FA4Q: Barked shins, dark toilets & no pies
Neil Redpath continues his mission to attend a game in every single round of the FA Cup. For his sixth adventure, he's off to someone's front room...
Trying to find a parking space around Kenilworth Road is like looking for a Manc on the Kop.
After 30 minutes of driving around looking for anywhere to leave our wheels, we spot a sign saying Ã¢ÂÂ5 Quid Football Parking.Ã¢ÂÂ
I slam on the brakes and swing the Astra down a side alley and behind a second-hand shop to be confronted by Frank Butcher, or at least someone resembling the EastEnder.
We didnÃ¢ÂÂt know if he owned this car park or he was just trying to con us out of a fiver, but after three hours of driving through the pouring rain we couldnÃ¢ÂÂt have cared less.
With an hour to go before kick off, we find the away fans' entrance on Oak Road.
The turnstiles are wedged so tightly between long lines of terraced housing, that it feels like we'd have to walk through someoneÃ¢ÂÂs front room, step over their cat and avoid the TV just to make it into the stadium.
"Seamlessly matching the vernacular architecture..."
If the stadium looks cramped, that's because it is. You would have to be 5ft tall to be able to cram your legs between the seats in the away end.
This prompts a chant of Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂre just a town full of midgetsÃ¢ÂÂ as we revert to standing for the entire game.
For the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round Ã¢ÂÂ the last before the Football League clubs enter the fray Ã¢ÂÂ we've come to Kenilworth Road, easily the biggest ground so far of my Wembley-bound journey.
Luton are in the play-off spots and chasing an instant escape from the Blue Square Premier - we're in the away end with 70 very vocal fans supporting Grays Athletic, who would currently be happy merely to stay in the BSP.
Grays come out in light blue, followed by Luton in bright orange home shirts to match their EasyJet advert hoardings and the bright orange planes flying out of Luton Airport every 10 minutes over the Kenilworth Stand opposite.
Luton start the match kicking towards the away fans (all 70 of whom seem determined to sing all game long), and take an early lead when Shane Blackett taps in from five yards after a parry from Grays goalie Preston Edwards.
Score in a minute, they're gonna...
Inspired, the Hatters put Grays under relentless pressure, with chance after chance coming ever closer to doubling the lead.
And just as Grays are getting to grips with LutonÃ¢ÂÂs dominance, the home side go 2-0 up with an unfortunate own goal by Petar Rnkovic.
The half-time whistle blows, and with no seat to comfortably sit in, and no bar to serve us a drink, we head for the snack kiosk at the back of the stand.
Ã¢ÂÂOne pie please,Ã¢ÂÂ I ask the young fellow serving, probably too young to remember LutonÃ¢ÂÂs glory years.
Ã¢ÂÂSorry, we've sold out,Ã¢ÂÂ he mumbles.
Ã¢ÂÂSold out?!" I repeat in disbelief. Ã¢ÂÂBut thereÃ¢ÂÂs only 70 of us here!Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂTo be honest,Ã¢ÂÂ he replies, Ã¢ÂÂwe only had five for sale...Ã¢ÂÂ
It sums up the Kenilworth Road away end: no pies, no legroom, and no lights in the toilets, it may well be the worst stand in non-league football.
Wanted: Hobbits for away end
Luton come flying out of the traps in the second half, presumably emboldened by the half-time team talk from caretaker managers Alan Neilson and Kevin Watson, who are well on the way to their fourth win in five games in charge.
Around us, the Grays supporters are still putting up much more of a fight than their team.
When the home fans mock their team, they adapt the same tune to fire back Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂre sh*t and we know we areÃ¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂYou must be sh*t, 'cos you're playing us.Ã¢ÂÂ
Back on the pitch, the Grays players look like they've settled for 2-0 but the home team's Asa Hall has other ideas.
After having a goal disallowed for offside and then an effort off the post, he finally gets what he's after with a 25-yard screamer into the bottom corner.
With the rain coming down harder, the ref ends the visitors' torture.
As the whistle blows, the 70 Grays fans pile out of the Oak Road stand and straight onto their waiting coaches, pointed towards Essex.
Meanwhile, we try to remember where we parked the car...
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