CHAPTER THREE – THE RISE OF THE WANDERERS AND EXCELSIOR
Page 1 – 1882/83 season begins
Page 2 – Excelsior Commended
Page 5 – Luton “United” victorious
Page 6 – Excelsior AGM
Page 7 – 1883/84 season begins
Page 9 – Bute Hospital
Page 10 – The Lomax brothers in a brilliant victory
page 12 – Wanderers and Excelsior again “United” –
Page 13 – Luton v Hertfordshire rivalry
Page 14 – A rift appears
Page 16 – Three London teams visit
This chapter is long so you may want to skip to some of the highlights I have mentioned above. I have researched all the football games in this period so have included them here for completeness. I have included as many minor team lineups as I could find to help those of you who are researching your ancestry.
The 1882/83 season began with a rule change. Throw-ins now had to be taken with two hands.
The new season and the 7th October 1882 saw St. John’s College and the three Lomax brothers victorious.
“A football match was played last Saturday on the People’s Park, between an eleven of St. John’s College and an eleven of Grosvenor House School, resulting in a victory for the former by three goals to none. The elevens were as follows:-
St. John’s College , Goal – C.H. Gask. Backs – P.D. Rodwell, A.J. Ross and F. Ryland. Half back – E.H. Lomax. Forwards – J.C. Lomax (captain), D.A.N. Lomax, E.H. Marshall, E.C. Browning, E.H. Wright and T.W. Simpson.
Grosvenor House School – Goal – W. Morrison. Back – P. Inwards. Half backs – T. Harden, R. Byers and E.E. Arnold. Forwards – P. Haigh (captain), T. Small, EL. Warren, A.L. Arnold, S. Gibbons and W. Waller”.
In addition to the Lomax brothers, E.H. Wright would also play for Luton Town in their first season.
The 14th October 1882 edition of the Luton Reporter;
“The Luton Excelsior Football Club – This club played their first match of the season at Chesham, on Saturday last, when there was some splendid play shown on both sides, their opponents making most determined attempts to score a goal, which, however, was manfully defended by Mr Whittington (captain) and Mr T. Brown (goal). After a most exciting game of one hour, the results were as follows: Luton one goal and one disputed: Chesham ditto.
Luton Excelsior, Goal – T. Brown. Back – T.H. Whittington (Captain). Half backs – W. Hopewell, J. Clarke and T. Lawrence. Forwards – E. Ellingham, H. Lawrence (right wing), W. Smith, F.W. Smith, (centres) G. Stanbridge, H. Fullarton (left wing). F. Scott, hon sec, umpire.
Chesham team, Goal – H. Howard. Backs – S. Avis and F. Hill. Half backs – J. Hill, W. Coughtney and J. Barnes. Forwards – J.G. Stone (captain), C.J. Ford (right wing), T.S. Brandon (centre), A. Wood, C.Holt (left wing). G. Payne umpire”.
In this 11 a side game we see Chesham adopt the 2,3,5 formation that we see until the 1960’s. Excelsior strangely play just one back but still get a draw.
Interlude – Luton Wesleyan Young Men’s Christian Association (Chapel Street) gave a lecture on memories of the Mediterranean.
Excelsior slumped to a miserable five nil defeat at Boxmoor to Hemel Hempstead. This was compounded when they lost to Wanderers for the first time at the end of October. This was the first 11 a side game between the two clubs, Wanderers winning at Dallow Lane by two goals to one.
“Excelsior, Goal – T. Brown. Backs – H. Whittington and O. Booth. Half backs – W. Hopewell and H. Wilkinson. Forwards – C. Squires, W. Eling, W. Smith, E. Walsh, F.W. Smith and E. Ellingham.
Wanderers , Goal – A. Darrant. Backs – W. Barrett and G. Long. Half backs – W. Wheeler and T. Brooks. Forwards – W. Garrett, J. Odell, G. Deacon, A. Martin, A. Deacon and R. Ellingham. Messrs J. Bennett and H. Boxford umpires.”
Wanderers had really turned a corner as they drew one each against Chesham on Monday afternoon between “two elevens of the Wanderers and Chesham, ending in a draw, one goal each. Names:- Wanderers, Goal – T. Brown. Backs – W. Barrett and W. Wheeler. Half backs – H. Spratley and W. Garrett. Forwards – G. Deacon, A. Martin, W. Eling, T. Brooks, J. Odell, and A. Durrant.”
St. John’s College also continued their progress beating St. Albans Grammar School by seven goals to nothing, Grosvenor House School four nil and Christ Church Institute F.C one nil.
Excelsior bounced back from their slump with a draw against one of the most powerful teams in the region.
“Excelsior v Newport Pagnell. A match was played on the Club ground, on Saturday last, before a large number of spectators, between the Luton Excelsior and Newport teams, being one of the most interesting and best contested matches played in Luton. Both teams were in splendid form. The Excelsior showed a great improvement in their play, and were justly commended by the visitors on their improvement and on being able to hold their own against a club that has never been beaten in Luton. Time being called the match resulted in a draw – Excelsior two goals; Newport two goals.
Newport team, Goal – E. Mapely. Backs – T. Garrett and Line. Half backs – Graves and Meadows. Forwards – C. Holland and C. Daniels (right wing), F. Mills and B. Garrett (left wing), Pearce (captain) and Barbige (centres).
Excelsior, Goal – T. Brown. Backs – T. Lawrence and G. Hunt. Half backs – H. Wilkinson and G. Deacon. Forwards – W. Eling and F.W. Spivey (right wing), E. Ellingham and W. Smith (left wing), E. Walsh and F.W. Smith (centres). Umpires, T.H. Whittington and T. Daniel”.
The sporting spirit of the Newport Pagnell team is recorded by the report.
Interlude – Coffee Tavern in Cheapside opens. I have not been able to identify it’s location.
November saw Wanderers travelling to Bedford and beat 1st Beds Rifle Volunteers’ F.C. eleven nil. Their second team beat a strong St. John’s Mission Church team two one. St. John’s Mission Church in turn beat St. John’s College two one.
The last weekend in November saw Excelsior play Hitchin.
“This match was played on Saturday, on the ground in Dallow-lane. Some brilliant play was shown on both sides, the home team winning by five goals to three. The St. John’s College team and Excelsior team were playing at the same time, and had their attention drawn several times from their game by hearing the shouts of the Hitchin and Excelsior teams as they scored their goals, but both teams sticking to their own game, the St. John’s College proved the victors, by five goals to two.”
St. John’s College were clearly playing the Excelsior second team. This also confirms that the Dallow lane meadow did contain more than one pitch.
