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Danny Hylton on the Luton Town journey, red cards and penalty mishaps

Former striker Danny Hylton can remember the moment that he fell in love with Luton Town. Rather oddly it had nothing to do with scoring goals, and everything to do with throwing a rogue litter picker which sat on the remains of the old artificial pitch at Kenilworth Road one Saturday afternoon.

Danny Hylton scoring a goal for Luton Town against Newport County in 2017.
Hylton scores twice against Newport County at Kenilworth Road in 2017.

Feeling aggrieved at a decision made by the linesman during a League Two encounter with Doncaster Rovers, the target man spotted the grabber and angrily launched it across the ground, only to be given his marching orders shortly afterwards.

“It’s probably a real proud moment for me,” he said with a big grin. “I’m only joking, and obviously I don’t condone it to any young people who have aspirations of playing professional football, but I felt like the Luton Town fans really took to me after that. I see the red mist and stuff like that happens.

“I dreaded it straight away, I thought ‘oh no what have I done’, but then my name got sung from the stands. It was one of those moments that really opened my eyes and I loved it.

“I thought that will do for me - another moment in my Luton career that maybe isn’t a proud one, but good entertainment value I suppose!”

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From that moment on, Hylton was branded as a pantomime villain and became a real fan favourite. The forward contributed plenty of goals during his six-year spell with Luton, but also a few blunders which resulted in an early bath.

“Off the pitch I’m just a boring dad,” he said. “I’m not really that rock and roll at all but I was probably never good enough to turn up on the day and just play a game of football.

“You get some players who are technically gifted, but I needed to be on the edge of boiling over to be at my best and I needed to be running around and winding up the opposition. I needed that physical or verbal battle with players to be at my best.

“It was always in good jest, but of course there were times when it got a little bit silly or boiled over and it went into yellow cards, or every now and again a red card.

“When I was there, Nathan Jones used to say to me all the time that ‘I need you there, but you can’t let it boil over’, and I believe my most successful years, especially the ones I had at Luton, was when I was right on that edge as it was the only way I knew.”

The goal scorer admits there were moments of stupidity too, including a knee slide at the feet of Cambridge United goalkeeper David Forde after the number one had just been chipped by Olly Lee from the halfway line.

He said: “That was another moment that got me in trouble, not only with Nathan, but also my wife. We had just won the game and I had a moment when I came off the pitch and thought ‘what are you doing?’ I remember getting in the car and saying ‘I don’t know why I did it’.

“It’s like it’s not me and an out-of-body experience - I just do stuff that’s a bit crazy! I’m glad I got to provide a bit of entertainment there but I did get a nasty kick on my leg because the goalkeeper actually kicked me as I slid into him and probably deservedly so.”

The only way is up

More than 50 goals were scored by ‘Super Danny Hylton’ during his time in Bedfordshire, which assisted Luton’s journey from League Two to the Premier League in six seasons.

Although Hylts wasn’t a Luton Town player when promotion to the top flight was confirmed against Coventry City in the Championship play-off final, he still describes the achievement as one of his standout moments.

He said: “I wasn’t even playing but I’d probably say that Luton getting to the Premier League is my highlight in the Luton Town journey. I loved that day at Wembley - it was wicked!

“Since I’ve left the club I’m a complete Luton Town fan. I would rather go and watch Luton Town over Arsenal, Manchester United or City any day.”

“So that day at Wembley, it felt like I had been promoted to the Premier League as I still feel very much part of the club. I went with my friend, my eldest son and Glen Rea. We got to London early to soak up the atmosphere and it was a brilliant day out with the fans.

Luton Town celebrate winning the Sky Bet League One title at Kenilworth Road in 2018/19
Glen Rea (front centre) and Hylton went to the Championship play-off final together to see Luton promoted to the Premier League. The pair also experienced promotion at the club.

“I went to the after-party at the hotel with the team and staff and it was a really great evening. The lads were still in their kit, hadn’t showered and were just enjoying themselves - it was a really good vibe.

“It couldn’t happen to a better group of people because what they achieved on the pitch was outrageous. Getting promoted to the Premier League is unbelievable, but above all, they’re a group of just wonderful human beings.

“That’s what I always say, the best thing about that club from top to bottom, the chairman to the chefs or ground staff, whoever is involved, is just a brilliant person.”

One book has already been written, but another story is about to unfold as the club embarks on a new journey in their first ever campaign as a Premier League outfit. What did Hylton make of the Hatters’ chances of staying up?

“I think naturally whoever comes up gets written off, but Luton Town love getting written off,” he said. “I would be worrying if people were saying that Luton Town were going to stay up, that’s when I would start thinking that’s not what we’re used to.

“We love being an underdog, we love causing an upset and I can guarantee that it won’t be long until teams find out how hard it is to go to Kenilworth Road. I remember going there as an opposition and I hated it.”

