by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

13 April 1936 – Joe Payne stars in Luton’s 12-0 victory over Bristol Rovers

When Luton Town fans turned up to Kenilworth Road to watch their team play Bristol Rovers on Easter Monday 13 April 1936, little could they have known what was in store for them.

 The player who was going to be the hero of that day was Joe Payne. He had been spotted playing as centre-forward for Bolsover Colliery in September 1933 by Luton scout Charlie Butler who promptly recommended the club to sign him.  At first he was loaned out to Luton’s nursery team Biggleswade Town, before becoming a regular in the Luton reserve side, where he was tried out in several positions before it was decided wing half was his best position.   In April 1936 Luton were vying for the single promotion spot from the Third Division South, and when the Bristol Rovers fixture came around it was their third game in four days.  Injuries had robbed them of all three first choice strikers, and Payne, who had only played four games all season, and none since September, was called up as replacement.  It was to be his first game as centre-forward for the club, but what followed meant it was to be his position in future. 

Payne scored his first in the 23rd minute, Roberts adding a Luton second in the 32nd minute, to see the Hatters comfortably ahead.  Two goals by Payne to give him his hat-trick in the 40th and 43rd minutes saw Luton extend their lead by the half-time break.  In the second-half though Payne got really going.  In the 49th minute he scored his fourth, and a header from him in the 55th minute was saved by the Tranmere keeper, Ellis, and scrambled home by Martin.  Two minutes later Payne scored again, followed by four more in the 65th, 76th, 84th and 86th minutes.  Payne, having scored nine, was now being urged on by the crowd to get the one more goal that would give him the record for most goals in a game.  Another goal was scored, but by Martin.  Luton had scored twelve, but seemingly Payne had missed out on the record.  However, this already remarkable story still had a bit further to run.  After the game the referee gave Martin’s 55th minute goal to Payne saying he believed the ball had already crossed the line when Martin put it in the net.  So Payne got the record but most fans only found out about it in the next day’s newspapers.

 Payne kept his place for the next game at Newport and scored both goals in a 2-0 win for Luton.  The following season he continued his plundering and scored 55 goals in 39 games, a tally that included five hat-tricks and two four-goal games.  Luton won promotion that season with a last day victory over Torquay 2-0, the goals coming, of course, from Payne.  His exploits during the season caught the eye of the FA and he got rewarded with his one and only appearance for England, scoring twice in an 8-0 win over Finland.

 He did not find goals so easy to come by in the Second Division but he still did enough to earn a transfer to Chelsea for a large fee in March 1938.  He did not do badly at Chelsea scoring 21 goals in 36 matches, but as his career should have been entering its prime it was halted by the Second World War, although he did manage to score 5 goals against his old side Luton in a war-time league game in 1944. 

Following the resumption of league football after the war Payne had a short spell at West Ham. He was now in his thirties though and was hampered by the two broken ankles he had suffered in war-time games.  Nonetheless he still managed six goals in ten games, but his finest days were behind him and he quietly retired.

Payne finished his career with a total of 110 goals in 188 games, a record that suggests if war had not robbed him of his best years he might have achieved much more.  As it is though he left plenty to remember and a plaque commemorating Payne, who died on 22 April 1975, aged 61, is affixed to the outside of the Miner’s Arms public house in Brimington Common, Derbyshire, adjacent to the site of the house, now demolished, where he used to live. The plaque was unveiled by Geoff Thompson, the then president of the F.A, on 13th April 2006, the 70th anniversary of Joe’s achievement, and was attended by two of his nephews.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about Payne’s record was that it was the third time that season that the individual scoring record had been broken.  On 14 December Ted Drake had set a new record when he scored all seven for Arsenal against Villa at Villa Park.   Legend has it that it could have been eight as he hit the bar with the one shot he missed that day, but when protesting that the ball had rebounded over the goal-line he was told by the ref, “not to be greedy.”  Drakes feat is still the record in the top division, but for the League as a whole it was to last amazingly for just 12 days.   On 26 December Bunny Bell hit the bar and missed a penalty but netted nine times as Tranmere beat Oldham 13-4, his record-breaking last two goals coming in the 88th and 89th minutes.   Bell’s record of course lasted just four months before Payne achieved his remarkable feat, and this time set a record that is surely unlikely to ever be broken again.