Predict this…

Ian Holloway has upset a few Huddersfield fans with his comments in a prediction league article. 
 Now, I wouldn’t ask Ian Holloway for any advice. I wouldn’t ask him for directions to the bus stop if he was the only man for 50 miles, and I needed to catch the bus to save my parents lives and he was wearing a sign with “ask me the way to the bus stop” written in flashing neon. 
 He’s not a man whose opinion I put any value in, so I’m not concerned if he thinks Huddersfield will finish 23rd or be promoted at Christmas and given early access to the Premier League. 
 He’s a manager who’s had some success, but he’s currently sharing his tedious and humourless musings for fat piles of Rupert Murdoch’s money. 
 It’s nice work if you can get it, but a prediction league is a bugger of a thing to write. So, I can’t really blame him if he’s just cobbled it together based on nothing at all. 
 I’ve done a few myself, and after a few musings on the handful of clubs you know something about you just start using what little knowledge you have to ensure you meet the deadline. 
 You’ll use every little thing you know about the club. For example, you’ll think: “Newcastle are a good attacking side and I know this after those games against Liverpool 20 years ago, so I think they’ll do well” 
 Or: “Norwich are riding high after a strong finish in the Premier League in 94. How they’ll cope post Chris Sutton is anybody’s guess.” 
 For other clubs you’ll just think: “I hate that club, and their fans called me a nob when I walked past them wearing a fedora and scarf combo last year, so they’ll definitely finish in the relegation zone”
 The predication league can be a meticulous work of art, drawn together from years of football watching experience and hours of hard graft and research, or in most cases they’re a swiftly thrown together mess of hopeless guess work. 
 Worth noting also that no pundit is as invested in your club as you are, and although they should do their research if they’re getting paid, it ultimately doesn’t matter. 
 Let people believe whatever they like about your club, if you spend too long worrying about it then you’re just going to miss the fun and anticipation of a new season. 
 If they’re right then it was a lucky guess, if they’re wrong then you’ve got a reason to laugh at them. 
 

Huddersfield Town: a team for the future, today?

Preseason is a time for outrageous optimism. Whatever happened last season has been forgotten, mistakes of the past consigned to the history books, and despite thirty seasons of abject failure you just know this one will be different.

I like the optimism; the sense of new beginnings; a journey into the unknown. It is what will keep football fans coming back to the stadium every week; even when their sanity suggests that all that awaits them through that turnstile is abject misery.

So, I have no issue with being excited by the new season, in fact if you aren’t then you might as well stay home when Saturday comes. However, I am only thinking out loud and designating myself as the one cautious voice amongst the wildly enthusiastic majority.

Huddersfield Town have acted swiftly this transfer window. If the transfer window was a buffet then Dean Hoyle and David Wagner would be on to a second mini trifle, before anybody else had even noticed the cellophane had even been removed from a plate of scotch eggs.

We have acted quickly and efficiently. We’ve recruited players from across Europe, with our prime destination being, somewhat predictably, Germany. We even had three players signed before the end of last season, which is something I’m sure has never happened.

Now that is all exceedingly positive, and should certainly be cause for optimism, however it must be said that the majority of our signings have never played in England. Not that this really means anything, as if you’re good you should be good anywhere. It’s a field, with a ball, what’s the problem?

Well there are a number of issues: language barrier, fitness levels, response to the atmosphere, style of play, mental strength, how well they settle in the area, homesickness, if they don’t like Findus Crispy Pancakes/corned beef/Yorkshire pudding etc.

I obviously hope that all players are hugely successful, settle in nicely and go on to be club legends. Statistically this is unlikely, as our success in the transfer market, like most clubs, is very much hit and miss.

Also the sheer volume of signings concerns me slightly, and only because of our negative past experiences of making multiple signings. It’s a mammoth task to successfully blend together a team full of new faces, new personalities and giant egos. It also takes a long time to learn how your new team mates play.

