1985 Kenilworth Road riot: Wikis


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Luton Town v. Millwall
Event 1984–85 FA Cup sixth-round
Date 13 March 1985
Venue Kenilworth Road, Luton
Referee David Hutchinson
Attendance 17,470

The 1985 Kenilworth Road riot occurred at Luton Town's Kenilworth Road ground before, during and after an FA Cup sixth-round match between Luton Town and Millwall on 13 March 1985. It was one of the worst incidents of football hooliganism during the 1980s, and led to a ban on away supporters by Luton Town which lasted for four seasons. This itself led to Luton's expulsion from the Football League Cup during the 1986–87 season. The club also began to enforce a membership card scheme, which Margaret Thatcher's government attempted to have adopted at grounds across England. Kenilworth Road was damaged, along with the surrounding area, and a year later was converted to an all-seater stadium.



Millwall's Bushwackers were already one of the most notorious hooligan firms in the country by 1985,[1] while Luton Town had their own fringe of hooligans in the MIGs.[2][3] The Den, home of Millwall, had been the scene of a full-scale riot seven years earlier during another FA Cup sixth-round match against Ipswich Town in which Millwall-aligned hooligans had injured dozens of their own club's supporters.[4] Following the incident, the opinion of Ipswich manager Bobby Robson was that "[the police] should have turned the flamethrowers on them".[5]

Millwall, a Third Division side, were drawn to visit First Division Luton's Kenilworth Road in the FA Cup sixth-round. Luton had beaten their arch-rivals Watford in the previous round without incident, while Millwall had upset the odds with a 2–0 home victory over top-flight Leicester City.[6] On the day of the match, Luton were second from bottom of the top division,[7] while Millwall were third in the third tier.[8]

The Kenilworth Stand, pictured in 2006. An open terrace in 1985, it is estimated that 10,000 spectators gained entrance to the stand that night.[5]

Although Luton were asked by Millwall to make the Wednesday night match all-ticket, the warning was not heeded.[5] A disproportionately large away following, twice the size of Millwall's average home gate, arrived on the day of the game, and by 5.00 pm pubs and newsagents around the town were having windows smashed as the police struggled to cope. The Kenilworth Stand, at that time still a vast terrace, was reserved for the away supporters that night. It was overflowing by 7.00 pm – 45 minutes before kick-off – with spectators even perched on the scoreboard supports after the turnstiles had been broken down. Ten minutes later, the police were helpless as hundreds of the visitors scaled the fences in front of the stand to rush down the pitch towards Luton's supporters in the packed Oak Road End. A hail of bottles, cans, nails and coins saw the home supporters fleeing up the terraces, but their numbers, still growing as fans entered the stand, meant that there was little they could do to avoid the missiles.[9]

The players came out to warm up, and almost immediately vanished back up the tunnel. The rioters then set upon the Bobbers Stand, ripping out seats and brandishing them as weapons. A message appeared on the stadium's electronic scoreboard, stating that the match would not start until they returned to their allocated area, but this was ignored; an appeal from Millwall manager George Graham over the ground's loudspeaker also had no effect. It was only when Graham appeared on the sideline that the spectators finally returned to the Kenilworth Stand. Even after this some managed to find their way into the Main Stand, where isolated fights broke out and more seats were removed. The arrival of police dogs helped to clear the pitch; the match began on time, with many watching from atop the Bobbers Stand after climbing the floodlight pylons.[9]

Match details

13 March 1985
19:45 GMT
Luton Town 1 – 0 Millwall Kenilworth Road, Luton
Attendance: 17,470
Referee: David Hutchinson (Oxfordshire)
Stein Goal 31'
Luton Town
LUTON TOWN (4–4–2):
GK 1 England Les Sealey
RB 2 England Tim Breacker
LB 3 England Mitchell Thomas
CM 4 England Wayne Turner
CB 5 England Steve Foster (c)
CB 6 Northern Ireland Mal Donaghy
RM 7 England Ricky Hill
CF 8 England Brian Stein
CF 9 England Mick Harford
LM 10 Nigeria Emeka Nwajiobi
CM 11 England Garry Parker
RM 12 England David Moss
England David Pleat
  • Assistant referees:
    • Unknown
    • Unknown
MILLWALL (4–4–2):
GK 1 England Paul Sansome
CB 2 England Keith Stevens Substituted off
LB 3 England Lindsay Smith
CB 4 England Dave Cusack
RB 5 England Paul Hinshelwood
LM 6 Wales Steve Lowndes
CM 7 England Les Briley (c)
CM 8 England Nicky Chatterton
CF 9 Wales Steve Lovell
CF 10 England John Fashanu
RM 11 England Anton Otulakowski
CB 12 Scotland Kevin Bremner Substituted on
Scotland George Graham
  • 90 minutes.
  • Replay if scores still level.
  • One named substitute.
  • Maximum of one substitution.

