In the 1980s and into the 1990s, we had few local rivals as big as Vauxhall Motors (Luton) – but what was the story behind it?
Photo: "Holyhead, Gwynedd - UK" by Mic V. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, we had few local rivals as big as Vauxhall Motors (Luton) – but what’s the story behind it? After all, nine meetings across a six-year period doesn’t seem much. Not when you remember that we’ve played Morecambe 40-odd times. So, what was it that started it off – and was it just Boro’s progression up the pyramid that put an end to it?

Who are Vauxhall Motors (Luton) Football Club?

It doesn’t take a genius to work out this was – originally, at least – linked to Vauxhall’s car plant in Luton. Like the other lads on the Wirral who we’d end up meeting many moons later (and are still going), the backstory owes at least something to car making. Now, we always thought they were a works team. But perhaps they were; the football club being part of the works sports and social club. The exact relationship? Well, better people than us can tell you for sure.

Now, we don’t know where their story starts in all honesty. The Football Club History Database points towards a side called Luton Vauxhalls, which competed in the South Midlands League as far back as 1923. The team then appears in the Spartan League in 1938, winning the title on one occasion (1969). In 1974, they made the move to the United Counties League and seemed to hit the ground running; coming second in their debut season.

Why do we know them?

Vauxhall Motors (Luton) joined the Isthmian League in the same year Vauxhall started its sponsorship of the competition

The United Counties League isn’t the reason we know them, however. In their third season, the club ended up bottom of the Premier Division and fell down into Division One. After two strong campaigns, they ditched the UCL and (re)joined the South Midlands League.

After winning promotion from Division One at the first attempt, they made a decent enough fist of life in the Premier Division. The 1984-5 season saw them finish second – and that was the cue they needed to make the step up into the Isthmian League. Now, this just so happened to be the year that Vauxhall-Opel started sponsoring the competition.

It’s one for the conspiracy theorists out there, that’s for sure.

A tragic first encounter

In 1985, Boro’ were about to hit new heights – just five years after graduating to senior football. By the time November 1985 came around, both us and our Luton neighbours were being talked about as title contenders. A showdown at Broadhall Way gave us the chance to see which team was ready to put their credentials on the table. And it seemed as if we were the team who were going to do that; Des Gallagher (pen) and Martin Gittings putting us 2-0 up on 18 November.

The game would be abandoned at half time, however. Dave Watkins clashed heads with striker Colin Mathurin; “the most innocuous of head clashes” that both appeared to recover from. The 21-year-old, however, collapsed minutes later and was rushed to Lister Hospital. Upon arriving, Colin was pronounced dead. The news was received back at Broadhall Way – and the game was abandoned by the referee.

Our home game with Vauxhall Motors (Luton) in November 1985 seemed like an ordinary league clash – but it ended in tragedy...
Photo: The Comet

Unsurprisingly, the event left a dark cloud over Vauxhall Motors. By the time we met them later that season, they were far from being title challengers. Boro’ won 2-0 at theirs on 15 March and 3-0 at home in the rearranged match on 7 April. It helped us to claim the title by one point from Kingsbury Town; six of the 84 points we amassed that season. And it ensured our time together with Vauxhall Motors (Luton) was – to start with – short-lived.

What is (the rest of) our record against them?

We picked things back up with Vauxhall Motors in the 1988-9 season after we were sent packing from Division One. They’d settled into life as a mid-table team in the time we were away. They’d not found the secret to getting the better of us, however. A 3-0 home win and 2-1 away win gave us another league double over our neighbours. And that one way traffic continued into the 1989-90 campaign as we looked to bounce back from relegation.

The Televised Sports (Int.) Senior Cup gave us the first of three wins against them; emerging on top with a 2-1 win at Broadhall Way in December 1989. We’d then followed that up with two 3-1 wins in the league as our local superiority continued. And our imperious 1990-1 season made it hard for them to halt our momentum; a 4-0 victory at Broadhall Way in September 1990 proving that point. And, yet, a 2-2 draw at Park Lane in March 1991 would finally break our stranglehold.

Vauxhall Motors (Luton): Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 9 — W 8 — D 1 — L 0 — F 24 — A 6 — Pts 22 — WR 89%
Our last tango: Vauxhall Motors (Luton) 2-2 Stevenage Borough, 09 March 1991

What happened to them?

That 1990-1 season actually saw Vauxhall Motors (Luton) finish second behind us in the Division Two North table. OK, so it was a distant second – 25 points. But it was enough to gain promotion to Division One with us.

Except they never made it.

As Vauxhall-Opel’s sponsorship of the competition ended, Diadora took over. And the Luton side went off the radar. Like, totes. Not that it was related, you realise. The club folded in summer ’91 because – so the story goes – someone new took over the ownership of their Park Street ground. Their grass pitch was swapped out for an artificial surface to be used for hockey. This wasn’t the final straw (we think). Vauxhall wasn’t in the rudest health at the time either.

Either way, a club – and a potential decent rivalry – was cut down in its prime. There’d only be 21 teams taking part in the 1991-2 Diadora League Division One campaign as a result.

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Vauxhall Motors (Luton) club profile

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