‘For what I’ve done for the club, I feel INSULTED’: Fairytale of Luton in play-off final against Coventry, but it’s not magic for club legend Brian Stein after being snubbed for the Wembley showpiece spectacle
There was only one regret for Luton Town legend Brian Stein watching his former side reach Saturday’s Championship play-off final against Coventry City.
He’d rather have been at Kenilworth Road to see it live than staying at home with a cup of tea in front of the television.
Luton’s fairytale rise from non-league to the brink of the Premier League in nine years – the same time it took Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang in the 1980s — has captured the nation’s imagination, but the estrangement between Stein and the club is a sad postscript to all the joy.
The middle of three footballing brothers, Stein scored the most famous goal in the club’s history when his 90th-minute winner against Arsenal in the 1988 League Cup final earned the Hatters their only major trophy.
However, he says a spell as assistant-manager with the club later soured their relationship. After helping Mike Newell win promotion to the Championship, they both left the club in 2007; Newell sacked and Stein then put on gardening leave having taken charge of one match as interim. Now 65, he says things haven’t been the same since, siting disagreement over the terms of his departure.
Mark Stein (right) hugs his brother Brian (left) after the latter scored twice against Arsenal in the Littlewoods Cup Final in 1988
Luton Town manager Rob Edwards (centre) is on the cusp of guiding the side to the Premier League
‘Luton don’t invite me to the ground or anything. They haven’t got the decency to ask if I want to come to the game,’ he says.
‘It’s a joke. For what I’ve done for the club, I feel insulted. I spent so many years there and we achieved so much.
‘Sometimes I get invited to games by fans and they still love to talk about beating Arsenal in the final.
‘My brother Mark [who also played in the game] tells me not to worry. He wants to go to Wembley next weekend and says he’ll get us both tickets.’
Despite that, Stein is as passionate about Luton getting into the Premier League as any fan.
Born in South Africa, he came to England as a boy after his father had been imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela as part of the anti-apartheid movement. His football talent was spotted by David Pleat, then working at Luton under manager Harry Haslam, playing for non-League Edgware Town.
Stein’s goals helped Luton win promotion to the top flight, he was capped for England and the ultimate triumph arrived in 1988, the occasion made more special by having Mark alongside him at the final whistle, and proud dad Isaiah watching from the stands.
‘Andy Dibble saved a penalty to stop Arsenal going 3-1 ahead and I told our midfield to play the ball behind their defence because they weren’t as quick as Mark and myself. And the momentum started to change,’ recalls Stein.
A Tony Adams foul on Mark Stein instigated the comeback and Brian became the hero by volleying Ashley Grimes’s cross for his second, and decisive, of the afternoon.
The Hatters will take on Coventry City in the play-off final – with the Sky Blues also undergoing a transition across the leagues
‘I have the medal stored away and it will pass on to my son and daughter. It will always be with our family.’
Stein left that summer to play in France. When he returned in 1991, he found a different Luton. The Hatters were relegated in 1991-92 and the timing couldn’t have been worse with the Premier League coming in next season. Luton plummeted to the Conference before the revival in 2014.
Wherever he ends up watching the final, Brian will be willing his team to recapture the spirit of ‘88.
Luton told us last night that Stein has been invited and attended anniversary events to commemorate the Littlewoods Cup win and was part of a Mick Hartford golf day two weeks ago in which chairman David Wilkinson and other club directors participated.