LUTON, England - Opinions of Luton Town's Kenilworth Road stadium run the gamut from charming and cosy to a ramshackle dump, but the club's former manager John Still believes it could be one of the team's most potent weapons if they reach the Premier League next season.
Luton Town need to beat Coventry City in Saturday's Championship Playoff Final at Wembley to earn promotion — and the biggest prize in the game.
Playing in the top flight conjures images of Manchester City's well-heeled manager Pep Guardiola and goalscoring star Erling Haaland pushing through the rusty turnstiles of Kenilworth Road. Still sees only benefits for Luton Town.
"I think the biggest plus... whoever comes here to play, they've got to play well, because the atmosphere here, they won't be used to coming here, so particularly the first year it will be a plus," Still said.
"It's a unique ground now, isn't it? If you had a son or a daughter, and they're watching Sky (TV) every week and you bring them here, they'll go 'It's not like it is on the telly!' Teams that come here will have to play well to get a result," Still added, during one of the best-attended press conferences, according to a team official, in Luton's history.
Luton Town have just defeated Sunderland to make it to the Championship Playoff FinalThey are one win away from playing Premier League matches at Kenilworth Road
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Their odds-defying story is a big draw. Luton have climbed their way up from non-league football nine years ago, to League 2 four years later, to now being on the cusp of the glittering pinnacle of the game in England. If promoted, they stand to see a revenue windfall of at least $215 million across the next three seasons, according to Deloitte's Sports Business Group. That could rise in excess of $350 million if the club survives the first season in the Premier League.
Kenilworth Road's owners have said stadium upgrades will cost $12.3 million.
The 10,356-seat stadium built in 1905 would be the smallest in the Premier League. The seats are an array of colors with no rhyme or reason, like spilled Lego. Some are so worn the original color is a mystery. The executive boxes resemble greenhouses and are barely an arm's length from the team benches. The banners are bold. One reads: "Football belongs to the fans. NOT sheikhs, oligarchs, chancers & bank£rs."
But it is the away fans' entrances to the Oak Road End that flummox and draw sneers from visitors. Views of recent TikTok posts of the infamous entries number well into six figures. The stadium is wedged so tightly into a residential neighborhood that visiting supporters climb a metal staircase that goes up and over the back gardens of the modest terraced homes.
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Luton are also infamous for the 1985 riot after their FA Cup game against Millwall. Opposing fans invaded the pitch, ransacking one of the stands. The carnage spilled into the streets, with rioters smashing cars and windows. Police arrested 31 people.
Luton narrowly missed out on the Premier League's inaugural season, having been relegated from the old First Division in 1992. A five-year exile from the Football League, after they were relegated from the fourth-tier having had points deducted due to financial irregularities, ended in 2014.
A rags to riches story, said longtime supporter Kevin Harper, would be just reward for the team's turbulent times.
"It was very tough, we were pushed into oblivion really... (but) there was always hope," said Harper, who kept up his season ticket payment of $493 during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite no fans being allowed in the stadium. "I think the whole town is going to thrive from (Premier League promotion). The football club is reflective of the town. It's multicultural, it's diverse, it's hardworking, it's industrial, and it's kind of asked the community to come with the football club and the community has responded.
"And I think with the world's football media coming to Luton next year, hopefully, it gives the town the chance to show the great side of it. Luton is written off far too easily, far too quickly."
(Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Toby Davis)