“I remember thinking it’s so hard to play in, the crowd was hostile, it was so intense, they were hard working and they pressed and were aggressive in the right way, and I soon went on and learnt that playing for Luton when you have that crowd and atmosphere behind you gives you superpowers!

“It just lifts you and raises your game so I think clubs are going to find it so hard to go there and I can’t wait to see some of the big boys find out quite how hard it is.”

The Nathan Jones effect

Hylton arrived at Kenilworth Road in 2016 off the back of a promotion-winning campaign with Oxford United. He had no intention of leaving The Us, even being offered a new contract at the club, but was swayed into putting pen to paper at Luton after a convincing conversation with then Hatters boss Nathan Jones.

He said: “Nathan put this presentation in front of me on his laptop and just had these ideas of what he thought of me and my strengths, where he was going to improve me, where he could get the best out of me and how I could score more goals. He just knew stuff about me and I was blown away by the depth he went into. It really opened my eyes.

Danny Hylton scoring a goal for Luton Town at Kenilworth Road
Hylton says he became a better player under Nathan Jones, and learned how to have more touches in dangerous areas to score more goals.

“I remember leaving the meeting and thinking I needed to sign for him because he sold me a dream. He said that the club would go on and be in the Championship in five years and they did just that. He was a big part of the reason why I first signed.”

The manager stuck to his word and Hylton finished his first season in orange as top goal scorer.

He continued: “That first season was probably the first time in my career that I understood my role fully and he (Nathan) used me in a way where I wasn’t getting involved in plays much deeper on the pitch. He used to say ‘you’re going to have less touches, but more quality touches higher up the pitch’ which ultimately ended up with me getting more chances and more goals.

“Nathan gave me my most successful years of goal scoring, as well as a chance to play in the Championship, so I’m incredibly grateful to him.”

Jones has come under huge scrutiny in the past after stints in charge of Southampton and Stoke City didn’t go to plan, but Hylton emphasised that the manager is an incredibly gifted individual to work with.

“He’s highly passionate, highly intense and knows exactly what he wants,” he said. “He loves every single player who plays for him and treats them incredibly well - I don’t know anyone who would probably have a bad word to say about him.

“I don’t know how but he gets a 100 per cent buy-in by every single player and I think that’s because he treats people correctly - human beings first. It doesn’t matter if you’re his top goal scorer or you play one game a season, he treats everybody the same and expects the same from everyone.”

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After leaving Stoke City, Jones was reinstated as Luton’s gaffer in the summer of 2020 and had nine games left to keep the Town in the Championship after a turbulent first season at that level. It all came down to the final day where a win against Blackburn Rovers would be enough. Hylton came off the bench that night to help the team over the line.

Hylton said: “It’s just another part in Luton Town’s story that Nathan comes back after leaving on bad terms and keeps us up. I’ve said it before that I don’t think anyone in the world could have come back in and kept us up that year except for Nathan.

“He just knew the club, he knew the players, got a reaction and brought everyone back together and we managed to do the unthinkable.”

“We were never fazed whatever the result. It didn’t matter if we won a game 7-0 or lost it, we were never too high and never too low.

“When we found ourselves in a relegation battle, it was never panic stations, we just believed in ourselves and believed we would get out of it again. Don’t get me wrong, that Blackburn game was nervy, especially when going a goal down, but in the end we won 3-2 and I’m so thankful we stayed up.”

Danny’s dink

The emergence of Hylton’s Panenka penalty kick was just another attribute in his on-field presence which made him even more likeable to Luton fans. The 34-year-old remembers the first time he toyed with the idea of chipping the ball down the middle from the spot, in what later became known as ‘Danny’s dink’.

He said: “When I knew that I was taking penalties, me and a few of the players used to practise them the day before we had a game because I wanted to go into the game thinking if we get a penalty tomorrow, this is where I’m going and if I miss, it’s not because I was indecisive or second-guessing myself, it was just because the keeper went the right way and saved it - I didn’t like going into a game with any uncertainty.

Watch what Hylton had to say about the time his Panenka went horribly wrong

“Alan Sheehan said that keepers always move out of the way and never stand still. The only way a keeper loses on a penalty is if he stands in the middle and the ball goes slightly to the side of him and he looks a bit silly for not diving.

“So, I tried it (the Panenka), lifting the ball and it went in. So I tried it two, three, four, five, six times and thankfully they were going in. They look a bit risky but I never thought the keeper was going to stand there.”

It was all going too well, until the October of 2018 when AFC Wimbledon keeper Joe McDonnell guessed correctly and easily collected Hylton’s limp chip towards the centre of the goal at Kingsmeadow.

He continued: “I probably should have known better because the goalkeeper coach there was at a club where I played previously. I tried it and he just stood there so it wasn’t my proudest moment.

“I got in a bit of trouble for that as well because we were 1-0 up at the time and effectively that would have killed the game, but Nathan went crazy at me. He said ‘you better hope that these lot don’t equalise and that we win this game’ and thankfully we went on and got the second goal anyway and won the game.

