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  • Writer's pictureAlex Oakhill

‘30 points who gives a...' - Luton Town’s rise from the deathbed

When Luton Town were relegated into the conference in 2009 after the single biggest points deduction in English Football League history, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking the Hatters were dropping out of the 92 never to return.

Fast forward 14 years and thanks to a penalty shootout victory under the Wembley arch, Luton have completed one of the greatest stories in club football, going all the way from non league football to the Premier League.

As the Hatters scramble to prepare their beloved Kenilworth Road to welcome the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool next season, it’s important to remember Luton’s voyage to the promised land has been far from plain sailing.

Luton Town’s rise from rock bottom

Ironically, the day Luton Town sank lower than ever before was just a week after one of the great days in the club's history (post 2000). Victory over Scunthorpe United at Wembley in the Johnstone Paint Trophy symbolic of the fact Luton Town would never die despite the assassination attempts of the FA and EFL.

Just 8 days after this great triumph, the Hatters were condemned to the inevitable, a 0-0 draw with Chesterfield ending the Town’s 89 year stay in the Football League.

What followed was four years of disappointment and frustration. Arrogance quickly turned to realisation that the Conference was an unforgiving division. Defeats to Hyde, Braintree and Barrow were humbling, play off failure against York (twice) and AFC Wimbledon detrimental.

The Hatters were in dire need of a saviour, and their knight in shining armour came in the form of John Still. Reverting back to basics, the experienced Still led Luton to the Conference title in his first full season in charge.

To this day, Still is seen as a hero around Kenilworth Road, praised with helping the Hatters take their first step on the stairway to the Premier League.

John Still celebrates promotion to the Football League | Photo by Gareth Owen

All good things must come to an end though, and Still was replaced by Nathan Jones midway through the Town’s second campaign in League Two. The Welshman would go on to stamp a high pressing, free flowing identity on the Hatters that still remains 8 years later.

In his first full season in charge, Jones led Luton to a play off semi final against Blackpool, where a cruel last minute own goal in the second leg sentenced the Town to yet more play off heartbreak.

However, the pain was short lived. The following season saw the Hatters promoted to League One in second place, with 8-2, 7-1 and 7-0 wins along the way.

Under Jones the club was in a fantastic place, and come January of their first year back in League One, Luton surprisingly found themselves in the automatic promotion place.

By now though Town fans had learnt the road to success always had a few bumps along the way. In the middle of January, Jones unceremoniously left to join Stoke City, even posing in his new Stoke tracksuit whilst claiming the manager of the month award he had won with the Hatters.

The reigns were handed to club legend Mick Harford, who guided Luton to important draws against Sunderland and Blackpool and scintillating wins against Pompey and Accrington to name a few. Harford by his own admission changed very little after Jones’ departure, and the strategy worked as Luton were promoted as champions of League One.

Luton celebrate League One triumph | Photo by Gareth Owen

Throughout this rapid ascent up the English football league system, the Luton board and owners had done very little wrong, recruiting players and managers impressively. However, the decision to appoint Graeme Jones as manager for the Town’s first season back in the Championship was a rare bad one.

Midway through March, the Hatters were cut adrift, 6 points from safety when the season was stopped due to Covid. Graeme Jones was sacked and when football did resume, there was a familiar face at the helm. Nathan Jones rejoined the Hatters to a mixed reception from fans after a torrid (and short) spell in charge of Stoke.

Football fans are a fickle bunch though and it was hard for Luton supporters to stay angry at Jones after he guided them to safety, the Hatters’ very own Great Escape achieved with 16 points from the last 9 games.

Over the next two seasons, Jones continued the upward momentum he’d established during his first spell at the club, steadily improving the team and their league position over the two campaigns. By the end of the 2021/22 season, the Town found themselves in an unlikely play off place, but with a squad blighted by injuries were unable to get past Huddersfield in the semi final.

Success like this doesn’t go unnoticed and Nathan Jones left Luton for a second time in mid November of the following season, once again struggling away from Kenilworth Road as he was sacked by Southampton after just three months in charge.

The task was given to Rob Edwards to complete the final chapter in Luton’s fairytale. Many supporters were concerned at losing one of the best managers in the clubs history, but with Rob Edwards at the helm the Hatters quietly got even better and reached the Championship playoffs for the second successive season.

It felt different this time around though, a fully fit squad and a feel good factor around the club, the underdog mentality from the previous campaign had been dispelled and their was firm belief the Hatters could finally reach the Premier League.

The semi final against Sunderland was tight, the Northern side were ravaged by injuries but still managed to take a 2-1 lead away from the Stadium of Light. The second leg was a completely different story however. The Black Cats had entered the lions den as Kenilworth Road was at its ferocious, frightening best, and the Hatters booked their spot at Wembley with a 2-0 win.

Then came Luton’s day in the sun, perhaps the clubs greatest hour. Under the Wembley arch, an army of orange was reduced to tears of jubilation and relief as they watched their side reach the Premier League on penalties.

Luton celebrate promotion to the Premier League | Photo by Gareth Owen

There were feel good stories everywhere, from Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu becoming the first player to go from Conference to Premier League with one club, to Rob Edwards winning promotion after being sacked by the Hatters arch rivals just 8 months prior.

However, what summed up Luton Town as a football club more than anything else was the support shown for Tom Lockyer at full time. The Welshman, who had been colossal at the back for the Town all season, collapsed just five minutes into the game, and watched the Hatters win promotion from a hospital bed. The squad held his shirt aloft during the celebrations and manager Rob Edwards was visibly emotional upon hearing the news that his captain was in a stable condition.

The jokes about Luton’s ‘traditional’ stadium have already begun, and many Premier League fans will condemn the Hatters to certain relegation before a ball has been kicked, but Luton deserve their place in the big time just as much as anyone else and they may just shock a few next season.

Featured image: Photo copyright of Gareth Owen/LTFC

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Jun 29, 2023

What great read well done

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