Europe

This Town Had a Reputation Problem. Premier League Soccer Changed Things.

As the announcement trilled out over Kenilworth Road, the jumble of rusted metal and peeling paint that Luton Town F.C. calls home, the tone started to shift. At the start of the sentence, it was little more than the traditional polite welcome to the stadium for that evening’s visiting team, Manchester City.

By the end, though, the voice of the announcer seemed overcome by what sounded a little like awe. Luton, the fans in the stands and the players on the field were reminded, was about to face “the champions of the F.A. Cup, the champions of England and the champions of Europe.” Luton seems to be having a hard time believing the company it now keeps.

There is a reason for that. Fifteen years ago, Luton Town had been relegated to the fifth tier of English soccer, a world away from the power and the prestige of the Premier League. There was, for a time, a genuine risk that the club, founded in 1885, several years before the invention of the zipper, might fold altogether. For years afterward, money remained tight, ambitions modest.

Now, Luton Town’s horizons are much grander. Last summer, it won an unexpected promotion to the world’s richest, most popular sports league. Three decades after it last played in England’s top division, it could again call Manchester City, Manchester United and the rest its peers.

Outside Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road stadium, which offers none of the polished sheen of the homes of many of its Premier League rivals.Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

That meant an immediate transformation in the club’s financial outlook: Playing in the Premier League for a single season is worth around $150 million. More important, the status that came with it gave the town — a place that has long suffered a chronic reputation problem — a global platform on which to change not just how it is perceived by others, but how it thinks of itself.

Related Articles

Back to top button