Less than 15 years after the club almost folded, Luton Town are once again just three games from the Premier League. ANDY WARD reports on their remarkable rise.
Walking towards Luton Town's home of more than 100 years, Kenilworth Road, it's easy to miss the entrance to the away end.
Wedged among a row of terrace houses, a blue sign for the Oak Stand suddenly comes into view over what should be the downstairs of someone’s property.
Travelling supporters then climb an iron staircase that meanders through people's gardens - making it one of the most unique approaches to a stadium in the EFL.
The thought of Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal fans making that same walk next season may seem surreal, but with the Hatters just three games away from top flight football for the first time since 1992, it's now a real possibility.
In many ways, Luton's modest ground reflects the club as a whole.
It may not be the biggest or most-catching in the Championship, but it's gritty, it's distinctive and it possesses a character and charm that other clubs could only dream of.
The stadium may only have a capacity of just over 10,000 but you'll do well to find a better atmosphere anywhere in the country.
The togetherness between supporters and players is almost unmatched in the second tier, and for the second season running, that unity has taken the club all the way to the Championship play-off semi-finals.
A year ago, the Hatters' Premier League dream was ended by Huddersfield Town, but this time, confidence is high that the latest chapter of the club's remarkable rise will have a fairytale ending.
Following that defeat to Huddersfield last May, many pundits predicted that Luton would be fighting a relegation battle this season instead of another unlikely promotion push.
However, proving people wrong is what the club has done best in recent times, and fast forward 12 months, they're back for another shot at making it to Wembley.
That's not to say there haven't been challenges along the way.
A slow start to the season raised fears that the pundits could be right after all, and when manager Nathan Jones left for Premier League side Southampton in November, those fears only grew further.
However, the fact that Jones' name has hardly been mentioned since is testament to the job that his replacement, Rob Edwards, has done.
Fresh from his sacking by fierce rivals Watford, his appointment wasn't met with universal acclaim by Luton fans, but you'd be hard pressed now to find anyone who's got a bad word to say about him.
You have to go back to Edwards' first game in charge, a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in December, for the last time the Hatters lost away from home and they ended the regular campaign with a 14-match unbeaten run.
That formidable form secured them a third-placed finish, their highest league position in more than 30 years, and a semi-final showdown with Sunderland who just sneaked into the top six on the final day.
"The thing that this club does is improve year-on-year," Kevin Harper, a Luton fan of more than 35 years, told ITV News Anglia.
"With all of the resource restraints that we have and the disadvantages compared to the clubs that we're going up against, it's amazing what we've done. The biggest thing about it all though is that it's not a fluke.
"We're genuinely where we deserve to be, and I think we're actually a better side than we were 12 months ago."
Spearheading their play-off dream has been striker Carlton Morris, a summer arrival from League One Barnsley.
Up until his switch to Kenilworth Road, his goalscoring record was relatively modest, and he was deemed not good enough to make the grade at boyhood club Norwich City who were happy to let him go in 2021.
However, Luton saw something in him and he's paid them back with dividends - registering 20 goals to become one of the most feared forwards in the division.
He's the type of of player that encapsulates everything that Luton are all about - a band of brothers built with a team of misfits.
Centre-back Tom Lockyer's sterling performances in defence earned him a place in the Championship Team of the Season, while the energetic displays of midfielder Jordan Clark have also been key to the team's success.
Both were free transfers.
In fact, the entire squad has been assembled for a measly £5.5m and the club's wage bill is among the lowest in the division.
However, the team have a bond that money can't buy which has enabled them not only to compete with, but ultimately defeat, most of the so-called bigger clubs.
Of course, taking on the likes of Erling Haaland and Mo Salah next season would represent another significant step up, but it's a challenge everyone associated with Luton Town is ready for.
Whatever happens from here, it's been a phenomenal journey for a club who were playing non-league football as recently as 2014 and whose very existence was under threat when they were hit with an unprecedented 30-point deduction in 2008.
"Everyone, the fans, the club, the players, rejoice in being written off," Mr Harper said.
"Because these players play for Luton, they're branded as bad players. They're not bad players, these are some of the best players in the league.
"Please keep writing us off because we all absolutely love it. At the end of the season, let's hope we're the ones standing there laughing at all of them.
"[After being] written off to the point that we were going to get relegated this season, we've already proven everyone wrong.
"Let's go the whole hog and do the exact opposite by getting out of the division like they (the pundits) all thought, but do it the other way round."
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