Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Luton – Part One

After a solid 15 hours working without a break on Thursday to complete the Football Tourist’s Guide To The Black Country, the last thing I wanted to do was set the alarm for 0600 on Friday to do it all over again at Luton. Being a full time football fan is gruelling at the best of times but blogging and vlogging every match AND doing all the tourist stuff on top of that really can become overwhelming. We therefore agreed that we wouldn’t do a Football Tourist’s Guide To Luton (cancelling our planned visit to Whipsnade Zoo); instead we’d just make our way down there at our leisure and see what the weekend threw up. Little did we know that we’d have one of our favourite weekends of the season, culminating in the first ever Accidental Football Tourist’s Guide…

Southbound

Following my Breakfast of the Moment…

…mmm Marmite…

…Lee and I packed the car and headed down the M55.

I researched famous Luton musicians to accompany us on the journey and we began with Paul Young. Neither of us realised he was from Luton.

Now Lee is renowned for forgetting things. I have lost count of the number of times we’ve had to turn round and go home because he’s left his wallet/sunglasses/phone behind. Today we were half an hour down the motorway when he had a sudden panic.

‘I think I’ve left my camera batteries. I don’t remember packing them. Let me pull off – I’ll have to check.’

I sighed.

‘This is why I drink.’

We pulled off the motorway and happily his batteries were located on the back seat of the car, so we could continue without further delay.

We were just south of Manchester when I was overcome with a wave of horror.

‘I haven’t brought the match tickets…’

After all the grief I had given Lee for something he hadn’t even forgotten on this occasion, I think it will be a long time until I live this one down.

‘We’ll have to turn around.’

‘Why don’t you ring the club? I’m sure they’ll be able to sort this out.’

That was a good idea – and saved us turning round and spending even more on fuel than we needed to – so I got on it right away. The man in the Blackpool FC ticket office was really helpful and said he could easily cancel the tickets and we’d be able to pick up replacements from Luton. Phew! We knew there was no pay on the gate tomorrow, so this was a huge relief.

‘It’s three tickets – is that right?’

I had already given Karen her ticket, so I asked if we could just replace our two. The problem here was he needed to know which two tickets to cancel. I said I’d get in touch with Karen to find out which ticket she had and get back to him. However, I was unable to reach Karen on the phone, so decided to message her instead.

About half an hour later, keen to take action, we decided we’d call the club back and just cancel all three tickets. I realised this situation might panic Karen, who always likes to know she has tickets well in advance (as I do), so decided the best course of action would be to retract the message to Karen and not tell her about any of this until we had the replacement tickets in hand later today (we were set to arrive before the Luton ticket office closed at 1700).

We were bored of Paul Young now, so switched to Jethro Tull. Were they from Luton? Research (Wikipedia) revealed that the band was formed in Blackpool, but moved to Luton to ‘make it’ and be closer to London. Ah – so a Blackpool AND Luton connection there. We realised that, whilst we had heard of Jethro Tull, we didn’t know any of their songs; but they made for an enjoyable listen for the remainder of the journey.

Meanwhile Karen called back, saying she’d got my message (note to self: retractions don’t work on FB Messenger), apologised for not taking my call as she was playing golf and confirmed that she’d sent me a photo of her ticket as requested. I fessed up that I’d cancelled all three tickets but assured her that it would all be fine as we’d pick up replacements from the ticket office when we got to Luton later on. She was surprisingly calm about the whole situation, which I was pleased about. But it was all in hand anyway, so there was nothing to worry about, was there?

As I browsed through my emails as we continued southbound, I decided to check out Northern Rail’s new ‘three easy steps’ to getting a refund online for a cancelled train.

Dead easy, that. Cheers, Northern…

George & Dragon, Nuneaton

We called in at a pub en route for a late lunch. I was excited because this was a Church End Brewery pub and you may remember from my recent visit to the Black Country that they brew my favourite mild in the whole world ever: Gravediggers. They also served food here, so it seemed a good place to break up the journey.

And look at its fluffy head!

I was VERY excited to see a poster behind the bar advertising t-shirts – including a Gravediggers tee – for sale. I do love to promote brands that I love, so I enquired after one of these, only to be told that they didn’t have any but they probably would at the brewery down the road. Ooh the brewery was tantalisingly close but sadly we didn’t have time to visit, as we were against the clock to reach the ticket office before it closed. Dear reader, I could have cried. So no tee for me today.

