It’s been dubbed soccer’s “richest game,” but for Luton Town and Coventry City, Saturday’s Championship play-off final means much more than just money.
The match at Wembley Stadium in London guarantees a place in next season’s Premier League, but also signals a dramatic rise for both teams, who played each other in the fourth tier of the English football league pyramid just five years ago.
According to Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, the winner of Saturday’s Championship play-off final would receive $211 million (£170 million) across the next three seasons through “projected increases to their own commercial and matchday revenues and secured central Premier League revenues.”
That would increase to $360 million (£290 million) if the club avoids relegation in its first season.
After a long, grueling season – comprised of 46 league games and two playoff semifinal games, Saturday will decide one team’s ascension and possible transformation and, for the loser, dismay and disappointment.
Coventry striker Viktor Gyökeres (left) and Luton striker Carlton Morris (right).
From the ashes
The journey from the lower echelons of English football to the brink of the Premier League has been a long and winding trek for both clubs, who have battled financial difficulties, relegations and constant setbacks.
Luton was one of the founding members of the Premier League in 1992, having been in the English football’s top flight division the previous season and voted for its organization. It was relegated the season before its introduction.
“That was annoying because we voted for the Premier League to come into existence but then we got relegated, so we’ve never actually set foot in it, we’ve not tasted any of the financial riches that have come that way, the profile of the Premier League,” Kevin Harper, a fan of Luton for over 35 years and a member of the Luton Town Supporters’ Trust, told CNN Senior Sport Analyst Darren Lewis this week.
Over the next almost 20 years, the club suffered five relegations, three administrations and was penalized with 40 total points worth of deductions as it slipped further down the rungs of the England’s soccer pyramid.
The descent was so precipitous that 10 years ago, Luton was in English soccer’s fifth tier and outside of the Football League. Harper described the club as being “on its absolute knees.”
But through savvy signings, effective managers and a new ownership group, the club has risen through the leagues slowly but steadily.
Welshman Nathan Jones led the team successfully over two stints, but it is his compatriot Rob Edwards who has brought the club to within 90 minutes of reaching the promised land of the Premier League.
The prospect of Premier League stars lacing up their boots and playing at Luton’s old-school stadium, Kenilworth Road, could be a bit of a culture shock to them.
The ground, built in 1905, has a capacity of little over 10,000 and has many old-fashioned features – including wooden stands and an entrance which offers a view into the gardens of the terraced housing which border the stadium. It remains a novelty in an ever-modernizing sport.
Edwards looks on during the Championship play-off semifinal first leg against Sunderland.
The club is scheduled to move into a new stadium in a few years’ time but, in the meantime, Luton chief executive Gary Sweet told CNN Sport that promotion would mean the club would be required to spend approximately $12.4 million (£10 million) to improve Kenilworth Road to ensure it meets Premier League standards.
Sweet – a lifelong fan of the club too – said that promotion to the Premier League would do so much more than financially stabilize the club.
“This will transcend Luton. It will change the face of Luton, it will change the perception of Luton virtually overnight,” Sweet said of the town, which is 29 miles north of London.
“But it isn’t always about money. We’ve proved this with the club. It’s not about money necessarily, its about what you do with it. It’s actually what you do with the perception because we’re more concerned about the perception of Luton.
“Luton is the most charitable town in the UK. It’s got a massive beating heart, it’s got a real soul to this place. It’s a great example about how diversity can live together here. It’s got so much positivity yet what people talk about is the negativity all the time because they don’t look at anything other than skin deep.”
Luton fans celebrate on the pitch after beating Sunderland in the Championship play-off semifinal second leg.
One man who has personally experienced Luton’s rise through the league system is midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu.
Mpanzu signed for the club when it was in the fifth tier, playing a key role in Luton’s rise through the divisions and could become the first player ever to play for the same club in each of England’s top five tiers.
Harper says that a goal from Mpanzu in the play-off final would be the “crowning part of this story.”
“If he scores the winning goal, the story is written – it’s a fairy tale, it’s a film script.”
Coventry has also had quite a journey to reach the play-off final.
A regular in English football’s top flight between the late 1960s and the early 2000s, with iconic players in its sides – from Steve Ogrizovic and Brian Borrows to Dion Dublin and Trevor Peake – the club slowly fell down the league system.
Like Luton, financial difficulties were a key reason for Coventry’s decline.
The club was saved from administration in 2007 by a last-gasp takeover from a consortium called SISU Capital.
However, things didn’t improve much for the club under the new owners, with spending limited, crowds suffering and the team even not being able to play games at its home ground, the Ricoh Arena, for over a year.
