with the elite had ended – and had started a decade too late.

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Luton

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Luton station & Interchange: 51.882190, -0.415080
London Luton airport: 51.878928, -0.381775
Luton Airport Parkway: 51.872397, -0.396209
Luton Town/Kenilworth Road: 51.883392, -0.431128
Luton Town/Power Court: 51.879396, -0.408859
Holiday Inn Luton Airport: 51.876094, -0.383019
Quality Skyline Hotel: 51.887143, -0.434837
Stuart Hotel : 51.879466, -0.421177
Icon Hotel: 51.877703, -0.418727
easyJet Hotel London Luton: 51.881121, -0.414771
Wheelwright Arms: 51.880896, -0.413974
Red Lion: 51.877706, -0.414795
Bat & Barrel: 51.875951, -0.409061
The Chequers: 51.875590, -0.409091
The Globe : 51.875171, -0.413386
Mother Redcap : 51.874118, -0.414028
Hibbert Arms: 51.873689, -0.415136
The White House : 51.881804, -0.418114
The Great Northern: 51.881125, -0.414476
George II: 51.881240, -0.414027
The English Rose : 51.884919, -0.417598
Bricklayers Arms: 51.883415, -0.413355

Bearings

London Luton Airport is 5km (three miles) south-east of Luton.

The quickest way directly to town and the ground is Busway line A. It leaves from Bay 8 outside Arrivals every 12min Mon-Sat (every 15-20min eve & Sun), taking 8min to reach the bus Interchange beside Luton station and 15min to Clifton Road alongside Kenilworth Road.

Four other Busway lines also whizz the one-stop, 2min journey from Luton station Interchange to Clifton Road. The swift service, which runs like a tram on its own line, is operated by three companies: Arriva, Centrebus and Grant Palmer. They offer a joint day pass, Hip Hop (£4.80).

The other main bus company in town is Stagecoach East.

If you’re getting the train from London Blackfriars (45min, £15) or St Pancras (20min, £15) to Luton, just add a PlusBus (£2.80) levy to your ticket for all-day bus travel on top, including the Busway. From Birmingham or Manchester, there’s no direct train service to Luton, you have to go via London or, sometimes, Leicester.

From London, before Luton you may first call at Luton Airport Parkway – this is the stop, via shuttle bus (£2 single/£3 return), for the airport not the town.

Luton station is right by the compact, walkable town centre.

Go Luton (01582 404 040/494 949) has three taxi offices around town, with online booking and a free text service.

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Stuart Hotel/Peterjon Cresswell

Bed

Experience Bedfordshire has a limited database of accommodation in Luton.

The airport is surrounded by hotels, with a Busway stop by the Holiday Inn, the former Ramada Encore.

If you’d rather be walking distance from pubs and restaurants, there are several options in town, too. For the ground, the Quality Skyline is the nearest lodging, functional rooms plus restaurant and bar with TV sport.

Back in town, the two best hotels are on the Stuart Street ring road across town from the station, a short walk the shops and pubs. The stylish, upscale Icon, opened in 2009-10, has its own lounge bar, restaurant and gym. Luton Town holds functions and houses loanees and new signings here. The other is the three-star Stuart Hotel, more functional than flashy but comfortable nonetheless.

Luton-based easyJet has its own hotel in town, with supercheap boxy rooms.

Nearby, a couple of pubs also provide lodging, such as the five-room Wheelwright Arms and, the other side of the mall, the Red Lion, with TV sport in the bar.

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George II/Peterjon Cresswell

Beer

You’ll find chain outlets in and around the mall that dominates the town centre, and local pubs in the residential thoroughfares that spread out over the ring road, such as Park Street and Latimer Road.

On Park Street, there’s big-screen football at the Bat & Barrel, smaller-screen sport and Caribbean food at The Chequers.

On Latimer Road, The Globe is a friendly local that screens matches while more rustic Mother Redcap offers live acts, DJs and pool, as well as TV sport and, in summer, a beer garden with a bouncy castle for kids. Round the corner on Hibbert Street, the Hibbert Arms is another homely spot that shows games.

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The Great Northern/Peterjon Cresswell

Right in the town centre, The White House is the main Wetherspoon in town, built into the Galaxy leisure complex. On Bute Street, near the station, The Great Northern still feels like the railway pub it was back in the 1860s – the timeless landlady adds to the illusion. St Austell beers are the attraction here, beside The Hat Factory arts space. Across the street, the George II is a real party spot with TV football, too.

On the other side of the station, the English Rose satisfies most ale aficionados while the Bricklayers Arms is an authentic local with TV football.


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