We have a report on the St. John’s College v Luton Excelsior;
“Excelsior match which was played on the People’s Park. “Some good play was shown by both sides, the game resulting in a draw. “Excelsior” Goal – H. Boxford. Backs – W. Hopewell and O. Booth. Half backs – H. Spratley, A. Shackleton and W. Tearle (captain). Forwards – H. Wilkinson, G. Irons (right wing), T. Small (centre), J. Scott and G. Brown (left wing). St. John’s College, Goal – C.H. Gask. Backs – E.C. Dowding and E.H. Lomax. Half backs – E.C. Browning, F.V. Von Heyst. J.C. Lomax (captain) and E.H. Wright (right wing), E.F. Walsh and T.W. Simpson (centres), C. Simpson and D.A.N. Lomax (left wing). J. Long,umpire. A gentleman, name not known, has kindly promised to give the best player in the Luton Excelsior Club 1882-83, a valuable silver cup”.
Van Heyst was a master at the college It maybe that there were others too. It was common for Schools and Colleges to have a mixture of pupils and masters in their teams.
“Bedford (Britannia) v “Excelsior” – A match was played between the above clubs on Saturday on the Excelsior Club ground, in Dallow-lane. Some rough play was shown during the game, which rather resembled a contest under Rugby than Association Rules. The “Excelsior” team made some most determined attacks upon their opponents’ goal, but, owing to the grand play of the goal keeper, their efforts were frustrated. After an hour and twenty minutes play the game was brought to a conclusion, the “Excelsior” team proving the victors by one goal to nil. Britannia team, Goal – Thorne (captain). Backs – Swannel and Green. Half backs – Capon and Hayward. Forwards – Dorrington, Lithchfield, Perkins, Stokes, Wilks and Barber. Umpire, Humphreys. Luton “Excelsior “ team, Goal – T. Brown. Backs – Hunt and Whittington. Half backs – T. Lawrence and H. Inwards. Forwards – F.W. Spivey, J. Stanbridge (left wing), F.W. Smith and E. Ellingham (centres), W. Smith and W. Eling (right wing). H. Squires, umpires.”
Wanderers in the meantime beat Christ Church Institute one nil with the Deacon brothers both playing for the former.
Interlude – On 25th November 1882 The Luton Reporter confirmed that Foot and Mouth had broken out in Round Green and therefore the Luton Cattle Market was shut.
St. John’s College won their next two matches beating St. John’s Mission 2 1 and St Albans Grammar School 4 0.
“Wanderers v Excelsior, was played in Dallow-lane on December 16th between two second elevens of the above clubs. After some exciting play on both sides , the game ended in a draw, neither side scoring. Teams: Wanderers, Goal – G. Allen. Backs – T. Raleigh and S. Veale. Half backs – D. Davis, G. Woodbridge and G. Bennett. Forwards – G. Smith, H.G. Spratley, G. Deacon (captain), G. Worboys and J. Baswell. Excelsior, Goal – W. Tearle. Backs – J.G. Hunt and T. Lawrence. Half backs – H. Inwards and A, Shackleton. forwards – W. Eling (captain), J. Scott, T. Small, G. Irons, G. Brown and H. Fullarton. Umpires, T. Brown and J. Odell.”
Luton Reporter of 5 January 1883.
“Wanderers v Excelsior (second teams). An exciting game was played between the above clubs on People’s Park on Dec 30; the Wanderers playing remarkably well, scoring a goal within a few minutes of the start, and, after some good play on both sides, the Wanderers retired the victors by one goal to love. Team Wanderers , Goal – J. Bennett. Backs – T. Veale and D. Davis. Half backs – G. Woodbridge and G. Bennett. Forwards – T. Brooks (captain), H.G. Spratley, G. Smith, G. Abbott, G. Worboys and J. Buswell. Excelsior, Goal – T. Brown (captain). Backs – J.G. Hunt and T. Lawrence. Half backs – W. Tearle and A. Lomax. Forwards – J. Scott, H.A. Fullarton, T. Small, C. Lomax, R. Fisher and H. Lawrence. Umpires J. Odell and R. Ellingham.”
Wanderers began the New Year by beating Christ Church Institute by scoring “four times but one of them was disputed, to their opponents’ once.”
Luton Excelsior again played Chesham at the end of January and the steady improvement continued but that elusive first win against one of the strong teams in the area escaped them. The match was “played between the above clubs on Saturday last, during most unpleasant weather, a very strong gale blowing which made playing with any judgment very difficult. Both teams, however, played remarkably well, especially in defending their goals when their opponents had the wind in their favour. After an hour’s most friendly play the game resulted in a draw, neither side scoring a goal”. The umpire for Excelsior was their Secretary, F. Scott.
Also, Luton Wanderers suffered their first defeat of the season on January 27th in very stormy weather. Bedford Britannia wining by three goals to one.
Wanderers began February with a victory over Bedford Rifles F.C. “The Wanderers played up to their usual form and half the time with only ten men, Mr G. Deacon having to retire short, and ultimately won a hard contested game by 4 goals to nil”.
“Luton Excelsior v Wanderers. This match was played on the People’s Park on Saturday Feb 24th, both teams playing remarkably well; and after an hour and half’s exciting play, the Wanderers won a most pleasant game by one goal to nil. Teams – Luton Excelsior: Goal – H. Wilkinson. Backs – T.H. Whittington (captain) and J.G. Hunt. Half backs – H. Inwards and T. Lawrence. Forwards – W. Eling, W. Smith, E. Walsh, E. Ellingham, F.W. Smith and H. Fullarton. Wanderers, Goal – A. Durrant. Backs – W. Barrett and T. Veale. Half backs – J. Odell and G. Bennett. Forwards – T. Brown (captain), A. Martin, H. Spratley, G. Deacon, A. Deacon and D. Davis. Umpires Messrs Scott and Jaquest.”
Spratley had been in and out of the Wanderers first team but he made the first eleven for this game.
The Lomax brothers helped St. John’s College beat St. Matthews 5 1, Christ Church Institute Football Club 2 1 and St John’s Mission 3 2. The teams for the latter game are interesting as both teams play three half backs. It appears that teams are gradually seeing the benefits and adopting the three half back system. The College, Goal – G.W. Beldam. Backs – E.H. Lomax and F. Ryland. Half backs – G. Green, F. van Heyst and A.T. Ross. Forwards – J.C. Lomax (captain), N. Lomax, E.H. Wright, E.H. Marshall and E.C. Browning. Mission Church, Goal – A. Clarke. Backs – A. Cox (captain) and G. Sandon. Half backs – Wheeler, Chapman and Smith. Forwards – H. Ellingham, H. Hucklesby, W. Hills, F. Brown and A. Day.