I did, however enjoy a yummy homemade chilli.

I don’t usually notice (let alone photograph) anyone else’s food, being fully focussed on my own, but Lee’s plate of green hit me full on in the face.

I think that lemon has drowned.

After we’d eaten and before we left, I of course made a visit to review the pub facilities. I can report free lady products and deodorant and a bizarre baby changing arrangement.

Luton Town Football Club

On our arrival into Luton, Waze directed us nicely towards the football club. There were a few people milling around and there was no disguising that Sky were in town, as their trailers were everywhere. We asked for directions and were pointed towards a portakabin which was the ticket office. I scurried out of the car and over there, pleased to have arrived 20 minutes before it closed for the day. It would be such a relief to have the tickets in my hand so I could relax and enjoy the evening here.

I was just pipped to the counter by a couple of Sky representatives, who waltzed up to the counter and were presented with their tickets promptly. Having patiently waited my turn, I headed to the counter once they had left. There was a woman with a huge pile of tickets in front of her.

‘I’ve just travelled down from Blackpool and I’ve left the tickets at home! I rang Blackpool and they said you’d be able to sort me out with replacements. Can you help me please?’

‘Yeah come back tomorrow and pick them up on the turnstile.’

‘Well I’m here now. Is there any chance I could have them now, please? I’m just trying to avoid an anxiety situation here.’

‘Blackpool haven’t sent us their list through yet so I can’t check your name is on there.’

‘Well I’ve spoken to them this afternoon so it should be. Could you maybe ring them to confirm please?’

‘No. Just collect them on the turnstile tomorrow.’

‘Well when will you have the list from them?’

‘They need to send it through by 5 o’clock.’

‘Well it’s quarter to five now. Is it worth me waiting?’

‘Computer says no.’

‘Well what time tomorrow can I pick them up?’

‘They’ll be on the turnstile an hour before kick off.’

‘An hour before kick off? Can’t I collect them any earlier?’

‘Are you still here? No, an hour before kick off. Now off you fuck. I want to get finished so I can go home.’

Obvs I’m paraphrasing slightly now but that was what I was getting from the body language and tone of voice. I was almost in tears by this point.

There were two men behind the counter also and they offered a bit more sympathy (and solutions), possibly embarrassed at the short shrift I was getting from their colleague.

‘Maybe you could try phoning Blackpool?’

I tried that but I knew the ticket office closed at 1600 so I was unable to get through.

‘We should have them ready at 0900. Maybe give us a call in the morning?’

I walked away fuming – with a tension headache and in need of a beer – and ready to vent my spleen to Lee in the car.

‘Jane! Over here!’

What was he doing over there? I headed towards the ground, where Lee introduced me to a steward who’d just given him a tour of the ground for the video accompaniment to this Football Tourist’s Guide. He was a lovely chap who had been stewarding here for 45 years. Lee’s ‘first contact’ with Luton would turn out to be more typical of the warm welcome we would receive from the club and the town this weekend, which helped turn my frown upside down pretty quickly.

Premier Inn, Luton Town Centre (Part One)

We parked up in the NCP Car Park next to our hotel (free for hotel residents) and trudged to the hotel reception. There were raised voices in the bar and there was no-one on reception but I spied the electronic check-in machines that we’d encountered in London so I set to work pressing buttons to check us in. I was quite far into this process when the receptionist turned up.

‘Ooh can I get you checked in, love?’

‘No, it’s okay – I’m doing it on this machine. Thanks anyway.’

‘Oh I can do that for you. The machine’s a bit temperamental sometimes. Let me get you checked in.’

‘No, honestly, it seems to be working fine.’

The machine finally stuttered when I tried to add a second room key and the receptionist pounced on this immediately.

‘I can help you with that! What’s your room number?’

This woman was so persistently keen to help and I really wish she’d been the one working in the Luton Town Ticket Office and that Little Miss Computer Says No had been working here where I could have dealt with a machine instead.

We headed up to the room, dumped our bags, unpacked and headed out into Luton to see what the town had to offer.

Bricklayers Arms

Earlier in the week I had been contacted by Roelof, a fellow fan of my brick football team FC Brickstand, who we both follow on Twitter.

Roelof is from Holland but for some reason has a soft spot for Luton Town and was heading here from the Netherlands for tomorrow’s match. He asked if I fancied meeting up – and the Bricklayers seemed like the perfect choice, as we had met through brick football. T’internet indicated that this place served food, so we could all have some tea here – and thus it was arranged.