Match events

Luton started the match, kicking towards the Millwall supporters. After only 14 minutes, the match was halted as the visiting fans began to riot again. The referee took both teams off for 25 minutes, before bringing them back on to complete the match. Brian Stein put Luton ahead on 31 minutes, and the home side led by this score at half-time; when Luton continued to lead the match as it entered its final stages, the fear became that the pitch may be invaded once more in order to have the match abandoned and therefore prevent a Millwall defeat. Fans attempted to disrupt the match, but extra police managed to keep control. Some seats were removed, and one of these was thrown and hit a match steward in the head. Luton goalkeeper Les Sealey, who had to stand in front of the Millwall fans during the second half, received a missile to the head, and a knife was also found in the goalmouth after the game.[9]

The police are forced back

Following the final whistle, and a 1–0 victory for Luton, the visiting fans invaded the pitch. Both Luton and Millwall players sprinted for the dressing room as fast as they could – one hooligan rushed towards Luton coach Trevor Hartley, and tried to grab him, but Hartley managed to wriggle free and race towards the tunnel after the players. The hooligans made for the Bobbers Stand once more, and started to tear seats out as the fences at the front of the stand were forced down.[2][9] The seats ripped from the stand were hurled onto the pitch towards the police, who started to fall back, before regrouping and charging in waves, batons drawn. Gradually, the police started to win the battle – the hooligans then started to take seats from the Main Stand and throw them like "makeshift plastic spears". The police were not without casualties – of the 81 people injured, 31 were policemen. Sergeant Colin Cooke was caught in the centre circle and stricken on the head with a concrete block. He stopped breathing, but PC Phil Evans resuscitated him while being punched, kicked and hit himself by the concrete.[4]

As a life-long Millwall supporter I could stand in disbelief as I watched the riots and I felt like crying… as a true Millwall fan it was impossible not to feel shame, not to feel sorrow for the game of football. And not to despair at how low life had sunk; for these were not fans, they were not people, they were animals.

Jim Murray reports to his London newspaper[4]

The carnage continued through the town, as a three way battle between the mob, the MIGs and the police developed, leaving smashed cars, shops and homes in its wake. When the situation was brought back under control, 31 men were arrested and taken to Luton Magistrates' Court the following morning. The majority of the 31 identified themselves as supporters of teams other than Millwall, most notably Chelsea and West Ham United.[4][5]


The following morning. Wreckage in front of the Bobbers Stand

Despite having reached an FA Cup semi-final, Luton manager David Pleat was left "feeling empty".[4] Luton were defeated by Everton 2–1 at Villa Park after extra-time following a 1–1 stalemate.[10] However, their league form improved so much that they finished 13th in the First Division.[11] Millwall won promotion to the Second Division only six weeks later, and eventually finished second.[4][12]

The Football Association commissioned an enquiry, which concluded that it was "not satisfied that Millwall F.C. took all reasonable precautions in accordance with the requirements of FA Rule 31(A)(II)." A £7,500 fine was levied against Millwall, though this was withdrawn on appeal.[4][13] The penalty that Millwall faced was perhaps that the club's name was now "synonymous with everything that was bad in football and society".[14] Luton Town were ordered to construct fences around their ground, a decision that was also reversed.[13]

The Luton Town chairman, Conservative MP David Evans, reacted by imposing a ban on all away supporters from Kenilworth Road from the start of 1986–87, as well as introducing a scheme that would require even home supporters to carry membership cards to be admitted to matches. Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government also set up a "War Cabinet" to combat football hooliganism.[15] The government attempted to have membership schemes based on the Evans model adopted nationwide,[15] while Chelsea chairman Ken Bates claimed he intended to erect electric fences at Stamford Bridge to avert such an incident at his club.[16] Luton Town announced a £1 million overhaul of Kenilworth Road soon after – the club would spend £350,000 on a new artificial pitch that summer,[17] and £650,000 on converting the ground to an all-seater.[18] Work on the stands began during the summer of 1986, but was not finished until 2005.[19]