In March Bedford (Britannia) completed the double over Luton clubs when they played Excelsior at Bedford “when there was some good play shown. The Excelsior team showed to good purpose in the first half; the play of W. Bailey and Dunkley for Luton being greatly admired. Bailey made a splendid shot and scored the first goal. The Excelsior succeeded in holding their own until about the last quarter of an hour, when the Bedford team came in with a rush, scoring three goals in a very few minutes easily, finishing a very pleasant game with a victory for the Bedford team by three goals to one. Excelsior team, Goal – W. Lawrence. Backs – J. Clarke and W. Hopewell. Half backs – W. Fisher and J. Odell. Forwards – W. Bailey and W. Eling (right wing), W. Smith and G. Brown (centres), Dunkley and H. Spratley (left wing). Umpire – Mr G. Hinson”. Here we see Spratley turning out for Excelsior.
Interlude – 24th March 1883 no football is reported. “An unwelcome Visitor. On Monday, before his worship the Mayor (Mr. Alderman Dawson), John Dillon, a seaman and a man of colour, was charged by P.C. William Batcher with being drunk and disorderly on Park-square, at Luton, on the 17th inst. He was committed for one day, and the Mayor ordered a police officer to see him out of the town.”
Interlude – “Skating rink – very acceptable to many, without doubt, will be the announcement of the opening of the Baths as a skating rink on Friday, Saturday and Monday. The weather is particularly suitable for such pastime. A string band will be in attendance, so that an admirable treat is provided for skaters.”
Interlude – At Cumberland’s livestock auction, 12 fat lambs were sold, the highest price being £3.
The next match for Excelsior sees the first reported game against a London team.
“London Excelsior v Luton Excelsior. The above match was played in the Dallow Lane on Saturday last, when the onlookers had the pleasure of seeing some of the best play ever shown by a team in Luton, the splendid passing of the visitors being greatly appreciated. The whole team playing together as one man, showed off to perfection. The game was event divided during the first half, the Excelsior forwards keeping the ball well to the front, but after half-time was called, the visitors pressed the home team very hard. Owing, however, to the grand way in which the goal keeper played, helped by the backs, the home team held their own with the visitors until the last few minutes, when the visitors added another goal to their score, bringing a pleasant match to an end with a victory for the London Excelsior by four goals to three. London Excelsior, Goal – W. Baker. Backs – H. Parker and H. Harris. Half backs – J. Cocks and Rees. Forwards – W. Scott and J. Gillies (left wing), J.F. Timms (captain) and W. Aitkins (centres), W. Frith and G. Johnson (right wing). Luton Excelsior, Goal – H. Wilkinson. Backs – G. Hunt (captain) and T. Lawrence. Half backs – H. Inwards and W. Hopewell. Forwards – W. Eling and J. Scott (left wing), G. Deacon and H. Spratley (centres), E. Ellingham and W. Smith (right wing)”.
The next match, at the end of March 1883 was the biggest for the town and would sow the seeds for a Luton Town Football Club. Luton Excelsior “played at Newport Pagnell, on Monday last, when owing to the weather and onlookers the Lutonians had anything but a pleasant game, the Excelsior proving themselves the victors by one goal to nil over a club that has not been beaten before this season and holds the Wellingboro’ and District Cup. Excelsior team, Goal – W. Lawrence. Backs – E.E. Lomax and J. Odell. Half backs – W. Smith, H. Spratley and E. Ellingham. Forwards – W. Eling (captain), J. Stanbridge (left wing), G. Deacon (centre), D.A.N. Lomax and C.J. Lomax (right wing). Umpire, F. Scott.”
There were Excelsior, Wanderers and St. John’s College players in this team. This is the first Luton representative team and they beat the best team in the region who had been unbeaten all season. Draws were the best results that Luton teams had had up until this unified Luton team. The penny must have dropped that the small teams in Luton could not compete with the likes of Hemel Hempstead, Newport Pagnell and Bedford Britannia. Those towns all appear to have had unified teams and were very strong. A united Luton football team could compete with them.
One would have thought that the players would have called a meeting shortly thereafter and Luton Town Football Club would have been formed later in 1883. I beleive that it was this game which George Deacon would refer to indirectly on 11th April 1885. He certainly wanted a Town team from this point but for some reason it did not materialise. It could be that the fear of teams breaking up prevented the Excelsior and Wanderers committee from voting themselves out of existence. It could be the ambition of Herbert Spratley and his supporters on the Wanderers committee which prevented any progress. Without any minute books for either club we do not know what was discussed. It would take another two years and much unpleasantness before a Town team would be formed.
On 7th April 1883 the Luton Reporter gave a summary of the season so far of the St. John’s College season. This is the first such summary in a Luton Newspaper. It is perhaps not surprising that the college were innovators as the lads came from all over the country and the Empire to be educated in Luton. They saw other influences outside of the town, were well travelled and well educated. The report goes on;
“The St. John’s College Football Season. On Saturday last, the St. John’s College football season terminated. The season has been a very successful one, only two out of 14 matches played resulting in defeats. The following were the matches played:
Date Opponents Results – won by
Oct 7Grosvenor House School F.C.3 goals to nil
Nov 1 St. Albans Grammar School 7 goals to nil
Nov 4 Christ Church Institute F.C. 1 goal to nil
Nov 8 Grosvenor House School F.C. 4 goals to nil
Nov 18 Luton Excelsior F.C. 5 goals to 2
Nov 25 Luton Excelsior F.C. Drawn
Dec 2 St. John’s Mission Church F.C. 2 goals to 1
Dec 6 St. Albans Grammar School 4 goals to nil
Feb 17 St. Matthews Church F.C. 5 goals to 1
Feb 24 Christ Church Institute F.C. 2 goals to nil
March 3 St. John’s Mission Church F.C. 3 goals to 2
March 17 St. Matthews Church F.C. 10 goals to nil
Nov 11 St. John’s Mission Church F.C. 1 goal to 2
March 31 St. John’s Mission Church F.C. 0 goals to 2
The number of goals kicked by the collegians is 47, and the number of those kicked by their opponents is 10. The team have all played in a manner deserving of great praise and have proved themselves worthy of the success that has attended their efforts. The captain, J.C. Lomax, gave a worthy example to his men, and was untiring in his exertions for the welfare of the team. He was ably backed up by the strenuous exertions of D.A.N. Lomax, E.H. Wright, E.C. Browning and E.H. Marshall. Among the backs, E.H. Lomax was the most energetic and was noticeable for his indefatigable method of repulsing the opposing team. During the first part of the season, C.H. Gask acted as goal-keeper, and proved himself “the right man in the right place”. A few words of praise are due to Mr John Long for his excellent and impartial umpiring. In the matches against Luton “Excelsior” F.C. the college team was assisted by Messrs C. Simpson, E.F. Walsh and “Doctor” E.C. Dowding, who showed very fair form. The college team are to be congratulated on the success of their play”.
