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Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Sunday, 28 November 2010

Happy days for Hatters - and Dons

Nick Owen
Nick Owen took over as Luton Town chairman in 2008

Luton Town chairman Nick Owen could be forgiven for recalling 'the good old days' when the Hatters line up for this week's league clash with AFC Wimbledon.

Tuesday's match at Kingsmeadow is a meeting between first and third in the Blue Square Bet Premier.

But Owen will not be the only one to recall the day when the Hatters played the old Dons in an FA Cup semi-final.

Bobby Gould's Dons side won 2-1 that day in 1988 at White Hart Lane on their way to winning the FA Cup.

But Owen is quick to point out that, although Luton lost and missed out on Wembley, it was still happy days for the Hatters, sandwiched in the middle of two trips to the Twin Towers in little over a month - in both the Simod Cup and the League Cup.

Having lost 4-1 in the Simod Cup final to Reading at Wembley a fortnight earlier, Ray Harford's side then suffered the frustration of taking the lead at White Hart Lane, only to lose to a John Fashanu penalty and a matchwinner from Dennis Wise.

March 27 Simod Cup Final (Wembley) Luton 1 Reading 4
April 9 FA Cup Semi-Final (White Hart Lane) Luton 1-2 Wimbledon
April 24 League Cup Final (Wembley) Luton 3-2 Arsenal

"It was a disappointing day," said Owen. "I can see Mick Harford's goal for us clearly in my head even now. But it was still a brilliant time to be a Luton Town fan.

"In the space of just a few short weeks, we got to Wembley twice and lost in an FA Cup semi-final."

The second of those Wembley visits came three weeks later, in the League Cup, when strikes from Danny Wilson and two-goal Brian Stein helped them enjoy their greatest day - with a shock 3-2 win over Arsenal.

And a mere three weeks later, Wimbledon enjoyed their own greatest day when they famously went on to beat Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup final.

That all seems a far cry from where both clubs are now, merely battling to win back their place in the Football League.

Luton, effectively relegated once they had been saddled with a 30-point penalty for financial irregularities, are in their second season down at Conference level.

Vinny Jones
Vinny Jones celebrates the goal that took Wimbledon to Wembley in 1988

And, although this is also AFC Wimbledon's second season at this level, four promotions in seven years saw them achieve that level after the old Wimbledon packed up and headed for their new life in Milton Keynes in 2004.

"We have a strong sense of empathy with Wimbledon after what they've been through," admits Owen.

"They really did go all the way back to playing on park pitches and what they've achieved has been incredible.

"There's no two ways about it, if we did not go up this season, then I hope they do.

"In fact, it would be nice if we both did."

Owen also admits that it might easily have been his own club, and not Wimbledon, that could have become the foundation stone for league football in Milton Keynes.

"It was back in the days when David Evans was in charge in the late 1980s when there was talk of the club moving to Milton Keynes," remembers Owen. "And, as I recall, it went a long way down the road.

"But the fans went spare and thankfully it didn't happen."

Luton are concentrating for now simply on winning back their league status under Richard Money.

Luton and Dons players take the field for last season's opening-day clash

After a frustrating end to last season, when they left their stunning Spring run too late to catch Blue Square Premier champions Stevenage, they rallied well to beat AFC Wimbledon 3-0 at Kenilworth Road in late September.

And the Hatters have won five out of their last six matches, hit nine goals in their last two and are now just two points adrift of the table-topping Dons, knowing that victory on Tuesday night could take them top.

"It's a lot more Richard Money's team now," admits Owen.

"You only have to talk to players, who he has worked with in the past, from a long way up in the game, who say Richard is the best coach they've ever worked with.

"And we're playing some lovely stuff, back to the standard we were producing back in the Spring when we had that late season run of 35 goals in eight games."

Admittedly Luton, thanks largely to their fantastic support (their average gate of almost 7,000 last season was better than 38 league clubs), have more money than most.

But it is the way Money has spent it which still makes them the team to watch in the Blue Square Bet Premier - and the shortest odds to give the Dons a run for their money.

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see also
Luton 3-0 AFC Wimbledon
17 Sep 10 |  Non League
Luton 1-2 AFC Wimbledon
20 Feb 10 |  Non League
AFC Wimbledon 1-1 Luton
08 Aug 09 |  Non League
From Crazy Gang to Culture Club
26 Apr 09 |  Non League
Owen hurt by Luton's relegation
14 Apr 09 |  Luton
Why the Hatters aren't too happy
05 Jun 08 |  Luton

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