Welcome, one and all, to Wembley for the 78th FA Cup Final, the 31st at the Empire Stadium.
If the press are to be believed, this match-up has created about as much excitement among the general public as a return to rationing. Sure, you won’t be seeing Chelsea star Jimmy Greaves standing on the halfway line, scuffing his boots, waiting to be set free on goal. There will be no Finney or Matthews. There will be a Clough, though not the free-scoring Middlesbrough forward Brian. But we don’t need all that nonsense to saviour the prospect of Nottingham Forest versus Luton Town. Hell no, this is the FA Cup Final. It’s not like you get to see live football on the television every day of the year, so let’s make the most of it.
Forest line up in Garibaldi-red shirts and white shorts and socks. Luton are in white shirts, black shorts and white socks. This is Forest’s second FA Cup Final, having beaten rivals Derby County way back in 1898 at Crystal Palace. Luton are making their debut at English football’s big day. Both sides finished in the bottom half of Division One this season, hence the doom-mongers telling us to expect a poor spectacle.
Controversy has surrounded Luton’s preparations. Instead of taking the team to a fancy hotel ahead of the big match, the players travelled down by coach from Bedfordshire this morning, as per usual. Forest, by comparison, stayed in Hendon this week and even had a stroll on the Wembley pitch — and climbed the steps to the Royal Box — prior to Final day. To further relax his players, Forest manager Billy Walker took them to Lord’s. How’s that for preparation?
Luton’s all-time record goalscorer Gordon Turner — 14 league goals this season and 172 in 262 leagues and cup games — has not featured in The Hatters’ Cup run. In fact, only 11 players have been used in their nine matches to this point. Forest, too, have used in their Cup run only the 11 who start today. Never change a winning team, they say. But will leaving out Turner — as well as clever winger Jim Adam — prove a costly mistake by the Luton selectors?
Yes, you heard correctly — selectors. Dally Duncan, after ten years at Kenilworth Road, left for Blackburn in October and since then three directors, with help from captain Syd Owen and trainer Frank King, have been choosing the team. One of the directors, Tom Hodgson, a former club captain and now a pub landlord, will lead the team out today. They are up against Walker, Forest manager since 1939, and winner of two previous finals, one as a player with Aston Villa in 1920 and then again as manager of Sheffield Wednesday 15 years later.
The line-ups are in and are as follows:
Nott’m Forest: Thomson — Whare, McDonald —Whitefoot, McKinlay, Burkitt (c) — Dwight, Quigley, Wilson, Gray, Imlach.
Luton Town: Baynham — McNally, Hawkes — Groves, Owen (c), Pacey — Bingham, Brown, Morton, Cummins, Gregory.
So, we’re nearing the start of the action here and Luton will kick off. Jack Clough, the referee from Bolton, is taking charge of his final competitive match. Little fact: he’s the only man to have taken charge of both the French and English Cup finals, having reffed the 1957 final between Toulouse and Angers. He’ll be assisted by Mr Readle from Manchester and Major Dennis of the Army, which will please Field Marshall Montgomery, who is in the crowd today.
1 min: And we’re off… Luton lose the ball almost immediately from kick-off. Irishman George Cummins rolls it back slightly short to Dave Pacey who’s beaten by Stewart Imlach. Luton captain Owen recovers and hoofs clear. Not a solid start. It continues, as a terribly misplaced pass from Cummins is picked up by Imlach, who is then dispossessed by right-winger Billy Bingham tracking back. It’s nervy from Luton while Forest, 20/1 to win the Cup at the start of the competition, are getting on top of them.
2 mins: No messing from Forest as they continue to harry and harangue. Roy Dwight crosses from the right wing, but Luton keeper Ron Baynham comfortably collects. That’s a warning sign for The Hatters, mind. Ken Hawkes, the left back, was done too easily by Dwight, who will be looking to drift in from the wing and switch with centre forward Tommy Wilson, scorer of 21 goals in Division One this season. Forest seem so much happier passing it around. Luton are choosing to hit it long.
6 mins: Forest manager Walker has got his side well up for this. Dwight again threatens, picking up the ball on the right after a failed Luton attack and quickly playing it forward to Johnny Quigley. Forest’s creative inside-right evades a challenge by Cummins and sends in a cross. Dwight, after starting the move, arrives at the edge of the penalty area at just the right moment. Unmarked, he meets the ball with his head but it sails two yards wide of Baynham’s left-hand post. A let-off for Luton, who seem far from comfortable. Missing their leading star Turner possibly?
