By Paul Jones
Even if Rob Edwards’ Luton Town start the season as relegation favourites, their rise from non-league to Premier League in nine years serves as an example to other small clubs with big ambitions.
Wrexham co-owner Ryan Reynolds has certainly taken note, the Hollywood A-lister quick to congratulate The Hatters and their former Wales defender-turned-manager on social media for their May 27 promotion and adding a watching eyes emoji.
Edwards admits his team will have more than their share of struggles, but they aim to leave their mark by bringing some “chaos” to the established order.
He says: “We’re going to have to talk about it as a group: how do we manage setbacks where maybe you don’t win for a month and how do you deal with that? It is about keeping that belief.
“The players understand that we need to be fitter, stronger and more resilient than ever before.
“We have to maintain a threat somehow. We want to have a go. Why would we just roll over and give the opposition the game they want?
“In the Premier League there is a lot of order, and I want to bring a little bit of chaos to that and do things our way.”
My one wish for the season, is to allow Rob Edwards to manage every game of the PL. Football doesn’t allow time but I hope this man has all the time. I have all my faith in 2020 to allow this to happen pic.twitter.com/6TDVu1iNzz
— Luton Town Football Shirts (@LTFCShirts) July 31, 2023
Followed by a global audience drawn by their Hollywood owners and the docu-series “Welcome to Wrexham”, Wrexham are still enjoying a blaze of publicity after they were promoted back to league football last season.
For Luton chairman David Wilkinson, the comparisons only go so far.
“Most of us think that people have got rather too carried away with Wrexham and not enough with us, because we’ve come further and it’s been a very exciting ride,” he laughed.
“There’s a big difference between them and us.
“First of all what makes us really different from certainly any teams in the top two divisions is that we (the owners) are all local people and all Luton fans, and the higher you go you notice that.
“The (other) clubs are now owned by Americans or Arabs or whatever and it does make us feel different and of course we’re a lot smaller than most of them too.”
Kenilworth Road, Luton’s home since 1905 with its Oak Road End reached by a staircase over the back gardens of terraced homes, will be about the same capacity as Bournemouth (11,307) once seats are added in the rebuilt Bobbers Stand.
But Luton have no external debt and are not about to run wild in the transfer market.
In a remarkable feat, Rob Edwards, in his debut season as manager at Kenilworth Road, accomplished what the previous 21 managers of Luton Town had failed to do – he led the club back https://t.co/WfN3oypHM6
— SurgeZirc UK (@surgezircuk) July 31, 2023
One of their players, former West Ham United loanee midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, is the first to go all the way from the fifth tier to the top with the same club.
“What promotion to the Premier League really does is make us sustainable, because it will enable us to finish and build our new stadium which will put us in a different ballpark,” said Wilkinson.
“At the same time it will make a better squad for us even if we get relegated to be able to perform at a higher level in the Championship. We don’t think we will be, but it’s sustaining the club for the future which is what it’s always been about.”
Luton hope to start work on a new 23,000 seat stadium in 2024 and move in two years later.
Unable to match the financial firepower of bigger clubs even in the Championship, they invested in scouting, coaching and analytics.
“We’ve recruited quite well, we’ve had two recent managers who because of their talents have persuaded young players that they can make them better and at the same time climb up the leagues,” said Wilkinson.
– 4 more sleeps pic.twitter.com/YuCSOt40Y9
— We Are Luton Town (@wearelutontown) August 8, 2023
Luton were last in the top flight from 1982-1992, pre- Premier League when the airport town north of London still had a Vauxhall car factory, and beat Arsenal 3-2 in the 1988 League Cup final.
In the National League for five years to 2014, after a 30-point deduction for financial irregularities, they reached the Premier League by beating Coventry City 6-5 on penalties in the play-offs.
That made Luton the first club to return to the top flight after leaving the league.
“We’re natural underdogs,” said Wilkinson. “Our belief is we’ll give a few people a bit of a shock this year and we’ll see how we go.
“Kenilworth Road, with the changes we’ve had to make for the media, is going to be more intimidating than it was before because we’ve now got four sides to the stadium rather than three sides and beach huts.
“Clubs will not like coming to Kenilworth Road this season at all.”
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) August 5, 2023