A pilgrimage to Huddersfield yesterday, to see Town's last home game in the Premier League. This has been a dismal season - we have been rooted to the foot of the table for several months - and Lord knows when we'll be back.
I went by train - a thirteen-hour round trip from north London for an hour-and-a-half of football. But this is big!
In the thirty years before my birth, Huddersfield Town spent just one season out of the top tier of English football. In the past sixty or so years, they have had just four seasons in total in the top tier.
I remember well Jimmy Nicholson's team - Frank Worthington and Trevor Cherry were among that number - which won the old Second Division championship in 1969-70. After two seasons in the First Division, they slipped down - and down - and down.
Town were perhaps fortunate to win the play-off place and get a bunk up two years ago into the Premier League. But last season was glorious - I saw them win 3-0 at Crystal Palace in their first ever Premiership game and, towards the end of the season, I witnessed them secure a hard-earned draw at Stamford Bridge to keep their place. This season, there has been very little to smile about. We've lost our manager and our chairman, both great guys - and just about every game we've played.
I'd seen perhaps half-a-dozen games over the season. And I hadn't seen Town win. Jeez, I hadn't seen Town score ... until yesterday.
What a wonderful way to depart the Premier League - holding the Red Devils to a draw! Our heads held high ...
Two years ago, the Cowshed - the most vocal of Town's fans - were declaring: "we're going up!". Yesterday they were singing, with almost as much pride: "we're going down". It took away some of the sting of saying goodbye to Town as a Premiership team.
We all knew it couldn't last for long. It's been a grand two years. And I really hope to be around to watch Town fight their way back up again.
When I first watched the Town, almost half-a-century ago, the Cowshed - a fairly accurate description of the structure's design - was the rough, tough end of the ground where the hardest and hardiest of fans stood. I was in the main stand, and never ventured near.
When the old Leeds Road ground closed in April 1994, and was demolished to make way for a retail park (there's a plaque, apparently, in the B&Q car park marking the old centre spot), the Cowshed went with it.
Earlier this year, the stand at the new John Smith's Stadium behind one of the goals - the end which is shared with away supporters - was re-designated the Cowshed. Quite by chance, that's where I managed to get a ticket for yesterday's home game against Brighton and Hove Albion. Not just that, I was seven rows from the front - and had a great view of how the Cowshed operates.
Those flags that you see waved - I've always wondered how fans get them in to the ground. But they are already there. Provided by the club. And when the game starts, there are three "choir masters" on the front row - one with a megaphone - and another guy with a large drum, and they orchestrate the chants. They don't see much of the match, but they make sure the fans don't lose voice. And Town's fans are famous for singing their hearts out - with their very own 'Smile a While', and some player specific chants:
"He's here, he's there. he's every fucking where - Johnny Hogg, Johnny Hogg" ... 'He's got no hair, we don't care, Aaron - Aaron Mooy"
And the football? Town won 2-0. We were comfortably the better team, and both goals were scored by the club's Benin international, Steve Mounie. They weren't elegant, but they did the job. At the close, the Town team came to take bow - in front of the Cowshed, of course.
So Huddersfield Town are approaching the mid-point of their first season in the Premier League in mid-table. Bloody brilliant!
And a footnote: much of the match day advertising at the stadium is in Chinese/Japanese/Korean - I guess it must be because of the TV audience in East Asia. But it does look a little out of place ...
Huddersfield Town's first ever match in the Premier League.
Yes, that's FIRST EVER. And their first in the top flight of English football for fully forty-five years. Trust me, I've been counting ...
We were playing at Crystal Palace. There were about 3,000 Town fans, all simply euphoric to see their team in the top tier. "We are Premier League, we are Premier League", they chanted.
By the end of the game, the chant had changed to: "We're leading the League, we're leading the League, Huddersfield Town, we're leading the League." Not just bravado. We really are the Premier League leaders.
We won a tremendous victory against Crystal Place, 3-0. And at the time of writing, we are clear at the top of the League. Alright, only one game played - but still, nowhere better to be at any time in the season than top.
The Town team took a bow at the end in front of the joyous visiting supporters - they deserved it!
And greatly to their credit a few Palace fans - seeing my son and I walk away from the ground in our blue-and-white striped shirts - congratulated us on a match well won.
I'm not at the Bucket List stage of life just yet, but if I was, seeing Town top of the Premier League would deliver a very hefty tick.
And let me share the sweetest of football songs, sung today (repeatedly) as it is at every Town game:
There’s a team that is dear to its followers,
They play in the bright blue and white,
They’re a team of renown, they’re the pride of the town,
And the game of football is their delight,
So all the while upon the field of play,
Thousands gladly 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 will be a memory,
So Town play up and bring the cup,
Back to Huddersfield.
Supporting an unfancied football team can feel a little like purgatory - great hopes clouded by the perpetual expectation of disappointment. But when, every few decades, they really do breakthrough, the exhilaration - the emotion - is just something else.
Yesterday my son and I went to Wembley to see my childhood team Huddersfield Town play Reading in the Championship play-off final. And they won! Dear reader, they won!! On penalties after 120 minutes of goalless football. Nerve wracking. Gut wrenching. But they did it.
So next season, Huddersfield will be in the Premier League - playing Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U. No one will give us much of a chance; but we're sort of used to that.
The last time Town reached the top flight of football was back in 1970, when Jimmy Nicholson's team won the old Second Division championship. I saw them that year - a really good team. But wow, how the years have changed Town, and English football. Here's that team with the cup -
- I can still name just about all of them. And since you are wondering, they stayed up back then for just two seasons. So yes, it's 45 years - that's almost a lifetime - since Huddersfield last played in the top division.
