We were delighted when Luton Town fan Andrew Kingston (@treblethree on Twitter) contacted us to tell the story of an item so rare, it is described as the “Holy Grail” of Hatters shirts.
Luton Town’s 1980s association with adidas produced some of the best kits of the decade; shirts still adored by Hatters fans to this day.
Much has been written about the classic Bedford Trucks kits that lit-up the old First Division, but one of the most interesting Luton Town shirts of the era, was this ultra-rare red number which other than a cameo at the Guinness Soccer Sixes, was only worn twice and never sold to fans in the club shop.
Think of Luton Town and depending on your age, you may think of Ricky Hill, Mick Harford & Co dishing-out bloody noses to the big boys on Kenilworth Road’s plastic pitch, whilst wearing orange or white shirts with navy blue detail.
There will be very few of us indeed who think of the Hatters in red.
When founded in 1885, Luton’s first colours were pink and blue halves but their home kit was changed to red between 1889 – 1892 with the club referred to as ‘the Reds‘ in the local papers of the time.
For most of the next 97 years, Luton wore white shirts with black shorts before adopting orange home kits from 1973 to 1979.
More recently, the Hatters have returned to orange as their first choice colours with white, navy blue and purple among the colours worn on their travels.
Thirty years ago, the Kenilworth Rd club released mainly white home shirts along with a less familiar away set in blue for the 1988/89 season.
To avoid clashes with teams in blue and white, the Hatters needed a 3rd kit and rather than orange; red was chosen as the colour for the kit.
The shirts had 2 variations, both of which boasting the proud inscription “Littlewoods Cup Winners 1988.” The long-sleeve edition positioned the wording around the badge, whereas the short-sleeved shirts placed the text around adidas’ trefoil logo.
Following traditional change kit protocol, Ray Harford’s men only wore the red shirts against teams with blue and white home kits; Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers.
Luton’s first outing in red came in their season-opener on 27th August 1988. Despite a penalty save by Les Sealey, the game ended in a 1-0 defeat at Hillsborough, with the Hatters wearing short sleeve shirts in the South Yorkshire sunshine.
A long-sleeved edition was introduced for Luton’s date with QPR at a far cooler Loftus Road on March 21st 1989, with Town players choosing to wear a mixture of long and short sleeves.
Luton legend Ricky Hill scored the only goal in red for the team who lined up at Loftus Road in numbers 1-11 as:
1 Les Sealey
2 Tim Breaker
3 Richard Harvey
4 Darran McDonough
5 Steve Foster
6 Dave Beaumont
7 Danny Wilson
8 Raphael Meade
9 Mick Harford
10 Ricky Hill
11 Kingsley Black
Sub – Ian Dowie
Danny Wilson and Roy Wegerle ended the season as top-scorers with 12 league goals apiece, as Town finished the season in the safety of 16th place. The Hatters also returned to Wembley, but were unable to match Nottingham Forest in the 1989 League Cup Final.
Red may be unfamiliar to most of us as Luton Town colours, and whilst this long-sleeve adidas beauty carries more than a passing resemblance to a British & Irish Lions jersey; there’s enough of the Hatters’ early DNA in this unique kit to identify it as one of their own.
This shirt is the holy grail for collectors of Luton shirts, and whilst reproductions have gone down well with fans, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
The red number 4 Luton Town shirt featured in this article is a long-sleeved version worn by Hatters midfielder Darran McDonough against QPR.
All credit for images and background story goes to Andrew Kingston, aka @TrebleThree on Twitter.
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