Our “fresh start” under Stan Ternent promised a lot, but turned sour swifter than milk left out in the sun. We sold season tickets for £100, signed a load of players and optimism was understandably high. It failed, but not even in spectacular style. It was just dull. All the players who looked like sensible buys turned out to be ancient or shit. I’m not entirely certain all of them were alive.
The real difference this time though, perhaps more than ever it is certainly with a real vision in mind. The club know exactly what they want and believe they have the manager to deliver. 
David Wagner clearly impressed the board last season. He passed his audition with flying colours. He’s intelligent, tactically astute, scientific in his approach and knows exactly how he wants his team to play. These are great qualities, and I am pleased that the club are backing their man so heartily. 
However, he has been left with an enormous job on his hands. He inherited a squad that was short on real quality, whilst also being weighed down by loanees. 
The goalkeeper, star centre half and two members of his start in midfield from last season have either been sold or returned to their parent club. This means that he is building the spine of the team. This is so important, but should be remembered when the season starts that a lot of the first team are still learning one another’s names. 
 Now at this point we also have no idea if these players are up to the task. We won’t know that for a while. On paper they look exciting and most have excellent pedigree. Many have come through the German academy system and many leave their club with very good reputations. They were captains, highly thought of and professional. 
Every season you think your signings will be great, and all too often you’re left disappointed. 
 Regardless though, and this is important, I am delighted and proud to be a Huddersfield Town fan right now. 
 We’ve stepped out of our comfort zone to employ an exciting manager who wants to play football that gets fans out of their seats. 
 It’s a process though, and it will take a long time to find consistency of style along with the time it’ll take for it to be effective. 
 We’ve already proved that we can keep possession, as we dominated that particular stat in the majority of games we played under David Wagner. 

However, turning that possession into actual proper domination is a different matter. You can keep the ball forever, but if you don’t punish teams, not only in terms of goals scored but also exhausting them by making them chase shadows all game, then possession remains a fairly irrelevant stat. 
 It’s very important to state that David Wagner got a team he inherited to run through walls for him. That was a limited team, and he’s now had a chance to bring in his own men. They are men he trusts and players who are coming in to an established style of play.
That to me is vital. This is not just a manager signing a bunch of guys from his homeland, it’s a manager signing players he knows will be able to play the way he wants. 
Despite the mystery surrounding our new signings, the certainties are exceptionally pleasing. Season tickets are cheap, players want to play for Huddersfield and due to an intense training regime our players are bound to be amongst the fittest in the league. 
This cannot hurt our chances, as under many previous regimes we looked as if we’d end up in a heap if we were asked to jog 10 yards, or we’d foul ourselves through sheer exhaustion if we had to collect a ball for a throw in. 
 Three training sessions a day should certainly eliminate the lethargic performances and new coaches should mean that things are suitably fresh and exciting for the players on the training ground. 

  The club truly have thrown everything they can at this new start, but my only real note of caution is: just be patient. 

 It will take a while. There is no might about that, unless everything just magically clicks, which goes against all footballing sense. However, I am certain it is unquestionably the right way to go for this football club. 
 Hiring good coaches, improving how the club runs from top to bottom, insisting on a style of play and signing exciting talent. It’s an impressive list of achievements from the club this past year and the board must be applauded for seeing the need to adapt and improve. 

 For what it’s worth, on the field I think we’ll set off like a freight train, be top 6 around Christmas time before a steady decline in the latter part of the season, as the pressure and intensity of the football catches up with us. Eventually we’ll finish mid-table. 

 I’ll be happy with that. We’re just starting our degree course, we’ve got an awful lot to learn before we’re ready to graduate. 

Don’t waste the Summer staring out the transfer window.

The obsession with transfers is about to ruin our summer, and we all must take a break from football entirely or risk losing another 3 months to Internet searches and a near constant refresh of the club website.

So much false hope, and so much frustration as the club puts up constant false hope headlines: “Club signs: a new deal with pie stockist” “Club welcome new signing: local business agrees to be a club partner” “fresh face in town: come and buy your club gnome”

So months are spent dealing with incredible levels of nonsense. Trawling message boards for the faintest rumour, obsessing over tweets sent by a teenager posing as an in the know football agent, or standing outside the stadium, with binoculars, looking for athletic looking types. Only the latter can lead to you getting arrested.

