English Football

The weight of expectation on Huddersfield’s shoulders

Going all Wagnerian – Huddersfield’s head coach Photo: PA

IT IS remarkable that given the county’s considerable contribution to British sport, Huddersfield Town will be the only club from Yorkshire in the Premier League on 2017-18. The decline of the region’s football has been well documented, but clubs like Huddersfield have long since fallen away from the forefront of the game. Like many aspects of industrial England, their heyday coincided with a time when Yorkshire and Lancashire were at the heart of the economy. Their football teams were at the centre of the sport, winning trophies, championships and providing countless members of the England team.

Huddersfield Town will be in the top flight for the first time since 1972. Most of their current fanbase cannot remember the days when quality players like Frank Worthington, Trevor Cherry, Jimmy Nicholson and Terry Poole turned-out for the Terriers. Even then, in 1970 when they won promotion to the old first division, the club was looking back at a golden era that saw them win a hat-trick of Football League championships.

In 1970-71, when the club avoided relegation from the first division, they played in front of 23,000 at their former home at Leeds Road. A big barn of a stadium, built by renowned football architect Archibald Leitch, it made way for the current ground in 1994. Last season, when Huddersfield won promotion to the Premier, their average gate was around 20 thousand, the highest since 1971.

It has been a long time coming and there have been many heartaches for Huddersfield, but the world has certainly changed since they were last breaking bread with Manchester United, Liverpool et al. The town, for a start, has deteriorated as an industrial force. Unemployment at present is approximately 5%, which is better than in the past, but Huddersfield was named last year as among the least successful at full-time job creation in a report by the Rowntree Foundation. Huddersfield was renowned for its wool industry, but its position of pre-eminence merely made a select number of mill owners very wealthy. It was said that there were more Rolls Royce owners in the Huddersfield area than anywhere else – presumably before investment banking became a lucrative profession.

Golden years: Huddersfield Town in the 1920s

  Football League FA Cup
1921-22 14TH Winners
1922-23 3rd Round Three
1923-24 1st – Champions Round Three
1924-25 1st – Champions Round One
1925-26 1st – Champions Round Four
1926-27 2nd Round Three
1927-28 2nd Finalists

To the outsider, Huddersfield represents a quintessential Yorkshire town. Not for nothing was the national brass band championship held there this year, but the town lost many of its trademark mill chimneys years ago. It was also the spiritual home of Rugby League, and in the George Hotel, supposedly as important to the northern-dominated sport as the Freemasons Tavern in Holborn, London was to the birth of football, was a must-see destination for fans. It has been closed since 2013 but is still hoping to reopen under new ownership. Nevertheless, some people see its absence from the social scene as evidence of the town’s decline.

The football club is owned by Dean Hoyle, a lifelong Huddersfield fan and a businessmen with very firm local roots. He was named CEO of the year in 2016 in the Football Business Awards. The club has come a long way since it went into administration in 2003. Attendances have doubled since those dark days and now exceed the club’s support when it won three consecutive titles in the 1920s, the first two under the management of one Herbert Chapman.

Nobody expects David Wagner, the current head coach, to win a fourth championship for the Terriers, but there are more community-driven expectations that the club can carry the flag for the town and help revive its fortunes.

In the days when thousands of people were working in mills, the performance of the team and its affect on the workers was a legitimate correlation, but today there are no legions of mill employees or factory hands. There are few, if any, factory whistles going off at 5pm and certainly no Lowryesque hordes “going to the match”.

But the local grandees are hoping that Huddersfield, the town, can be boosted by Town the club and placed firmly on the map once more.  They know the club is moving into a new space, one that is not only awash with cash, but also scrutinised at every level. Recognising this, Huddersfield Town have just appointed a finance director from chairman’s Hoyle’s old company.

How long can this journey last? That is the question every Huddersfield Town fan will be asking in the next few weeks. A year ago, they were favourites for relegation from the Championship and they will obviously attract a similar tag this season.

There’s a lot to be said for the concept of a band of brothers taking on the world, an ethos that was given greater credibility by Leicester City’s success in 2016. David Wagner has something similar in his “Terrier Identity” which helped form a strong bond among his players in 2016-17. They will need every ounce of that this season when the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City roll into town.

Other smaller clubs have stepped into the Premier League and some have survived for a few seasons – Wigan Athletic did incredibly well to last as long as they did, Bournemouth are in their third campaign. Clubs like Barnsley and Bradford City enjoyed the moment, but in truth could not sustain top flight football. Handled clumsily, it could be a financial disaster for some clubs.

But all over Europe, less-fashionable clubs are making their way into the top divisions and in Huddersfield’s case, they will be the 47th club to have played in the Premier League since 1992, that’s over half of the constitution of the Premier/Football League. Sooner or later, it could be your turn. This is Huddersfield’s chance to remind the world that they were once the best team in the land. Those days have passed into history, but nobody should be of the opinion that this is a minnow. It might not be a giant any more, but this was a club once knew how to win big things. Given the economics of football, their next big prize may be Premier League survival, which might not come with a silver pot, but financially, it will mean that their newly appointed finance director will have a busy time at the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield expects that every blue and white-shirted man will do his duty.

4 replies »

  1. Hi Neil, great article, but you may be mixing your Huddersfields with your Burnleys with Martin Dobson! Best wishes, James

  2. Ah, Jimmy Nicholson! good player – and a mainstay of the Northern Ireland side of the time.
    P.S. liked use of expression “breaking bread” in the article. cheers, Kevin

  3. The centre spot of the old ground on Leeds Road is marked by a brass plaque in the car park of the retail park that was built after the stadium was demolished.

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