Mar 09, 2023

Infamous Kenilworth Road stadium could be one of Luton's best weapons

[1/5] A view of Luton Town's Kenilworth Road stadium, Luton, Britain, May 23, 2023. REUTERS/Carl Recine

LUTON, England, May 25 (Reuters) - 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.

Their odds-defying story is a big draw. Luton have climbed their way up from non-league football nine years ago 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 170 million pounds ($215 million) across the next three seasons, according to Deloitte's Sports Business Group. That could rise to in excess of 290 million pounds if the club survives the first season in the Premier League.

Kenilworth Road's owners have said stadium upgrades will cost 10 million pounds.

The 10,356-seat stadium built in 1905 would be the smallest in the Premier League. The seats are an array of colours with no rhyme or reason, like spilled Lego. Some are so worn the original colour 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 neighbourhood that visiting supporters climb a metal staircase that goes up and over the back gardens of the modest terraced homes.

The team released images on Thursday for their planned new stadium at Power Court, with a scheduled completion date of 2026. The first phase will have a seating capacity of 19,500.

"At a time when Kenilworth Road is being heavily scrutinised as a potential Premier League facility, Luton Town Football Club is delighted to disclose that very good progress is now being made at Power Court as final designs are imagined," the club said in a statement on their website.

Chief executive Gary Sweet said: "We know everyone is desperate for the new stadium to open – as are we! It's clearly a hugely complicated project but the main aim has always been to maintain the architectural quality and to deliver a stadium that replicates an essential, unique character we are all so familiar with but also fit and ready to grace the Premier League stage."

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 400 pounds 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."

($1 = 0.7923 pounds)

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