By Matias Grez
(CNN) — Luton Town completed one of the most remarkable rises in English football history on Saturday, beating Coventry City on penalties in the Championship play-off final to secure a place in the Premier League next season.
The game got off to a worrying start for Luton as talisman defender Tom Lockyer had to be stretchered off after collapsing with nobody near him. Fortunately, the club later announced that he was conscious and had been taken to hospital for assessment.
Jordan Clark broke the deadlock for Luton after 23 minutes with a powerful finish at the near post as the Hatters totally dominated proceedings in the first half.
However, Coventry roared back after halftime and found the equalizer its improved play deserved thanks to Gustavo Hamer’s unerring finish into the bottom corner.
With the scores level after 90 minutes, the match went to extra time as the tension from both ends of a sold out Wembley Stadium became palpable.
As both teams visibly tired during a grueling period of extra time, chances became few and far between and there became a growing sense that this final would be decided on penalties.
Joe Taylor thought he had scored the winning goal for Luton with just five minutes remaining after Jonathan Panzo’s error, but his joy was short-lived as VAR ruled his effort out for handball.
The first 11 penalties in the shootout were as good as you will see at any level, but Coventry’s Fankaty Dabo was the 12th man to step up and, unfortunately, the first to miss as his effort went sailing over the crossbar.
It sent the half of Wembley Stadium that was resplendent in Luton Town orange into delirium, as the Hatters returned to the top flight of English football for the first time in 31 years.
From non-league to Premier League
Only 10 years ago Luton was playing in the fifth tier of English football – outside of the Football League – after a brutal 20-year span in which the club suffered five relegations, three administrations and was penalized with 40 total points worth of deductions.
Now, a decade on from the lowest moments in the club’s history, Luton Town will be playing in one of the biggest leagues in the world.
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, but was relegated the season before its introduction.
The club will now receive $211 million (£170 million) across the next three seasons, according to Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, which would increase to $360 million (£290 million) if the club avoids relegation in its first season.
Luton’s stadium, Kenilworth Road, has a capacity of just over 10,000 and is perhaps one of the most unique in English football.
The entry to its Oak Stand is built into a row of houses adjacent to the stadium; it will be quite the sight to watch the likes of Mo Salah and Erling Haaland playing there next season.
Luton reportedly needs to spend around $14.8 million to upgrade one of its stands to meet Premier League safety requirements, but that outlay is now comparatively small change given the promotion payday the club is about to receive.
Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Luton’s versatile midfielder, has been with the club since its lowest ebb and has now become the first player in English football history to go from non-league to the Premier League with the same club.
“I feel like I completed football, man,” a beaming Ruddock told Sky Sports after the game. “It’s been a journey. We’ve been through the highs and lows, but you have to believe in yourself and here I am, man.
“I’m a Premier League player … these boys and the fans, I told you were we going to do it and there’s going to be a party all summer in Luton.”
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