All this is a complete waste of time, and ultimately pays few dividends even if you do sign somebody. You’re so invested in this by now that when you do sign somebody it’s just a huge disappointment. “Him? I thought we were going to show some ambition this summer” or you already know about it anyway so when the club announce the signing it leads to cries of “well that’s the worst kept secret on earth, we all know already”

I’ve personally wasted far too much time searching doing nearly all of the above, and at no point did I find it rewarding. It’s when I was desperately trying to access the club website on a beach in Greece did I truly realise I had been wasting my time.

So I’m ignoring the world of transfer rumours, taking a break from football for a few months, and I’ll just find out in August that we’ve signed Marlon Harewod on a long term deal & resigned Alan Lee after Harewood blew out his knee in pre season.

We could do worse, but why should we bother?

This year it was Rickie Lambert, the year before Grant Holt, and they can add their names to the esteemed company of Marcus Stewart, Clive Mendonca & John Stead.

The above are all strikers who shocked the Premier League by scoring goals, when everyone assumed they’d be as much use as a cocktail umbrella in a tropical storm.

They catch defenders out, usually with a combination of sharp elbows & a beer gut, and suddenly their name is on everyone’s lips.

“What a player Lardarse is, he uses clever movement (a massive shove) to evade the defender & then shocks the keeper by throwing his pint in his eyes, followed by a clumsy shin roller to the onion bag”

Before you know it people are saying “we could do a lot worse than pick them for England, I mean he’s 31, out of shape & had half a good season, but he’s currently scored as many as Rooney”

At this point I lose any romance, and start screaming (not literally I’m not really that bothered) “no, no a thousand times no, they’ve had one good year”

I don’t wish to diminish these players achievements, but there’s a very good reason they don’t get international call ups: they might be fine for a game or two, but they have almost no international future, so why bother?

When you’re picking an international footballer you should be looking to players who can realistically play 50 times for their country, not just a bloke who’s had a good season when nobody was really sure what to expect from them.

Sadly, the best players England have available currently play in the national team, and giving fat strikers a couple of caps helps us in absolutely no way.

All it ultimately leads to is a slot on a BBC 3 show about the worst England team ever & a striking berth alongside their brother in arms: Michael Ricketts.

No celebrating allowed

As Huddersfield and Barnsley knocked the ball about in extra time yesterday, in a mutually beneficial act of time wasting, it was only likely to upset one club: Peterborough.

Both teams had played with passion and urgency throughout the ninety minutes, but when news of Crystal Palace taking the lead filtered through, both teams decided to take the sting out of the tail, and as a result both secured the draw needed to guarantee safety and relegate Posh. When the final whistle went both teams celebrated with signs of passion and enthusiasm that will never be forgotten. After a tense game, both teams had survived, so they celebrated. I doubt they considered Peterborough’s feelings whilst celebrating, but why should they?

Now for many Huddersfield Town fans, this could not have been any better. Not only had we secured another year in the Championship, but we had also relegated the team who had humiliated us in the play off final at Old Trafford.

It wasn’t the defeat that left fans upset with Peterborough however, their conduct afterwards, according to some, left a lot to be desired.

They celebrated their victory and mocked us in the process. Now I don’t wish to upset people, but I personally never had a problem with this.

They won the game, and in wearing t-shirts with “believe” printed on them, added to the fact that some of our fans ended up fighting each other, we can hardly argue that we didn’t make ourselves obvious targets.

We hadn’t just given them a gun to shoot us with, we’d given them a weapons factory and a lucrative arms deal too.

To expect them not to mention this and not laugh at our expense was a bit like hoping that you could loudly foul yourself in school and expect that nobody would mention it.

Peterborough fans acted the way any fans would react. They celebrated a brilliant victory for their club, and savoured our humiliation in the process.

Their chairman mentioned us in a speech to fans and said something along the lines of “they can wipe their arses with their t-shirts” but this was him talking to fans of his club, and actually says little more than “those t-shirts did you no good”

Now you’ll always get a few morons who take it too far, but you cannot begrudge a comparatively small club, like Peterborough, a day in the sun.
They earned it, let them have it, move on because as Saturday proves in a cyclical game like football, your day will come too.