8 mins: John Groves is dispossessed by former Busby Babe Jeff Whitefoot just inside the Forest half. Whitefoot makes up for two earlier misplaced passes by playing a simple ball forward to Billy Gray, who had an injection in his injured foot before kick-off. He plays a lovely slide-rule pass through three Luton defenders to Wilson. But the centre forward fails to get off a clean shot or cross and his deflected strike is again gratefully gathered up by Baynham, who’s been much the busier of the two keepers. Chic Thompson, a Division One champion with Chelsea four years ago, at the other end has barely seen the ball, let alone felt threatened.
9 mins: GOAL FOR NOTTINGHAM FOREST (Dwight) Forest 1-0 Luton: It had been coming and the Forest supporters have been treated to a beauty from Dwight. The influential Whitefoot lifts forward a first-time ball that’s headed into the path of Imlach by Gray. The skillful Scotsman deftly turns inside Brendan McNally who tugs at Imlach’s shirt but can do little else to stop him reaching the byline from where he drills the ball back towards the penalty spot. It’s met by Dwight whose left-footed first-time shot thunders into the top-left corner. Baynham can do nothing about it.
11 mins: Imlach, a constant source of trouble for the Luton back three, strides forward at pace down the centre and plays the ball out to Wilson. The Forest front three have happily switched positions to great effect. Wilson’s pass back to the on-running Imlach is eventually cleared by Luton after initial confusion between Baynham and his defence. Forest look more likely to increase their advantage than Luton look like drawing level. The boys from Bedfordshire just can’t hold onto the ball as Forest close them down the moment they receive it. Forest, by comparison, look comfortable and inventive, Dwight and Imlach dangerous.
14 mins: GOAL FOR NOTTINGHAM FOREST (Wilson) Forest 2-0 Luton: It could be a rout at this rate. As with the first goal, it’s well deserved and far from unexpected. Wilson rises above the Luton defence to head home beyond Baynham. Imlach picks up the ball just inside the Luton half and plays it to Gray. The inside-left swerves right then left, completely flummoxing Groves, who is left trailing. Gray’s left-footed cross from the corner of the penalty area reaches the back post where Wilson, who has drifted in between two Luton defenders, sends the ball into the top-left corner. Forest look as good as winners with just 15 minutes of the 1959 FA Cup Final gone. A penny for the thoughts of Gordon Turner right now.
16 mins: Luton show a little more adventure with Bingham turning inside and rifling a shot that’s blocked. The Northern Ireland winger has scored in every round so far. Again Forest come back. Dwight wins a challenge in midfield and strokes the ball right to Quigley, who quickly crosses into Gray on the edge of the area, but his volley sails over the bar. Another warning, though. It seems unbelievable that Luton beat Forest 5-1 at Kenilworth Road just last month. Only four places and three points separated the two clubs in the final Division One table, but Forest are dominant today.
19 mins: Thompson is forced into a save, of sorts, from a Cummins centre. The Luton inside-left crosses in and Thompson claims the ball relatively easily. Bob Morton, the versatile and popular Luton centre forward, gives him a polite shoulder barge, as if to remind the Forest keeper that Luton do have, despite evidence to the contrary, a forward line. They’ll have to do more than that if they are to get back into this match.
22 mins: Luton sense a chance to strike as Joe McDonald is forced off temporarily with an injury. He was smacked square in the face by a clearance from Imlach. The Scottish left-back is clearly made of stern stuff and tries to walk it off — but he receives what commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme believes to be a bloody nose. Luton, a man up, attack through Groves who plays in Allan Brown, now finding space formerly filled by McDonald. He turns on the edge of the area, but his pass inside to Cummins is short. Forest can clear only as far as Groves who plays in Cummins, but the Irishman is flagged offside. Nevertheless, this is more promising from Luton. Brown, at inside-right today having played at centre forward this season, is Luton’s top scorer with 25 goals in all competitions.
23 mins: A first moment of worry and hesitation from Thompson. The Forest goalkeeper comes for a corner one-handed, but misjudges the flight and the ball drops invitingly. No Luton player is quick enough to react, however, and the error goes unpunished. Luton need to be taking chances like that.