The Bricklayers has been our Pub Of Choice in Luton for many years now. I remember being here during a power cut the one year and the landlord came round with candles for our tables so we could see our beers. However I had heard this was now a ‘home fans only’ pub. But this was the night before the match – and we had no colours on – hence this was of no concern to us tonight.

Here are the beers that were on offer tonight.

None of these beers leapt out and hit me in the face and I was disappointed there were no dark beers. We were, however, here to meet people and I was in need of beer to shift this stress headache, so I set to work eliminating beers I really didn’t want to figure out what options I was left with. It went a little something like this:

  1. Oakham beers are too citra for me, so that was those two ruled out.
  2. Hooky is one of those ‘common’ beers that is probably okay but I’d had it before and it wasn’t on my favourites list, so that was that ruled out.
  3. This left the Tribune and Bavarian Dragon, neither of which particularly excited me, so I decided I’d have a half of each. If I didn’t like them, a half could be gone in a couple of mouthfuls.

The front room was busy, so we headed through to explore the back room. Here a friendly local stood up and began directing us to the free tables.

‘I think there’s one in the front but we’ve got two free chairs here and we can find you some room over there.’

He stood up and began rearranging the furniture on our behalf.

We really ought to have stayed and made friends with this friendly bunch but I didn’t want to put them to any trouble and so we retreated to the table in the front room.

By the time we’d settled back with our drinks, we realised there was no sign of any food in here. Nor was there any sign of Roelof and his dad, who we were supposed to be meeting here. I therefore started scanning Google Maps for somewhere we could sit down to eat. I earmarked a few places and, once our drinks were drained and I had messaged Roelof to update him on our movements, we headed down the road hunting for a suitable eaterie.

Dear reader, this proved harder than we could have imagined – although we did spot some interesting bits on our travels.

An elephant from Luton’s Big Trunk Trail from 2021.

You can always bank on a Greene King pub for food, can’t you? The George II looked promising.

I asked for a taster of one of their beers but no drinks order was forthcoming once I’d realised there was no food on in here tonight. Although there were some girls sitting in the window eating a takeaway.

We had no better luck at the sports bar – despite it smelling of food. We were fast running out of options – and the clock was in danger of ticking past Tea O’Clock.

We considered Italian restaurants and I would have loved to try the Romanian restaurants, only there were no menus in the windows for us to peruse and you know we are quite specific with our dietary requirements.

At length we ended up at a surprising choice of restaurant…

The Engine

Now I’m not going to lie – it was the camels that attracted us to this place.

But, now we were here – and the menu offered up some tempting treats that were suitable for both our diets – we were more than happy to head in and have our tea here tonight.

There was no alcohol on sale here – nor was there any diet pop that wasn’t Coke/Pepsi – so I settled for my reserve drink of water on this occasion. But it was the food that was the star of the show here. Oh the food!

There was a Nando’s-esque section of the menu from which I ordered the above, which is Hot Peri Peri Half Chicken. The menu had promised the best quality meat and oh my word this was the best chicken I had ever tasted. There was so much meat on there and it was cooked to perfection. I would even go so far as to say this was better than Nando’s (and I love Nando’s).

I was also intrigued by this mystery table sauce, which didn’t have a label.

Of course I had to try it. I was expecting it to be hot but it was actually more fruity.

I had been very excited to see Ferrero Rocher Cheesecake on the dessert menu but was actually relieved that my main course had filled me up so I didn’t have room to spoil my diet at the end of the meal.

Just as we were heading out, Lee was doing a bit of filming and he was met with much enthusiasm from a young member of staff. We were ushered through to the Shisha Lounge at the back of the restaurant.

‘Here try some.’

Now I’ll confess I was a bit scared at this point. I wasn’t really sure what shisha was. Was it some sort of drug? Surely it couldn’t be illegal if shisha lounges are a thing? I’ve always been terrified of drugs and never tried anything stronger than weed (which I wouldn’t try again, as it makes me feel ill). I did smoke cigarettes for a long time but even gave those up in 2005. One of the things that stops me from starting up again is the knowledge that one puff will make me feel faint (as the last one did) and I don’t want to feel like that again. Hence, whilst it was wonderful that we were being welcomed and invited to share in the local culture, I was too scared to try this.

What a warm welcome we were receiving everywhere we went in Luton. We were already beginning to realise what a special town this was.