Football is transient, today’s victories are so swiftly followed by tomorrow’s defeats. To get resentful of fans and players enjoying great moments goes against the very nature of the game. If you win, you savour it. In a game where you win or lose, they’ll always be someone getting upset.

It’s also worth remembering the moments you lose, and bottling those emotions, as to truly appreciate victories, you must have experienced defeats.

It is now so often the case in football that an enormous furore follows celebrations.

Quite often players refuse to celebrate against their old team, which to me is as a gesture as hollow as an Easter egg. If you really cared, you’d refuse to play. You’ve scored, celebrate. Chances are your old team received a big bag with “swag” written on it in exchange for your services, so you go and enjoy it. It might be the last goal you score, so what if you upset people in the process?

Football matches are often defined by small moments, just as seasons are frequently defined by individual games. We must enjoy them when they go our way, and suffer when it goes against us.

If we don’t have the freedom to celebrate in football, then is there any point actually watching at all?

A final day to remember: a story 12 years in the making

On the 6th May 2001, I went to the McAlpine Stadium, aged 15, to witness the final day of the season game against Birmingham City.

I have been to so many games at that Stadium, but that game I remember vividly and I doubt that I am the only Huddersfield fan who can recall every depressing moment.

I will not go over the details; it will be more painful to remember than a top board belly flop or a gym class erection.

It was, put simply, the day when everything that could have gone wrong, did.

The last day of the season is so often just a chance to get drunk and enjoy an afternoon in the sun, but if your side has something to play for, you’ll simply never forget the day, whether that is for good or bad reasons.

That day in May has haunted Huddersfield fans ever since, and it was going to take something special to drive a stake through the heart of that particular demon. On May 4th 2013, a mere twelve years later, that special something finally happened.

Those twelve years have been painful for Huddersfield Town. We have suffered two relegations, administration, and had countless different managers. We have seen good players come and go, and we have seen terrible players arrive and stay too long. It has been an era of false dawns & shattered dreams.

There has been heartbreak, and humiliation along the way too. That back pass against Cheltenham, the hideous season that started with appointing Mick Wadsworth and ended with relegation and the near death of the club, and the terrible play off semi final against Barnsley, that was the beginning of the end for Peter Jackson.

There have been good times too; the play off victories over Mansfield and Sheffield United, scoring a hundred goals in a season under Lee Clark, and that glorious game against York that brought back so much belief after the disaster of the year before. However even though we got close to good times, it seemed we were never too far away from disaster.

Just as the hero of a film looks closest to redemption, that is when the lead is slipped into the boxing glove and he’s knocked cold. And just as it seemed that all the bad times were about to end, we came up against Peterborough in the play off final, at Old Trafford.

That day was supposed to be our occasion. We outnumbered their fans two to one, we all had a free fruit of the loom t-shirt with “believe” printed on it, and it seemed we just had to turn up to win. Losing this game had not been a consideration. We completely fell apart, and so much good work was undone.

It was the latest of our painful memories, a humiliation witnessed by every football fan across the country. The team, who boasted a long unbeaten run, was taken apart in a play off final. In the crowds Huddersfield fans fought amongst themselves, and those t-shirts had us all looking more ridiculous than a kid who comes to a school disco in a suit jacket but no trousers.

However, as much as Old Trafford seemed tailor made for putting aside so many bad memories, it turns out that we were going to finish this story the way we started it: on the final day of a Championship season.

And so, 12 years on, and no longer a child, although if the club do a quid-a-kid deal I’ll still chance my arm, I once again walk to the stadium to witness the final day unfold.

I’ll once again spare you the details as this was drama that you cannot do justice to with words, as artsy fartsy as that sounds, I do believe that’s true. Those who witnessed it will never forget this game. This was the glorious conclusion to the story that started on that day in May 2001.

This is now our chance to put behind twelve years of disappointments and the sense that we’ve underachieved. It is our chance to savour a final day when everything, finally, went right.