The squad ended up having to share a ground with Northampton Town – a team 34 miles away – over a dispute over unpaid rent.
The club was actually dissolved in 2015 but was allowed to continue to operate. Results suffered further still, with the team relegated to League Two – the fourth tier – where it met Luton.
Then Mark Robins returned.
Robins celebrates following the match against Middlesbrough.
The former Manchester United striker was reappointed the manager of Coventry in 2017, three years after his first spell at the Midlands club.
Robins has overseen a remarkable rise through the league system, winning promotion from League Two in his first season and a rise to England’s second tier just a year later.
What has made his tenure as a manager even more successful has been the ability to get positive results in the face of adversity.
The club once again faced more stadium issues in 2019 when it was forced to play its home games at Birmingham City’s St. Andrews after owners SISU and Wasps – the rugby club which owned the stadium – couldn’t come to an agreement.
As a result, Coventry had to play games away from its home fans for two years before, in 2021, it was able to return.
With Robins at the helm, Coventry has improved season upon season, with Saturday’s play-off final spot the possible crowning moment of his six-year stint so far – the team lost just once since February 3 to rise to fifth in the table before beating Middlesborough in the play-off semifinals.
Coventry has achieved the feat with a group of relatively unheralded players with previously unassuming experience.
Swedish striker Viktor Gyökeres has scored 21 goals in the league to put himself high on Premier League teams’ shopping lists should Coventry fail to get promoted, Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen have provided thrust from midfield and Jake Bidwell, Callum Doyle and Ben Wilson have been ever-present in defense and goal.
Captain Liam Kelly has been with the club throughout the rise from League Two; he played the entirety of the 3-1 victory over Exeter City in the League Two play-off final which kicked off this resurgence.
On the eve of possibly once again playing at Wembley Stadium with promotion on the line, Kelly remembered that appearance five years ago and the pressure that came with it.
Kelly shoots at goal during the Championship play-off semifinal first leg match against Middlesbrough.
“I remember it all went really fast. The day flies by and kick-off arrives before you know it,” Kelly told his club’s official website. “We know what we need to do on the day and we need to make sure we’re on the right end of the critical moments, as they will decide the game. Those moments will win or lose us the final.
“There is more attention surrounding this one but, on a personal level, it is the same for me. One difference is that we were expected to be promoted from League Two, and even in League One. This time around, very few people would have predicted us to get to this position.
“We have got nothing to lose and everything to gain. It will be a great day for the players and the fans.”
Robins called the prospect of facing another club who’s had an unexpected journey “a romantic story.”
“They were in the National League with a points deduction to deal with. It took them five years to return to the EFL and what a run it has been since,” he told his club’s official website.
“They have always been a year ahead of us, but now we meet here on the biggest of stages. We’re both on the same pitch at the same time. It’s a phenomenal story, that’s for sure.
Coventry fans celebrate at full-time following the Championship play-off semifinal second leg against Middlesbrough.
“We’ve built on things season-on-season, despite the well-documented issues we had. The club have kept me in post when they could have removed me during difficult periods, but we’ve come out the other side by staying focused, both the club staff and the supporters.”
With a place in one of the world’s top leagues on the line, these two historic clubs with more than 135 years of history each will no doubt push until the end in the world’s most lucrative soccer game.
Today At A Glance: Luton Town won “the richest game in football” on Saturday, beating Coventry City in PKs to secure a $200 million-plus promotion to the Premier League.How much will Luton get if they win? ›
According to the EFL, playoff winners can receive an additional £178 million from the Premier League over the following three seasons. Should Luton Town win the play-off final on Saturday, and be relegated from the top flight 12 months later, the club would benefit from £85 million in parachute payments.Has Luton Town ever been in the Premier League? ›
Luton Town have been promoted to the Premier League after defeating Coventry City 6-5 on penalties. Luton Town, from playing in a non-recognised league have paved their path to the Premier League in just nine years. In 2014, they played in League 2, and in 2018 they secured promotion to League 1.When was the last time Luton Town was in the Premier League? ›
Luton was last in the top-flight in 1992, relegated just before the top-flight was rebranded to become the Premier League, and Coventry were last in the Premier League in 2001. As of 2018, both Luton and Coventry were both in the fourth-tier of English football.What is Luton Town Living Wage? ›
The Living Wage commitment will see everyone working at Luton Town Football Club, regardless of whether they are permanent employees or third-party contractors and suppliers, receive a minimum hourly wage of £7.85 - significantly higher than the national minimum wage of £6.50.Who are Luton owned by? ›
Welcome to the official website of Luton Town Football Club
Paul Ballantyne owns 82 per cent of the issued share capital of the club.
