The Incredible Rise of Luton Town: How LTFC Went From Non-League to Premier League in a Decade

On 27th May 2023 Luton Town pipped Coventry to a place in the Premier League for the 2023/24 campaign. This was a Championship play-off final few would have foreseen, between two clubs who have budgets far smaller than their rivals. In the end, it was the Hatters who prevailed, sealing their place in the top flight 6-5 after the game finished 1-1 after extra time.

Luton were founded all the way back in 1885, making them older than many huge English sides, and they have been on quite the journey over the years. They first reached the top flight way back in 1955 but with what we can only describe as impeccably bad timing, they were last in it in 1991/92 – the season before the Premier League was inaugurated.

In the three decades since they have suffered numerous changes of division. The start of the millennium was particularly turbulent and amazingly they dropped from the third tier to the fourth in 2001, made it back to the Championship by 2005/06 but then suffered three consecutive relegations to be down in non-league football for the start of the 2009/10 campaign.

Luton’s Run of Promotions

The Hatters stayed in the fifth tier for five seasons, though they were always competing for promotion. In 2012/13 they endured their worst season ever, statistically speaking, as they finished seventh in the Conference Premier (now the National League), their lowest ever placing in the football pyramid.

However, 12 months on they topped the pile, registering a massive 101 points, scoring 102 goals, to win the title. This moved them back into the Football League and fans who feared the worst for their team could finally dream of moving back up the football ladder.

Four Seasons in League 2

Their first season back in league football came in 2014/15 and they performed solidly, consolidating their status and finishing eighth. They believed that it was a decent foundation from which to push for promotion in 2015/16 but despite ending that season with the same number of wins as the previous one, they slumped to 11th.

12 months on they managed just one more win but thanks to losing half as many games (just nine, compared to 18), they managed to finish fourth and get themselves into the play-offs. They faced Blackpool there but lost in the semis.

However, in 2017/18, with a stronger squad, and under the management of Welsh boss Nathan Jones, they accrued 88 points. Despite boasting a goal difference 18 superior to Accrington Stanley they finished second behind the Lancashire outfit but were promoted nonetheless.

League 1 Sees Instant Glory

With Jones doing a superb job at the club and winning many plaudits for the attacking football his side played, confidence was high. They began slowly in the third tier and after three games had just a single point. However, a run of 15 wins, four draws and just two defeats in the next 21 saw them surge up the table, just a point off top spot.

They then drew two games but their brilliant form had attracted the attention of Stoke City and manager Jones made the move to the bet365. This could have derailed the Hatters but Mick Hartford, a bit of a club legend, came in as interim boss and their excellent form continued. They would lose only twice more that season, securing the title on the last day with a home win that saw them end the campaign three points clear of Barnsley.

Championship Consolidation

The Championship may be the poor relative compared to the Premier League but in the global picture it is huge, in terms of its profile, attendances and finances. Whilst Luton have a League Cup in their trophy cabinet and have played in the top flight for a number of seasons in their history, the fact remains that they are a minnow.

Their home at Kenilworth Road holds just over 10,000 supporters and, famously, can be entered through a row of terraced houses. In 2019/20 they were trying to compete in the Championship against sides like Sheffield United, Leeds United, Blackburn, Derby, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Stoke and Hull, all of whom had far bigger budgets.

Perhaps unsurprisingly their first season back was hard going and they finished 19th, just three points clear of the drop zone. The season prior they had changed manager from Nathan Jones to Mick Hartford (as a caretaker) to Graeme Jones. Oddly, at the end of this campaign they reversed that process exactly, reappointing Nathan Jones via an interim period with Hartford in charge.

The former Stoke boss once again did a brilliant job, overseeing their last nine games. Four wins, four draws and just one defeat was enough to see them stay up and the following season Jones guided them to 12th in the second tier, well away from a relegation battle.

That improvement continued and on a limited budget the club did very well to finish sixth and make the play-offs. They were eliminated in the semis but with Jones back at the Hatters and building something, hopes were high ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.

Nathan Jones Leaves Again But Luton Promoted Anyway

The season started poorly, with Luton taking just two points from the first 12 available. However, over the next 11 games they lost just once. Six wins and four draws once again had them charging up the table and once again had clubs higher up the pyramid circling for their manager.

On the 10th November Jones left, moving to Premier League strugglers Southampton. The Hatters quickly appointed another young, Welsh manager, bringing in former Forest Green and Watford boss Rob Edwards just a week later. It is fair to say that Edwards did a stunning job, very much carrying on from where Jones left off.

They lost just two of their last 24 games and finished the season third. They were nine points off automatic promotion but finished fully 11 points better off than Sunderland, who they faced in the play-off semi-final. They lost the first leg of that semi 2-1 in the North East but won the return 2-0 to move into the final against the Sky Blues.

Their amazing triumph on penalties was the culmination of an incredible decade that saw them move from non-league football to the dizzying heights of the Premier League. Who knows how they will fare against Man City and the other giants of the top tier? Who knows when Nathan Jones will be back?! We can be sure it will be a heck of a ride though and Luton fans will love every second, no matter what happens.