If you wanted to write a film script, and yes you could script this, unless your intention is to write the dullest film on earth, this would be your final scene.

Glory shared with a local neighbour, a 90 minute game that ebbed and flowed and left both teams on the brink of relegation throughout the ninety minutes, and the club who left you humiliated a few years before, suffering relegation at your expense.

As for the future, the club will never have a better chance to push on and establish itself as a Championship force for years to come. After years of searching, we appear to have a manager who can truly develop us as a club, a Chairman with the club’s best interests at heart, and fans who can finally forget the mistakes of previous years. We must take this opportunity to develop a team, identify a playing style and enhance our reputation as a team who give youth a chance.

To move forward we must not forget our past, but we can finally leave it there, and move forward unencumbered by ifs, buts, and maybes.

See you next season

Chicken Pluckers: the worst decision Blackburn Rovers ever made

No preamble required for this one. Many thanks to Rovers fan Mikey Delap for writing this brilliant piece for the site. As bad decisions go, this is about as bad as they come.

As a fan of a Venky’s run Blackburn Rovers writing an article on the club’s worst footballing decision you’d imagine it should be a doddle right? I mean, it’s easy when your spoilt for choice right?

Well therein lies the problem. Looking at the timespan of 2010 – 2013 there are probably more poor decisions and cock ups at my club than there were in the other timespan we know of, the good stuff, the stuff we actually enjoyed. Others would call it the years 1875 – November 2010. I suppose we’d call it pre-Venky’s. Since their ill-fated attempt at running a football club came to fruition we’ve seen reputable managers sacked in favour of unknown (and useless) ones, alleged agent involvement at board level, veteran players unceremoniously turfed out of Ewood Park in favour of players you’d struggle to find on Wikipedia, large sums of money being spent on players who are either over the hill or Portuguese and under qualified people being employed, often with job titles no-one has ever heard of before.

Yes, it’s been a bumpy ride and my word there has been some ludicrous decision making but for the worst of the lot you have to go right to the beginning – no not the Garden of Eden bible thing – back when Venky’s first bought Blackburn Rovers.

For smart business people who have a very successful track record in their main line of making a living (chicken and pharmaceuticals) the decision to purchase a football club looked a strange one. Where was the background and the apparent nous? Or at least the connection to the game so that even if they didn’t know what they were playing at then there were people they could trust and hire who did know the game.

As we’re probably aware of by now, an unnamed agent – likes to go on Sky Sports News and shout at Blackburn fans, also a fan of tantric dancing – was the one selling them the deal. He was the one who gave the advice, he was the one who sold them this easy dream of running a football club. But Venky’s were the ones who bought into it without doing the right due diligence, their primary concern was boosting their own brand in an area that had barely heard of them until they came steamrollering into East Lancashire. The rest was merely supposed to be an easy self servicing sports entity. A walk in the park if you will, it would practically run itself.

The simple fact is that was never the case.

Football is a passion and a hobby, not just a business. You need a proper understanding of what makes the proverbial clock tick at a football club, it’s such a niche environment and with customers who are less than forgiving.

No doubt, they’ve improved their brand awareness in this part of the world. Who hasn’t heard of them now? You could argue that it’s been a relentless stream of bad publicity, but anyone who works in marketing and PR will tell you there is no such thing as bad publicity. It’s the pockets where Venky’s have been hit – that port-relegation summer shopping spree on Jordan Rhodes, Leon Best and Dickson Etuhu to name a few has left Rovers losing a reported £2m a month. Who do you think is funding that? Furthermore is there even a way out?

Essentially Venky’s taking over a famous club like Blackburn was a classic case of naivety. It was unquestionably a dreadful decision and as a result the club I love has never been able to look back nor look forward with any enthusiasm since, that the current owners refuse to accept their failings so far and learn from their past mistakes is perhaps as inexplicable as making the worst call possible in the first place.

If you’re not a big fan of Arte et Labore it’s easy to look at Rovers and giggle. But one day it might happen to you and take it from someone that knows – I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Not even Burnley… well OK, maybe Burnley.

Make sure you follow Mikey on twitter @MikeyDelap