Ahead of the 2020 Championship play-off final, Deloitte reported that the victorious club could earn anywhere between £135m and £265m, depending on whether or not they could avoid immediate relegation from the Premier League.How much is winning the play-off final worth? ›
According to Deloitte Sports Business Group, reaching the top flight via the Championship play-off final in 2022-23 will earn the winner an increase in revenue of at least £170million across the next three seasons.Who is the highest paid player in Luton Town FC? ›
The highest transfer fee paid by the club is the €1,500,000 paid to HNK Rijeka for goalkeeper Simon Sluga in 2019, and the highest fees received is the undisclosed fee paid by Leicester City for Luton-born James Justin, also in 2019.Who are Luton Town biggest rivals? ›
Luton Town have a long-standing rivalry with nearby club Watford. The club was the first in southern England to turn professional. It joined the Football League before the 1897–98 season, left in 1900 because of financial problems, and rejoined in 1920.
Burnley, the smallest town ever to have its own Premier League team, plays in quaint old grounds near the center of town called Turf Moor. There's a lot of history at Turf Moor – it's the third-oldest stadium in all of England – but then there's a lot of history in Burnley.Who are Luton Town enemies? ›
South-eastern English football clubs Luton Town and Watford have been rivals since their respective formations in the late 19th century.What is the oldest Premier League stadium in England? ›
|Year published by club||Club||Season 2021–22|
|1892||Newcastle United||Premier League|
|1893||Oxford United||League One|
Luton Town have not been in the top division since 1992. They became the first team to go from the top tier to non-league and back again.Are Luton Town in debt? ›
Other than some very small motor finance leases, the Club has no common external debt. The Club does however have £4.5m of Covid-19-related loans from the EFL “to support the operation of the club during the pandemic” which will need to be repaid over the next two years.Is it nice to live in Luton? ›
Luton, a town in Bedfordshire in the East of England, hit the headlines last week for an unfortunate reason as it was crowned the 'worst place to live in England' in an annual survey. The poll, compiled by iLivehere, saw a clear majority of 105,598 voters pick Luton as the 'winner', overtaking from Peterborough.What is minimum wage Luton? ›
What is the UK Minimum Wage for 2023? As of 1 April, 2023, the UK minimum wage has increased. As of this moment, the National Living Wage will consist of an hourly rate of £10.42. Additionally, the rate for 21-22 year olds will be £10.18, for 18-20 year olds £7.49 and for 16-17 year olds it will be £5.28.What percentage of Luton is black? ›
The Black ethnic groups makes up 10.1 per cent of the population of Luton. Luton's overall population increased by 22,000 between 2011 and 2021.Which airline uses Luton? ›
|London Luton Airport|
|Hub for||DHL Aviation easyJet Ryanair UK TUI Airways Wizz Air UK|
|Elevation AMSL||526 ft / 160 m|
Religion in Luton
According to the latest 2021 census, the most populous religious group within Luton is Christians, accounting for 37.9% of the population. Luton has a Muslim population of 74,191 which is 33.0% of the population.
The Championship play-off final is considered the most valuable single football match in the world as a result of the increase in revenue to the winning club from sponsorship and media agreements. For the first three years, the play-off final took place over two legs, played at both side's grounds.How much is League 1 play-off worth? ›
The financial value of winning the EFL League One play-off is derived from the additional remuneration clubs receive in the Championship. As of 2018 clubs in the third tier receive around £1.4 million, comprising a "basic award" and a "solidarity" payment, the latter of which is funded by the Premier League.Is the Championship play-off final the most expensive game? ›
Coventry and Luton do battle in Wembley showpiece dubbed 'richest game in football' The Championship play-off final is often dubbed the 'richest game in football' and it will take centre-stage on Saturday.How much money does a club get when promoted to the Premier League? ›
Under the new arrangements, Football League clubs will receive solidarity payments which amount to a percentage of the value of a Year 3 parachute payment. Championship clubs will each receive 30%, League One clubs 4.5% and League Two clubs 3% of the value of a Year 3 parachute payment.How much does it cost to get promoted to Premier League? ›
The prize for being promoted to the Premier League is obviously all about reaching the top-flight. But there is also some serious money involved. It is estimated that promotion from the Championship to the Premier League is worth around $210 million to each club over a three-season period.How much money do you get for getting promoted to the Premier League? ›
According to Deloitte, promotion to the Premier League can see an increase in revenue of between £135 million and £265 million depending on if the team can avoid an immediate return to the Championship.How much did Luton sell Simon Sluga for? ›
Shumanov reported that Sluga said: 'I'm very happy to continue my career at Ludogorets, a club with great ambitions and a fantastic reputation in Europe'. Luton then confirmed the transfer of the 28-year-old, who remains the club's record signing, having joined from HNK Rijeka in 2019 for £1.3million.Who are Luton Town sponsors? ›
Luton Town Football Club is delighted to announce that Star Platforms have renewed its sponsorship with the club for a fifth consecutive season! The Hatters will once again have the Star Platforms logo emblazoned on the away shirt this season, as has been the case since the team's promotion from League One in 2019.Who are the sponsors of Luton Town FC? ›
Luton Town Football Club are delighted to announce and welcome Toureen Group as back of the home shirt sponsor from the start of the 2022-2023 season as part of a three-year agreement.
