Occasionally I introduce you to an English football club which I assume you (my non-English readers) don’t know much about. In other words, you won’t be reading about Man U or Chelsea in this space.
This week we meet a club who, like Brighton and Hove Albion, came up to the Premier League for the first time in 2017.
(Update: April 2019: Huddersfield valiantly stayed in the Premier League for the 2018-19 season, but they have already been relegated and will be back in the Championship for 2019-20.)
Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, 28 miles northeast of Manchester at the foot of the Pennines.
A club you had probably never heard of before 2017, but one that was a role model for over-achieving little clubs, Huddersfield is also one of my favorite recommendations for people visiting Manchester. Instead of paying outrageous prices for crappy seats at a giant stadium, hop on the train to a lovely little town, make a unique tourist stop on the way, and catch a real local club in a cozy stadium with great fans.
The Terriers, which was introduced to honor the fitness and tenacity of a late-60s side.
Premier League for the 2018-19 season, the Championship next year.
The John Smiths Stadium, with 24,500 seats, has been their home since 1994. It replaced Leeds Road, where they played from the club’s founding in 1908. The Smiths is a terrific, modern stadium just a few minutes’ walk from the train station. You want to sit in or near the Chadwick Lawrence (South) Stand, where both the away fans and the local hardcore fans sit.
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The club was founded in 1908 and in the 1920s was arguably the best team in the country. They were the first to win the league three years in a row, in 1924-26; only three other clubs have done it, and no one has won four in a row. They also won the FA Cup in 1922 and lost the final another four times.
After World War II, Town faded, dropping out of the First Division in 1952. They made it back for three seasons in the early 1970s, but since then have been in the lower leagues – and at times near extinction. They went into administration (British for bankruptcy) in 2003 but have come back strong.
Here is a shot from before a game I saw:
In 2011, playing in League One, Town set a remarkable record which stood for deacdes: 44 league games unbeaten. At the end of the following season they were promoted to The Championship after a record-setting penalty shootout in the final of the League One Playoffs against Sheffield United. It went 11 rounds and finished with keeper-vs-keeper. Here is that shootout, which happened in front of the Town fans:
They stayed in the Championship for the next three seasons, but in 2015-16 they were 19th. During the 2016-17 season, they not only hung around the top three but also dod it playing an exciting, attacking style of soccer, with a core of young players. I saw them a couple of times that year, and I just love watching them. They ran and ran, pressed high, and when they won the ball in midfield, poured forward in the attack.
In fact, here is a video of how their tactics and player selection made up for a lack of financial resources:
They made some news in early 2017 when they drew nearby rivals Manchester City in the FA Cup. Playing at home, with seven changes in the lineup, they held City 0-0 in front a stadium-record crowd of 24,129. They went on to lose, 5-1, at The Etihad, but it was a nationally televised game that drew praise for the team and their fans. At one point late in the game, the ball went into the Town section, and they bounced it around like a beach ball for a while, enjoying their big day out.
Another fun note: Their (then) manager, David Wagner, was actually a former US international player, even though he has never lived in the US. His dad was American, his mom German, and he grew up in Germany. He was the first Town manager in history who was born outside the British Isles.
(Another update, April 2019: Wagner stepped down this last season.)
None that I noticed.
Their most famous is “Smile a While,” which sprang out of the terraces in their glory days of the 1920s. It was based on a song that was popular during World War I. Here are the lyrics, which aren’t typically sung in full.
There’s a team that is dear to its followers
Their colours are bright blue and white,
They’re a team of renown, they’re the talk of the town,
And the game of football is their delight
All the while, upon the field of play,
Thousands loudly cheer them on their way.
Often you can hear them say,
Who can beat the Town today?
Then the bells will ring so merrily
Every goal, shall be a memory
So Town play up, and bring the cup
Back to Huddersfield
We’re Yorkshire! We’re Yorkshire! We’re Yorkshire!
Here they are giving it a go:
Leeds United, just 21 miles away, are the most hated. However, they haven’t played so often, just 61 times over all the years, with Town winning 25 of them. The rest of the years they haven’t been in the same division, but I’m sure Leeds, with its proud history and tremendous support, doesn’t appreciate Huddersfield calling themselves “The Yorkshire Club.” Leeds fans also tell me Huddersfield ranks about fourth on their most hated list.
In the 2017 Leeds match, Town scored a late winner, and manager Wagner lost his mind a little, ran down to celebrate with the players, and then “accidentally” bumped into the Leeds manager on the way back. Chaos, and a suspension for Wagner, ensued.
Here is the winning goal:
And here is the “brawl”:
The same separate-division factor applies to a rivalry with Manchester City, whom they used to play more when City weren’t “all that” like they are now.
There is also a rivalry with Bradford City, whom they have played more often, having spent more time in the same division. Bradford is just 18 miles away, but they are currently stuck in League One. Barnsley, also of West Yorkshire, are a minor rival.
What else to do in town:
First, for something to do on the way to town, take the local train from Manchester, the one that stops in Marsden. There, you can visit a unique museum from the industrial revolution days.
Back in the early 19th Century, a canal opened through a tunnel here, and workers would push barges through it by lying on top of the load on their backs, pressing their feet against the ceiling of the tunnel, and “walking” it through. Today you can visit the museum and take a boat ride 500 meters into the tunnel. In fact, there is even a little 12-seater shuttle boat from the Marsden Station to the tunnel visitor center for a pound per person. Marsden’s Riverhead Brewery Tap in town is a highly-rated pub for food and bevvies.
Otherwise, Huddersfield itself is really quite lovely. Right outside the station, which dates to 1850 and is famous for its colonnades, there is a beautiful courtyard area and two great pubs.
The one on the right, The Head of Steam, offers food and beer. The one on the left, the Kings Head, is more of a “traditional” pub, just serving beer and cider, but it has a fine selection of each and a very open layout, recently renovated. It also, oddly, has in its crest a picture of Jimi Hendrix – the King, I suppose. Also in that courtyard is an old hotel, The George, sadly now closed. It was built in 1851 and, in 1895, was the birthplace of Rugby League Football.
In the center, where you can find more food and pubs (including a Wetherspoons and one called The Jules Verne) be sure to stick your head into the 1881 Town Hall, which includes an impressive mural of the town and a gorgeous, 1,200-seat concert hall. It is the home of the nationally renowned Huddersfield Choral Society, which has recorded numerous albums and performed with the best orchestras in Britain.
If you do “pop in,” see if the caretaker is around, and if he is, tell him I said hello; more specifically, tell him the American working on the book, the one whose team has a mascot with a chainsaw cutting logs on the sideline, says hello. Also, pity him as a Leeds supporter living in Huddersfield.
The other thing you have to do in town is take a taxi up to the Victoria Tower (1899) on Castle Hill.
The medieval neighborhood up on the hill, Almondbury, is a treat – you might consider walking through it back down into town – and the view from the top is fantastic, a 360-degree panorama of the town and the rolling, lush green Pennine Mountains, covered in hedgerows and cottages and sheep.
A taxi ride from the station, up and back, with about 10 minutes spent at the tower, should be around 20 pounds.
And finally, as you walk to the ground for the game, stop into the Open (actually covered) Market on the way; there’s a popular chippy called Sharky’s near the main road.
What I have written about them:
I happened to catch them at Barnsley in 2017, when they brought 4,000 people to a West Yorkshire Derby at Oakwell.