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The names of Luton Town and Coventry City brought the past thudding into the present this week.

To a whole generation of football supporters Luton and Coventry are synonymous with a period in English football in the 1980s when trophies were still spread around all of the clubs.

Coventry won an FA Cup in 1987 beating stick-on favourites Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in one of the era's most memorable finals. A year later, Luton lifted the Littlewoods Cup (the then name of the League Cup) defeating Tottenham's North London rivals Arsenal in another thriller. They reached the final again in 1989, only to succumb to a Nottingham Forest side that won 3-1 to give Brian Clough his last trophy of a stellar career. Luton and Coventry were no mugs.

The former led by an array of attacking talent in the form of Brian Stein, his brother Mark Stein, Mick Harford, Paul Walsh, Ricky Hill and Mike Newell regularly punched above their weight back then, recording a best-placed finish of seventh in the 1986-87 season. Since those heady days, much tougher times have followed. As those better players were plucked off by bigger clubs Luton's performances dipped and their 14 season-stay in the top flight came to end. They cascaded down the leagues dropping two divisions in the space of two dreadfully dark seasons, the second of which – in 2008-09 – left them condemned to the Conference Premier. It had been an inevitability from the start of the campaign when first the FA imposed a 10-point deduction on the club for irregular matters involving transfers which was swiftly followed by a 20-point punishment handed by the Football League for breaking rules on exiting administration. 

If there was a note from history for Luton to heed it was this: on that June day in 2009 when they bowed out of the Football League after 89 years, it was following a 2-0 defeat at champions Brentford while Bournemouth finished a mere two places above the League Two relegation zone. Fourteen years on those two revitalised clubs could be on Luton's fixture list for the 2023-24 campaign as they stand on the brink of emulating Brentford and Bournemouth's feats, should they beat Coventry at Wembley next Saturday.

Coventry, similarly, have not had their troubles to seek. They, too, tumbled down the leagues, falling as low as League Two in 2017 before they came straight back up through the play-offs. For years the club has been involved in one dispute after another over where it would play its matches. They left Highfield Road for the Ricoh Arena in 2005, then after a row over rent spent the 2013-14 season at Northampton's Sixfield stadium before returning to the Ricoh. In 2019, after two years of groundsharing with Birmingham City they again returned to the Ricoh (now the CBS Arena) as tenants to the stadium's new landlords, the Premiership rugby club Wasps. As all of the various moves back and forth were transpiring, the club was busy racking up significant debts, posting a negative of £28m for the year ended 2021.

However, light appeared at the end of a long tunnel when businessman Doug King purchased an 85% stake in the club (a £25m bid to buy the stadium failed, however, with Mike Ashley, yes, that Mike Ashley, purchasing it instead) wiping clear the club's debts in the process.

Winning promotion would bring further financial liberation for both clubs. The prize on offer is estimated to be worth somewhere between £135m and £265m, a sum that will make those financial woes seem a distant memory but there will also be a recognition that what put both clubs into the mire was the mere existence of that vast amount of wealth that one of them stands to inherit. Luton, for example, are one of only two teams to have received a Premier League parachute payment without actually ever playing in the division. Coventry, meanwhile, know all too well the folly of attempting to spend your way back into the top division.

Their fans, whichever set witnesses their side go up, will just be grateful for the ride after plenty of years of uncertainty.