For the first time in 45 years, I went yesterday to see Huddersfield Town play at home. (Since you're asking, they almost won!) And for the very first time, I went through Huddersfield station. What a beauty! It was completed in the 1850s, and has been described by Betjeman, no less, as the most splendid station frontage in England. If you follow this link, you'll find more about the building and its history.
The station is Grade 1 listed - thank God! And it fronts on to the impressive, if a touch lifeless, St George's Square. The statue, in case you are wondering, is of Harold Wilson - the Huddersfield boy, and Huddersfield Town fan, who made it to 10 Downing Street.
As memorable as this vista was the journey by train from Manchester across the Pennines, as the photos from my train window might suggest ... Huddersfield is as close to Rochdale as to Leeds.
And at the John Smith's stadium, very impressive, my son joined me to cheer Town on their way to their best chance of promotion to the top flight since 1969-70 (when I cheered my lungs out as Jimmy Nicholson held up the trophy as Town took the old Second Division top place).
To Vicarage Road yesterday to see Huddersfield Town play at Watford. It prompted the question - you'll see why: when did I last see Town win a game? The answer, the play-off at Wembley a bit more than two years ago which got them into the Championship. And talk about doing it the hard way ... Huddersfield won a penalty shoot-out against Sheffield United in spite of missing their first three penalties. Barely believable.
But then ... Here we are yesterday afternoon, two goals each, and mid-way through the second half a Watford player gets sent off. Here's our chance! Town pile on the pressure relentlessly in that last twenty minutes. And the final score? 4-2. To Watford!
To Loftus Road with my 'honorary Yorkshireman' son (wearing his prized Huddersfield shirt) yesterday to cheer on Town. What a great little stadium - and a really good game. Town were impressive, moving the ball quickly and confidently, though without the killer touch in front of goal.
And the result? Well, QPR scored (a great goal) at the start of the second half but Huddersfield fought back hard and equalised through their new signing, the Bermudan Nahki Wells (already lionised by the fans: 'Nahki Wells, Nahki Wells, Nahki, Nahki, Nahki Wells'). What joy! But QPR scored the winner in the last few minutes. Ah well!
To be honest, Town aren't a Premiership compatible team just yet - but they could well get there in a year or two. They have three prize assets - a good manager, a good chairman, and bloody brilliant supporters.
Great to be with 2,000 Town fans - what a noise! Completely out sang the home crowd, and baiting them with magic lines such as 'you don't even sing when you're winning' (true!) and 'have you paid your taxes, Harry?' (good question).
Among the real winners on the Town supporters' song sheet: 'I am a Yorkshireman', to the tune of the Sex Pistols 'I am an anarchist' (yes, there were plenty of Yorkshirewomen present, but that's art), with the unlikely killer line: 'I want to be ... Huddersfield'.
Then there was 'Hey Jude', la-la-la la-la-la-la la-la-la-la Hudders'. And the wonderfully dated and hugely optimistic: 'So Town play up, and bring the cup, back to Huddersfield' (no, this wasn't a cup tie, but that's art).
And then a couple of pieces of true Yorkshire grit (plenty of that in Huddersfield) - so every time a QPR player hit the deck we heard, to the tune of 'Guantanamera', 'soft southern bastard, you're just a soft southern bastard'. And from time-to-time, the even more eloquent: 'London is a shithole, I want to go home!'
It was too good to last.
Jordan Rhodes, who scored a phenomenal 40 goals for Huddersfield Town last season, is on the move. He's being transferred for a reported £8 million to Blackburn Rovers.
The only surprise, really, is that he's going to another Championship side rather than to the top rung of English football. But he served Huddersfield well. Town would never have been promoted last season without him.
I saw him play twice last season - including at Wembley, in the play-off.
Good luck, Jordan, on the other side of the Pennines.
There's a lot of closet Huddersfield Town fans in my corner of London - coming back from Wembley, just in the same lift at Tufnell Park tube station, there was a young kid in Town strip who had gone to the match with his Dad, and a guy in his twenties who had seen Town stumble and fall in previous play-offs.
And then this morning on Hampstead Heath, blow me there was a youngster in Town's blue-and-white striped top. 'Don't be a dingbat, Dad, he's wearing an Argentina top', I was told. 'Nonsense son, he's a young Town supporter celebrating yesterday's Wembley triumph.' We decided on a 50p wager.
So I sidled past the poor kid in question, sunning himself on a bench. Whose kit was he wearing? Highgate Rangers!
Town fans for the day
Town are back where they belong! But there must be easier ways of getting promoted.
The League One play off at Wembley (what a great venue - this was my first visit to the new stadium) had its moments, though not many. After 120 minutes, the scoresheet was still blank.
And Huddersfield then managed to miss their first three penalties. Is it possible to win a shoot-out when your first three attempts have all failed? Well, most Town fans didn't think so.
But in a real heart stopper, Town then managed to put in eight penalties in a row. The last by their goalkeeper. The sudden death part of the shoot-out lasted so long, every player on the pitch had their turn. Sheffield United's keeper, the 22nd to take a spot kick, put the ball over the bar. And Huddersfield are in the Championship!
A sweet moment. I was there back in 1970 when Jimmy Nicholson held aloft the Second Division champions trophy at Leeds Road. But that was nothing on the euphoria at Wembley this afternoon.
And a really nice touch - the Sheffield United team came round and applauded the delirious Town fans. Real Yorkshire solidarity!
Will this be high scorer Jordan Rhodes's last match for Town? I guess so. He deserves a bigger club. But judging by how completely he was squeezed out of today's game by the Sheffield defence, he may not find it that easy to make his mark at the top level.
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