‘Still in Dreamland’: Huddersfield Town preparing for Premier League
It’s been six weeks since the Championship play-off final, but Huddersfield still can’t stop talking about it.
Leaning up against what Betjeman called “the most splendid station façade in England”, Jim Chisem, secretary of the Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association, stares out wistfully across St. George’s Square.
It was here that David Wagner and his team had held their promotion party, something the majority of Huddersfield fans never thought they would see.
“I’ve just properly fallen back in love with football again,” he beams, and why not? It’s a beautiful June day, he’s supping a pint in one of Huddersfield station’s two real ale pubs and his football team are in the Premier League.
Huddersfield is a football town, make no mistake. Though the Giants of the Super League have had more success and more exposure in recent years, this part of West Yorkshire loves its football and has been waiting so long for a team to repay that love.
With the club having long since lost its place at the top table, Sean O’Toole, editor of the Smile Awhile fanzine, admits promotion was in nobody’s thoughts going into the season.
“It’s such a blur, I’m still in dreamland,” he says. “I keep pinching myself about the fact we’re a club that’s in the Premier League now.
“It was just a flood of so many different emotions on that day, there were so many old men in floods of tears. I would have been happy with mid-table!”
Though three times champions of England, Huddersfield’s story in the last few decades has been one of woe: relegations, half-empty stadiums, administration, nearing the verge of liquidation, and successive managers who were never able to lift Town out of the doldrums.
“We haven’t had an identity for a long time, and we kept getting managers in who were absolutely worthless,” O’Toole says. “They were troubled times, but that’s all in the past now.”
That Huddersfield were promoted, and that promotion was delivered thanks to a locally-born fan of the club, makes this story all the more remarkable.
Born in the West Yorkshire town Heckmondwike, a place so charmingly named it’s a wonder he ever left, Dean Hoyle made his fortune from Card Factory before investing in his beloved club.
One of his first moves, lowering season ticket prices, immediately got the fans on side. It helped bring a feelgood factor back to Huddersfield.
“Dean Hoyle, what a guy,” O’Toole says. “It’s the ideal situation when you’ve got a chairman who’s a die-hard fan of the club as well.
“When he lowered the season ticket prices to an all-time low, he did what needed to be done. For far too long, the prices on the turnstiles were too high, we weren’t getting the fans in and we weren’t getting the atmosphere.”
Paul Cuffe, another Huddersfield Town Supporters Association member, adds: “There are individual factors such as Wagner and the gegenpressing style of play that all contribute towards us pushing on as a team, but the buck stops with Dean Hoyle.”
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Hoyle instigated a revolution on the pitch, bringing in former Dortmund II coach David Wagner, who thanks to a series of smart, understated moves, turned the Terriers from scrappers to conquerors.
“We’ve beaten the system at the margins” says Chisem. “You can have all the money in the world, it depends how you spend it.
“We’ve set up a European scouting network, we’ve brought in a charismatic forward-thinking coach from Germany, we’ve played the German transfer market, we’ve developed youth players, and we’ve settled on a system that can accommodate individuals.
“Football fans and football owners want everything now. You can have all the money in the world, but what matters is how you spend it.”
Last season was far from easy going, and shredded the nerves of Town fans right until the very last minute. But when Christopher Schindler, then the club’s record purchase at £1.8million, slotted home the winning penalty against Reading at Wembley, countless years of hurt were ended.
Now, Town are getting used to spending serious sums of money. In fact, they are among the biggest-spending Premier League clubs so far this summer, with around £30million splashed on Steve Mounie, Tom Ince and Aaron Mooy alone. And more signings appear to be on their way.
There’s a lot to be cynical about when it comes to the Premier League, but in Huddersfield they’re savouring every last detail of what it means to be a top-flight club again. From their new riches and big-money transfers, to getting the lion on the sleeve of their new shirt.
“The biggest change for me has been people talking about Huddersfield Town,” says O’Toole. “All my life I’ve had to explain to people that I don’t have a Premier League club – I support Huddersfield!
“People are getting interested in the club again. There’s just such a buzz about the place, it’s amazing really.”
Indeed there is. Town shirts are everywhere to be seen in the town centre, and even statues are draped in Huddersfield scarves. You almost feel like Castle Hill should be painted blue and white for the occasion.
Chisem adds: “We’re really looking forwards to going to the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, but it’s the little things as well.
“It’s about being on Match of the Day, it’s being able to get a sticker book – I’m 28! It’s having the stadium on FIFA. It’s starting to settle in, but it won’t really hit home until we go to Palace on the opening day of the season.”
Cloud nine is unchartered territory for Town fans. Though they’re desperate to get the new season underway, they’re still in the afterglow of promotion.
For now, the difficult tasks ahead and the very real likelihood of a relegation battle are far from their thoughts. Town are in the Premier League.
By David Cowlishaw, the co-producer of Who Are Ya? A podcast, which features a different club every month