In 2006, Luton Town had finished tenth in the Championship after an initial play-off push fell apart in its latter stages. However, after relegation in 2007, administration and further financial instability caused an unprecedented demise. Three consecutive relegations left the Hatters in the National League for the first time in their history. Now, 13 years after their untimely exit, Luton are returning to the second tier, and the gloom of yesteryear seems to finally be conquered.
Promotion From League One Completes Luton Town’s Stunning Return
Slipping Down the Leagues
Luton’s playoff push in 2005/06 was not supported by a strong financial stature. Due to their small stadium capacity, the club lacked the infrastructure to support subsequent promotion pushes. This culminated in the sales of many first-team players, leading to their relegation from the Championship in 2007.
2007/08 started brightly, with eight new signings and a push for an immediate return the goal. In November, however, the club was placed in administration and docked ten points. What started as a promotion push soon became another relegation dogfight. The squad was picked apart in the next transfer window, with replacing them forbidden by their administration. With the squad in tatters, a second relegation loomed.
The Hatters prepared for their 2008/09 season with a 15-point deduction for failing to complete a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA). This then increased to 20 points due to their third administration in nine years (the other coming in 2003). An additional ten points were docked due to reported financial irregularities at the club. The club were left with a mountain to climb for any chance at surviving this 30-point hurdle. If not for this huge deduction, Luton would have finished in mid-table obscurity. Instead, they faced five long years clawing at the Football League’s back door.
The Long Road Back
Although tipped by many as the favourites for the Conference National title, Luton’s poor start to the 2009/10 season cost them. Mick Harford was replaced with Richard Money, who led the club to second place. They were defeated in the play-off semi-finals by York City. Another season of exile beckoned. Labelled early-season favourites the next season, they were subjected to the play-offs once more due to an unbeatable Crawley Town. This time they came within inches of play-off success, losing the final on penalties to AFC Wimbledon.
Another season came with another unsuccessful promotion challenge. The club’s fifth-place finish saw them contest the play-offs yet again. They reached the final a second time, beaten 2-1 by York City. 2012/13 saw their lowest ever league finish, seventh in the Conference National, far off the pace. The highlight of their season was defeating Norwich City 1-0 in the FA Cup. In doing so, they became the first non-league side to beat a Premier League team.
2013/14 was to be the year the club finally made their return to the Football League. With John Still at the helm, the club launched a successful title bid, storming the division with 101 points. Andre Gray was the star player at the head of their attack, scoring 30 of their 102 goals in the league. With the club now firmly on the up, it was time for their much-anticipated return.
Back at Old Hunting Grounds
Luton’s first season back in League Two ended with them inches away from the play-offs, having fought for automatic promotion earlier in the season. However, a mediocre second season followed which saw Still leave the club in December. Nathan Jones replaced him, but their inconsistency left them in 11th place. Jones’ first full season saw another automatic promotion fight, which ended with Luton in fourth place. They lost out in the play-off semi-final to Blackpool. Luton goalkeeper Stuart Moore’s own goal in the 95th minute of the second leg spelt heartbreak for all Luton fans.
After the disappointment of yet another play-off failure, the club were back with a vengeance. Their fourth consecutive League Two season saw the Hatters top the table for much of the season. They were pipped to the title by Accrington Stanley in April, but finished in second, looking onward to League One football.
Their return to the third tier after a ten-year absence started slowly, but they were in the top two by December. They overtook Portsmouth in first in January, and have remained there ever since. Promotion was confirmed on Tuesday night after Portsmouth and Sunderland both slipped up. Now all that remains is to win the title on the final day, needing to simply better Barnsley’s result. Win, lose or draw on Saturday, Luton will be playing Championship football again next season.
The Future is Bright
Luton were heavily reliant on youth after administration, and this system has reaped greater rewards for them now. Curtis Davies and Leon Barnett were two notable graduates sold to aid their financial situation. Andre Gray was signed by the Hatters at the age of 20 and his sale to Brentford along with its sell-on clauses meant it was one of the most lucrative transfers of their history.
James Justin is another academy graduate with a bright future. Justin was part of their U11 side that won the Aurau Masters, a five-a-side tournament in Switzerland, beating Bayern Munich in the final. This side also featured Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons, Norwich’s star full-backs, and Jay and Cole Dasilva, who both went on to Chelsea.
With a new 23,000-seat stadium recently approved, next season could potentially be Luton’s last at Kenilworth Road. This will put an end to a 70-year wait for a new stadium for Luton fans. With Graeme Jones set to be appointed as their new manager, Luton fans will rejoice at the prospect of their new horizons. This is a club on the up once again.