Luton was, for many years, widely known for hatmaking and also had a large Vauxhall Motors factory.Why is a Luton called a Luton? ›
The iconic Luton van has its origins in the town of Luton in Bedfordshire, home to the Bedford heavy commercial vehicle plant that produced the popular Bedford model. The Luton body incorporates an enclosed box-shaped body that extends over the cab.How many fans does Luton Town hold? ›
The stadium is situated just outside the town centre in the Bury Park district of Luton. The official seated capacity at Kenilworth Road is 10,073.What is the biggest club never to play in Premier League? ›
Preston North End are the only former top-flight First Division champions who have never played in the Premier League; they are among a group of fourteen clubs, twelve of which are active, that have played in the old First Division but not in the Premier League.What's the biggest city without a football team? ›
San Antonio has a population of 1.5 million people. It's the largest city in America without an NFL franchise. Despite having a small media market, the San Antonio Spurs proved that Alamo City has what it takes to host a professional sports team.Is Luton Labour or conservative? ›
The political party in control is Labour. The leader of the council is Councillor Hazel Simmons, Labour Group. The leader of the Liberal Democrat Group is Councillor David Franks and the leader of the Conservative Group is Councillor Stuart Miller.Why is Luton not a city? ›
Luton did apply for city status back in 2012 as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but lost out to Chelmsford in Essex, which is still the most recent English town to win city status.What is the story of Luton? ›
Luton began when the Saxons conquered Bedfordshire in the 6th century. They created a farm or settlement called a tun by the river Lea. (Lea may be a Celtic word meaning bright river). By the 10th century, the little settlement of Lea tun had grown into a town.What is the oldest ground in England? ›
Sandygate has been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the "Oldest Football Ground in the World". On 26 December 1860, the world's first inter-club football match was played at the ground, Hallam taking on Sheffield F.C.What is the oldest club in English football history? ›
1. Notts County. It's Notts County that's considered to be the oldest professional football club in England, having been founded in Nottingham in 1862. One of the founding members of the Football League in 1888, the club's famous black-and-white striped home kit inspired the famous Juventus attire much later in 1903.
Boston's professional baseball stadium is home to the infamous Green Monster. That's the nickname for the nearly 40-foot-high left-field wall in Fenway Park, the oldest major league ballpark still in use by a professional team. The Boston Red Sox have called Fenway home since it opened in 1912.What is the oldest sporting club in the world? ›
According to the Football Association, non-league Sheffield F.C., founded on October 24th 1857, is the world's oldest club, and Notts County, founded in November 1862, is the oldest league club.What is the oldest sports league? ›
United States and Canada. Major League Baseball (MLB), the first-ever established professional sports league in the world in 1876, is the world's premier baseball league. There are currently 30 teams playing in MLB, across the American League and National League. Houston Astros won the 2022 World Series.Who is the oldest man in Premier League? ›
Thiago Silva (38 years Chelsea FC)
Chelsea defender Thiago Silva is the oldest player currently in the Premier League. He has been one of the backbones of Chelsea's defence since he arrived at the club in 2020.
They say promotion will mean an increase in revenue of at least £135million over the next three seasons for the triumphant club. That could rise to £265m over a five-year period if the club avoids relegation in their first season in the Premier League.How much did Luton pay for Morris? ›
Former Hamilton Accies loanee Carlton Morris has completed a stunning £2M move to Luton Town. The 26-year-old spent the 2015-16 season on loan with Accies from Norwich City, managing to score 8 goals in 33 appearances.How much did Luton pay for Sluga? ›
Sluga is 'perfect man' for Luton, says keeper coach
Town paid €1.5million (£1.3m) to sign the former Juventus loan ace which saw the Championship club spend seven figures on…