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Top 10 Best Luton Town Players of All Time

Top 10 Best Luton Town Players of All Time

Luton Town F.C.’s over 130-year history has taken them through extreme ups and downs. The club fell out of the English Football League in 2009 but clawed their way back up the rungs to make their Premier League debut in 2023. Throughout their run at Kenilworth Road, they’ve had an assortment of local superstars, with some nationally known figures who made sports history. Here are the top 10 best Luton Town players of all time.

Who Are the Best Luton Town Soccer Players of All Time?

  1. Mick Harford
  2. Brian Stein
  3. Gordon Turner
  4. Syd Owen
  5. Kevin Foley
  6. Ricky Hill
  7. Ron Baynham
  8. Marvin Johnson
  9. Robert Hawkes
  10. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu

1. Mick Harford

  • 1988 League Cup champion
  • Ninth all-time in Luton Town goals
  • 2018-19 EFL League One champion (as manager)

Both on and off the pitch, Mick Harford has endured as one of Luton Town’s most beloved figures. His playing days, including his late-1980s spell for the Hatters, saw him slot as both a striker and a midfielder. He was known and feared for his physical style of play, going with the “hard-man” persona he got from being raised in the English city of Sunderland.

Harford and Brian Stein ushered in Luton Town’s most successful period. The Hatters shocked Arsenal to win the 1988 League Cup and made it back to the finals in 1989. After Harford’s retirement as a player, he’d end up in various front-office roles for Luton Town, including director of football and manager. In fact, he managed Luton Town to a League One title in 2019, continuing their ascent that culminated in the return to football’s top flight. Harford went on to work as the club’s chief recruitment officer.

2. Brian Stein

  • 1988 Football League Cup champion
  • 1981-1982 Football League Second Division champion
  • Second in all-time Luton Town goals after World War II

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Brian Stein and his family moved to England in 1968, where Brian became the first Black African-born player to play a match for England’s senior side. The 1984 friendly between England and France elevated the protests against apartheid that forced Isaiah, Brian Stein’s activist father, to flee South Africa sixteen years prior.

Luton Town signed Brian and his older brother Edwin in 1977, and Brian enjoyed a long, successful career at Kenilworth Road. After World War II, only Gordon Turner scored more goals for the Hatters than Brian Stein did. His excellent finishing skill made him pair nicely with Mick Harford in the late 1980s, during Luton’s most prolonged period of top-tier success. In the 90th minute of the 1988 Football League Cup Final at Wembley, Brian Stein scored to break a draw with Arsenal and secure Luton Town’s first major trophy. His older brother Edwin was in attendance.

3. Gordon Turner

  • Leads all Luton Town players in goals
  • Part of Luton Town’s first promotion to the top flight (1955)
  • Served in the Royal Navy

After his superiors in the Navy recommended Gordon Turner to Luton Town manager Dally Duncan, Turner would go on to score the most goals in Hatters history. Turner was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire; his father played professionally for Hull City. Gordon had to wait until he was 20 to make his professional debut because of the requirements of his Royal Navy service. He spent his first few seasons sheltered by the veteran center-forward Jesse Pye, whose position he’d inherit once Pye retired.

In his expanded role for Luton Town, Turner became their most consistent scorer, a key factor behind the Hatters’ first-ever promotion to the top flight of English football in 1955. He’d finish his Luton town career with 276 goals (243 in League play), a still unbeaten record. Had it not been for his injury prior to the 1959 FA Cup, his Hatters very well might have won the finals. After retiring, Turner was diagnosed with motor neurone disease; he passed away four years later at the young age of 46.

4. Syd Owen

  • Luton Town captain
  • 1954 World Cup champion
  • Two-time Football League XI

Syd Owen played as a center half for Luton Town from 1947 to 1959 and today stands as one of the club’s best-ever defenders. He started his career for his hometown Birmingham club, but the Blues struggled to fit him at the wing and eventually moved him to the Hatters in a £1,500 transfer. Luton Town unlocked his potential in the middle of the defensive line, where he could stop the ball in the air and distribute it in any direction. He captained Luton Town to the top level of English football, winning the 1954 World Cup for England in the process.

In 1959, his final year as a player, Owen led Luton Town to the FA Cup Final, a surprising matchup between the Hatters and Nottingham Forest. Although Forest took the title, the match was a fitting coda to Owen’s long Luton Town career, during which he made 388 appearances and scored three goals.

5. Kevin Foley

  • 2004-05 League One champion
  • Three-time Luton Town Young Player of the Season
  • FAI Under-21 Player of the Year

Defender Kevin Foley was a hometown Hatter who also became one of Ireland’s most decorated players. Raised by Irish parents in Luton, the local football club took him under his wing when he was just nine years old. Foley cracked the first-team squad in the 2002-2003 season, right after signing the professional contract Luton Town had been waiting for.

