‘Creaky’ Luton Town on edge of Premier League
You have ramshackle, you have very ramshackle and then you have Kenilworth Road. Luton Town’s little stadium seats about 10,000 spectators, but is so old and dilapidated that it seems like every home game could well be the last.
And yet next season players such as Virgil van Dijk, Erling Haaland, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah could well be on display in this ruin, as Luton play the final of the playoffs for promotion to the Premier League this afternoon.
At 5:45 p.m. Luton’s players, who ten years ago were a fifth division side, will get a taste of the sumptuous luxury of soccer at the very highest level when the team takes on Coventry City at Wembley.
Time has stood still
If you visit Luton and are used to a little bit of luxury at a soccer stadium, you will find yourself in a completely different world in the village 45 minutes by train north of London. The stadium was built in 1905 and it seems as if time has stood still there in all these years.
The nostalgic soccer fan can indulge at Kenilworth Road. The paint has peeled off in several places, some of the seats are still made of wood, and those who want to score a scarf or shirt are welcome to visit the fan shop that has been converted into a construction shack in front of the stadium.
But surely the entrance for visiting supporters stands out the most. To reach the Oak Stand, supporters first walk under a worker’s house before climbing the steps through someone’s garden on their way to the away box. English soccer nostalgia of the highest order.
There are plans for a new home. But the Power Court stadium that should accommodate 23,000 supporters is still not there, thanks in part to the corona pandemic.
Should Luton be promoted, the club will have to call it a day at Kenilworth Road for the time being. The first shovel probably won’t go in the ground until the end of this year.
Promotion does require major rebuilding, as certain conditions must be met in order to play in the Premier League. For example, the main stand must be practically rebuilt and the camera systems improved to support the many cameras that pass by at the Premier League party.
New light poles must also be installed. A cost that could total up to 10 million pounds, about 11.5 million euros.
Match of 200 million pounds
It will ultimately be a cakewalk when Luton steps off the pitch winningly today. Because the match at Wembley is also known as the match of 200 million pounds. That’s the TV money ahead, should the Premier League be achieved.
Not only is Luton’s stadium special, but the small club’s sporting achievements stand out. Ten years ago, the club was still playing in the National League, England’s fifth tier.
In 1992, just before the start of the newly created and (financially) extremely successful Premier League, Luton was still relegated from the highest English division. In the following years, partly due to financial mismanagement, the club slid bit by bit further into the English soccer swamp.
Relegation after relegation
Starting in 2007, things went all wrong at Luton. After relegation from the Championship, the club received a ten-point deduction in the 2007/2008 season for not having its finances in order.
A season later, this was the case again and the club was even deducted thirty points. Not surprisingly, Luton were relegated for the third time in a row and found themselves back in the National League.
In Luton’s 138-year existence, in which winning the League Cup in 1988 is the most significant achievement, the club has never played so low. As many as five seasons Luton muddled along in the National League before grabbing the title in 2014.
This was immediately followed by two more promotions and now the Premier League beckons. An exceptional achievement for a team with, according to website Transfermarkt.co.uk, a selection value of some 36 million euros. By comparison, Southampton, the Premier League’s straggler, has a selection worth nearly 400 million euros.
No oil magnate
The basis for Luton’s success was not based on the bank account of a powerful oil tycoon or a Saudi prince, but on clever policy. Sophisticated and often transfer-free purchases and mercenaries started the way up. A recipe the club still adheres to.
Pelly Ruddock is one of the shining examples in this regard. He was rented from West Ham United in 2013 and later acquired permanently. The Englishman with Congolese roots could thus become the first player ever to move up from the National League to the Premier League with a club.
“When I came, everything here was insane. But everything has gone up in level.” Not a word lied about that. Ruddock made his debut for Luton with 621 fans in the stands. This afternoon there will be a lot more with tens of thousands of fans at Wembley.