Luton, a town 50 kilometers from London, celebrated on Monday the promotion of his team to the Premier League. "Back in the big time" read the motto of the route in an open-top bus in which a team that missed its captain walked. Tom Lockyer collapsed during the opening minutes of the promotion final last Sunday at Wembley. The images of his collapse and subsequent evacuation recalled those that Christian Eriksen starred in the last European Championship. The match continued and in the last penalty shootout Luton Town left behind Coventry to guarantee its first experience in the Premier League, a category of which it considers itself founder, but which could not taste: it was relegated from the English first division in 1992, just before the beginning of a new era of opulence in the football of the Islands.
So the celebration at Wembley was worth it. But concern for Lockyer stained him bittersweet. Until a photograph of the player sitting in the hospital bed celebrating the triumph surrounded by family went viral. There he is still subjected to tests and without greater novelty so far than his good appetite. Luton released on Monday afternoon an image of the player following the celebration parade from his room connected to the cables that serve to monitor his condition. The parade that Lockyer witnessed on television departed from one of the most unique points of English football, the stadium that in one of its funds overlooks the Kenilworth road.
In 1955 Luton Town celebrated 70 years of existence with its first promotion to the top flight of English football. It was then that he raised the need to shelter in a new fiefdom. Kenilworth Road had already offered half a century of service and looked old and bare. In addition, the team was consolidated with a certain solidity among the greats and at the end of 1958 became leader of the competition. That season he played the Cup final at Wembley and the need for a new home became evident when in a match of that competition 30,069 people crowded into the stands. But various avatars postponed the works, the team fell and did not consolidate in the top category until the eighties.
In 2023 Kenilworth Road is still standing and with a similar aroma to the last 118 years. When from August, Haaland, Kane, Salah, Guardiola, Klopp or that large cast of clubs supported by billionaire owners come to Luton, they will wait for them in the old coliseum that now has a capacity for 10,356 followers and which at the bottom of Oak Road is accessed to the benches through iron stairs that cross the courtyards of the Victorian houses that surround the field.
"It's a very peculiar place... The sounds, the feeling that is created there, especially in the night matches, is very special. And let no one doubt that for anyone who plays there it will be a tough day. Kenilworth Road is going to be a shock for many teams," warns Joaquín Gómez Blasco, an Avila native from Sotillo de la Adrada, who coaches SJK Seinäjoki, the leader of the Finnish league. Between 2015 and 2017 he worked on Luton's coaching staff. And there he felt a crush on a unique club. "The fans have a lot of pride in belonging and feel mistreated by those in charge," he says.
After that relegation at the dawn of the Premier League, Luton remained between the second and third category of English football. But in November 2007 the Federation decreed a penalty of ten points for financial irregularities in payments to players' agents. The team went to the fourth step and that same summer the sanction was extended to 30 points for the next season, which de facto meant a condemnation to a relegation to the well of the Conference, the fifth division. "Today we have a good relationship with the Federation and the League, but we do not forget that grotesque decision. They tried to set an example, but they chose the wrong one. Or maybe they knew we would have the courage to come back," Gary Sweet, the club's chief executive, said on Saturday after the play-off win at Wembley.
Sweet is in the pay of a consortium that in that summer of 2008 was already maneuvering to rescue the club. "These are investors with a good economic position who are also fans of the club and who since then focused on a series of values that are based on economic sustainability or details such as not accepting sponsorships from bookmakers. They have further fostered the feeling of belonging," explains Joaquín Gómez. "When they arrived they set themselves an eight-year goal to be back in the Championship and they got it early," he adds. Now they have gone a little further to make the leap in nine years from the fifth division to the first. Midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu was on that route. If he lines up in the Premier League he will have broken all the records of category jumps with the same team in England.
The growth of Luton is based on constancy. In the five years they spent in Conference (from 2009 to 2014), the lowest point of the team in its history, it fell in the first three seasons in the playoffs, the fourth bottomed out and in the fifth won the league with 101 points. The fourth return exercise in League Two finished second and also lost in promotion with an own goal in the last play of the game, at Kenilworth Road: a clearance from a defender hit the back of the goalkeeper and went into the net. Joaquin Gomez was there. "It seemed that the world was ending, but the coaching staff called us from the club and asked us to evaluate what happened and tell them what we needed to try again." A year later Luton Town were League One teams.
The success of promotion to the English third division led to an earthquake. Several members of the coaching staff, with Nathan Jones at the helm, accepted an offer from Stoke City, who were playing a higher category and seeking promotion to the Premier League. Gomez left for that destination. The Luton did not vary theirs. And twelve months later he signed his second consecutive promotion. Now, after four years in the Championship, he is looking for the most difficult yet. "Most of the club staff, physical trainers, analysts or technical secretariat are still there. That structure, moreover, has grown. They will compete against the best in the world and it will be complicated, an incredible challenge, but I know well their ability to overcome to adapt to the next level. Luton have signed very well in recent years and I'm sure they will strengthen, fight and show that in football not everything is money, "resolves Gómez.
However, the economic injection that involves the entry into the Premier (about 200 million euros) seems a guarantee for the club to take even more steps in its growth. For now they will invest 12 million euros in adapting their old house immediately. And the new stadium finally appears on the horizon because nothing is eternal, not even Kenilworth Road.
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