|The entrance to the away end at Kenilworth Road, home of Luton Town. AFP Photo|
It was great to see the celebrations in Luton this week after their football team gained promotion to the Premier League.
I’m old enough to remember the last time the team from the south of England played in the top flight, and I won’t lie, I hated them.
For those of you of a certain age, you’ll know that Luton Town, nicknamed ‘The Hatters’ because of the town’s historical connection to the hat-making trade, played their football on an artificial pitch.
Liverpool, my team, were top dogs at the time but couldn’t handle playing on plastic. And when Luton were relegated in 1992, a year after they reverted back to grass, I was glad to see the back of them.
But this week, seeing the whole town come together to celebrate their play-off win against Coventry, I changed my tune.
Kenilworth Road, the stadium Luton call home, is unique to say the least. For a start, it actually has five stands, odd for a football team. This is because of the layout of roads around the stadium.
The best bit is the Oak Road End, where away fans enter the stadium.
To get into the ground, visitors must walk through a gate sandwiched between Victorian-era houses, and then over a metal staircase that offers uninterrupted warts-and-all views of back gardens.
Premier League rules insist changes need to be made, and while I understand there are certain things at the stadium that need upgrading, I hope not too much of its character is lost.
Most of the changes needed revolve around broadcasting.
The television gantry for example is currently just 15 metres or so in length, nowhere near big enough to accommodate the large amount of cameras needed to record live football.
The new facilities are said to include a media centre, TV and data analysis studios, toilets, and a canteen. The estimated cost for this renovation work is expected to reach approximately US$12 million.
Additionally, it is also reported that Luton aims to install new seating, slightly increase the stadium’s capacity, upgrade the floodlights, and introduce new camera positions to meet the broadcasting requirements of high-definition Premier League coverage.
It’s fair to say they’ve got the money to be able to afford to pay for the work. Promotion to the Premier League is worth around $200 million to the team over the season.
Long-term, those in charge at Luton are looking at possibly moving from their current stadium to a brand new one.
If they stay in the Premier League next season, then yes, they should.
But for the time-being Kenilworth Road will be a great leveller for the likes of superstars Erling Haaland and Mo Salah.
Luton Town Chief Executive Gary Sweet said this week: “This is real life, real football, history, tradition right here. This isn’t a sterile bowl. This is lively. This is emotion. This is white knuckles, tears and joy in this stadium. This is a cauldron. If you can’t embrace it, you don’t love football. The old girl is beautiful.”
Their rise to the top is nothing short of astounding. Only nine years ago, they were playing non-league football, and in a few months’ time they will welcome the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Thankfully the pitch won’t be made of plastic, but the ground itself will make Luton Town one of the most unwelcome places for away teams to play. VNS