“We’ve been to lots of dire places to watch lots of dire teams play lots of dire matches – but now we’ve got the reward,” says Stephen Booth, a Huddersfield Town supporter since the early 1970s.
As they prepare to host their first game in the top flight for 45 years, Sky Sports reflects upon a once-mighty club’s long-awaited return to the big time – and how they’re facing up to the challenge.
Huddersfield once had a team which was special. Their record-breaking run of three successive league titles in the mid-1920s has still to be bettered almost a century later. It’s an era in which their supporters still take pride.
Huddsf’ld vs Newcastle
August 20, 2017, 12:30pm
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“The day we got promoted I was on the tube in London and an Arsenal fan came up to me,” says Town fan Stephen Booth. “He said that he was so pleased that there would be another club in the Premier League that’s won the league more times than Tottenham!”
Known as the birthplace of both the former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson and rugby league, Huddersfield became a hub of the textile trade during the industrial revolution. Situated halfway between Leeds and Manchester in a region of northern England that’s rich with football clubs, large and small, it has developed a strong local identity.
“This town’s got a proud history, a fabulous heritage,” says Town chairman Dean Hoyle. “People work very hard and they go to watch their local club and they want the club to represent what they do as individuals. For me, for the club and for the supporters, to have that badge on the world stage means absolutely everything. Probably it’s the biggest thing to happen to this town since the 1960s.”
It was in the early 1970s that Huddersfield last graced the top division. It was the era of famous names such as Trevor Cherry and Frank Worthington. To their supporters’ frustration, they only survived for two seasons at this level.
“I think it should have lasted longer but there again it was financial,” says David Medley, who has supported the club since 1962. “We ended up selling our best players didn’t we?”
“I was going through the juniors’ gate in 1972,” says Stephen Booth. “My season ticket now says `senior citizen’ on it. I never, ever thought it would take that long before we got back into the top flight.”
Legendary Town striker Andy Booth scored 150 goals in 452 appearances for his hometown club. He admits that to have helped Huddersfield to reach the summit would have realised a dream.
“I always hoped, as a Huddersfield fan, that one day I might see them in the Premier League,” he says. “I think every team in Yorkshire had done it apart from Huddersfield and Doncaster Rovers. So you did think that one day it could be us.”
Booth, who won two promotions during a twelve-year career with the club, also remembers the dark days when Huddersfield almost went out of business. In 2003 they were placed in administration with debts of almost £20 million.
“The lads hadn’t been paid for ten months,” he says. “We didn’t own the stadium, we had no training ground, we had nothing. You couldn’t see a future. At that time everybody was saying that there could be one club that goes and it did go through my mind that it could be Huddersfield.”
Stephen Booth was a board member of the supporters’ Survival Trust. “The club was within hours of going out of business altogether,” he says. “The Trust was determined that Huddersfield would continue. We had actually registered a club with the North East Counties League in the event that the club went bankrupt.”
“That’s the lesson of many football clubs,” says chairman Dean Hoyle. “I heard Mike Ashley, the chairman of Newcastle, saying that he’d now put in enough money and that the club has to live within its means. He’s absolutely right.”
Born in nearby Heckmondwike and a Town fan since the late 70s, Hoyle took control of the club in 2009 after selling his greetings card business for a reported £350 million. While he has overseen Huddersfield’s recent renaissance off the pitch, it was his recruitment of David Wagner, who was coaching Borussia Dortmund’s Under-23 team, which so dramatically improved their fortunes on it.
“I would want to play football for him,” Hoyle says. “Interviewing him for the first time, the way he came across – the way he put his football philosophy over in a simple way – even I could understand it! The way he transformed the club, the tactics, the formations, got the players working together. It was an instant transformation.”
Defender Tommy Smith, one of Town’s longest serving players, agrees. “It’s been great that the lads have bought into his methods and really decided to have a go. They really want to train hard, they really want to try hard for the coach to get into the team so it’s a win-win.”
Now in his fifth season with the club, Smith has just taken over as captain from the recently-retired Mark Hudson. He led out the team for last Saturday’s opening game at Crystal Palace which – to the surprise of many – Huddersfield won 3-0.
“There were a few nerves, a bit of anticipation about what we were going to expect but we were thoroughly prepared,” he says. “We were more than ready for the game and it showed. We got off to a great start and to keep a clean sheet and to score three goals away from home in the Premier League is certainly not an easy thing to do.”
“I was in a bar in Spain watching it with about 25 Huddersfield fans,” says Andy Booth. “None of us could believe it. There was bewilderment on every fan’s face out there.”
Supporter Medley was particularly impressed by the impact of two-goal striker Steve Mounie, Town’s £11.5m summer signing from Montpellier. “For years we’ve had clubs come to Huddersfield with big, strong centre-forwards who are good in the air and good on the ground with two good feet and we’ve yearned for one of those. And now we’ve got one!”
It was an unforgettable Premier League debut both for Mounie and for a club that’s determined to make a mark on its return to this level.
“If we can survive in the Premier League,” says Dean Hoyle, “and it’s a big ask – but if we can survive, hopefully in 50 or 60 years’ time they can start talking about the chapter we’re in now with as much pride. That’s what it’s all about.”