FEATURE: The story of Luton Town record-maker Joe Payne

Anniversary of Payne's incredible 10-goal feat

By Mike Simmonds
Monday, 13th April 2020, 7:12 pm
Updated Tuesday, 14th April 2020, 11:05 am
Joe Payne scores one of his 10 goals against Bristol Rovers back on April 13, 1936.
Joe Payne scores one of his 10 goals against Bristol Rovers back on April 13, 1936.

Today is a significant day in the life of Luton Town FC, as back in 1936, some 84 years ago, Joe Payne set a Football League record when he netted 10 goals in a single game, during the 12-0 win over Bristol Rovers.

The match took place at Kenilworth Road in front of 14,296 supporters, but the story behind Payne’s rise to hero status aged just 22 is a truly remarkable one.

Born on January 17, 1914 in Brimington Common, Chesterfield, he had worked as a coalminer during his teenage years and was spotted playing by the Hatters as a centre-forward for Bolsover Colliery and signed in 1934.

His first matches in Town colours gave no suggestion of the kind of legend tag he was to achieve, making his debut as a half-back in the 3-3 draw at Southend United on December 28, 1934.

He played just one more game that season, a 3-1 win over Torquay United on February 9, his full home bow, also spending time on loan at Biggleswade Town, as his career never looked like it would taken off with the Hatters.

The following campaign, 1935-36, Payne missed the first two games against Clapton Orient and Bournemouth before taking the number four shirt for the 2-1 home defeat to Southend United.

He played the following three games, in the same position, as Town recorded goalless draws with Bournemouth and Northampton Town, before beating QPR 2-0 at Kenilworth Road on September 16.

That was that for Payne for the time being, but fast forward almost seven months and Luton were on a four game winless run, with one victory in six, ahead of receiving Bristol Rovers.

Injuries had robbed Town of Bill Boyd and Jack Ball for the Division Three South fixture, and without a manager since the previous October, after Harold Wightman departed, then Payne was pushed up front, in what was only his seventh appearance for the club.

The rest is now history, as Payne was off the mark on 23 minutes, firing past Rovers keeper John Ellis, before Fred Roberts got his name on the scoresheet.

Payne had his hat-trick by the break, taking advantage of further clever play from Roberts and George Stephenson.

In the second period, Payne had the fourth on 49, converting Len Rich’s centre for his fifth.

An element of controversy surrounded the sixth goal, with Payne’s effort bundled in by George Martin, only for the referee to rule the ball had already crossed the line.

Payne had numbers seven, eight and nine on 65, 76 and 84 minutes, set up by Stephenson again, while from a prostrate position, he managed to deflect in Martin’s strike to complete the scoring in the final minute to make it an incredible 12-0 win for the Town, the third biggest in their history.

It was also a new Football League record, beating the nine set by Tranmere Rovers striker Robert 'Bunny' Bell on Boxing Day 1935, during his side's 13-4 victory over Oldham Athletic, as he also missed a penalty during the game.

In a piece for the Hatters website by club historian Roger Wash, Payne was quoted as saying: “They told me to go out and get two or three goals if I could, but did not tell me what to do afterwards so I just carried on.

“Time blurs the memory but I recall the Rovers goalkeeper making as many good saves as the goals he let in.

“The chances kept on coming my way and after the first five, I had that much confidence I was beginning to think I could do it with my eyes shut, especially after that freak of them all when I fell over on my backside to fool everybody - but the ball still went in.”

Payne picked up a win bonus of £2 to add to his £4 weekly pay, and in the days of a strict maximum wage the club had to apply to the Football League for a special dispensation to give him the match ball as a souvenir.

After the feat, Payne was at it again the following game five days later, bagging a double in the 2-0 win at Newport County and then scored in the 1-1 draw with Coventry.

Neither Payne nor Town could score in the next two matches though, as they were held to stalemates by Coventry and QPR, meaning Payne amazingly finished as the club’s top league scorer, with 13 from nine matches, beating Boyd, who had an impressive 11 goals from 13 outings.

The following season though saw Payne hit heights that will surely never be surpassed in the modern era.

He netted the only goal as Southend were seen off 1-0 on opening day, then missed two games as Luton beat Walsall 1-0 and lost 3-0 at Cardiff.

Payne returned for the clash with Walsall and clearly hadn’t lost his finishing tough, netting in the 2-0 triumph.

He then went on a six game scoring spree, with another hat-trick as Crystal Palace were hammered 5-2 at Kenilworth Road, plus a double in the 4-2 success over Exeter City, bagging a third treble as Reading were dismantled 4-0.

