Luton Town head up the road to the Stadium of Light on Saturday three games away from the Premier League – for the second straight year. And this time Rob Edwards’ side, who finished in third place in the Championship, are the team to beat.
The club with the 10,000-seater stadium you have to enter through someone’s back garden have again improved their league position for the seventh straight year. With a total wage budget of reportedly around £6million. You could probably pay Granit Xhaka’s salary with that.
If Luton do make it through the play-offs they will have gone from non-league to Premier League in just ten seasons.
I sat down with their young British manager in his office in the club’s training ground a few days ago. You reach it via a rickety bridge round the back of an . Workmen drill feverishly downstairs and the patch of grass midfielder Henri Lansbury was given to cultivate by the groundsman as part of his lawn-mowing side hustle glows pristine in the background.
Edwards was lovely to chat to. Amusing and thoughtful by turn, and always with that sense of wonderment that so delights many football fans – the awareness his career is the childhood dream of most watching on.
He took over from Nathan Jones midway through this season and says succeeding someone after such a successful run was both ‘scary’ and ‘intimidating’ for him.
Edwards said he questioned many times whether this was the right job for him and not just because of Jones’ intimidating presence. (A presence given life on my visit by the fact the day bed of the former boss still lives in the tiny manager’s office, covering about a quarter of the floor space – ‘I think he’s going to come and pick it up’, says Edwards, hopefully.)
This job was also a challenge because Edwards’ previous employer was… Watford. Luton’s biggest rivals.
The Hornets sacked Edwards after 11 games. Luton saw something they didn’t. Watford finished 11th this season. Luton Town director Stephen Browne hid the words ‘Watford are s***’ in a match day programme.
Edwards took on Watford knowing what the deal was (‘I thought I’d get sacked, I just didn’t know it would be after ten league games!’), but he made it clear it was a challenge he wanted, to move up the leagues (from Forest Green Rovers, who he got promoted to League One in 2022) and to gradually improve as a manager.
There’s an affinity there with the Luton Town approach.
Can they manage a Premier League season from their proud old ground?
Their chief exec says it will cost £10m to ensure Kenilworth Road fulfils top-flight rules. If you believe the rumours, their press officer’s grey hairs date from hosting Chelsea last year in the FA Cup.
But Edwards believes Luton have shown over the last few years if you keep doing things right you can break down that door eventually.
And, moreover, like every football fan, he loves to dream.
‘Can Kenilworth Road host the top flight? Rumour has it the press man went grey after Chelsea visited here’
You can hear the full Rob Edwards interview wherever you get your podcasts, just search Football Ramble
Accessibility and mountains of research
fuelling my latest sporting obsession
When did you last get really attached to watching a new sport? Ever since the fifties people have proclaimed the golden age of sport on TV. But surely it really is now.
In the past, no one in Europe really ever got the chance to follow Pele. Today, you can see everything your personal favourite player, runner, fighter or rider has ever done. Or pocket up the highlights of any race or game happening anywhere in the world.
For me, the addiction almost always starts from a sudden amateurish desire to explore a new sport – perhaps a friend mentions she’s trying it, or someone sends me a clip on Instagram that looks so mad you can’t figure out how it all
Then I have to know what the good version looks like. Then I want to know who they’re trying to beat. Last summer it was cricket. This summer it is mountain biking. Go and watch Loic Bruni haring down a ski slope of mud or find the tiny Mona Mitterwallner storm up an incline like a wheeled gazelle.
Or better still, borrow a bike from somewhere and get out there. With the appropriate safety gear obviously.
The sport’s World Cup starts this weekend and I am lucky enough to be presenting the coverage for Eurosport and GCN+ from all over Europe and America [tune in from 4.45pm UK time].
We head to the Czech Republic to start the cross-country series (the version that’s in the Olympics) and there’s big British interest from and former world champion Evie Richards.
We are showing 139 live hours of the stuff, and you won’t even scrape your elbows. See you there.