'If I didn't love Luton I'd back Coventry' (2023)

Championship play-off final: Coventry City v Luton Town
Date: Saturday, 27 May Venue: Wembley Kick-off: 16:45 BST Coverage: Live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app, live radio commentary on BBC CWR and BBC Three Counties Radio, updates on BBC Radio 5 live

Luton Town play Coventry City at Wembley this Saturday, for a place in the Premier League.

Who honestly predicted that just five years ago when both teams spent the season together in League Two?

As it turned out, a campaign that began with Nick Owen stepping down after almost 10 years as Luton chairman ended well when both clubs were promoted together to League One, the Hatters in second place automatically, with the Sky Blues following them up via the play-offs.

This time round, only one team can go up in Saturday's Championship play-off final - and Owen admits: "I can already feel my nerves getting slightly shredded".

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The lifelong Luton fan, who has "been supporting them 65 years", has waited a long time to see his beloved Hatters play in the Premier League.

(Video) 'I still feel NUMB!' | Rob Edwards | Coventry 1-1 Luton (Pens 5-6)

It was a league Luton had a vote in the creation of but - like Notts County - have never played in as they were last relegated from English football's top flight in 1992 a few months before it started.

Should the Hatters prevail at Wembley, they would become the first side in football history to go all the way from the top flight to non-league then back to the top flight again.

However, in many ways, Coventry are just as big a story since their own relegation from the Premier League in 2001. They dropped down to the fourth tier before climbing back up themselves, while having spells playing away from the city to groundshare with Northampton Town and Birmingham City.

As Owen should know, having first reported on them when he arrived in the Midlands half a century ago, working first for BBC Radio Birmingham, then into television with ATV, before he found national fame as the presenter of 'Midweek Sports Special', ITV's answer to 'Sportsnight with Coleman'.

He might have become best known as one half of 'Anne and Nick' on daytime TV before taking on his current 25-year-long role of Midlands Today news anchor, but he is a sports nut, with friends in sport all over the region, and beyond.

'A pity one has to lose'

And he admits that, having followed the whole Coventry saga at close quarters over the past quarter of a century, he feels bad about having to say that actually he would rather the Sky Blues lose at Wembley.

'If I didn't love Luton I'd back Coventry' (1)

"In any other circumstances, I'd be rooting for them 100% because they've been through it," he told BBC Sport.

"They had those seasons when they weren't able to play at their own ground. That is grim. Not many people, not many clubs have undergone that.

(Video) 85,000 FANS, PENALTY HEARTBREAK & LUTON TOWN PROMOTED TO PREMIER LEAGUE | COVENTRY CITY 1-1 LUTON

"They've had all this uncertainty about their future - and now look at them. That's down to fantastic management and organisation. They're a great club. A real credit.

"I love the club, I love the people there. I've got so many good friends who are passionate supporters of Coventry City. And I go back to the 1970s, when Jimmy Hill was running the show. I knew him quite well.

"I knew some players from those days. A big buddy of mine is Steve Ogrizovic, their goalkeeper in 1987 when they won the FA Cup, which I was at.

"It's a real pity one team has to lose because both the clubs really, really, really do deserve their chance in the Premier League after what they've achieved and what they've been through."

But which really is the harder "hard luck story"?

Who has had it worse?

Since Coventry left the top flight 22 years ago, they have been through two more relegations, three ground moves - or four, if you count this season's temporary one-off switch to Burton Albion - two takeovers, the first of which saved them from going under by mere minutes, a 15-year long battle over rent at the now Coventry Building Society Arena and an eight-year wrangle over the ground with former Premiership rugby side Wasps.

But Luton have had more than their fair share of woes too. The negative vibes they endured for simultaneously having both an artificial pitch and an away-fan ban in the 1980s soon became forgotten when they suffered major financial difficulties.

The Hatters entered administration while in the Championship in 2007 and ended up being relegated three seasons running, the last of them because of a 30-point deduction for breaking Football League administration rules and making illegal payments to agents.

(Video) PLAYOFF FINAL DRAMAS at Coventry vs Luton

'If I didn't love Luton I'd back Coventry' (2)

Then came five painful years trying to climb back out of non-league, watching every team in the Conference visibly raise their game and fight that bit harder every week because they were playing Luton, in front of gates of up to 10,000 at Kenilworth Road.

"Those dark days were dark," Owen said. "Having been so closely involved, having been chairman for nearly 10 years, it's right to the core.

"But I enjoyed some aspects. You went round the country to lots of different clubs where it was all about grassroots football, served by volunteers who love their clubs, love their communities, love the people around them.

"You got to meet some great people. And I actually thoroughly enjoyed going to places like Tamworth, Alfreton or Telford."

How did Luton turn it round?

But from those depths, what was it that set Luton on the path to recovery?

"There's lots of ingredients," Owen said. "First of all, the board, the group that got together to save the club in the first place after we'd had three administrations in 10 years and were docked 30 points at the start of that season.

"They're all passionate Luton fans and they've gone into this absolutely caring about the football club and the Luton community. And they've made lots of very sensible decisions.

"But getting the right people in, either to manage or coach or be in charge of recruitment has been key. Mostly that has been brilliant.

(Video) "IF WE CAN DO IT, IT WOULD BE AN AMAZING STORY" | Rob Edwards On Luton's Wembley Date With Destiny

"I have to give praise to John Still, who got us out of the Conference and did a brilliant job. He turned the whole psyche round because the club was in a pretty desperate state, in a toxic sense.

"He got the whole thing into a much better shape and got us up. Then Nathan Jones came along and did a brilliant job, getting us out of League Two into League One.

'If I didn't love Luton I'd back Coventry' (3)

"He built the foundations of the team that Mick Harford took into the Championship. Then Nathan went away and came back - and saved us when we could have been relegated.

"He got us into the play-offs last year and built the team that has ultimately got into the final this year. And Rob Edwards, the current manager, has done a brilliant job at taking it on after Nathan left us for a second time.

"Recruitment is key and we have been served beautifully by Mick Harford. He's in charge of bringing in new players, with a team below him, and the recruitment has been ace.

"They've brought in players with the right attitude, the right spirit, the right determination. They're not big time Charlies. They've come in to join a community. A group of players in a team which has blended so well and got us to this point now.

"This would be one hell of an achievement. I can already feel my nerves getting slightly shredded as I think about it.

"And if we can do it, oh my goodness, all my dreams will come true."

(Video) LutonTown in Premier League, interviews at Wembley Stadium 27 May 2023

Nick Owen was talking to BBC Midlands Today's John Bray.

Videos

1. Matchday Experience Coventry City VS Luton Town (27/05/2023)
(Alex Craig)
2. My reaction to Luton vs Coventry
(Lms11)
3. COVENTRY OR LUTON IN PREMIER LEAGUE - Lowdown on Sky Blues & Hatters With EFL Expert Benjamin Bloom
(UTCIAD - AFC Bournemouth Fans Channel)
4. WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE!! 🏆
(Oh When The Town Podcast)
5. MAH LIVE: DORTMUND v MAINZ & KOLN v BAYERN TITLE DECIDER! COVENTRY v LUTON PLAY OFF FINAL WATCHALONG
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6. Exclusive interview with Tyler @T_Boys_TV | How Luton Town FC got promoted to the Premier League
(NICARDO MEDIA HOUSE)
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