FEATURE: Chance for Hatters U18s to follow in some famous footsteps

Luton Town's 1982-83 FA Youth Cup team
Luton Town's 1982-83 FA Youth Cup team

Luton Town U18s have the chance to write their own names into the club’s history books this season after reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup.

The youngsters travel to Championship side Blackburn Rovers this evening, with their eyes firmly on a place in the final four of the prestigious competition.

Matthew Upson celebrates a cup triumph in 1996-97

Matthew Upson celebrates a cup triumph in 1996-97

In reaching this stage of the tournament, Town’s U18s have become only the third side in the club’s history to get there, following on from the exploits of the 1982/83 and 1996/97 campaigns.

Back in 1982/83, the fifth round was the equivalent of the quarter-finals, as Luton knocked out Leicester City to take on eventual winners Norwich City in the semi-final, losing 3-1 over two legs.

While in 1997, Hatters saw off fierce rivals Watford on penalties to face a Leeds United team, containing the likes of Jonathan Woodgate, Harry Kewell and Paul Robinson, losing 3-1 over two legs, with the Elland Road side also going on to lift the trophy.

The News/Gazette takes a look back at the players who were part of Luton’s youth ranks in those days, and went on to make a name for themselves whether it be at Kenilworth Road, or elsewhere.

Matthew Upson challenges Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate in the FA Youth Cup semi-final

Matthew Upson challenges Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate in the FA Youth Cup semi-final

During the 1996-97 campaign, Hatters had a host of talent, who have achieved great things in the game.

Defender Matthew Upson was part of the back-line that night, as he only played twice for the Hatters, before Arsenal snapped him for up for £2m back in 1997.

He then signed for Birmingham and West Ham, with the Hammers shelling out £7.5m for his services, while also representing England 21 times, including at the 2010 World Cup.

Meanwhile, Barbados international Emmerson Boyce, rose through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, playing 212 times and scoring nine goals before moving to the Premier League with Crystal Palace in 2004.

The current Luton U18s side

The current Luton U18s side

Wigan then paid £1m for him, as he captained the Latics to a famous 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup Final, while this season, Boyce has joined Blackpool on a free transfer.

Midfielder Matt Spring was one of the huge success stories for Luton from the side, as he went on to play 357 times for the club over two spells, sitting 12th in the all-time appearance list, scoring 43 goals, including that wonder strike at Watford back in 2002.

After spells with Leeds, Watford, Sheffield United, Charlton, Leyton Orient and Wycombe, he dropped into non-league, where he is still plying his trade at National League South side Hemel Hempstead Town.

Gary Doherty was another member of the team, playing 83 times for Luton, scoring 15 goals, becoming a Republic or Ireland international, before Spurs swooped to sign him in a £1m deal.

He went to Norwich, Charlton and then Wycombe, before retiring in December 2014.

Michael McIndoe scored the winner from the spot against Watford in the quarter-final, going on to play 49 times for Luton, until he joined Hereford in 2000 and went on to represent Yeovil Town, Doncaster Rovers, Barnsley, Wolves, Bristol City and Coventry.

Another four members of the side all played for the club too, with Stuart Fraser making 62 appearances between 1997-2002, while midfielder Andre Scarlett turned out for Luton 24 times, scoring twice, and Jimmy Cox made 10 appearances too, before being released in 1999.

As is always the way, some players didn’t quite make it, with goalkeeper Nicholas Webb, plus Russell Lawes, Ian Jones, Terry Sweeney, Richard Clarke and Delroy McCoy released by the club without ever featuring for the first team.

There were also plenty of success stories in the 1982/83 team too, none more so than defender Mitchell Thomas who made 341 appearances during two spells, scoring six goals for the Hatters.

He played for England U21s while at Kenilworth Road and joined Spurs for £275,000 back in 1986, heading to West Ham for £500,000 in 1991.

Thomas returned to Hatters in 1994 on a free, staying for another five years, and then went to Burnley before retiring in 2002.

Another to enjoy an illustrious Hatters career was full back Tim Breacker, as he played 262 times, scoring three goals, including a stunner against Derby County as Luton had an improbable final day escape from relegation in 1990.

He was part of the side who defeated Arsenal in the Littlewoods Cup final in 1988 too, as he was signed by West Ham for £600,000 in 1990 and also played for QPR, before going into coaching, and was most recently a scout at Millwall.

Striker Mark Stein, younger brother of Hatters legend Brian went on to make 107 appearances, scoring 27 times.

After leaving Luton in 1988 to join QPR, he then played for Oxford, Stoke, Chelsea and Dagenham before becoming a physio for Crawley Town.

Midfielder Garry Parker made 54 appearances, scoring four times for Luton, as he started in the 1985 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Everton and then joined Hull in 1986.

Spells followed at Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Leicester City, where he retired and is now first team coach at Bolton.

Goalkeeper Marc North hung up his gloves and went on to play 24 times, scoring five goals for Luton, until he moved to Grimsby, before tragically dying at just 34 years of age from cancer in 2001.

Stacey North went on to feature 26 times for the Hatters, until heading to West Brom for £100,000 and then on to Wolves and Fulham before retiring to America to become a coach.

Ray Daniel played 30 times, scoring four goals as he turned out for Gillingham, Hull City, Cardiff City, Portsmouth, Notts County and Walsall, while Mark Watts also made it through, playing twice for the first team.

Only four players, Phil Petts, Michael Shearer, Richard Cadette and Cahal McConville didn’t go on to the first team, to further demonstrate just what a production line the club have had.

The current crop have already seen Musonda make his pro debut recently, with James Justin being handed a pro contract too. Now Paul Driver and his team want to see further players grasp their opportunity to make names for themselves in the future as well.