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On This Day In History - 22nd April - A Tense Promotion Trip
Wednesday, 22nd Apr 2020 13:33

We go back to 1978 and a trip up to Luton Town as Saints battled for promotion back to the First Division after a 4 year absence, were you one of the 10,000 who made the trip ?

There were only three games left in the 1977/78 season as we made the shortish trip up to Luton Town, it couldn't be tighter at the top, there were now only four clubs in the race for the three promotion places all had played 39 games and Bolton lead on 55 points, then came Spurs and ourselves on 53 and on 51 Brighton.

On paper the day could either end with us top of the league or in 4th place and with Spurs at home to mid table Sunderland, Brighton away to Oldham and Bolton to relegation threatened Cardiff there could be any permutation by 5pm.

So up went the red & white army in one massive traffic jam on the Winchester bypass heading into Hockley lights and then a slow crawl to meet the M3 at Basingstoke and then through Slough etc to join up with the M1 with no M25 back in those days.

I had decided to hitch hike as I couldn't get on any of the coaches that had been booked to go up and I couldn't afford the train, I got a life easy enough from other Saints supporters and we were up in Luton before mid day.

The strange thing was that as we poured into the City, there were just as many pouring out, local team Barton Rovers were at Wembley that day in the FA Vase final and a fair few Luton fans had opted to go to Wembley rather than a meaningless game, for them at least against Saints.

That meant that out of a crowd of 14,302 around 10,000 were from Southampton, possibly more, most were packed in the open terrace behind the goal but there were also many more in the seats to our right and also in the terrace on our left.

The bulk of the Luton fans were either in the small opposite end or in the main stand, but we had taken over the ground. Their average attendance was only 9,000 that season, that would be nearer 8,000 if you took off just the two big attendances against us and Spurs, so my estimate of the Saints support that day was probably not far off the mark when you take into account the number of Luton fans who went to Wembley.

As you can imagine the welcome for Saints when they came out was tremendous and totally overwhelmed the home support, we played in our home kit with the only difference being that we wore the blue away shorts from the away strip.

But perhaps the numbers backing Saints initially put a bit of nerves into the side and we struggled to get going and at half time the scores were still level at 0-0.

That changed shortly after the break when an Alan Ball free kick floated into the box was met by Ted McDougall whose looping header went into the net to send the hordes behind that goal wild.

But if we thought that we would now settle down and get our usual composure and grip on the game then we would be mistaken, within 10 minutes Luton were level and that was the way that it looked to be staying as the game entered the final minutes.

But just as we thought that we had suffered a great set back came three minutes of madness, chaos and utter exhilaration, the like of which you rarely get to see or experience as a football fan.

In the 87th minute we pushed forward more in hope than anything else, the ball was played to Alan Ball in the box and he went down under a challenge, we looked at the ref and he pointed to the spot and the next minute the whole end surged forward as if we had scored.

Then complete silence, this was the 18th penalty that David Peach had taken for the club since tat day at Stamford Bridge just over two years earlier, we were not thinking that at the time, but what we were thinking was he has scored everyone since, this is not the time for your first miss.

Up Peach stepped no one dared breathe, he ran up he scored and we all went mad again, anyone who has never stood on a packed terrace at a big game has missed something special, a goal like this going in saw you all move forward you could end up 10 yards from where you started and this was one of those days.

On the pitch David Peach ran into the net to pick up the ball, he was engulfed by his team mates who in turn had a number of Saints supporters who had scaled the pitch jump on them, it was a big pile in the net and thousands going mad behind them, I still remember it to this day.

We saw out the last couple of minutes, back then there was little injury time usually 1-2 minutes at most and then the celebrations started again.

News began to filter through that Spurs had lost at home to Sunderland, Bolton away to Cardiff and Brighton had only managed a draw at Oldham, we were now top and given our goal difference was now 8 better than Brighton who were 5 points behind us, like 1966 we needed only a point away to Orient so all but see us promoted, but there were still a few twists and turns to go in the final week of the season.

All that was left was to cadge a lift home on one of the many coaches and be back in my local pub the Fighting Cocks in Millbrook for about 8.30pm for an underage pint or two and to tell tales of the day out.

Photo: Action Images



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saintmark1976 added 17:18 - Apr 22
Another good report Nick, thanks. I was on the same terrace as yourself with three of my mates,one of which has passed on. The other two are still my mates which is a testament to football's ability to bring people together.

Alan Ball " bought " the penalty like the seasoned old pro that he was. I can still see him now pushing the ball just in front of him and falling over the defenders leg. Not that I cared at the time.I'm looking forward to your report on the next game which was away at Orient because for some reason I don't remember much about it even though I was there.
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Bawdrip added 18:42 - Apr 22
Brought back great memories. Remember the end to that season so well. Been following this site for years but first post as stirred up so many good memories.
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SaintNick added 21:02 - Apr 22
Glad to read that it's stirred a few memories up a bit that was a great end to the season and the Orient game will be covered in detail
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Slacker added 15:06 - Apr 25
Sorry this is a bit late. My mate and I managed to get on a minibus that we cadged a ride on from Southampton Central.

All can remember were drinks afterwards in a pub in Luton. No bother!
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