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Mad Hatters dreaming of magical zero points

I've been sitting in that seat since before you were born," smiles the father to his seven-year-old son. "The Town were crap then and they're crap now."

Welcome to Kenilworth Road on a mild November afternoon alongside 5,000 other masochists. Those that produce the next generation really have gone the extra mile.

"We won on my birthday," the son says, proudly repeating another tale that has been passed on to him, although the father tells it in better detail.

"It was 2-1 that night. I think that was in the last good season, the promotion run from Division Three." Had the Hatters not been playing that night, he would probably forget his son's birthday every year.

At least the boy will have a family connection as a reason for supporting a club that for every minute of joy bring an hour of misery. My reasons have never been so easy to explain. Unsuccessful teams should carry a warning when they reach cup finals -- 'Will not always be like this'.

Caveat

There was no such caveat attached to the 1988 Littlewoods Cup, when Luton scored two goals in the last seven minutes to beat Arsenal and snare a boy in Dublin who didn't know any better.

Soon afterwards, they beat Shamrock Rovers in a friendly and were amiable when asked for autographs, although, in retrospect, that was probably because they had never been requested before.

In the year before the cup final victory, they finished seventh, 10 points clear of Manchester United and 14 ahead of Chelsea. They were never the most fashionable of teams but weren't the worst one to support. Fast forward 20 years to last Saturday and Luton still aren't fashionable, but are definitely the worst team in the English league.

Gone is the plastic pitch, Steve Foster's headband and Ricky Hill's skill and in its place is a club slowly pulling itself off the canvas.

This morning they sit on minus 11 points at the bottom of League Two, 20 points away from safety after a combination of the English FA and Football League deducted a total of 30 points from them at the start of the season.

Two days ago, Dagenham and Redbridge arrived to a ground that hasn't changed much in the past 20 years. With a main stand that was first put in place in the 1920s, it is more part of the problem than the solution.

Unlike most modern stadia, Kenilworth Road doesn't rise majestically above the landscape. Instead, one squints from the main road, past the rows of clustered housing to the end of the side street, to see a ground in which the entrance for visiting supporters is situated between two houses.

Dunstanble Road is the main thoroughfare but, with its strong Pakistani community, feels closer to Karachi than London. Two doors down from a large building proudly boasting itself the 'British Headquarters of the Calvary Church of God in Christ' stands a shop declaring 'TNT fireworks are now in stock'.

Nestled among an apparently unending amount of fast-food restaurants is a jeweller's which promises "cash loans against your gold" and sells Del Boy-style 22 carat earrings for £45.

Investment

It's amid such an environment that the club is trying to attract investment, but an hour before kick-off there are more burkas to be seen in the area than replica shirts.

The good news is that by 2.30, the club shop is packed. The bad news is that 'packed' is a relative term. The shop is a little more than a portakabin which takes 17 steps to walk in length and six in width -- at least four of them would fit into a standard 18-yard box.

Inside, gallows humour pervades although how could it not when, on the opening day of the season, "we are staying up" is the most optimistic chant on offer?

The mood on Saturday is lifted when Sol Davis drives in the opening goal. Just over two years ago, Davis was in the team that hammered Leeds 5-1 to move to fifth in the Championship in front of a sold-out ground. Twenty-five months, two terms in administration and a fall of 67 league places later, he seems the perfect man to sum up how far they have plummeted.

"30 points/who gives a f***/we're Luton Town/and we're staying up" is the chant ringing around the ground for 20 minutes until Dagenham get a foothold in the game that results in an inevitable goal.

Conceding an equaliser against Dagenham would be a low point for most clubs, but when the last two home league matches have ended in 2-1 defeats, against Darlington and Accrington Stanley, you've fallen far enough already.

This, after all, is a club that timed its relegation from the top flight to coincide with the beginning of the Premier League and all its riches. (Des Walker even scored against them that season, to give him a career tally of one from 657 professional games). They drew with Liverpool in the FA Cup last season, a result which probably saved the club financially, but the best player and captain were sold before the replay because the club couldn't risk losing the transfer fees by them being injured at Anfield.

Paul McVeigh is a player who probably dreamed of spending his career at Anfield but, on Saturday, found himself playing at a standard best summed up by a first-half incident in which a Dagenham player failed to get the ball back in play from a throw-in.

This though, was McVeigh's day and his perfectly struck volley just before half time put Luton back in front.

Forty-five minutes of exasperation follows when every home supporters expects a Dagenham equaliser but, with every one of the referee's three whistles to signal the end of the match and a 2-1 victory, 5,000 people forget their team is still -- by a distance -- the worst in England.

Rochdale and Brentford are up next as the dream of reaching zero points by New Year remains a possibility. For a club so used to misery, there remains a faint hope that the greatest of all great escapes might just be the achievable. It's why fathers and sons keep going back.