Many of the teams that the College played were second rank including the Excelsior teams which were their second elevens. But clearly they were proud of their achievements and their rise up the football ladder in the town. No other clubs produced a report of their season for the newspapers, or the newspapers did not print them.
Interlude – “The Midgets – The Midgets, with general Tom Thumb, and a select concert party, will occupy the Town Hall next week for one night only – Thursday. A large audience is expected”.
Interlude – The price of telegrams was reduced to six pence.
Interlude – “Mr James Howard M.P. in the House of Commons on Tuesday, presented a petition to stop the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sundays from Luton, Dunstable and other places”.
The final game of the season took place on Saturday 7th April, kicking off at 4.30pm.
“London “Skirmishers” v “Luton Excelsior”. – The above match was played on the People’s Park on Saturday last during most pleasant weather, and before a large concourse of sightseers, the hour being fixed when most people had closed business; and the onlookers were amply repaid by witnessing a most splendid match, during which the Excelsior forwards played a grand game. Mr C. Lomax made a splendid run the whole length of the field, passed his opponents, and finally made a shot for goal, for which he received rounds of applause from the onlookers. Mr G. Hunt’s grand play in the backs was especially noticed. The London Skirmishers played in their usual brilliant form having brought an extra strong team, and showed to great advantage in playing together, Mr Hope putting in some good play with the forwards , while Whitehead played a grand game for the backs. Choules’ play, as goal keeper, was especially noticed , for which he gained great applause. A most pleasant and enjoyable match was brought to a conclusion by a victory for the Excelsior by one goal to nil. The visitors expressed a hope that they should long be spared to match themselves against the Luton Excelsior. Excelsior team, Goal – H. Wilkinson. Backs – G. Hunt (captain) and E.H. Lomax. Half backs – T. Lawrence, W. Smith and J. Clarke. Forwards – C.J. Lomax, E. Ellingham, (left wing), E. Walsh (centre), W. Eling and Martin (right wing). Umpire – F. Scott. Skirmishers, Goal – Choules. backs – Whitehead and Simon. Half backs – Humphrey and Peacock. Forwards – Spivey and Thraves (left wing), Hope and Gunnell (centres), Brand and Grove (Captain) (right wing). . Umpire, T. Brown”.
Two of the Lomax brothers played for Excelsior again rather than Wanderers.
Interlude – “The Midgets – The appearance of General Tom Thumb, Major Mite and Commodore Small attracted a crowded house to the Town Hall last evening (Thursday). The entertainment was of a diversified and interesting character. The “Lilliputian Monarchs” as they are called, introduced a number of amusing sketches, songs etc, and there were likewise several talented artistes, who did their best to merit the applause of the auditory. Mr Millar, the champion American dancer, Mr F Malex, an instrumentalist, and Professor Millar with his legerdemain, took a prominent part in the programme. During the evening there was also a distribution of presents”.
We get a fascinating insight into the running of clubs from the 15th September 1883 Luton Reporter. It gives an account of the Annual general Meeting of The Excelsior Football Club.
“The annual general meeting of the Luton Excelsior Football Club was held at the Midland Hotel on Wednesday last, when there was a good attendance of members and friends. The chair was taken at 8 o’clock by the president, Mr. S. Webb, who then called on the secretary to give his report :- The club played 23 matches during the last season, winning eight, lost eight and drawn seven, which the committee think is very good, considering the class of teams that played the out-town matches, and the superior teams which were played with during last season. The financial position of the club is very good,a balance of £3 3s. 8d. being brought forward to help the carrying on of the club in the coming season. The club was composed of 26 honorary members and 38 playing members, making a total of 64 members. The whole of the teams which the club played expressed great satisfaction it would give them in meeting the Luton Excelsior teams again. The committee desire to convey their thanks to the whole of the members for the way in which they had helped them carry out their duties, and hoped that the club might be a greater success during the coming season. The balance-sheet was then read and carried unanimously, and the following gentlemen were elected to fill the officers and committee for the ensuing season :- Mr S Webb, president : Mr G Hinson, treasurer : Mr F. Scott, hon secretary : Mr F. Pitkin, asst secretary. Committee – Messrs T. Lawrence, W. Smith, H. Wilkinson, F.W. Smith, J. Scott, H. Boxford, W.J. Bailey, W. Hopewell. The general business was then brought forward and the following motions carried : 1st, That any losses incurred by damage, or loss of the materials of the club, be made good from the funds of the club; 2nd, that the club shall award four medals to members showing best proficiency in play during the ensuing season; 3rd, that the headquarters of the Luton Excelsior Football Club shall be held at the Midland Hotel [The Midland Hotel was on the corner of Williamson Street and Manchester Street and was demolished in 1976], but it be left to the committee’s own discretion where they shall hold their meetings; 4th, that members shall give a decided answer two clear days previous to a match whether they can play or not, and then failing to appear to play when called upon, shall be fined one shilling”.
Thanks are given to all the members of the club. The Committee would do all of the work involved in running the club such as arranging the games, acting as groundsmen, marking out the pitch boundary, putting ropes and footboards around the pitch for the spectators, acting as gatemen and umpires. If the Committee men were playing, on business or ill, they would need help from the other members. The members probably paid a subscription as it was then called, for which they received free or reduced admission to games. Excelsior had the benefit of playing at Dallow Lane which appears to have been enclosed, probably by hedges and possibly a ditch. This meant that they could charge an admission fee. We have seen that Luton Rovers, a High Town team, played at the Richard III meadow in London Road and charged 3d for their game against Hitchin. It must have been a game worthy of charging and we must presume they changed venue because an admission fee was unenforceable on their People’s Park home ground which was open parkland.
The Excelsior Committee had a refreshing attitude towards the eight defeats. They played tough games against Newport Pagnell twice, Chesham twice, Bedford Britannia twice, London Skirmishers and London Excelsior. Wanderers would not have been blind to the quality teams that Excelsior were attracting. The revenue from the admission fees enabled Excelsior to pay these teams travelling expenses. Wanderers, playing on People’s Park could not charge admission.
The introduction of a fine suggests a problem with some players agreeing to play then pulling out or arriving late. Excelsior had been around for at least three years but the rule had only just been introduced. That indicates that they wanted to make progress and were taking the game seriously especially in light of the quality of the opposition. If they invited a London team to Luton it must have been embarrassing and infuriating to be a player or two short and have to use a reserve at the last minute. I also suspect that members of the crowd were invited to play on occasions. Local players who did not have a game would have gone along to watch some of their rivals in the town. It would have been a good opportunity to talk about football to to other club’s players. As the late/non arrival problem seemed endemic, I am sure a few spectators turned up to watch with their boots in the hope of getting a game.
