Luton Town vs. Coventry City: Soccer's ‘richest game' offers winner of play-off final a $360 million Premier League jackpot

The two teams, who were both in the third-tier League One as recently as five years ago, will contest the game at Wembley Stadium with a place in the Premier League up for grabs.This is a battle of two underdog teams who have fought their way to the top.

Luton Town vs. Coventry City: Soccer's ‘richest game' offers winner of play-off final a $360 million Premier League jackpot


The Championship Play-Off Final on Saturday means more to Luton Town than money.

The match in London's Wembley Stadium guarantees both teams a spot in the Premier League next season, but it also marks a dramatic climb for the two teams who met in the fourth tier in the English football pyramid only five years ago.

Deloitte Sports Business Group estimates that the winner of the Championship Play-off Final on Saturday would receive $211 (PS170) million over the next three years through a combination of 'proposed increases in their own commercial revenues and matchday revenue and secure central Premier League revenue'

If the club avoided relegation during its first season, that amount would rise to $360 (PS290) million.

After a long and grueling season, which included 46 league matches and two playoff semi-final games, the outcome of Saturday's game will determine if one team can ascend and possibly transform, while for the losing team, it will be a day filled with disappointment and dismay.

From the ashes

Both clubs have had to overcome financial problems, relegations, and constant setbacks in order to make it from the lower echelons and into the Premier League.

Luton, which had been playing in the English top division of football the previous year and voted to create the Premier League, was one of its founding members in 1992. It was relegated to the lower divisions of English football in the season prior to its establishment.

Kevin Harper, a Luton Town Supporters' Trust member and a Luton Town fan for more than 35 years, said to CNN Senior Sports Analyst Darren Lewis that it was 'annoying' that we voted the Premier League into existence, but we were relegated. We've never been in the Premier League.

The club was penalized by 40 points in total for relegations and administrations over the next 20 years.

Luton's fall was so rapid that, 10 years ago it was outside the Football League and in English soccer’s fifth division. Harper said that the club was 'on its knees'.

The club has slowly and steadily risen up the leagues through smart signings, efficient managers, and a new owner group.

Welshman Nathan Jones has led the team to success over two stints. But it is his fellow countryman Rob Edwards that has brought the club within 90 minutes of the promised land of Premier League.

It could be a shock for them to see Premier League stars lace up their shoes and play at Luton’s old-school stadium Kenilworth Road.

Built in 1905, the ground has a little more than 10,000 seats and many of its features are old-fashioned, including wooden stands, and an entrance that offers a glimpse into the gardens of terraced housing surrounding the stadium. The stadium is a rarity in a sport that is constantly modernizing.

In a few short years, the club will move to a new stadium. But, Gary Sweet, Luton's chief executive, told CNN Sport, that if the club wants to be promoted, it would have to spend around $12.4 million (10 million pounds sterling) on improving Kenilworth Road in order to meet Premier League standards.

Sweet, a long-time fan of the club himself, said that promotion into the Premier League could do much more for the club than just stabilize its finances.

This will transcend Luton. Sweet, who is from the town of Luton located 29 miles north-east of London, said that the project would change the face and perception of Luton.

But it's not always about the money. This is what we've proven with the club. Money is not the only thing that matters, but what you do with your money. We're actually more concerned with Luton's perception, so it's what you do to change that.

Luton, the UK's most charitable town. It has a huge beating heart. This place is full of soul. It's an example of how people from different backgrounds can coexist. There's so much positive in this place, yet people only talk about the negatives because they are not looking beyond the surface.

Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, a midfielder for Luton FC, has seen the team's progress through the leagues.

Mpanzu joined the club at the time it was in the 5th tier. He played a major role in Luton’s rise up the divisions. Mpanzu could be the first ever player to play for the exact same club in all five of England’s top tiers.

Harper said that the "crowning moment" of the story would be if Mpanzu scored in the play-off finale.

If he scores the winning goals, then the story has been written. It's like a fairytale, or a movie script.

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Coventry also has had a long journey to get to the play-off final.

The club was a regular in English football’s top division between the late 1960s until the early 2000s. Its players included Steve Ogrizovic, Brian Borrows, Dion Dublin, and Trevor Peake. Slowly the team fell down the league system.

Coventry also suffered from financial problems, which were the main reason for its decline.

In 2007, a consortium known as SISU Capital took over the club in a last-minute takeover.

The club's fortunes did not improve under the new ownership. Spending was limited, attendances were down and the team couldn't play at their home stadium, the Ricoh Arena for more than a year.

A dispute over rent led to the squad sharing a field with Northampton Town, a team located 34 miles away.

The club was actually disbanded in 2015, but allowed to continue operating. The team was relegated from League Two, the fourth-tier league to League Two where they met Luton.

Mark Robins then returned.

In 2017, the former Manchester United striker, who spent three years as the club's first manager in the Midlands, was appointed again to the position.

Robins' rise has been remarkable. He won promotion from League Two his first year and then ascended to England's Second tier a year after that.

The ability to achieve positive results despite adversity has made his tenure in management even more successful.

In 2019, the club was again forced to play home matches at Birmingham City's St. Andrews because owners SISU, the rugby club that owned the stadium, and Wasps couldn't reach an agreement.

Coventry was forced to play away from their home fans for 2 years before they were able to return in 2021.

Coventry's progress under Robins has been impressive. The team only lost once since February 3, and rose to fifth place in the table, before defeating Middlesborough in play-off semi-finals.

Coventry achieved this feat by assembling a group with relatively little-known players who had previously unassuming experiences.

Viktor Gyokeres, a Swedish striker, has 21 goals to his name in the league, putting him on many Premier League clubs' shopping lists if Coventry fails to be promoted. Gustavo Hamer, Jamie Allen, and Jake Bidwell have all been active in midfield, while Callum Doyle, Ben Wilson, and Jake Bidwell have always been present in goal and defense.

Liam Kelly, the club's captain, has been with them since the start of their rise. He played in the League Two Play-Off Final against Exeter City and won 3-1. This was the game that kicked off the resurgence.

Kelly recalled the pressure of that five-year-old appearance and how it affected her.

I remember that it was all very fast. Kelly told the official club website that the day flew by, and kick-off arrived before anyone knew it. We know what to do and how to react in the crucial moments that will determine the outcome of the match. These moments will determine whether we win or lose the final.

"This one is getting more attention, but on a personal basis, I feel the same. One difference is we were expecting to be promoted out of League Two and even League One. Few people could have predicted that we would be in this position.

We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The players and fans will have a wonderful day.

Robins described the prospect of playing another club that had an unexpected trip as a 'romantic story'.

They were in the National League and had a points deduction. It took five years for them to return to EFL, and what a great run they have had since then' he told the club's official web site.

They have always been one year ahead of us but we now meet on the largest of stages. Both of us are on the same pitch. This is a fantastic story.

"We have improved season after season, despite all the issues that we've had." I was kept in my position by the club when they could have fired me during tough times, but we have come out on the other side because both club staff and supporters stayed focused.

These two clubs, each with a history of more than 135-years, will push to the very end of this most lucrative soccer match.