Epilogue — Coventry City vs. Luton Town — EFL Championship Play-Off Final — 27/05/23
This one’s a bit personal. Personally sentimental.
Little under a decade and a half ago, I was hitting the red button on my tele remote every few minutes so I could be kept abreast of the score in the 2009 Football League Trophy Final. That final was contested between a Scunthorpe United side stacked with club legends like Joe Murphy, Matt Sparrow, Paul Hayes, Cliff Byrne, Gary Hooper, and Martyn Woolford to name but six, and a Luton Town side that would very soon be unable to compete in the Football League Trophy.
This is the season that domestically, the two couldn’t have had much more contrasting fortunes. Scunthorpe would qualify for the League One play-offs, and would see off MK Dons and Millwall to gain promotion to the second tier of English football. Luton, on the other hand, started the season with a thirty point deduction, never to leave the foot of the fourth division table as they plummeted out of the EFL.
Yet here they both were — a cup final at Wembley Stadium.
As I flicked back to the score update screen time and again in hopes of refreshing the statistics, I would see Scunthorpe take the lead before a Luton equaliser, then Luton take the lead for the first time before Scunthorpe scored in the 88th minute to take it to extra time.
Then, five minutes into the additional thirty, substitute Claude Gnakpa wrote himself into the history books when he struck Luton Town’s winner in the Football League Trophy Final.
I wasn’t a Luton supporter, but I was celebrating. It was a club that had been through the ringer and maybe I thought they’d had enough.
It would be five years before Luton Town would return to the EFL. Three play-off appearances, including two play-off finals, broke hearts before John Still stepped in along with the likes of Andre Gray to aid them in an ascension.
But that was just the start. This wasn’t just Luton getting back to where they were, this was Luton going higher than they’d ever been before.
As John Still departed, Nathan Jones and Mick Harford arrived, as did automatic promotion from League Two after four seasons, followed by promotion from League One after two seasons.
Nathan Jones would return to aid their settling in to the Championship, and after four years in the second tier, Luton had reached the promised land.
Under Rob Edwards, a man who had led Forest Green Rovers to the League Two title the year before, Luton won the Championship Play-Off Final against Coventry City to become a Premier League side for the first time.
The result meant two promotions in two seasons for Edwards, with a sacking at Watford along the way, but more importantly, it meant Luton had walked off the pain of fourteen years ago to not only come back running, but bounding, sprinting, and pouncing into their future.
For the record, Scunthorpe will be playing in the sixth tier next season. Swings and roundabouts, eh?
It was right that this final went to a penalty shoot-out. Luton’s story is mighty, but for Coventry to be their ultimate opponents at that door, that’s special. The Sky Blues hadn’t achieved promotion if half a century before their promotion from League Two in 2018. This was after a drop that had seen them intermittently evicted from their home, alongside a slew of other off-field issues. Mark Robins seemingly put all that out of his and his side’s minds as they ascended the divisions, winning League One after two seasons. With a fine squad assembled from hither and thither, it is they who provided what would end up being Luton’s final test.
1–1 after 120 minutes.
It’s a shame that someone must miss in the shoot-out, and for Fankaty Dabo, who was a part of so much of Coventry’s rise to be the one who fired over, it stings all the more. But Coventry will have their day, their journey to this one proves it.
Today, however, it belongs to Luton Town. The newest Premier League side, fifteen years after they nearly weren’t a side at all.
Keep it streets ahead,