The 1883/84 season
The new season began for Excelsior in the first weekend of October at Barnet beating Woodville F.C. by 8 goals to nil. They flowed that up with a two nil victory over St. John’s Mission.
Interlude – 13th October 1883 Luton Reporter. From the editorial –
“Those interested in the Coffee Tavern movement, morally or financially, have abundant justification for the jubilation expressed at the luncheon in connection with the opening of the “Russell “Arms” on Monday. No modern movement partaking in about equal proportions of the philanthropic and the monetary, has had so sudden and so permanent a success. We need not seek far for the cause of the property which has attended the movement. It may not coincide exactly with the views entertained by the advanced section of the temperance advocates, but it is nevertheless true that the success of coffee taverns has been largely due to the neglect of the publicans. The old fashioned hostelries where the trade of licensed victualler was something more than a name have gradually died out, except in some few remote places: and that modern abomination, the spirits vaults, has taken their place. The promoters of the coffee tavern saw their opportunity, and provided cheap wholesome food, with comfort and pleasant surroundings, and the project hit the public taste, and has retained it ever since. The value of the institution as a moral and reformatory agency followed rapidly ; and in many large towns – Liverpool for instance – public house property has been seriously deteriorated in value by the coffee taverns. The movement is a healthy sign of the times – perhaps one of the healthiest and most significant – for it shows that if the common wants of the people can be met, without any evil surroundings, the people will appreciate the effort. If teetotalism had been obtrusively thrust into the title of these coffee taverns many would have fought shy of them. As it is they do a quiet and permanent good which fully justifies the eulogists of Lord Charles Russell, and other speakers on Monday.”
The Lomax brothers and St. John’s College had a busy and winning start to the season. They beat Christ Church Institute and St. Albans F.C. away and St Albans Grammar School 4 0 on People’s Park. They then drew two each Berkhamstead and with St. John’s Mission who included future Luton Town first teamers, Albert Deacon and W. Wheeler.
The Luton Reporter announced that “The “Excelsior” team will play at Boxmoor on Saturday, leaving by break from the “Wheatsheaf” at one o’clock.” A break (1883 spelling) or brake (modern spelling) (below) is an open horse drawn carriage with many seats. This gives us an insight into travel at the time. One could hire carriages by the hour or by the day. This would have been the best way to travel to games where there was not a decent rail link. It may also have been cheaper and quicker to take a carriage.
Interlude – Accidents involving carriages were commonplace and just about every week details are given of an accident. There is an account of three ladies who hired a carriage for an hours drive into the country. On their way back coming down Inkerman Street (a steep hill) they began to lose control and the horse began to panic. The ladies screamed which spooked the animal and it bolted down the hill towards a bus. Fortunately a policeman saw what was happening and managed to turn the bus so that the carriages collided side to side. There were no serious injuries. It was noted that the ladies horse had been hired out on a trip that same morning. It was inferred that the horse was tired and should not have been hired out again that day.
Excelsior made it safely to Boxmoor but “owing to a weakness in the backs, their opponents won by two goals to nil. Mr T. Brown deserves great praise for the way in which he defended his goal. – Luton: Goal – T. Brown. Backs – T. Lawrence and C. Brown. Half backs – W. Fisher, F. Scott and G. Humphrey. Forwards – H. Wilkinson (captain), E. Ellingham (left wing), T. Small (centre), W. Smith, W. Eling (right wing). Umpire – G. Hinson.”
Excelsior bounced back the following weekend against Bedford Britannia in “a very closely contested game was played, both teams playing in good form, the Excelsior team proving the victors by one goal to nil”. A future Luton Town player and captain, Arthur Taylor played for Bedford in this game. It was also announced that “Friends wishing to accompany the team to London on Nov. 10th, by the 1.5 train, and wishing to take the pleasure party tickets must give their names to the secretary”. There were clearly special rates on trains in 1883.
Wanderers had an up and down few weeks. They beat Christ Church Institute five one on People’s Park. They then played their full strength team against St. John’s College and lost 4 2. The report says;
“St. John’s College F.C. (with A. Deacon and W. Wheeler), and the Wanderers F.C. The college team playing well together, by excellent passing, scored a victory by 4 goals to their opponents 2. The teams were as under:- Goal – G.W. Beldam. Backs – E.H. Lomax and A.T. Ross. Half backs – S. Berridge, E.C. Browning and W. Wheeler. Forwards – J.C. Lomax (captain), and A. Lomax (left wing), P.G. Green (centre), A. Deacon and E.H. Wright (right wing). The Wanderers, Goal – G. Davies Backs – W. Barrett and T. Veale. Half backs – T. Brooks (captain) and G. Bennett. Forwards – R. Ellingham and G. Long (left), H.G. Spratley and J. Bushwell (centre), G. Deacon and A. Martin (right).”
It may be that Deacon and Wheeler, future Luton Town players, replaced the two masters who had previously been playing for the college. Deacon and Wheeler had played against the College for the Mission a few weeks earlier. The College therefore were composed entirely of young lads and they beat the second best team in the town.
St John’s College came down with a bump the following week losing one nil to St. Albans. “The game was a very unpleasant one, the spectators frequently expressing their indignation at the manner of the back play adopted by the visitors.” What a pity we do not get more details about the back play. I guess the St Albans teams made it a physical team against the youngsters from the College. They must have been smarting from their defeat a few weeks earlier.
Luton Excelsior had a day out in London at West Ham Park against London Excelsior
“when both teams strove hard for victory. The Luton Excelsior obtained a goal during the first half. But their opponents succeeded, owing to the darkness during the second half, in obtaining a goal just before time was called, which made the game equal. Spivey and Humphrey playing well for the Luton team and Frith, Harris, Gillies and Johnson playing well for the London Excelsior. Luton Team, Goal – T. Brown. Backs – Humphreys and Lawrence. Half backs – W. Fisher, C. Brown and J. Scott. Forwards – W. Eling, E. Ellingham, W. Smith, F.W. Spivey and H. Wilkinson (captain). Umpire – F. Scott.”
Wanderers beat Hitchin and Bedford Britannia on People’s Park 4 1 and 1 0 respectively.
Interlude – The Luton Reporter published a weekly report on the Bute Hospital. “The Bute Hospital. Report for the week ending Nov 20th 1883 – Admitted, one: discharged, none : remaining seven: dead, none – Medical Officer for the ensuing week, Mr Rew. A.S. Ewen, Hon Sec.” The Bute Hospital, on Dunstable Road, had opened in 1882 and relied on charitable donations to keep it running. The stone above the door marks the progress of the building in 1881. The three photos below were taken in February 2015.
Wanderers reacted to their defeat to St John’s College by inviting J.C. and E.H. Lomax to play for them. They chose one of the toughest games of the season to make their debuts, away to Hemel Hempstead. The Luton Reporter takes up the story.