The first match of the identity card scheme came on 26 August 1986, a First Division match against Southampton. The Football League insisted that Luton relax the ban for League Cup matches, but when Evans refused to allow Cardiff City fans to visit Kenilworth Road for their second-round tie, the club was thrown out of the competition. The Football Association announced that Luton would be allowed to maintain their ban on visiting supporters in the FA Cup, but also that they would allow other clubs to ban away support from Luton. Luton eased the ban, slightly – 500 tickets would be given to certain clubs, with this number doubling should the match pass without incident. The ban continued for four seasons, and was a success – during its enforcement, not one arrest was made either inside or outside the ground. Despite this, and the support of Bedfordshire police for the scheme, Luton Town repealed the ban before the start of the 1990–91 season.[20][21]


  • Hayes, Dean P. (November 2002). Completely Top Hatters!. Dunstable: The Book Castle. ISBN 1903747279.  
  1. ^ "Undercover with 'the firm'". BBC. 2002-05-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/hooligans/1979909.stm. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  2. ^ a b "Revenge for Millwall riot". Herald & Post (Luton: Johnston Press). 2000-03-15. http://www.lutontoday.co.uk/545/REVENGE-FOR-MILLWALL-RIOT.284315.jp. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  3. ^ "Luton: a town pulled apart by extremism". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). 2001-11-01. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/11/04/nlut04.xml. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Millwall versus the mob". The Millwall History Files. http://www.millwall-history.co.uk/Millwallversusthemob.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-02.  
  5. ^ a b c d Davies, Christopher (2004-05-21). "Millwall hopes to leave dark history behind in F.A. Cup final". The Japan Times. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/sp20040521cd.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-26.  
  6. ^ "English FA Cup 1984-1985 : Fifth Round". Statto. http://www.statto.com/football/stats/england/fa-cup/1984-1985/results/r5. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  7. ^ "English First Division (old) 1984-1985 : Table". Statto. http://www.statto.com/football/stats/england/division-one-old/1984-1985/table/1985-03-12. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  8. ^ "English Third Division (old) 1984-1985 : Table". Statto. http://www.statto.com/football/stats/england/division-three-old/1984-1985/table/1985-03-12. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  9. ^ a b c d Donoghue, Denis (1985-03-21). The Luton News (Luton: Johnston Press).  
  10. ^ "Luton Town 1984-1985 : Results". Statto. http://www.statto.com/football/teams/luton-town/1984-1985/results. Retrieved 2009-06-03.  
  11. ^ "English First Division (old) 1984-1985 : Table". Statto. http://www.statto.com/football/stats/england/division-one-old/1984-1985/table. Retrieved 2009-06-03.  
  12. ^ "English Third Division (old) 1984-1985 : Table". Statto. http://www.statto.com/football/stats/england/division-three-old/1984-1985. Retrieved 2009-06-03.  
  13. ^ a b "FA lift penalties on Luton and Millwall; Successful appeal against riot decision". The Times (Times Newspapers). 1985-07-19.  
  14. ^ Armstrong, Gary; Giulianotti, Richard (June 2001). Fear and Loathing in World Football. Berg Publishers. p. 65. ISBN 1859734634.  
  15. ^ a b Greenfield, Steve; Osborn, Guy. "After the Act?". Urban 75. http://www.urban75.org/football/after3.html. Retrieved 2009-06-10.  
  16. ^ Jones, Neil. "Football Violence & Top 10 Worst Football Riots". Soccerlens. http://soccerlens.com/football-violence-worst-football-riots/23093/. Retrieved 2009-06-03.  
  17. ^ Hayes (2002). Completely Top Hatters!. pp. 133–134.  
  18. ^ Hayes (2002). Completely Top Hatters!. p. 96.  
  19. ^ "Kenilworth Stadium". Luton Town F.C.. http://www.lutontown.co.uk/page/KenilworthStadium/0,,10372,00.html. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  
  20. ^ Hayes (2002). Completely Top Hatters!. pp. 7–8.  
  21. ^ "Extra cash to keep soccer yobs pinned down". Herald & Post (Luton: Johnston Press). 2003-08-22. http://www.lutontoday.co.uk/lut-news/Extra-cash-to-keep-soccer.577780.jp. Retrieved 2009-06-01.  


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