23 mins: From that Luton corner, Forest break up the other end. Dwight receives the ball on the right, just inside his team’s half. He plays it straight through to an onrushing Gray just inside the touchline. His deflected cross from the right catches the Luton defence unawares. Baynham must be a relieved man to see it just miss his back post. The obvious problem for a team chasing a game, as Luton now must do, is that they can easily leave themselves open at the back.
26 mins: Whitefoot to Dwight, forward to Quigley, back to Dwight. The winger, now cutting inside, fires in a shot that Baynham gets down well to smother.
30 mins: Luton have several times been caught by Forest’s offside trap. It’s a risky game to play, especially with a player such as Bingham on the flank for Luton. But so far, it has held up. Bingham is being closed down the moment he receives the ball. The difference between the movement of Forest’s front three and Luton’s is stark. The changing of positions between Wilson and Dwight in particular has caused Luton problems. Coupled with Imlach’s pace, Forest look the most potent force and more likely to score next.
32 mins: Bingham, again with two men on him, is shoulder barged and then fouled by Jack Burkitt, the Forest captain, just on the edge of the Forest area. But he cannot pick out an unmarked Luton player with the resulting free-kick and Thompson happily gathers.
33 mins: Dwight picks up an injury while challenging for a long ball with McNally. He tries to limp on for a few seconds but then goes down, clutching his right shin. Both Dwight and McNally receive treatment from their respective trainers. Dwight has been an essential part of Forest’s game plan so far, but it looks like he may struggle to continue, — he’ll be a great loss to this final. The Forest trainer, Tom Graham, wiggles around Dwight’s ankle and foot quite vigourously — the winger is obviously in agony. McNally, meanwhile, gets to his feet. Trainer Graham leaves the field, but Dwight again collapses and raises an arm to signal he cannot continue. He holds his head in his hands and his FA Cup Final appears to be over. Forest will be forced to defend their two-goal lead for an hour with ten men. The Wembley Hoodoo has struck again. Four times in the past seven years the losing Cup Final side has been hampered by an injured player. With no substitutions allowed in competitive matches, Forest must continue with ten men. Both sets of players surround Dwight as the referee, Jack Clough, signals for the stretcher. Owen, the Luton captain, who was named Football Writers’ Player of the Year this week, comforts his opponent. Burkitt can be seen discussing with his players how best to continue. It will be interesting to see how Forest cope. McNally runs across to shake Dwight’s hand as he’s taken off on a stretcher.
34 mins: Luton almost take advantage of being a man up. Gregory switches the ball to Morton who plays it across the area to Brown on the edge of the six-yard box. But Bobby McKinley, who has dominated Morton and let nothing by him this half, gets to the ball first and deflects it over. Bingham’s corner from the right comes to nothing.
40 mins: This is exactly what Forest must do if they are to hold on with ten men. As Bingham receives the ball halfway inside the Forest half, Imlach races back at full speed to tackle the Luton right winger. The challenge results in a corner, but the hunger shown by Imlach, and Forest as a whole, is impressive. Will they be able to keep this up in the second half? Bingham’s corner is cleared without incident.
42 mins: In contrast to Imlach’s tracking back and Forest’s determination, Brown misplaces a pass in his own half for Luton and Bingham commits a foul in an attempt to win the ball back. Forest are first to everything and their passing is slicker. Even against ten men, Luton cannot gain a hold of the midfield.
43 mins: Imlach, who must be the fittest and fastest player on this pitch by a mile, again uses his boundless energy and pace to round his full-back, McNally, and send in a cross that’s brilliantly taken at the second attempt by Baynham.
44 mins: Under no pressure at all, Owen, so usually reliable for Luton, misplaces a pass to Baynham and gives away a corner, Forest’s first of the match. It encapsulates the disappointing first-half performance from Luton, who’ve been second-best all over the pitch.
45 mins: Commentator Wolsthenhome predicts a public outcry before it materialises after the caption “Notts Forest 2-0 Luton Town” comes up on screen. “I apologise now, that’ll save anybody writing.”
HALF-TIME: Nottingham Forest 2-0 Luton Town.
Forest thoroughly deserve the two-goal lead. Their superior passing was obvious in the first half-hour before Dwight was forced off. Luton have failed to take advantage of the extra man since the outside-right was carried off on a stretcher.
Elsewhere, Morton has struggled in the air against McKinlay. When Luton play to the centre-forward’s feet, he has managed to bring into play the two wingers, Gregory and Bingham. Yet more often than not the aerial route was chosen and McKinley dominated.