“This game was played on the ground of the former club, on Saturday, November 24th, in very fine weather, both teams playing well, but the Wanderers having the best of game throughout playing very fast and passing well, securing a brilliant victory over the home eleven by two goals to nil, this being the only time the Hemel Hempstead have been defeated on their own ground for three years. The Hemel Hempstead team gave the Wanderers credit for being the best and quietest team they have met this season. Messrs C. and E. Lomax played exceedingly well for the visitors”.
This Lomax brothers had proven themselves on their debut. J.C. Lomax had just turned 19 and E.H. was 17 but such was their football ability that they are asked by one of the top teams in the town to make their debut at Hemel Hempstead. They must have been delighted with the outcome.
On the same day that J.C. and E.H. were helping Wanderers were winning at Hemel, 15 year old D.A.N. Lomax was helping Excelsior’s first team beat Hitchin. “After a very pleasant game resulted in a win for Luton by two goals to nil. Excelsior team, Goal – T. Brown. Backs – G. Hunt (captain and W. Hopewell. Half backs – T. Lawrence, C. Brown and W. Fisher. Forwards – D. Lomax, E. Ellingham, W. Eling, T. Small and W. Smith. Umpire – G. Hinson”.
St. John’s College continued their good run of form by beating Christ Church Sunday School 4 3, Grosvenor House School one nil and Christ Church Institute 3 0.
In the weeks before Christmas Excelsior won all three of their games. They beat Volunteers, a new team made up of players from a number of teams in the town. They then played;
“St. John’s College (past and present). The above match was played in Dallow-lane, on Saturday last, before a large number of spectators who were kept greatly interested, St. John’s team previous to this match having beaten all the Luton teams who have tried their strength. The St John’s played their well known game of passing but it proved of no effect against the good play of the Excelsior’s backs and half-backs. The Excelsior forwards pressed their opponents very hard during the game. Mr Eling receiving great praise from the onlookers for the way in which he played. After an hour and twenty minutes play a very pleasant game was brought to a conclusion by a victory to the Excelsior by three goals to nil”.
The length of the game is revealed at forty minutes each way. In non competitive games, it was left to teams as to the length of the game. This helped in the winter when kick offs were later in the day due to work commitments. It seems common for games to be 30 minutes each way to end before dark.
Excelsior then beat Hitchin 4 0 at Dallow Lane. Luton Wanderers were not as successful. They could only send a weak team to play against Bedford Britannia for which we have a short report. “The Wanderers were unable to take a good team down, but they played up pluckily against a superior team, and through being deficient in the forwards lost a very exciting and fast game by two goals to nil”.
On Christmas Eve 1883 Wanderers played Rushden on the People’s Park.
“The teams being about equal strength, a splendid and most exciting game ensued. The Rushden scoring a goal within a few minutes of the start, the Wanderers retaliated directly afterwards by a goal from the foot of J.C. Lomax, but this was disallowed on the grounds of off-side and as no other point was scored, the victory rested with the Rushden, who won a very pleasant game by one goal to nil. Sides, Rushden, Goal – G.W. Button. Backs – S. Denton and W. Cox. Half backs – F. Chettle, J.T. Denton. Forwards – G.R. Wagstaffe and C.W. Webbe (right), W. Burgess and H.J. Denton (centre), C. Claridge (captain) and A. Cane (left). Wanderers lined up as follows;
Goal – T. Brooks captain. Backs – E.H. Lomax and W. Barratt. Half backs – H.G. Spratley, J. Veale and G. Bennet. Forwards – J.C. Lomax, D.A. Lomax, G. Deacon, A. Martin and W.Davis”.
Over Christmas Wanderers did manage to beat St. John’s Mission one nil. Excelsior continued their run with a one nil win over Christ Church Institute.
“The teams were Christ Church team: Goal – J. Wilson. Backs – W.J. Jennings and J. Johnson. Half backs – H. Kilby, E. Hughes and E. Cox. forwards – C. Squires, H. Hoy, J. Gates, J. Scott and H. Fullarton.
Excelsior; Goal – T. Brown. Backs – G. Hunt and W.A. Hopewell. Half backs – C. Brown, E. Ellingham and F. Scott. Forwards – W. Eling, W. Smith, G.H. Small, H. Wilkinson and H. Wilkinson”.
The Luton Reporter announced that “the first of the annual contests between the Excelsior and Wanderers clubs will take place on the People’s Park on Saturday January 5th play to commence at 2.30”.
The year began with foot and mouth breaking out in many parts of the country and the two senior teams meeting each other on 5th January 1884.
“Excelsior v Wanderers. A match was played on the People’s Park, on Saturday, Jan 5th, between two elevens representing the above clubs, in most miserable weather, rain falling the whole of the time, but notwithstanding the state of the ground, good play was shown by both teams. The Wanderers scored first, the Excelsior retaliating directly afterwards by a goal. After changing ends both teams tried hard to score, the Excelsior’s efforts being at last successful: it now looked a certain win for the Excelsior, but the Wanderers, with their usual style, made a combined rush, and put the leather between the posts, making the game even again. Great efforts were now made by both sides to gain the winning point, but they were unable to do so, thus ending a very pleasant game in a tie, two goals each. Sides,
Excelsior Goal – T. Brown. Backs – J.G. Hunt (Capt) and W. Hopewell. Half backs – W. Fisher, T. Lawrence and C. Brown. Forwards – W. Smith, W. Eling, T.H. Small, E. Ellingham and H. Wilkinson. umpire, T. Scott.
Wanderers, Goal – A. Durrant. Backs – W. Barrett and T. Veale. Half backs – H.G. Spratley, G. Bennet and T. Brooks (capt). Forwards – A. Martin, A. Deacon, G. Deacon, G. Smith and D. Davis. Umpire, J. O’Dell”.
The Wanderers second team played Christ Church institute on Richard III Meadow, London Road, the Wanderers winning by one goal to nil.
Christ Church Sunday School played their home games on the Moor. The first weekend in January saw them lose three nil to St. Matthews. The Moor is parkland today on New Bedford Road. In the 1880’s St. John’s College was opposite. The two photos below were taken from the New Bedford Road in February 2015. The photos show the railway line embankment on the left – the town centre is also to the left. The river is the Lea.
The third photo shows the current buildings which stand on the site of St. John’s College on New Bedford Road, opposite the Moor.
The reports in the newspapers become very short during the next four weeks. As mentioned earlier, when there were politics to discuss the columns are filled with reports of meetings, debates and letters. Football takes a back seat as a result. What we know is that Wanderers beat St. John’s Mission FC six nil, Barnet Alma FC five nil, and drew one all with Hemel Hempstead on People’s Park. Excelsior beat St. Albans one nil.
The first weekend of February 1884 saw another milestone in the history of football in the town.
