MAINE ROAD MAYHEM!
A punch-up in the tunnel, violence on the pitch and a whirling dervish manager skipping across the turf after sending City down…no wonder their fans have never forgiven Luton
By JACK GAUGHAN and JOE BERNSTEIN
COINCIDENCE or not, Brian Horton suggests meeting at The Kenilworth, his local in an area just south of Manchester that has been home for 30 years. The landlord comes over for a chat, punters make a point of saying hello.
After nearly two years as the devil-may-care Manchester City manager appointed in 1993, he is fondly thought of around here. He does the supporter branch meets across the north, regaling tales of how Franny Lee attempted to sign Luis Figo. He is often at the Etihad watching from the chairman’s lounge.
But he also happens to have been the opposition captain on one of City’s darkest days, when Horton’s Luton Town sent City down in a relegation shootout on the final day of the 1982-83 season. That day, Hatters boss David Pleat galloped across the Maine Road pitch. Down in legend at Luton’s Kenilworth Road, down in infamy where Horton calls home.
‘Dennis Tueart has probably already told you — and told everybody else,’ Horton says as pint glass hits wood. ‘There was a punch-up in the tunnel. He says he hit me and nothing happened. Hang on, you think you’re hitting me and I’m not f ****** hitting you back?’
Tueart is in Hale, 10 miles west. ‘I think I started it,’ he twinkles. ‘Honestly, the way I was feeling, it could’ve been anyone. Brian was a very vocal player, which was fine. When you go up Maine Road, you head to a door at the top and we all just…’ Tueart claps his hands together, one woman having her lunch in the Italian restaurant glancing over.
‘He went to shake my hand. We’re all a bit touchy-feely, you know what I mean? It might’ve been a dozen of us. A scuffle, a medium-sized brawl!’
After that, City sat in silence inside their dressing room for an hour. They had needed a point to secure safety. The mercurial Raddy Antic’s 86th-minute winner consigned them to the Second Division for the first time in 17 years and, in many ways, sparked the car crash two decades that would follow.
There is one enduring image. Pleat: slip-on tan loafers, beige suit. Skipping towards Horton at full time, unsure what to do with himself. ‘I ran on like a whirling dervish as everyone knows,’ Pleat says.
The shoes sold for £4,000 at an auction for Luton’s development scheme, the suit donated to a charity shop. ‘I just wish Sheik Mansour had bought them,’ says City’s goalkeeper that day, Alex
Williams. ‘We could then have had a bonfire or buried them in the club’s memorial garden.’
It still hurts 40 years on as City head to Luton today. And there is a vintage breed of City supporter who keenly watch for Luton’s result every week. A few of them post ‘How did Luton get on?’ on social media when the Hatters lose. A quirky rivalry still burning ever so slightly. ‘It’s not a joke — 1983 will scar me for ever,’ fan Murdoch
Dalziel spits. Luton’s implementation of ID cards by chairman and Tory MP David Evans at the height of hooliganism and the club’s banning of away fans contributes to the dislike.
‘The ID cards was a biggie but that doesn’t stick in your memory like 1983,’ Dalziel adds.
‘I was 11, stood there having my heart ripped through my body. My brother took me but didn’t want to go. He’d been preparing for relegation for months. The violence on that pitch was horrendous. Pleat comes on and dances, loads of lads off the Kippax and Platt Lane just run up and try to have it with the Luton players.
‘Then there was the demonstration outside against the owner, Peter Swales, which was less than pleasant. We seemed to be demonstrating for the next 10 years.’
Ricky Hill, Paul Elliott and Trevor
Aylott were the three Luton players in the firing line before mounted police eventually cleared the pitch. Then the punches started swinging in the tunnel as Pleat went for a drink with City manager John Benson, club legend Tony Book and comedian Eddie Large.
‘He told us to head for the players’ lounge,’ says Horton. ‘You think we’re going there after we’ve just a had a f ****** punch-up? Obviously we didn’t. City had expected to beat us. They had some top players, just look at Tueart. The whole country probably expected them to win but we had a good team.’
Tueart apportions some blame on himself for missed chances. ‘Absolutely we did [think we’d win]. There is no question,’ he says.
‘The crowd was 42,000. It was packed. It ended my City career. Budgets were cut and I was the first to go.
‘We shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place,’ he adds. ‘There was a catalogue of bad decisions that got us there.
‘The manager John Bond left in February. Benson took over. For
me, Benson was a good assistant but never a manager.
‘He was probably a nervous fella. You can never blame any failure on one game. You’ve had 41 games before that.’
LUTON then are Luton now. A fairy-tale rise to the top division from the lower reaches of the pyramid. They had a young team, willed on by the country. But the week building up to this trip to destiny could not have gone much worse. The penultimate Saturday of the season saw all four relegation rivals — City, Sunderland, Birmingham City and Coventry City — win. Luton plunged from 16th into the bottom three after a 5-1 home defeat by Everton.
They lost their game in hand at United 3-0 and a testimonial at Watford 4-1. They had shipped 12 goals in less than a week.
Pleat, who according to Horton ‘never went mad’, decided to take his squad to a health farm in Henlow for relaxation before City. Then they stayed at the Tillington Hotel in Stafford the night before the game rather than around Manchester.
‘It was panic time,’ Horton says. ‘The lads were sh ****** themselves. I asked if the boys could have a drink. The gaffer said only halves. No pints. Imagine that now on social media — a drink on a Friday night! Raddy said abroad they always had a glass of wine before a game away from home.’
Pleat, who lost his father-in-law on the eve of the showdown, wanted his team swept along from Stafford to Manchester by the fans. ‘I felt the players might be inspired by seeing thousands of Luton supporters heading up the motorway, seeing how much it all
meant,’ he says. For some reason, I remember the Spandau Ballet song True blasting out on the coach and seeing this exodus from Luton with Hatters flags and scarves hanging out of the car windows.’
After performing ‘an amazing act of escapology’ — the words of John Motson on Match of the Day — the start of the journey back to the Tillington was a little different. ‘Swales was very emotional after the game, saying City wouldn’t recover,’ says Pleat.
‘We were told of the demonstration against him outside and that we should get on the bus as quickly as possible.
‘We had some beers put on and six members of the Manchester constabulary to look after us. Occasionally, they would get off to arrest people they saw throwing things.
‘The bus travelled at a snail’s pace. Someone got knocked over and our physio had to get out and tend to them. It was intimidating. The fans were going crazy, they shook the bus and shouted things, but no windows were broken. We took the police back to their vans — along the way they had a couple of bottles of beer. Most of them were United supporters.’
Pleat will not be there today, having to be at Tottenham — where he has been a scout for 13 years — but will be watching. The sight of the ball dropping to Antic on the edge of City’s box — via a punch from Williams that some blame him for — might well flash by too.
Benson was soon sacked. ‘I’m glad it’s all over,’ he said afterwards. ‘It’s been hard graft. We have not been able to do our jobs properly. We had to con players who have conned us for nine months.
‘I’m not going to live through that every week, no way.’
Pleat and Horton would, one thousand times over.
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