LONDON: Football´s richest game has been billed as 'one for the romantics' as Luton and Coventry clash for a place in the Premier League on Saturday after decades in the wilderness. Just five...
LONDON: Football´s richest game has been billed as "one for the romantics" as Luton and Coventry clash for a place in the Premier League on Saturday after decades in the wilderness. Just five years ago, both clubs were languishing in fourth-tier obscurity.
Now one of them will leave Wembley this weekend having achieved a fairytale promotion worth an estimated Â£170 million ($210 million). "This weekend´s contest at Wembley offers the biggest financial prize in world football," said Zal Udwadia, assistant director of Deloitte´s Sports Business Group.
Coventry manager Mark Robins recognises the appeal of a rags-to-riches tale. "People talk about journeys, where we´ve both come from," said the former Manchester United striker. "It´s one for the romantics." Luton last featured in the top flight in 1992 and their Kenilworth Road stadium, with a capacity of a shade over 10,000, set among rows of terraced houses, would be the smallest in the Premier League era if they go up.
"The supporters have been through some dark times," said Luton boss Rob Edwards. "To get to Wembley is special. Hopefully we can go there and celebrate again." Luton enjoyed three successive top-10 finishes in the top flight in the mid-1980s and won their first major trophy when they beat Arsenal in the 1988 League Cup final. But the Hatters´ decline was painfully steep as they plunged down the leagues.
Hit by punishing points penalties after a series of financial problems, cash-strapped Luton were in dire straits after suffering three successive relegations from 2007 to 2009. They spent five years in non-league purgatory before winning promotion from the Conference (National League) in 2014 to kick-start their renaissance. Successive promotions in 2018 and 2019 took them back to the second-tier Championship. Then Edwards, hired in November after his sacking by Luton´s local rivals Watford, led the Hatters to a third-place finish this term before they beat Sunderland in the play-off semi-finals.
"We believed from day one we could achieve something. We´re one game away from the Premier League. It sounds surreal saying it," Edwards said. Like Luton, Coventry´s golden era came in the 1980s. The Sky Blues spent 34 seasons in the top flight until relegation in 2001, with their most iconic moment coming in 1987 when they stunned Tottenham in the FA Cup final to earn their only major trophy.