“Chesham v Luton – The above match was played on Monday between two teams representing the Chesham Clubs and the Luton Clubs (Excelsior and Wanderers), both clubs being well represented. A very exciting game was brought to a conclusion by a victory for Luton by two goals to one and one disputed”.
This is the second representative team for the town. This time the team is called “Luton.” It is a pity that we are not given the team but one would expect it to be close to the very first Luton Town team and including at least two of the Lomax brothers. Nearly a year after the representative team beat Newport Pagnell we have another huge moment for the game and another victory. The enthusiasm for a Luton Town club must have been reinforced by this win at Chesham. The lads had shown twice against very strong opposition what they could do if they united as one team. Yet nothing happened. We know of no meetings to discuss the formations of a Town club. What was the problem? As previously discussed, it may be that there was a rump of opposition within Wanderers and Excelsior against it as they feared their own position and the extinction of their club. It may be that there was a fear that smaller clubs would disappear if one club dominated. It is clear that being a contract free game, players could, and did, play for the small teams and also turn out for the big boys. We have seen players playing for Wanderers and Excelsior already so there did not appear to have been any problem in turning out for whichever team you fancied.
The following week Excelsior played one of their big rivals, Hemel Hempstead who were also known as Boxmoor.
“The above match was played in the Dallow-lane on Saturday last, between the above teams, a great interest being taken in this match on account of the Boxmoor being the only club who have beaten the Excelsior this season. There was a large number of spectators who were highly interested in the game, the visitors being well represented, and the Excelsior Club playing their full strength. After an hour and twenty minutes play the Excelsior team proved themselves the victors by two goals to nil, being ten wins, two drawn and one lost out of thirteen games”.
This demonstrates the progress that Excelsior had made from the previous season when they lost eight games.
It is worth mentioning the report of a game between two of the smaller teams for the insight into another new ground in the town. “Christ Church Sunday School v Grosvenor House School – This match was played in the Grosvenor House Meadow, Cardiff Road, the former winning by two goals to one disputed.”
February was also a good month for St. John’s College.
“During the past week the St. John’s College has played two matches. The first was played on Feb. 23rd, on the People’s Park against the St. John’s Mission FC, and was won by the College, who scored three goals to nil. The second was played on Feb 27, on Bernard’s Heath, St. Albans, against the St. Albans Grammar School, and was won very easily by the College by nine goals to nil”.
The following Excelsior game against St Albans gives us an insight into rivalries at the time. “This match was played at St. Albans between the above clubs on Saturday last during splendid weather and before a large number of spectators, a great deal of feeling being shown owing to the rivalry between the two towns which the teams represented. The St. Albans played a strong team, but the Excelsior, playing in their usual form, eventually won the game by one goal to nil, being the eighth time they have beaten the St Albans club. Deacon, Hopewell and Hunt played well for Luton”. Note that one of the Deacon brothers turned out for Excelsior which highlights what we know about the independence of the players.
We see the Luton v Hertfordshire rivalry mentioned in the above report. Luton and St. Albans had been rivals in business, the latter having more hat factories for some time. With the local newspapers covering events in both Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, no opportunity was missed for a dig at the other by the editors and correspondents alike.
Excelsior followed up with a game against London Excelsior and again the report gives us valuable insight into the social side of the game.
“The above match was played on Saturday last, when lovers of football had the pleasure of witnessing one of the fastest teams play who have visited Luton this season. The visitors playing well completely winded their opponents during the second half, and succeeded in scoring two goals, bringing the game level, the Luton club having scored two goals in the first half. The home team were greatly at a disadvantage through not having one of their back players (Mr Hunt) with them, he being absent from the town. A very pleasant match was brought to a close after an hour and twenty minutes play, the result being a drawn game, each side scoring two goals. The visitors spent a very social evening at the headquarters, and returned to London by the 9.40 train, having greatly enjoyed their outing”.
The Midland Hotel was an excellent choice of venue for Excelsior’s Headquarters. Opponents could stop the night if they chose to, they could be fed, have a drink of alcohol or coffee if they had taken the pledge. It was a chance to talk about the game, as we do today in the pubs and, ahem, coffee taverns around the town. The Luton men would meet men who lived and worked in London and could hear different opinions and ideas about football and life.
Wanderers up and down form continued with a 3 0 defeat at Rushden in early March “in front of several hundred spectators”. The following week they beat Hitchin 2 0 on People’s Park.
In the middle of March we find that it was not all “splendid” and “very pleasant” on the pitch all the time. Three games highlight the weaknesses of the umpire system. As you will recall, both teams provided an umpire who had to agree decisions. This relied on the gentlemanly conduct of not only the umpires but also the players. In the first game St. John’s Mission FC were playing St. John’s College on People’s Park.
“During the first half of the game the Mission scored a goal and shortly after half time they again put the ball through, but the score was disallowed on the grounds of off-side. From the kick which followed J.C. Lomax obtained a goal for the College which was allowed by the umpire, but to which the Mission objected. Play was discontinued and the game ended in a most unsatisfactory manner each side having scored one goal”.
The second game involved Excelsior against Bedford Britannia.
“The Luton team journeyed down to Bedford on Saturday last to meet the Britannia team, which after an hour’s play the Luton team were compelled to leave the ground, owing to the ungentlemanly manner in which they were treated. Members are requested to strike the above match off their cards”.
The following week Excelsior played a combined Wanderers and St. John’s College team.
“The above match was commenced on Saturday last, in splendid weather and before a large number of spectators. The Excelsior team were placed at a great disadvantage through losing the services of Mr E. Ellingham and W. Smith, who are both disabled from playing through accidents which they have received, but whose places were ably filled by Mr J. Scott and H. Fullarton. Play commenced at a quarter to five. The Excelsior won the toss, elected to play down hill, and shortly after gained a goal from a kick by T. Lawrence, which received great applause from the on-lookers. Both teams were now fairly put on their mettle, some good play being shown, but the usual rush of the Wanderers not coming off the Excelsior succeeded in scoring another goal just before half time was called. After a few minutes interval, the leather was again started off, some good play taking place during the next quarter of an hour. The Wanderers’ men made a strong attack on their opponents’ goal, but were ably repulsed by the Excelsior backs, when from a side kick by Mr Deacon, Mr A. Martin scored an off side goal, the Wanderers’ umpire having his attention called to him before the off side goal was scored. Their umpire’s decision was then asked for. The Excelsior’s umpire disallowing the goal as an off-side one, a dispute ensued and neither side giving in, play was stopped. The Excelsior offered to give the disputed goal on purpose to keep the game on, but this was not accepted and the Excelsior team claimed the victory by two goals to one disputed”.
