Eight years ago, Luton Town were in the Conference Premier. Four years ago, League Two. And then the third-tier as recent as 2019.
Now, in their third season in the Championship, the Hatters entered the campaign with one of the lowest operating budgets in the entire division.
To put it into perspective, a Bournemouth squad – which cost £198m to assemble – finished four places higher than Nathan Jones’ side – a group constructed for less than £5m.
For years, the odds have been unfavourably stacked against Luton Town. Yet the club has continued to defy the odds and progress with every single season.
Their gradual progression within the past decade culminated in a play-off campaign this term, but defeat over two legs to Huddersfield Town has dropped a roadblock in the way of the Hatters’ Premier League dream.
“It’ll hurt for a while because we deserved something from both the games, but if I look at the bigger picture we’re just so proud of this season’s journey from start to finish,” Ian notes.
“At the start of the season I was hoping for progression from last season and would have been happy with 8th or 9th in the standings come the end of the season.
“So to finish in 6th in the fashion that we did was quite remarkable.
“Far from using this as an excuse but the injury crisis we found ourselves in and how we dealt with it was probably our biggest challenge this season.
“It was horrifically bad and how we continued to pick up points just shows you the unity of this squad and club.”
Despite sitting as high as third in the middle of March, a run of three wins from their final eight games – which included a sobering 7-0 defeat at the hands of Champions Fulham – saw Luton slip to sixth spot.
But that’s not to take anything anyway from a Hatters side who secured their best league finish since 1991-92 in the old Division One.
For a club that had achieved 19th and 12th-placed finishes in their first two seasons back in the second tier, and with the financially-superior established class to compete with, a top six finished seemed almost out of the realms of possibility.
But Ian says that’s a sentiment certainly not echoed by a Luton fanbase who have become accustomed to looking upwards – an improved finish in the Football League pyramid for a seventh season in a row is testament to that.
“You could say that they exceeded my expectations; I didn’t quite expect the fire in this squad to rage quite as well as it did, they were phenomenal.
“It’s an achievement of course, but not as shocking to us as to those outside Luton Town Football Club.
“We’re on a real trajectory at the moment and it’s not luck or fortune, far from it. Nathan Jones and the board build in blocks of years, not solitary seasons.
“Nathan showed us his blueprint in his recent Coaches’ Voice interview and he’s nailed pretty much every objective and some were a bit ahead of time.
“He’s superb, isn’t he? It’s often remarked that he and Luton Town fit like a glove and that some managers just suit certain clubs.
“I don’t actually think that is very fair; he was a great coach before he came to Luton and he’ll be a great one when he leaves.
“His work ethic is ridiculous. I honestly feel he’ll go onto bigger things one day, but that will be after a good old slog at Luton and certainly after he gets us back into the top flight of English football.”
The Welshman first arrived at the club back in 2016 as he took his first steps into senior management with Luton Town languishing in the fourth tier.
After narrowly missing out on promotion through the play-offs in his first full season in charge, Jones then led the club to a second place finish in League Two in the following campaign.
The Hatters’ momentum showed no sign of halting, again defying all expectations by sitting 1st in the third tier by January, before Jones was prised away by Stoke City.
A turbulent 10-month stint in the Potteries proved unsuccessful and within 18 months of leaving Kenilworth Road, the ex-boss made his return – this time with Luton a Championship outfit.
Within six years, the club had risen from the Conference Premier to the Championship and, more importantly, put its history of financial troubles and survival fears well into the rear-view mirror.
“It’s some trajectory, the way the club is being run has been heavily coveted over the last few years,” Ian comments.
“We’ve gone from a club unable to attract custodians that would be able to run a sweet shop, to one that has fashioned up a fan-owned board that saved us from the brink when we were on our knees.
“Now, we’re one of the best-run clubs in the country on and off the pitch.
“I think I speak for most Luton Town supporters when I say we are very lucky and privileged to have the club we have now.
“Gary Sweet and the rest of the board have done a remarkable job in all aspects.
“Luton Town now has a community club, with strong morals and a relentless work ethic. People outside our environment are starting to take notice and hopefully we’re setting an example of how a football club can be run.”
It’s true. Luton Town Football Club, recently a non-league entity with it’s mere existence in doubt, has become a shining light of the Football League. A pillar of inspiration for the EFL’s ambitious. A beacon of hope for those with bleak paths ahead.
And what’s more, the club’s monumental rise – albeit momentarily halted by a play-off setback – is showing no sign of stopping. So, what’s in line for the next chapter of the Hatters’ adventure?
“I don’t envy our recruitment team, to be honest, but they’ll already have their targets and I expect them to move relatively quickly,” Ian concludes.
“I feel the objective will be to lower the age in the group a little bit and enhance the quality, alongside bringing in some we can develop.
“I don’t see as many coming in as last season, but what we bring in will be better than what we have and not just for numbers.
“We may have a few phone calls for Elijah Adebayo, Allan Campbell and co., but it should be easier to keep hold of and attract new players after the events of this season.”
Where Kenilworth Road was once home to a club of uncertainty with a perilous and unknown future ahead, now in its place lies a breeding ground for hope and progress.
The last time Luton Town fell short in the play-offs? We all know what happened in the year that followed…
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