‘If anyone can, we can’: Luton Town prepare for life in the Premier League

<span>Photograph: CloudVisual/Alamy</span>
Photograph: CloudVisual/Alamy

As bank holiday weekends go, this one will surely prove tricky for Luton Town supporters to top. On Saturday, they returned, after a Wembley penalty shootout, to the top table of English football for the first time since 1992, and on Sunday the town’s colourful carnival took centre stage.

Monday? A promotion parade at St George’s Square, where a frenzied atmosphere is a given. On Thursday, the players will ramp up the celebrations by flying to Las Vegas.

Related: ‘Feeling myself’: Luton’s Tom Lockyer thanks medical staff from hospital bed

On and off over the past couple of years, Gary Sweet, the Luton chief executive, has had his head buried in the Premier League handbook, taking a particular interest in Rule K, which details the ground regulations the club has 11 weeks to comply with. It is what could be termed a quality problem. “We have no complaints about that,” he says. “If anyone can do it, we can.”

Twenty years on from posting a rallying call on the Luton Outlaws message board – when the club was toiling in the fourth tier and financially precarious, which triggered the founding of the Luton Town Supporters’ Trust – Sweet, a lifelong fan, is relishing the responsibility of getting Kenilworth Road, capacity 10,356, ready to welcome the elite. He has already promised that Erling Haaland and the other Premier League superstars will walk through a “shit entrance” at the ground.

Kenilworth Road’s ‘shit entrance’, as Gary Sweet calls it, will soon be welcoming the Premier League’s elite athletes.
Kenilworth Road’s ‘shit entrance’, as Gary Sweet calls it, will soon be welcoming the Premier League’s elite athletes. Photograph: PRiME Media Images/Alamy

Nine years ago, the club was in the fifth tier of English football, the National League. Supporters will doubtless have marked the Premier League fixture release date on 15 June. “I am looking forward to Luton away,” says a Liverpool fan caught up in the thoroughfare as thousands of Luton supporters headed home from Wembley on the Metropolitan line on Saturday night.

Related: Luton’s giddy promotion fulfils long dream of returning to the elite | Paul MacInnes

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who joined Luton in non-league football 10 years ago, a few months after they lost at home to Hyde, will be sure to tackle the Premier League with a smile on his face after becoming the first player to climb from non-league to the top flight with the same club. Mpanzu has already joked about just wanting to better Derby’s record-low tally of 11 points in 2008.

Luton will spend £10m on giving the stadium, hemmed in by rows of terrace houses, a facelift – the biggest job being rebuilding the former Bobbers Stand, which was turned into executive boxes in 1986. Luton need to upgrade the floodlights and ensure there are 50 television camera positions.

Sweet insists the Kenny, as supporters call it, will be an asset to the Premier League but promotion could accelerate the construction of Power Court, with a detailed planning application in the pipeline. “There are lot of neighbours that don’t want us to move,” he says. “There are a lot that do because the road closures on a Saturday are a pain in the arse.”

Luton intend to use Kenilworth Road to their advantage. “I don’t think anyone likes coming to the Kenny,” smiles defender Amari’i Bell. “When we played Chelsea [in the FA Cup last year], I don’t think they enjoyed it. It is a bit of a throwback. But it is home to us and we love it.

Related: Edwards hails Luton’s unprecedented rise to the Premier League

“If you come here and you’re not in the right frame of mind, you can’t wait to leave – that’s what other teams are like anyway. We’re going to make the best use of it. The fans are so close to you it feels like they are on top of you and it is a bit daunting. I feel like Sunderland felt that in the playoff semis.”

Luton had been working with two plans in parallel, one for another season in the second tier, one with the top flight in mind. Luton, Sweet says, snuck through a couple of planning applications last year, when they reached the Championship playoff semi-finals.

This year, they surged to a third-place finish and went one better, beating Coventry in a typically nervy playoff final. The tension escalated when Luton’s captain, Tom Lockyer, collapsed on the pitch after eight minutes, but he was later able to celebrate with his family from a hospital bed.

Before kick-off, Sweet said Luton would give themselves six hours to enjoy themselves, six hours to recover and then get down to business – and there is no shortage of boxes to tick.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a club as well-run as Luton nailed their preparations. They adjusted their pitch at training to mirror the dimensions at Wembley and spent the past three weeks, since their playoff spot was confirmed, honing penalty routines, everything from breathing techniques to the timing of placing the ball on the spot.

Rob Edwards, the Luton manager, spoke to peers who have had playoff penalty success and studied endless footage. Youth-team goalkeepers provided numbers for target practice at training. On Saturday, Luton’s six penalties were flawless.

“After about three weeks, it got a bit of a joke because one of the goalies was just stood waiting in the corner,” says Jordan Clark, who opened the scoring at Wembley. “I said: ‘I’m still going in that corner.’”

Related: Luton promoted to Premier League after shootout victory against Coventry

Promotion back into the big time is a reward for Sweet and the others who remember the club being on the verge of liquidation. The same goes for Mick Harford, the affable former striker who has covered countless roles at the club, in good times and bad. Simon Parsell, now the club’s head of medical, and Darren Cook, formerly the club masseur and now kit man, are also considered part of the furniture after 13 years at the club.

Peter Booker, a performance analyst, joined at the beginning of 2013-14, the year Luton won promotion from non-league, the start of this extraordinary journey back to the top. “They are people who put their heart and soul into the club,” Edwards says. “Our board are fans of the club and it means everything to them. They brought this club back from the brink.”