As there was no referee, no bookings or sending off we see matters deteriorate very quickly. I can recall many arguments in the park about whether the ball went inbetween the jumpers or over one, thus “hitting the post”. We generally learned to compromise and realise that things would probably balance out in the course of a game. When the adrenaline is pumping and it is a tight game I can understand players not backing down. In these circumstances it is for the umpires to take control and reach an agreement. Both umpires had to agree for a decision to be made. If that did not happen, it was for the captains to restore order.
We do not have the teams for the Excelsior v Combined Wanderers and St. John’s College game but one must assume that all the major players in the town were on the pitch. I wonder if personal animosity caused any of the arguments. There must have been some rivalry or even hatred between certain individuals. We do not have any proof but this may explain the silence on the formation of a Luton Town team. One thing is for sure, Wanderers and Excelsior do not play each other ever again, so that tells it’s own story. I believe that Herbert Spratley was the Wanderers secretary at this time so he was responsible for arranging the fixtures.
Another snippet from a minor game gives us some more details of the grounds in the town. Grosvenor School against Albany FC “played on the ground of the former, Napier Road, resulting in a victory for the Grosvenor’s by two goals to nil”.
Luton Wanderers ended their season with a good win over London Excelsior. After Luton Excelsior’s draw and “very social evening” with London Excelsior, the Wanderers secretary went to town with the report he submitted to the Luton Reporter.
“A grand match in the People’s Park on Saturday, between the above clubs, both of which put their strongest teams in the field, and, as the day was fine and the teams about equally matched, some exciting and very fast play was seen. The Excelsior scored a goal within a few minutes of the start, but the Wanderers’ retaliated at once with another, and, both sides scoring once more before half time, the game stood two each. When ends were changed, both sides tried hard to gain the winning point, the Wanderers with a few minutes of time being at last successful, putting the leather through, amid the cheers of hundreds of spectators, and thus wining very pleasant game (and the fastest one this season) by 3 goals to 2.”
With no cup games around and no leagues at all, we have seen an increase in representative games and more London teams coming to Luton to add variety. Excelsior ended their season against two such teams, the first against the Skirmishers.
”The above match was played on Saturday in the Dallow Lane, when lovers of football had the pleasure of witnessing a grand game as played by the Skirmishers team, which was composed of gentlemen playing for the following clubs, viz. Prairie Rangers, Vulcans, Swifts, Grove House and Skirmishers. Play was commenced at 5 o’clock. The Luton team won the toss and played down hill, but their opponents showing some good play, scored their first goal about three minutes after play commenced, and shortly after scored their second goal from a splendidly judged corner kick by Mr Houghton, which called forth great applause from the spectators. Half time was called, and both teams, after a short rest, went hard to work for victory, Mr Houghton being continually cheered for the grand way in which he played, making some splendid long kicks from one goal to the other. From two more kicks from the above named gentleman, the Skirmishers scored two more goals. Mr Eling played well for the Excelsior, taking the ball several times right up to the goal, but owing to nervousness, failing to score at the last moment. A goal was eventually obtained for the Excelsior by Mr Scott, being the only one which they obtained. Mr Houghton (captain), Thraves, Palmer, Hope and Black played well for the Skirmishers and Mr Hunt (captain), Eling, Wilkinson, Small and T. Brown played well for the Excelsior. After the match was over the teams sat down to an excellent repast at the head-quarters of the Excelsior Club. The visitor’s expressed great satisfaction at the manner in which they were entertained, and enjoyed very much a tour through Mr Scarborough’s farm the Dallows, that gentleman having given them a very cordial invitation. The above teams intend playing a return match in Mr Deacon’s Meadow, Dallow Lane, on Good Friday. The West End team will be captained by the celebrated back player (Mr Houghton), and the Luton team will be in charge of the well-known local captain, Mr J.G. Hunt”.
The 11th April, Good Friday 1884 saw;
“West End (United) visit Excelsior. “The above match was played in splendid weather in the Dallow-lane, on Friday last, before a very large number of people, the ground having quite an animated appearance. The visitors, winning the toss, elected to start playing up hill, the Excelsior’s started the leather and immediately commenced pressing their opponents, and after a quarter of an hour’s play Mr Eling scored the first goal for Luton. Mr Houghton and his goal keeper showed some grand play in defence of their goal, but Mr Eling succeeded in heading the ball between the posts just before half-time, making the second goal for the Excelsior. Time was then called, and after about ten minutes rest the ball was again started, the visitors playing down hill and the Ex’s up. A strong attack was then made upon the Luton goal, but Messrs Hunt and Brown worthily defended their charge. The ball being passed to the front was very cleverly handled by Messrs C and E Lomax, who playing with Mr G. Deacon, completely baffled their opponents, Mr. E. Lomax sending the ball between the posts, but which was disallowed as off side. The ball being passed over to the right wing again, fell-into the hands of Mr Eling, who again headed the ball between the posts, the whole of the three goals being secured by the above gentleman. After this the visitors seemed to have the heart taken out of them, Mr Houghton trying hard to rally his men, who, however, failed to score. After an hour and forty minutes play the match between the two crack teams was brought to a conclusion with a victory for the Excelsior by three goals to nil, thus reversing the defeat of the previous Saturday”.
The game against the Skirmishers indicates that word had got around the London players of the hospitality of Luton Excelsior. And they were treated to a tour of Dallow Farm (below) as well. The farm was demolished in 1909.
Friendships were clearly forged as they were invited back on Good Friday for the second game. We see George Deacon and two of the Lomax brothers playing for Excelsior. This may have been another representative team but it is not described as such. We are also given Excelsior’s nickname, The “Ex’s”. This is the first nickname I have found even though it is just an unimaginative shortening of the full name.
There is also mention of “handling” in the second report but this must just be the terminology used by the person reporting on the game. If that person were a rugby man then it is understandable he would use that term. He clearly did not think of possible confusion it might cause 130 years later.
The season ended with Excelsior resurgent after their very average season before. Just two defeats and some excellent victories against some major teams in the region including London. They had really put their name on the football map in the region. Why then was it that Wanderers, who had an average season, entered the F.A. Cup? They had suffered some bad defeats, had not secured the services of the Lomax brothers and People’s Park was not suitable if they were drawn at home in the cup. It was a gamble but it turned out to be a masterstroke as they would draw one of the best teams in the country at home.
Below are four photos of People’s Park today. The first is what is known as Bell’s Close from the Kingston Road entrance. The second is of Bell’s Close from Havelock Road. In recent times three pitches could be fitted onto this area, two on the flat and one on the slope. The last two photos are of what we today call Pope’s Meadow taken from near the entrance to Havelock Road. Four pitches can be fitted onto this part of the park and all four had slopes.
Photo of the break was taken at Stockwood Discovery Centre courtesy of Luton Culture.
Thank you to the staff at Bute House for their help.