Milwall make the short trip to Kenilworth Road for tomorrow’s 5th Round FA Cup clash with Luton Town, an occasion that forces some to recall the 1985 6th round tie between the two clubs that led to violent scenes on the pitch, in the stands and on the streets that help to earn the hosts an eventual expulsion from the Football League. As the Guardian’s Sean Ingle puts it, “a fatality was the only thing missing from the roll call of ultraviolence” (“Luton’s stadium was stripped, houses and cars smashed, and the image of the national game – already bruised by a battery of hooligan incidents – given another going over.”)
Brian Swain, who reported on more than 2,000 matches for the Luton News across four decades, says that no part of the ground was safe. “The violence spilled everywhere,” he says. “The police were trying to clear the main stand – getting us innocents to safety – and they asked us to leave the press box. But I was sat there with a bloody good story on my hands so I stayed on.”
At half-time, with Luton 1-0 up after a 31st-minute goal from Brian Stein (the eventual score), Pleat spoke to the referee. “He said: ‘Look, don’t worry, I’ll make sure we’ll finish it’ – and he was magnificent,” says Pleat. “Somehow he finished that game. By the end policemen who had survived the earlier fighting were standing on the touchline, so when a ball went out it literally bounced off them and came back into play. The whole evening was nasty, vicious and surreal.”
At the final whistle, the players raced to the tunnel, but the fans weren’t far behind. And so began the worst violence of the night, with seats being thrown like spears and police fleeing before counter-attacking. Astonishingly, only 47 people went to hospital with injuries, while there were just 31 arrests, a figure that included several Chelsea and West Ham fans.
As the Times reported two days later: “One miscreant was seen by his parents, stunned as they watched television, throwing a seat at the police after the game had ended. Usually he goes to Chelsea. When he returned home, he found that his bedding had been thrown outside and was told that ‘if he behaved like an animal, he might as well sleep like one’.”