The fairy-tale of Luton Town FC: From non-league to Premier League in less than a decade

The fairy-tale of Luton Town FC: From non-league to Premier League in less than a decade

Luton Town FC, a club that won promotion from the National League just nine years after being relegated to it, is one game away from the Premier League. If Luton defeats Coventry City in the EFL Championship Play-Off Final on Saturday, the Hatters will have made the journey from non-league to the Premier League in less than a decade. The journey of the club from the National League to the EFL has been remarkable and has attracted tourists to the Oak Road which has become an unusual tourist attraction.

The Oak Stand at Kenilworth Road

The Oak Stand at Kenilworth Road is a tiny 10,356-capacity stadium that welcomed supporters from Braintree Town and Welling United less than 10 years ago. Next season, fans from Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal could be making the same journey through turnstiles wedged between Nos. 99 and 103 Oak Road and then across a metal staircase that cuts through the back gardens of the houses on the street. The old stadium is beautiful, and it defines how so many English football clubs have been rooted in their communities for more than a century.

Kenilworth Road is certainly different. If Luton is promoted, their stadium will be the smallest to ever host Premier League fixtures. The Main Stand is a jumbled patchwork of multicoloured wooden seats and plastic benches, while the players’ tunnel is narrow enough to trigger memories of the days when scores were settled by opponents off the pitch, away from prying eyes and cameras.

Upgrading Kenilworth Road for the Premier League

If Luton is promoted, they face a £10 million to-do list of summer improvements in order to ensure their stadium meets minimum Premier League standards. It includes bigger dressing rooms, new floodlights, improved media/broadcasting facilities, a VAR system, and a completely new stand to replace the enclosure opposite the Main Stand. Despite Luton having approval to build a new 17,500-seater stadium at nearby Power Court, the Premier League could be less than three months away; Kenilworth Road, which is 30 miles north of London, will be getting a rapid upgrade.

The Journey of Luton Town FC and Its Players

Luton Town FC has been on an incredible journey. The club had monetary problems and was deducted points which led to relegation to the National League in 2008-09. The sanction, which condemned Luton to relegation, remains an open wound among the club’s supporters, as borne out by a banner — Luton Town, Est. 2008, Betrayed by the FA 2008 — which still hangs in the Main Stand.

After four seasons of failing to escape the National League, Luton hired John Still as manager in 2013. Still had enjoyed a record of success at National League level stretching back over 20 years, having won promotion to the EFL with Maidstone United (1989) and Dagenham & Redbridge (2007), and his appointment proved to be the catalyst for Luton’s rebirth and rise. Still won promotion in his first season in charge, restoring Luton to the EFL. Promotion from League 2 (alongside Coventry City) followed in 2018, and the team went up from League 1 at the first attempt in 2019. Three promotions in nine years, and a fourth is potentially just 90 minutes away on Saturday.

Midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu has been in each promotion-winning team, and the 29-year-old will become the first player in history to play for the same club in the National League, League 2, League 1, Championship and Premier League if he helps guide Luton to the top flight.

Edwards and Sweet’s Mutual Appreciation

The mutual appreciation between Edwards and Sweet is a reflection of Luton as a club. Those years in the lower leagues, battling to escape the National League, seem to have forged a togetherness and family spirit that are rare at the highest level of the game. To further underline the community aspect of the club, a group of supporters started an online fundraiser this week, aiming to raise £500 for Kenilworth Road’s ticket office staff to have a free day out at Wembley on Saturday. By Thursday morning, the figure raised exceeded £5,000.

Luton, meanwhile, believe they have hit the jackpot by hiring Edwards. “We couldn’t have had a better human being come in than Rob,” chief executive Sweet said. “His image and persona is impeccable, and he reflects our image and persona. I think he’s actually a bit better than we are.”

Luton Town FC is a symbol of the spirit and resilience shown by football clubs that have been rooted in their communities for more than a century. The club’s journey from non-league to the Premier League in less than a decade is remarkable and has been guided by John Still and Rob Edwards. The Oak Stand at Kenilworth Road is a tiny 10,356-capacity stadium that reflects the club’s roots and the community’s support. Although Luton needs to upgrade their stadium to meet Premier League standards, the club’s journey to the top flight is an inspiration to other football clubs that are struggling in the lower leagues.

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