The inclusion of Turner at inside-right and Brown as centre-forward could have made a real difference to this final. In Division One, the versatile Morton has been accustomed to playing at right-half, with Groves stepping aside. Similarly, Adam is often preferred on the left to Gregory. But such was the Luton selectors’ determination to stick with the same eleven that got the club to Wembley, we will never know the effect they could have had on this Final.
In midfield, Whitefoot has shone for Forest, being at the heart of the majority of their attacks. The movement and switching of positions between the Forest front five has really confused Luton. Wilson, in particular, has dropped deep and moved to the left and right.
With Forest down to ten men, no one should write off Luton, but The Hatters will need to vastly improve in the second half. Keeping the ball for longer and making Forest work harder for it would be a start. Switching their forwards could also prove fruitful and possibly free up Bingham, who hasn’t managed yet to impose his obvious talent. Luton still have 45 minutes to rescue this final, so all is not lost.
46 mins: Forest restart the match, hoping to hold on for 45 minutes to a well-earned 2-0 lead. Groves trips Imlach on the edge of the Luton area, resulting in a free-kick. News filters through that Dwight has fractured his right tibia. Very sad for the player, Forest and the spectators as he lit up the first half an hour of this final.
51 mins: Luton are now seeing more of the ball, as you’d expect — but they often choose to hit long, rather than building possession. It’s scratchy in the middle at times. Forest still look the happier passing it around.
52 mins: A ball through the middle from McNally finds Brown unmarked on the edge of Forest’s area. He collects it with his right, turns and shoots with the same foot, but it’s straight at Thompson. That was a real chance for Brown. Unmarked and from that distance, the 32-year-old forward would have wanted to do better.
53 mins: Imlach beats his man yet again down the left and crosses low to Wilson who cannot control the ball and Baynham collects.
56 mins: Brown makes it into Forest’s six-yard box but cannot find enough space to shoot as Forest continue to defend resolutely. The chance came from Luton’s best passing move so far. Bingham, seeing more of the ball since the break, backheeled to Groves, in the middle of Luton’s half, and he took a touch before rolling the ball out to McNally. The full-back’s first-time ball to Morton was immediately laid off to Bingham. The flying winger in turn played a through-ball to Brown. A defensive slip allowed Brown to collect and dribble into Thompson’s six-yard area, but his pull-back was cleared. Promising from Luton. More of that slick passing and we could have a close final on our hands here.
57 mins: Forest fans sing the theme to Robin Hood, such is their confidence. But there are a few tiring legs out there, understandably. Even Imlach plays a long ball, rather than taking on his man. When Imlach decides to play it long, you can imagine how his team-mates must be tiring as a few more passes go astray. Forest sit back, inviting Luton to push on.
58 mins: Drama as Bill Whare goes down injured and Gregory plays on, sprinting straight past him with the ball. He plays it across to Pacey but the half-back’s shot is blocked. Luton wait to take the resulting corner as Whare receives treatment. He hobbles back into the penalty area to head the corner behind. From the second corner, Bingham heads wide. With Forest down to ten and Whare hobbling, Luton must take advantage. Suddenly they seem more eager, first to the ball and running at their men.
62 mins: Gregory is lucky to get past Whare as the ball deflects off the defender’s shins. The Luton winger makes the most of the good fortune, however, reaching the byline and cutting the ball back. McKinley almost puts the ball in his own net, but it falls behind for a corner.
62 mins: GOAL FOR LUTON TOWN (Pacey) Forest 2-1 Luton: A tired-looking Forest fail to spot Hawkes collecting a short-corner. His drilled cross from the left evades all Forest defenders as legs and arms go flailing. Pacey calmly buries the ball, left-footed, past Thompson. Having improved in the past ten minutes, Luton are well in it now. Can Forest hold on?
64 mins: Luton come agonisingly close to an equaliser, but Morton is denied by Thompson, who bravely dived at the centre forward’s feet. Groves played the ball long to Brown who took advantage of a defensive slip to turn sharply and slip in Morton. Thompson, however, was alert and blocked. Even then the danger was not clear as Pacey pounced on slack defending, but fired wide. Forest are on the ropes. The neat changing of positions between forwards has gone, the danger of Imlach has receded and they look tired. Luton can smell Garibaldi-red blood.
