Arsenal League Cup memories: 1988 – when Gus Caesar helped Luton Town ‘walk off’ with the trophy
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
With the eagerly-awaited Carabao Cup final on Sunday read the latest in our series detailing previous Arsenal League Cup finals by talking to the people who were there. Read on as we recall the shock upset the Gunners suffered against Luton Towin in the 1988 Wembley showpiece as Gus Caesar unfortunately wrote himself into the history books for all the wrong reasons in a crazy game.
At 2-1 up and with Nigel Winterburn placing the ball on the penalty spot, victory was almost guaranteed. Obviously, Arsenal wouldn’t be Arsenal without a bit of drama. Winterburn missed the spot kick and with added time approaching, Luton equalised.
Defeat was hard to take because it was only Luton. As a grown man I walked into Wembley thinking “it’s only Birmingham”.
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1988. Again another unbelievable semi-final against a great Everton team, I had never heard Highbury as loud before that night. Back-to-back Wembley visits was a great sign of things to come, however historically we seem to struggle at Wembley against the supposed lesser teams. This day was no different, we were huffing and puffing but getting nowhere, until a mad 10 minutes when we came from 1-0 down to go 2-1 and then were awarded a penalty with 10 minutes to go. But Nigel Winterburn missed the penalty, which would have put us 3-1 up and that would have been game over. Sadly, Luton scored within minutes of that penalty miss and scored the winner in the final minute and we somehow had lost the final when just about to win the game only ten minutes earlier.
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If 1987 was a school day highlight then 1988 ranks alongside the 1980 FA Cup final defeat to West Ham as a real lowlight. A year older at at the ripe old age of 15 I managed to get to midweek home games. Only two of us went the semi-final second leg against Everton at Highbury, but what a night, The old place was rocking and 51,000 of us watched us beat Everton 3-1 to make another final. It was one of the best nights I ever had at Highbury the place was jumping and we were back at Wembley again.
Like the previous year’s final we went from 1-0 down to 2-1 up and we looked like retaining the trophy, but then, well, Gus Caesar and Luton walked off with the trophy and yes the following Monday we were back to being the butt of jokes at school, but we believed George was taking us in the right direction. How right we were...
Arsenal giving up on the domestic Cup competitions in the early austerity years at the Emirates is a well established hobby horse of mine. The nine year drought was unnecessary and the decision made by the club/Wenger without consultation with the fans. Playing weakened sides in the League Cup early rounds is acceptable, indeed valuable but in semis against Spurs or a final against Chelsea not so, for me at least.
When we finally took it semi-seriously again in 2011 we had the painful experience against Birmingham. An experience that ranks down there with one of my all time supporting lows, the 88 defeat to Luton.
Imagine how confident we felt twelve months after beating Liverpool at Wembley in 1987 when taking on Luton Town in the 1988 final as hot favourites. For much of the match the Hatters were in front courtesy of an early Mark Stein goal.
Martin Hayes and Alan Smith struck in an incredible last twenty minutes but Nigel Winterburn saw his penalty saved by Dibble. In the last eight minutes Stein struck twice more to leave us in despair. Unbelievable.