Luton Town ascended to the first division of English football (Premier League) after beating Coventry in the penalty shootout (6-5 after a 1-1 draw), this Saturday in the final of the promotion playoffs of the Championship (2nd division), at Wembley before 85,000 spectators.
This promotion is the culmination of the fairy tale of this club in the London region, which ten years ago was barely in the fifth division. Luton left the first category 31 years ago and now they must face the renovation of their old stadium, with capacity for 10,000 spectators, to be able to receive the greats of the country.
"It's been a nice journey. We're going to be partying all summer," said midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who has seen Luton's four promotions from the fifth tier of English football to its elite.
This Saturday, the promotion match had a moment of concern, when Luton captain Tom Lockyer collapsed on the turf at the start of the duel. The Welsh defender was taken off the pitch and taken to a hospital, where the club said he was conscious and had already been able to speak to his family.
Luton is the last club promoted to the Premier League. Before they had achieved it, automatically by finishing in the first two positions of the Championship, Burnley and Sheffield United.
Luton Town and a movie story
In a city renowned for the manufacture of hats and cars (there was for almost a century the main plant of the Vauxhall firm), Luton Town was born on April 11, 1885, was one of the founding clubs of the Southern League in 1894 and spent its first 70 years of history in the promotion categories of English football until it rose to the first division in 1955.
Five seasons in that first cycle and one more campaign in the mid-1970s preceded the third, last, and brightest cycle in the elite, which ran from 1982 to 1992. In that decade they not only reached an outstanding sixth place in 1987, but were also League Cup champions in 1988 (defeated Arsenal 3-2 in the final at Wembley) and runners-up in 1989 (lost 3-1 to Nottingham Forest).
A 2–1 away defeat to Notts County on 2 May 1992 on the last date of the last season prior to the birth of the Premier League saw the Hatters relegated to the second division and also the start of a dismal period that included changes of ownership. A bankruptcy in 2007, financial irregularities that produced a discount of 30 points in 2008 and the fall in 2009 to the fifth division. Thus they were left out of the Football League, the scheme of English professional football, after 89 years.
Welshman Rob Edwards has been managing Luton Town since November 2022. Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA PA via AP.
Luton had to spend five seasons in the then Conference League (now called the National League) before starting to climb the hill again: it was champion of the fifth division in 2014; promoted from League Two in 2018, after finishing second in the tournament won by Accrington Stanley; and took the League One title in 2019. This Saturday he took the last leap in this meteoric climb towards the Premier League, the competition he helped found, but in which he could never participate.
To reach this instance, he had to become strong in a contest as long as demanding (46 dates), in which, in addition, he suffered a change of coach halfway: the Welshman Nathan Jones, the coach who had guided him to promotion in League Two in 2018, left for Southampton and was replaced by his compatriot Rob Edwards, who had been League Two champions with Forest Green Rovers in the 2021/22 season and had started 2022/23 at Watford, but had been sacked after only 10 games.
In November last year, Edwards took the helm of Luton with the orange jersey in ninth place. In six months he took it to the third step of the table, with an unbeaten 13 games in the final segment of the contest, and to the final for the third promotion. In this was fundamental the contribution of striker Carlton Morris, author of 20 goals in 45 games.
The solid walk of this team and the concrete chance of getting promoted made many eyes fall on this club. And not only about its players or its coaching staff, but also about Kenilworth Road, its picturesque stadium with capacity for only 10,265 spectators and that maintains the aesthetics of the old British coliseums that were falling into disuse, especially after the tragedies of Hillsborough and Valley Parade in the 1980s.
Kenilworth Road has been located since 1905 in the district of Bury Park, a residential area located 1.6 kilometers from the city center. Although it reached a record attendance of 30,069 in 1959 (in a match against Blackpool for the FA Cup), over the years its capacity was reduced to a third. Their stadium will be the smallest in the Premier League. Currently that condition belongs to Vitality Stadium, the Bournemouth building, which has 11,307 seats.
Kenilworth Road, Luton Town's stadium, holds just 10,265 spectators. Photo: Twitter @LutonTown.
Although Luton plans to build a new stadium with a capacity for 23,000 spectators, the project, approved in January 2019, has not yet progressed beyond that, since the works have not yet begun. Because of that, he must continue to use Kenilworth Road, although first he must carry out works to adapt it to the demands of the Premier League.
"Maybe it's a bigger task than building a new stadium," Gary Sweet, the club's chief executive, said in an interview with the BBC last month. The manager explained that the club would have to "rebuild a stand in less than three months" and estimated that this would require an investment of between eight and ten million pounds.
Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu lifts the trophy: he achieved his fourth promotion in the Luton Town jersey. Photo: REUTERS/Carl Recine.
The promotion to the Premier also consecrated Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu. The midfielder, from a Congolese family and born 29 years ago in London, arrived at Luton from West Ham United in 2013, has played 367 games with this Saturday and participated in the four promotions of the last decade. After the penalties against Coventry he became the first player to move from the fifth to the first division of English football with the same club.