Non-League Day

Mpanzu: My time with Luton has been a joyous ride

21 Mar 2024

Luton midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu speaks about his incredible journey from non-league to the top flight

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This weekend marks the latest Non-League Day, which celebrates grassroots football and encourages fans of Premier League clubs to take in a local non-league fixture over the international break.

As part of the Premier League's support for the campaign, we are featuring some of the top-flight players who have gained valuable experiences and lessons in the non-league game.

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (Luton Town)

When midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu helped Luton Town win promotion to the Premier League for the first time last summer, it completed one of the most incredible journeys in English football.

Having started his career at Boreham Wood, Mpanzu joined Luton, initially on loan from West Ham United, in November 2013 when they were in the fifth tier National League.

And when that loan became permanent in January 2014, little did he know that just under 10 years later he would become the only player in English football history to earn promotion from non-league to the top flight with the same club.

"It's been a joyous ride," he says. "Every person's dream is to play at the top level and thankfully I've done it with Luton.

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu Luton Town

"To get four promotions and to keep grafting and progressing up the leagues has been fantastic and hopefully it can continue.

"You've got to keep battling through, keep taking risks and keep believing in your ability and hopefully it will prevail for you."

Mpanzu admits it was a risk to take the decision as a 19-year-old to leave West Ham's Academy and to sign for Luton.

"Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone," he says. "The training ground was next to some Portakabins, people used to walk their dogs there and it was taped off, but at least it was close to the gym and where we would eat.

"The transition was tough but I think it was the right decision in the end, now I'm in the Premier League with Luton."

Resilience has been a constant theme for both Mpanzu and Luton over the last decade as they have had to deal with plenty of lows as well as highs on their journey up the football pyramid.

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Luton Town

There were heartbreaking playoff defeats against Huddersfield Town and Blackpool, while Mpanzu has also had to overcome numerous injuries.

"I always had the self-belief that I was going to come back," he says. "It's been a good recovery.

"Moments like the Blackpool defeat live with you. A loss hurts more. I've got a strong mentality and not just me, the whole club. We've always had a bounceback."

And as he looks back on his incredible career, Mpanzu has a simple piece of advice to his 19-year-old self: "Enjoy every moment that you can, even when you're not winning, because football doesn't last for ever."

PL support for wider football

As well as promoting Non-League Day, the Premier League offers significant financial support to the 72 clubs in the National League, the top tiers of non-league football, in addition to all 92 Premier League and EFL clubs and women and girls’ football and the grassroots game.

Between 2022-2025, the League has committed to investing £1.6billion to the wider game and communities. Of this, £400m will go to funding projects including the development of facilities and community and education programmes. It is the biggest voluntary contribution to communities and other good causes of any football league in the world.

Through the Premier League Stadium Fund, £192.7m of Premier League money has been invested into improving the stadiums and facilities of clubs in the EFL, National League System and Women’s Football Pyramid since 2000.

More than 5,630 grants have been provided to 1,083 clubs across 114 leagues.

The Premier League will also provide approximately £16m of financial support to National League clubs in solidarity, Academy and community funding between 2022-2025.

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