68 mins: Where once there was no space for Luton, such was Forest’s pressing, there is now acres of the stuff. Morton’s allowed to turn 30 yards out, Gregory and Cummins are running at will. Brown loops a header over after a corner from Bingham. Hawkes again goes short, but this time Forest are wise to it.
71 mins: Morton finds space in the Forest area and passes before the goal opens up for Gregory. The outside-left’s shot, however, is wild and wide. A terrible effort. Luton have had chances, but few so clear-cut. Morton, Cummins and Bingham are really pushing for this, interchanging positions as Forest did so effectively in the first half — but Forest are holding strong.
76 mins: Quigley gets inside Hawkes and has time and space to shoot. It would seal the game for Forest, but he drags his shot wide. It could easily have been knocked in by Owen for a own goal. Moments later, Gray pulls up with cramp.
78 mins: Bingham, out on the right, accidentally steps on the ball as he heads for the touchline. He manages to not look foolish though, and wins it back — great determination. His cross almost finds Brown, unmarked. But Thompson bravely plucks it out of the air. Twelve minutes left. Can Forest hold it together?
79 mins: A burst of pace from Imlach, as if to prove he’s not yet done with this final. He beats two before slicing wide. Although a tired-looking strike, it buys a few precious seconds for Forest, as does McDonald going down injured.
81 mins: The goalscorer Pacey moves to centre forward and Morton drops in at wing-half, a position he’s more than comfortable to play and has done this season. It’s the third change of centre forward, after Bingham was tried there.
82 mins: Cummins to Morton, through to Brown who appears to break the offside trap. He’s clear to shoot… but, alas, the flag is up. Gregory suffers a similar fate moments later. Forest’s back line has held fantastically well today.
85 mins: Gray, a passenger on the left, can barely jog let alone run with the ball. McNally’s got cramp*, too, now. They’re dropping like flies out there, as they always seem to at Wembley.
87 mins: And it’s Brown free for Luton… but he misses! A huge chance. Cummins plays in Bingham down the line. His cross is met by Brown, timing his run to perfection, and diving to meet the ball with his head. But he sends it wide. There’s still time for Luton, but they’ve missed a good few chances now. And McNally has had to go off, so both sides are down to ten.
90 mins: Everyone up for a Luton corner, but it’s a massive anti-climax. Forest are hoofing clear at every opportunity. And who can blame them? Dying seconds now.
91 mins: There are whistles from the crowd as Groves runs down the wing. He tries to play in Bingham — but the pass is too long. Time must be up now, surely?
92 mins: Owen leaps onto the greyhound track to collect the ball for a throw-in. Nothing’s falling for Luton. Everyone’s up front, but it won’t help. A Cummins shot from 30 yards is blocked and we’re into the 93rd minute.
93 mins: Last, last, last chance here for Luton as Bingham crosses from the right to the unmarked Gregory. He meets it at the back post — and puts it wide. Game must be up for Luton now.
FULL-TIME: FOREST WIN THE FA CUP
Well, it may have been billed beforehand as the worst ever Wembley final, but it was far from it. Forest end the Wembley Hoodoo, winning after losing a man to injury, and collect their second FA Cup. Luton will wonder how they failed to take advantage of the extra man for an hour. Their fans will wonder what could have been if only Turner and Adam had been selected. The Hatters had chances, but lacked composure. For the opening half hour alone, and the skill and pace of Imlach, Forest deserve this. Luton never showed the fluency of their opponents.
The victorious players go up to receive their medals from the Queen and they’re followed by the losers who receive their runners-up medals. The crowd and teams then stand in unison to sing God Save The Queen. The Forest players then go on a lap of the pitch to celebrate, the first team to do so after a Wembley final. The adulation they receive is fully deserved.
*Later diagnosed as torn cartilage.
Luton 1 – 2 Forest
Shots on target 6 – 5
Shots off target 8 – 6
Corners 10 – 1
Fouls 9 – 16
Thanks: Biggest thanks must go to Mick whose memory of the match and period is immense. His provision of newspaper cuttings, pictures, stats and opinion was priceless. Kevin, Mark and Dave were also of great help. Thank you.
Sources: The Definitive Luton Town FC (Steve Bailey, Brian Ellis, Alan Shury); Soccer Data Publication (Tony Brown); Luton Town Football Club. A Full Record 1885-2010 (Roger Wash & Simon Pitts); And The Ref Was Called Clough (David McVay).