Payne also netted as Town suffered a second defeat of the campaign, falling 2-1 to QPR, but was surprisingly not on target as Town thrashed Bristol City 4-0.

However, he was quickly back on the scoresheet, with a treble in the 4-1 win over Watford, leading to a run of nine goals in seven games, as Luton beat Bournemouth, Bristol Rovers, Milllwall and Aldershot, losing to Brighton and Northampton.

Payne then had, for him, a dry spell, scoring just one in four, in the 2-1 win over Notts County, as the turn of the year saw Payne on 22 goals from 19 matches.

The year 1937 was to be even better though as Payne started on fire, notching four as Cardiff City were demolished 8-1 at Kenilworth Road.

Two more followed as Crystal Palace were seen off 5-0, with Payne getting one in the 2-2 draw with Exeter.

Payne couldn’t score in the 1-0 home defeat to QPR, but notched both as Reading were held 2-2, another double following in the 3-1 win over Bristol City, before scoring in wins over Watford and Brighton.

He had a brace as Northampton were beaten 3-2, as Bristol Rovers gained revenge for their hammering the previous season, winning 4-0.

However, there was little stopping Payne and Town after that, as they won five from six, Payne netting in every encounter, including four in the 5-2 win over Gillingham and two as Aldershot were also beaten 5-2.

He failed to score in the immediate reverse clash with Gillingham, one of only 10 matches he didn’t find the net in that term.

However, Payne was to finish in red hot form, notching back-to-back trebles in 5-1 and 5-0 wins over Swindon and Newport County, before two in the 2-0 win over Torquay.

That saw him finish with a magnificent 55 goals from 39 matches, as Luton finished top of the table, clinching the title by two points from Notts County.

That tally wasn’t mentioning his cup exploits, scoring three as Town reached the FA Cup fourth round, losing 3-1 at Sunderland.

Payne's form led to his only appearance for England as well, scoring two goals in the 8–0 friendly victory out in Finland.

In the 1937-38 season, with Town playing in Division Two, Payne continued on his merry way in front of goal, as although missing the opening game, he netted in the 3-2 win over Aston Villa and 3-1 triumph at Newcastle United, before scoring two in the 3-2 defeat to Burnley.

He was to miss five games, returning to score in the 4-2 win over Plymouth and then twice in the 4-0 thrashing of Fulham, plus bagging in the 1-1 draw with Swansea Town.

Payne missed three more matches, but was back and scoring in the 3-2 defeat at home to Sheffield United, notching a ninth and final treble in a 4-3 win at Bury, also scoring in the 4-2 win over Bradford Park Avenue on February 26, 1938, his final goals for the Hatters.

That saw him finish with a total of 87 goals in 77 games for the Hatters, a superb feat if you remember his first six games weren’t even up front.

Unsurprisingly, those sorts of figures attracted the attentions of Chelsea, who shelled out a reported fee of £5,000 for his services in March 1938.

He made his debut for the Blues in the 0-0 home draw with Bolton Wanderers on March 12, off the mark in his third game, a 2-0 win over Everton.

Payne managed some big goals during his time at Stamford Bridge, scoring in a 4-1 win over Liverpool in December 1938, as he then notched in six straight games from April 1939.

After the season ended, football was suspended due to the outbreak of World War II, as Payne was also hospitalised with acute pneumonia.

He continued to be a prolific scorer in wartime competitions, and played once for hometown club Chesterfield in an 8–0 win over Notts County in December 1944, scoring three times.

Once peace-time returned, Payne made five more appearances for Chelsea in the FA Cup, but wasn't able to net, leaving the Blues with 22 goals from 47 outings.

In December 1946, he joined then Division Two side West Ham, scoring on his debut in the 4-2 defeat at Southampton, going on to hit the target in his opening five games including on Christmas Day and Boxing against Luton, as Hammers won 2-1 and then lost 2-1 at Kenilworth Road.

Payne only managed one more in his next six games, against Chesterfield, as his last match for the Iron came on February 1947.

He headed to Millwall for a brief spell, but he had been suffering from persistent ankle injuries and never made a league appearance during his time with the Lions.

After retiring from the game, Payne died in Luton on 22 April 1975, aged 61.

His achievements were honoured, as on April 13, 2006 to mark the 70th anniversary of his 10-goal record, a plaque was unveiled by Geoff Thompson, then chairman of the Football Association, on the wall of the Miner’s Arms public house in Manor Road, Brimington Common.