Around the world in a lot less than 80 days!

By Roger Wash

Early in the New Year of the 1976-77 season the Town embarked on a remarkable record which saw them go on a run of eleven wins and a draw from twelve games which saw them shoot up the Division Two (now Championship) table.  But for a late season collapse, promotion back to the top flight would have been achieved but as it was they fell four points short.

At this point the club had received an offer from Universal Guarantee Insurance Company to take part in a fully sponsored tour.  Feeling that the players needed a reward for their efforts and a break the offer was accepted.

As soon as the season ended a squad of players set off from Heathrow to Los Angeles where after a three hour stop-off for sightseeing a flight connection to St Louis was made. The local NASL side St Louis Stars were their first opponents and in front of a crowd of 7156 (another 4800 tickets were bought by Coca-Cola to make it seem like a ‘full house’ but were not used) at Francis Field the Hatters were 3-0 up after 40 minutes through goals from Jimmy Husband, Ricky Hill and an own goal from Star’s Steve Buckley (confusing as both sides fielded a Steve Buckley!).

The travelling caught up with the Town in the second period with the players hanging on a little in the end but a 3-2 scoreline recorded a first win.

Above: St Louis Stars vs Luton Town programme cover

Next stop was Auckland, New Zealand where from 85 degrees fahrenheit in St Louis they were greeted by torrential rain and freezing temperatures.  The Town were due to play the New Zealand World Cup squad at Auckland’s Newmarket Park but the decision to put 30 tons of sand right down the centre of the pitch backfired as it soon turned into a sea of mud.

There was no alternative but to postpone the game and after bulldozers were brought in to remove the sand (mud) the game was played 24 hours later on a bog. According to the local press it resembled Muriwai Beach on the opening day of the toheroa season – UK translation Southend with the tide out.

The Town took a 2-1 lead, courtesy of goals from Paul Price and John Faulkner into the interval but again tired in the second period with the home side netting twice to secure a 3-2 victory which was to turn out to be only defeat on the tour.

Above: Peter Mead, Ricky Hill, David Carr and Harry Haslam have a look at the muddy Auckland pitch.

The following day the two sides faced each other again, this time in wet and windy Wellington.  The home side took a 2-0 first half lead but the Hatters fought back in the second period to win the game with goals from Gary Heale, Lil Fuccillo and David Carr.

Continuing their travels across New Zealand the Hatters rolled up in sheep country and took on Otago in Dunedin. This time the Town strolled to a 3-1 victory with Husband, Fuccillo and Carr scoring but there was no time to rest as they moved on to Christchurch to play Canterbury where on a cold, foggy evening under poor floodlights the score was repeated with Fuccillo netting twice to add to a strike by Husband.

From the cold and wet of New Zealand it was back to high temperatures when the party arrived at New Caledonia where the Town were due to play their World Cup side twice. The hosts bent over backwards to be helpful but their generosity was stretched when, after being invited to lunch at a hotel in the middle of nowhere the players discovered a beach and some oyster beds. John Faulkner led the players in an oyster feast before discovering that the molluscs were meant for the hotel owners rich customers.

The standard of football was not very high with the Hatters winning both games 3-2 and 1-0, Carr scoring the only goal in the second game while Brian Chambers, with two, and an oyster filled Faulkner netted in the first.

For the final leg of the tour the Town party set off for Fiji.  The weather was hot and extremely humid and after a sightseeing trip in a windowless coach the base hotel was reached.  At night frogs came out in their hundreds with several, some eight inches high, having to be removed from bedrooms before the players could move in.

The game against a Fiji National XI was to be played on the other side of the island which necessitated another plane trip.  The pitch at Buckhurst Park had been marked out in creosote with no penalty spots, no half circles on the edge of the area and no corner markings.  The dressing rooms had no glass in the windows, no electricity and no lock on the door.

The game was very one-sided, against a team who had recently beaten Australia, with the Town running out 3-0 winners with goals from Fuccillo, Heale and Husband.  At the end of the game, manager Harry Haslam was asked to do a radio broadcast from a box high up in two coconut trees tied together, reached by a rope ladder.  Harry, of course, agreed with some difficulty.

Above: A Fijian attacker is watched by Graham Jones and Milija Aleksic.

From Fiji it was a 31 hour trip back to Heathrow where after a tour of 33000 miles the party was probably glad of a little rest before starting pre-season training!