“Thankfully it didn’t cost us but I suppose that’s the risk of doing it. It was never in a flashy or arrogant way, I just felt comfortable doing it and more often than not it went in.”

Hatters highlights

Hylton was lucky to play for a Luton side that was on the up. Two promotions and a Championship play-off semi-final appearance are just some of the accolades to credit the forward with, but personally for him, there were some excellent experiences to look back on with pride.

He said: “I really enjoyed the goal against Derby County (26th February 2022) because I came off the bench and I scored. We won the game 1-0 and it was my first Championship goal at Kenilworth Road.

“It was something I really wanted to do after going through injuries as I found it really tough to get back, but I was delighted to come back. I felt like I wanted that goal and the crowd wanted it, plus it was a moment that helped us get into the play-offs that year.”

An FA Cup third round trip to Newcastle United in 2018 also stands out for Hylton, especially after being backed by more than 7,000 travelling fans.

He continued: “It was one of my favourite games actually, even though we lost 3-1. Apart from a ten minute spell where they scored three goals, I thought we gave a really good account of ourselves as they fielded a very strong team that day.

Danny Hylton celebrates scoring a goal against Newcastle United at St James' Park in the FA Cup third round
Hylton pulls one back for the Hatters away at Newcastle United in the third round of the FA Cup.

“I had a disallowed goal, and from other angles I’ve seen since, it looks like it was onside. Elliot Lee came on and hit the crossbar and we had one or two other chances so on a different day it could have been a different result.

“The fans that day were unbelievable too, all of them were so loud and proud so I was glad to give them a goal to cheer about. The stadium was absolutely packed so it was a brilliant experience.

“There were so many highlights at Luton like the promotions and just turning up every day with that squad - I don’t ever take that for granted. My whole six years there was a highlight and I have nothing but unbelievable memories of that club.”

The striker mentioned a number of players who made the changing room special, like Alan McCormack, Sonny Bradley and Luke Berry, but when James Collins arrived in 2017, the pair formed a deadly partnership up top which earned back to back promotions… even if Collins’ debut was far from ideal.

He said: “James Collins (Collo) coming in was probably really, really good for me because we were good friends. At the time, I had come off the back of quite a successful season where I was top goal scorer and all of a sudden Collo comes in and he scores goals, especially at that level, so I knew he was coming in to rival my place as the ‘main man’ as strikers like to be, but we pushed each other every single day.

Danny Hylton scores a goal for Luton Town at Kenilworth Road
James Collins (left) and Hylton both spurred each other on to score numerous goals for the club.

“I was suspended for the opening game of the season when we beat Yeovil 8-2 and I remember sitting in the crowd as Collo scored a hattrick. I was so happy that we had won the game but I just felt ill because I couldn’t help but think that if I was playing, I would have scored a hattrick.

“I remember Nathan coming up to me after the game and he could see I was happy but a bit gutted. He said ‘let that be a lesson to you, don’t do silly things to get sent off, but trust me you will come back into the team and you will score goals’. He could see it had kind of hurt me, but I loved my partnership with Collo and we scored lots of goals together.”

The Cobblers came calling

Hylton was released at the end of his contract in 2022 and joined neighbours Northampton Town after six memorable years leading the line for the Hatters. The move was difficult for all involved, including the fans, and Hylton confesses he couldn’t say the farewells he wanted to at the time.

He said: “It was one of the hardest periods of my life. I couldn’t look online, I couldn’t go into the club to say goodbye to anyone, I couldn’t read a message, I couldn’t look at my phone, it was honestly so hard for me because the time I had there was so good. I had friends and a good bond with people so it was horrible.

“It wasn’t for about four or five days that I could actually look at my phone and go into the club and see the media staff to film something, but even then I couldn’t film the leaving video I wanted to film because I was going to cry my eyes out like a big baby!”

“I don’t think I fully adjusted to leaving, it was my life and I really bought into the club. It was a big part of my kids and my wife’s life so it’s been hard for me to now go and be a Northampton Town player. It’s hard to feel that attachment that I felt at Luton and I don’t know if I fully got over that.

“It’s not about me or any individual though, football moves fast and I’m extremely proud of the journey I had at Luton but you’ve got to keep moving forward and my time was up there.”

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu and Danny Hylton at Kenilworth Road
Long-serving player Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu alongside Hylton after the forward scored a hattrick against Accrington Stanley.

Bonkers red cards, crazy penalties and a willingness to go above and beyond for the badge made Super Danny Hylton, well, super. From goal line tap ins to thumping volleys, the ex-number nine was an ambassador for what Luton Town is all about and will always be remembered fondly at Kenilworth Road.

As the goal scorer himself puts it: “I was a small part of the recent success and if I brought nothing else, hopefully I brought entertainment value.

“Whether I played good or bad, there was always something around the corner, and if it wasn’t a goal you could celebrate, it was a silly moment that you enjoyed but got me in trouble with my wife!”

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