Luton Town Wales XI
Given the lull given by the international break, our resident Welshman, Steve Moore, has sat down to make up an all-Welsh Hatters XI.
An honourable mention must be given to Iorwerth ‘Iorrie’ Hughes who won four caps, as well as two ‘amateur caps’ which he wanted to win before signing professional forms (the past really was a different place!), whilst at Luton in the early 1950’s.
However, purely for his performance in the 1988 League Cup Final, it must be Andy Dibble. It’s not just the penalty save at 2-1 one down but anyone who has seen the preceding ten minutes of that game will know that he made several saves in open play that were frankly unreal. He may never have been first-choice and may only have played 31 times for the Hatters, but it is a no-brainer purely from that performance alone.
Both full-back roles were incredibly hard to pick from. This was largely down to a lack of options. We did have a couple of other post-war options that were ‘full-backs’ but they were much more what we would call modern day centre-halves.
This does at least let me pick someone who was one of my favourite players growing up in Ian Hillier. The former under-21 international joined on loan from Spurs in 2001 before spending four years at the Hatters in the Joe Kinnear era. He then went to Newport County, who were in the Conference South at the time as was their best player for several seasons. This was until he managed to break basically every bone in his leg after an accident in his day job as a tree surgeon, which saw him sacked by the Exiles (something he successfully sued them for).
On purely footballing ability, this would have to be Rhys Norrington-Davies. However, for the fact he was only on loan and the way he cut the loan short to ‘naff-off to Stoke instead’, both play against him in this line-up.
Therefore, it goes to Jake Howells. 320 club appearances having come through the youth-team (turning down prem clubs in the process) and a part of the team that finally got us out on non-league. Jake played for England C once before gaining his Welsh under-21 caps in the 2013 European qualifying campaign.
In comparison with the full-back positions, centre-back was considerably harder. Paul Price definitely gets in. Not only as a mainstay of the Hatters throughout the 1970’s, finishing with over 200 games before moving to Spurs, but also because he ended up captaining the national team (albeit getting the armband after he left Luton).
Mark Aizelwood could easily have ended up partnering him, but I have to go with Tom Lockyer. The former Charlton and Bristol Rovers man may have played less for both Luton and Cymru than Aizelwood and the former may have won the second-tier title with the Hatters but Locks is frankly playing at a level that puts him up there with the best defenders I have ever seen play for the club.
Given the quality and depth of the central midfield options, we’ll go with a midfield diamond straight out of a first-generation Nathan Jones team.
There is so much depth here that this is where my brother will be shocked that, given what he considers my ‘obsession’ with him when we signed him, Joe Morrell won’t be featuring.
Peter Nicholas played over a century of games for the Hatters between 1985-87, the tough-tackling man from Maesglas in Newport is the second Welsh captain to be in this side. Nicholas could well have been a part of the League Cup winning side if it wasn’t for the fact that the lure of European football saw him head north to a post-Ferguson Aberdeen where, ironically, he missed the decisive penalty in the shootout in the final of that seasons Scottish League Cup.
Ahead of him are two left-footed midfielders who came through the youth system in the early 1990’s at a time where it seemed the entirety of the youth team were from South Wales and were born within three months of each other.
Mark Pembridge was unquestionably the best of them and is a shoo-in for this XI. Anyone that fetched a seven-figure sum in 1992 was a significant talent and the fact he did so after the Hatters relegation from the top-flight, shows just how good the 21-year-old already was. Whilst he was probably played more out wide during his Luton career, he was unquestionably better in the middle during his career that spanned 5 clubs in England’s top-flight and a season with Benfica too.
I could have played Pembo out on the left and had a regulation 4-4-2 by picking either Jason Rees or one of the Nogan brothers out on the right, but it was hardly either of the Nogans’ best position and I was desperate to get Ceri Hughes into the side.
Ceri was easily good enough with both feet to play on the right of the diamond, even though a key part of the reason he is in this side is just how good his left foot was.
Good enough to make his debut a season before Pembridge, despite being the younger of the two, he managed to score 17 goals in 175 games for the Hatters before heading to the Premiership with Wimbledon in 1997. However, the injury problems that undoubtedly keep him at Kenilworth Road for so long also completely derailed his post Luton career, meaning he retired at the age on 31 with just 8 Wales caps.
David ‘Dai’ Edwards will play behind the front two in a much more attacking role than he was pretty much ever allowed with the national team. Despite only spending six months with the Hatters in the ill-fated ‘Blackwell’ season of 2006-2007, his breaking runs from midfield (for younger hatters’ reminiscent of Northern Ireland’s newest debutant, Cameron McGeehan) netted him four goals in that time as well as earning him his full Wales debut. Undoubtedly his best performance for Luton came in the 1-1 draw in the FA Cup against Liverpool that forced a replay that may well have financially saved the club.
John Hartson is quite probably the best Welsh player we have ever had at Kenilworth Road, despite never actually being capped until the first international break after he had left the club. Some might wonder whether Mike Smith saw articles about him becoming ‘Britain’s most expensive teenager’ in his move to Arsenal and realising he should probably call him up!
Admittedly, given the presence of Mark Hughes, Ian Rush and Dean Saunders, it was probably a more understandable decision than the one David Pleat made to start Chelsea legend Kerry Dixon ahead of Hartson in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea the previous season!!
Given he only appeared for Luton in a season where we finished bottom on the second tier, you wouldn’t expect Ron Davies to make this side. But Davies, who went on to score nine goals for Wales and head the top-flight scorers’ charts twice with Southampton, managed to score 21 goals for the Hatters (Which is only 7 less than the amount of points we got in that relegation campaign)!
That goals to game ratio (he only started 29 games that season) is quite possibly one of the best in the history of the club, which is incredible for such a struggling club as a 20-year-old. It is understandable that he went on to be considered, not just one of the best aerial presences in the game but someone that Matt Busby once described as ‘the finest centre-forward in Europe’.