'If we go up it's possibly the greatest story in football': Luton life has been dizzying for decades... but thanks to investment from fans they're on the brink of the big time ahead of Championship play-offs

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This fall and rise of Luton Town is not the first. They have rattled vigorously up and down on the helter-skelter of English football for several decades and, as a lifelong fan, their chairman David Wilkinson has ridden along with them.

Nine promotions and 10 relegations have unfolded since he first set foot inside Kenilworth Road in the late 1950s. 

To begin, they plummeted from an FA Cup final and the old Division One into the fourth tier and back via a blaze of Malcolm Macdonald goals, all within 15 years.

Luton Town are on the brink of the big time again after 70 years of promotions and relegations

Luton Town are on the brink of the big time again after 70 years of promotions and relegations

Luton Town are on the brink of the big time again after 70 years of promotions and relegations

They climbed back to the top under David Pleat, pulled off miraculous escapes, stirred controversy with a plastic pitch and won the League Cup before relegation as the Premier League was born.

They bounced between tiers two and four, crashed three times into administration, were hit with a record deduction of 30 points and spent five years in non-league. You don't have to be mad to be a Hatter but it helps.

'I say to friends who support Everton how boring it must be to have not been relegated or promoted in all that time,' says Wilkinson, as Luton prepare for Huddersfield in the play-offs tonight having come sixth in the Championship, their highest finish for 30 years.

'This is my 63rd season as a fan, showing my age somewhat, and I worked out recently that Luton's average position in that time is mid-table in the second tier. We've been up and down and all over the place and we're back to where we think we ought to be.

'Over 46 games, it's not a fluke but it does feel a bit surreal, really. You're always expecting something to go wrong because it does… particularly at Luton.'

Dry humour comes with the territory — Luton descended from the Championship to the National League (then called the Conference) with three successive relegation seasons from 2006.  

To begin, they plummeted from an FA Cup final and the old Division One into the fourth tier and back, all within just 15 years, but climbed back to the top under manager David Pleat (pictured)

To begin, they plummeted from an FA Cup final and the old Division One into the fourth tier and back, all within just 15 years, but climbed back to the top under manager David Pleat (pictured)

It was during this period that chief executive Gary Sweet convinced five supporters to form LTFC2020, a consortium aiming to take the club back to the Championship and into a new stadium within 12 years.

But they could not stop the slide as they started 2008-09 with a 30-point deduction for the ongoing insolvencies and irregularities in transfer dealings.

'We didn't know it was coming,' recalls Wilkinson. 'We were at Anfield for an FA Cup replay when we heard. It was 40 points in all because there were 10 the previous year. Monstrous. We still feel bitter about it, although having been in the Conference probably makes us what we are today.'

There were chastening defeats at home to Braintree and Hyde, and a play-off defeat at Wembley against York City, before John Still's non-league know-how guided them back up to League Two in 2014. 

Nathan Jones led them up to League One, installing new standards of professionalism, focus and intensity while ordering the players' table tennis table to be burned, an act now embraced as a symbol of the new dawn.

Mick Harford, Luton legend and at the time director of football, stepped in when Jones was lured to Stoke City and led them back into the Championship, completing one element of the 2020 plan a year ahead of schedule. 

Luton were relegated from the Football League and into the Conference as recently as 2009

Luton were relegated from the Football League and into the Conference as recently as 2009

Plans for the new stadium in the centre of town are delayed. The latest projected completion was 2024 but the Kenny will be quickly adapted for the Premier League if necessary. 

Its raucous din remains a key sporting asset as Luton fight the odds against wealthier rivals.

Fulham's promotion squad cost an estimated £158million, Bournemouth's £125m. Luton's is £1.5m. 

The annual wage bill is about £7m, among the three lowest in the division. 'There are probably six, seven, eight clubs in League One with bigger budgets than us,' says Jones.

Yet here they are, on the brink of a competition where Manchester City will pay Erling Haaland £20m a year and Chelsea are valued at £4.25billion.

And, two years on, the decision to bring back Jones despite his acrimonious exit looks inspired. 'He's Luton,' says Wilkinson. 'I don't think he always realised it but he is. He's passionate, which is Luton, and he's happy to do things a different way.' 

Luton's squad cost £1.5m in an era when Manchester City will pay Erling Haaland £20m a year

Luton's squad cost £1.5m in an era when Manchester City will pay Erling Haaland £20m a year

Harford, back on the touchline after treatment for prostate cancer earlier this season, is his assistant manager and, together with academy boss Paul Hart, they blend wisdom with the energy and drive of young coaches, such as Chris Cohen and Alan Sheehan.

After a sponsors' dinner this week, the coaching team slept at the training ground ready to make an early start for the Huddersfield game. The positive spirit is infectious.

Goalkeeper Matt Ingram, signed on an emergency loan from Hull when James Shea suffered a serious knee injury, postponed his honeymoon in the Maldives to be part of it.

'It's a journey we've been on,' said Jones. 'The club was in turmoil when a group of fans, shrewd businessmen, had an ambition to take it back to where it belonged. 

'We're now in the position we are not through spending money but through good processes on and off the pitch and good people.

'It's a wonderful story and if we achieve what we want to achieve, it's possibly the greatest story in football.'  

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