The Bear Club

Now you know how Google Maps sometimes throws up things that catch your eye? Such as the time when I was searching for pubs in Southport and the British Lawnmower Museum poked me in the eye and lured me in for a visit (which is what started all this Football Tourist’s Guide nonsense WAS IT ONLY NINE MONTHS AGO IT FEELS LIKE FOREVER I’M SO TIRED).

Well tonight, when I’d been searching for local eateries, The Bear Club had caught my eye.

This was a jazz club (nice!) and you may recall from our Tourist’s Guides to Bournemouth, Barnsley, Nottingham and Swansea that we do like to take in a bit of live music action on a Friday night. So how could we resist a little jazz club in Luton?

But first we had to find it. We were sure we were on the right road but seemed to have walked right past it without noticing. We asked a passer-by for help.

‘Oh the Bear Club? You’re going to the right place. Follow me!’

We had arrived almost an hour before the show was to start but this meant that we had the pick of the seats (which are first come, first served). We selected a balcony seat with a perfect view of the stage.

The bar offered an intriguing range of bottles and cans.

I started on the Tiny Rebel Key Lime Lager, which was deliciously refreshing. I later moved on to the Einstok Icelandic White Ale – from a brewery that I had discovered somewhere on my virtual travels last season but never found in real life. This was a lovely drop too, but I returned to the Key Lime Lager as my drink of choice here tonight. Could I resist the Jaffa Cake Rum later on?

Lee got chatting to the man who had helped us find our way here, who was a regular and couldn’t speak highly enough about the place (‘it’s the best jazz venue outside London.’) We were already envious that there wasn’t anywhere quite like this in Blackpool. What with the recent successes of the town’s micropubs – as well as the Waterloo as one of the top rock music venues in the country (more of that later) – why wasn’t there a little jazz club in town? It would surely be a hit.

I messaged Roelof to see if they fancied joining us here but he was having some quality catch up time with his dad and they sadly decided against the jazz club.

Before the music started, I headed to the unisex facilities to make sure I was comfortable for the gig. And oh my word these are contenders for the Best Loos of 21/22. Here’s why.

Cassettes on the walls.
A sink on the cistern! Not seen one of those since Boldmere St Michaels. One of these buttons is the flush.
Oh so there is! I’d never have looked up there (not that I could have reached).

This was just the coolest little venue, dimly lit just as I like it, with plenty to look at.

As for the music? Well that wasn’t half bad, either. You never really know what you’re going to get with jazz but this was truly magnificent. BD Lenz (who said this venue was better than Ronnie Scott’s) was super impressive on the electric guitar – and many of the numbers were written by him too. Kim Cypher was multi-talented too, playing the saxophone and providing vocals.

On drums tonight was Kim’s husband. And we were excited to learn that the double bass player had provided the voice for Tony The Tiger in the famous Frosties adverts.

As Lee was heading up to interview the band at half time, I suggested he ask Tony The Tiger to say ‘Lee Charles TV – it’s GRRRRRRRREAT!’ and he duly obliged.

We have had some bonkers adventures this season but these things only happen to us because we are out there looking for fun stuff. You won’t meet Tony The Tiger sitting in your pants watching Netflix. Get yourself out there if you can, dear reader.

Karen rocked up towards the end of the gig and still seemed pretty relaxed about the whole ticket situation, while the beer, music, friendly folk and general ambience had perked me up no end.

Premier Inn, Luton Town Centre (Part Two)

We let Karen lead us back to the hotel and she found a more direct route than the one Google Maps had suggested on the way out. Lee and I loitered in reception while Karen checked in.

Meanwhile, who should walk into the hotel reception but Roelof and his dad. Hurray – we got to meet up after all! They’d spent the evening in Spoons (which I’m boycotting, hence we’d missed each other earlier). We chatted away and Lee interviewed our new Dutch friend for the video. I thought it was brilliant how he had fallen in love with Luton and had driven all the way from Holland to be here for the match tomorrow.

Back in our respective rooms, Karen and I for some reason ended up swapping photos of our wonky doorstops.

Then I watched Naked Attraction for a bit, which I still can’t believe is a thing. And then I grappled with the pillows for a bit before realising there was only one soft pillow and two rock hard ones. I like two soft pillows, so had to make do with folding one in half and crashing out on that, which worked out just fine.

Until tomorrow, dear reader…

Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To Luton – Part Two.

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Thanks to Gerbilly and Richard for the beers in the Bear Club tonight.

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