Foley cemented himself as a right-sided defender for the years to come, helping Luton Town into the EFL Championship for a spell in the mid-2000s. When they dropped back down to League One in 2007, the Wolverhampton Wanderers threw big money at him to pry him off the Hatters’ squad. Foley then helped the Wolves break into the Premier League in 2009. Even though Foley only spent five seasons (appearing in 151 matches) for Luton Town’s first team, it was the Hatters’ organization that developed his talents throughout his childhood.

6. Ricky Hill

  • Two-time Luton Town Player of the Year
  • 1981-1982 Second Division champion
  • 1988 Football League Cup champion
  • First British South Asian to play for England’s national team

Before Ricky Hill the coaching pioneer, there was Ricky Hill the playing pioneer. A steady force in Luton Town’s midfield for 14 seasons, in 1982 he was crucial in securing Luton Town’s trip to English football’s top division. He was also part of the team who won the 1988 Football League Cup.

Hill grew up near London’s Wembley Stadium, raised by a Jamaican mother and a father from an Indian family. In 1984, Ricky Hill played a match for England’s Senior National team in Wembley, becoming the first British South Asian player to represent the Three Lions at that level. Wembley was also the stadium where, four years later, he and his Hatters squad would win the Football League Cup over Arsenal. After Ricky Hill’s retirement from playing, he coached soccer around the U.S., becoming one of the most successful Black soccer coaches in America.

7. Ron Baynham

  • 388 career Luton Town appearances
  • 3 caps for England’s national team
  • 91 clean sheets for Luton Town

Ron Baynham is Luton Town’s best-ever goalkeeper. Although his 91 clean sheets rank second behind Mark Tyler, Baynham’s Hatters were consistently playing in English football’s higher divisions. The Birmingham-born Baynham made 388 appearances for Luton Town from 1951 to 1966. His career included reaching the FA Cup final in 1959 and surviving an on-field collision that fractured his skull in 1960.

Baynham hadn’t planned on becoming a professional goalkeeper until being drafted into the British Army in 1947. After declining a trial for Wolves, his confidence level grew at Worcester City, and he had a reputation as a brave keeper by the time he transferred to Luton Town. Baynham was especially adept at defending crosses. He represented England internationally for three caps, his first being a 5-1 victory in a 1955 friendly against Denmark.

8. Marvin Johnson

  • 373 League appearances, all with Luton Town
  • Named club captain prior to the 1995-96 season
  • Played in all four tiers of the English Football League

Defender Marvin Johnson played 16 seasons with Luton Town, representing them at four different levels of the English Football League pyramid. His loyalty to the squad through thick and thin earned him a captain nod prior to the 1995-96 season in a role he’d hold until his 2003 retirement.

Johnson only scored seven goals for Luton Town, one of which was a key finish in the 1998 League Cup to send Luton Town advancing over Ipswich Town. However, Johnson may be remembered more for his bizarre own goals. One from 1988 particularly stands out: Aston Villa keeper Nigel Spink punted the ball downfield. Johnson tried to pass back to his own keeper Les Sealey and instead lobbed the ball over Sealey’s head into his own net. Following his retirement from playing, Johnson was appointed as the youth team manager for Luton Town. The young phenom Kevin Foley was among the Luton Town players he developed.

9. Robert Hawkes

  • Luton Town captain
  • 1908 Olympic gold medalist
  • First Luton Town player to represent England internationally

Robert Hawkes defined Luton Town in its earliest years as a football club. Starting as a hat tradesman in Luton (the team’s nickname, the “Hatters,” derives from the city’s hat production), Hawkes was recruited to play for the local squad. Fans considered him the team’s first-ever superstar for his anticipation and passing skill.

Hawkes’ local stardom got him onto the 1908 Olympics team, becoming the first-ever Hatter to represent England internationally. He won the gold medal and got several attempts by professional clubs to woo him over to League football. Despite all this, Hawkes stayed put on his amateur team, keeping his day job as a hatmaker. In his time, being even a highly-touted, Olympic gold medalist athlete didn’t pay all that well. Hawkes played 410 competitive matches for Luton Town before retiring in 1920. He remained in Luton until his death in 1945.

10. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu

  • 2019-20 Luton Town Player of the Season
  • D.R. Congo National Team
  • The only player to make it from outside the English Football League to the Premier League with the same team

When midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu made his debut for Luton Town in 2013, they were in the National League, the fifth tier of English football. When Luton Town secured their first trip to the Premier League after winning the Championship playoff on penalties, Mpanzu was still clad in orange and navy. He’d been with this club for a decade, and for a record four promotions, to make it to English football’s highest level.

Mpanzu, not satisfied with his limited playing time for then-Championship side West Ham, agreed to go on loan to Luton Town three flights below. The Hatters finally gave him the playing time he wanted and the contracts he and his family needed. As Luton Town ascended up the ranks, a wider and wider audience was exposed to his power, “box-to-box” abilities, and above all else, his resilience. Born in Greater London, Mpanzu also represents the DR Congo National Team.

Honorable Mentions

  • Fred Hawkes
  • James Justin
  • Bob Morton
  • David Moss
  • Joe Payne
  • Glen Rea
  • Andy Rennie
  • Ernie Simms
  • Mark Tyler
  • Jimmy Yardley