What do Fulham, Wigan Athletic, Swansea, Hull City, and Blackpool have in common? Apart from being well-recognised teams, all of the clubs rose from the bottom of the English football pyramid to the Premier League. Moreover, all these clubs went on an impressive run where they went from obscurity to the top of the English League. However, one club now has outdone them all. With their win over Coventry City in the Championship play-off final, Luton Town have become the first English team to go from non-league to the Premier League.
Situated in Bedfordshire county in the East of England, Luton Town last played in the top-tier League in 1982. Since then, they have been on a cycle of relegation and promotion in the lower leagues. However, in 2009, the club reached their lowest point when they were eliminated to the Conference Premier League.
However, since then, the club have ground it out, suffering close promotional calls, winning it the hard way through several leagues to get to the point they are currently at. And their fairytale run had the most dramatic end as the club defeated Coventry City on penalties to complete their dream of playing in the Premier League.
So, how did Luton Town manage to turn around their fortunes?
This is our story.
The first club to go from non-league to the Premier League! 🧡#COVLUT | #COYH pic.twitter.com/n2NvnBiURl
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) May 27, 2023
A steep fall for Luton Town
When the 2008-09 season ended, Luton Town achieved history though not in a positive sense. For the first time in their history, the club was relegated to the Conference Premier League. And the drop came under controversial circumstances. Before the start of the 2008-09 season, the Football Association (FA) conducted an investigation which found the club guilty of 15 misconduct.
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And thus, the club was fined £50,000 and docked ten points even before the season started. However, the worst was yet to come as the FA docked a further 20 points for Luton Town to compete in the current season. This meant that despite winning 56 points, Luton were relegated to the Conference Premier League.
This meant that Luton Town were playing as a non-league team for the first time. And that status would remain with them for the next four years. During this time, they would get to the playoffs thrice but fail to get promoted each time.
Luton Town’s Conference League Play-offs losses
|2010-11||AFC Wimbledon||0-0 (4-3 on penalties)|
The rise under John Still
However, things only changed in 2013 when the club appointed John Still as their manager. A former player Still altered the club’s face by signing several players. One of them was midfielder Pelly Ruddock, who remains an integral part of the club.
Still implemented a new system that made Luton a goal-scoring machine—in his first season, Still managed to win the Conference League amassing a massive total of 101 points, 19 ahead of second-placed Cambridge United.
However, promotion came with a price as Luton Town lost their star striker Andre Gray who scored 38 goals for them. Luton Town then had to get creative, which meant making intelligent transfers, often free ones, to keep their squad competitive.
Despite all that, Luton Town would have to wait for at least three more seasons for their next promotion. However, in between all this, Luton Town fired John Still after the team were 17th in League Two in just their second season.
The saviour Nathan Jones
When Still resigned, Luton Town were a mess and looked certain of relegation back to the Conference League. And it was under these circumstances that the club appointed the inexperienced Nathan Jones. A former player who acted as caretaker boss for Brighton, Jones’ appointment was a considerable risk. However, he answered the critics by helping the club climb up to 11th in the table.
Jones was a man who had big dreams about the club, and the first step was promotion to League One. For this, he followed the same strategy that Still did; smart signings. And one of the players who came was striker Danny Hylton. The Englishman would score 27 goals in his debut season to help Luton finish fourth, following which they failed to win their playoffs.
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The following season though, Luton finally got their second promotion in 2017-18 as they finished second behind Accrington Stanley to achieve automatic promotion to League One.
Luton, though are a club that always experienced a roller coaster of a ride. And in their first season in League One, they experienced just that when Nathan Jones left the club for Stoke City. Unfortunately, this meant that Luton Town had to find another manager when they were in a precarious situation.
Promotion to Championship and then to the Premier League
When Nathan Jones went to Stoke, Luton appointed Mick Harford on a temporary basis. And he didn’t disappoint, helping them win the League and get promotion back to the Championship in 2018-19. Their first season in the Championship, though, gave them a real taste of the challenge they had to endure and win to get to the Premier League.
For the major part of the season, Luton Town were in the relegation zone under their new manager Graeme Jones. On the other hand, Nathan Jones was also having a rough time at Stoke City, failing to get the best out of one of the best teams in the Championship.
And thus, in April, Nathan Jones was fired from his job, and Luton duly reappointed him, considering their precarious situation. Jones had an immediate effect going on an undefeated five-match streak at the end of the season to help them survive relegation by the skin of their teeth.
From the following season, Luton would be better prepared to deal with life in the Championship. The club signed Kal Naismith and Jordan Clark on a free transfer and added several other players as loan signings.
• 2016: Stayed in League Two
• 2018: Promoted to League One
• 2020: Survived in the Championship
• 2022: Make the Championship playoffs
With one of the smallest budgets in the division, Nathan Jones has taken Luton Town within three games of the Premier League. 🎩📈#LTFC pic.twitter.com/9FmWKwqoFv
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) May 7, 2022
This helped them finish 12th in the league table and went into the summer transfer window with renewed ambition. However, the lack of financial resources compared to their fellow teams meant that four players were added to the squad on a free transfer.
The influx of players helped Luton finish in the playoff position for the first time and gave them a shot to win promotion and take the final step in their fairytale story. However, they lost to Huddersfield in the playoff semi-finals.
In the middle of the 2022-23 season, the club also underwent a managerial change appointing Rob Edwards. It was a massive challenge for the new man, but he managed to steer the ship and guide them into a third-place finish.
From there, they needed two victories, thus adding another golden page in their book of incredible resurgence. However, it is not the final page, and Luton Town must be dreaming of higher ambitions in the Premier League. Seeing their previous record, we can only say that the sky is the limit for them.