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

No title required: the worst decision Huddersfield Town ever made

This is the decision that haunts every Huddersfield Town fan to this day. The greatest “what if” moment in the modern history of the club.
It’s one that every fan of the Terriers will read through their fingers, and one that I would struggle to write without constantly typing “screw Flanders” instead of writing anything.
Fortunately Town fan Pete Anstock tells the story, and does it quite exceptionally.

It all started the on 3 February 1999 with the fireworks display before the FA Cup fourth round replay with Wrexham. Town were sitting comfortably in tenth place in their fourth season in football’s second tier and despite the “Great Escape” of the preceding season, it appeared things were on the up for Huddersfield Town and their manager Peter Jackson.

The fireworks were heralding the takeover of Barry Rubery and as the smoke cleared around the McAlpine Stadium, myself and 15,426 others were probably all thinking that Huddersfield Town were on the verge of something bigger. Little did we know that within less than a year, the fireworks would be remembered as nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
For the short term, the fireworks did their trick and lowly Wrexham were dispatched with goals from Town’s talisman, Marcus Stewart and the enigmatic Ben Thornley, an early season signing, who appeared to be returning to his early form after a series of injuries.

As the season progressed, Barry Rubery made statements about cash pools available for players and how Peter Jackson would be the man to invest in those new players. However, despite the arrival of a couple of players, Town’s season faltered and they ended up finishing 10th; a position they had held since the talks of the takeover had entered the public domain.

The day after that season’s final game at the McAlpine; an uninspiring goalless draw against Crewe; Barry Rubery sacked Peter Jackson. It was a decision which surprised a great number of fans, as Jacko was a popular character. He would ultimately return for a further period of success at the club, albeit under different circumstances, but that is another story. However, the decision to sack Jackson wasn’t the worst decision made under this era; that was still to come.

A little under two weeks after Jacko’s sacking, a billboard sprung up at Shorehead roundabout with the new manager shrouded under a blanket in a pose reminiscent of a heinous villain arriving at court. “Who will it be?” the billboard proclaimed. All was revealed on 25 May 1999 when Steve Bruce was unveiled as the new manager of Huddersfield Town.

The season started well under Bruce, several new signings came in and Town were top of the table in mid-December when Liverpool visited the McAlpine for a televised FA Cup 3rd round tie. Although Town lost 0-2, they were not disgraced and the pundits’ view was that Rubery’s masterplan was working and Town would soon be in this elevated company on a weekly basis.
In the New Year, Steve Bruce decided his priorities lie with Man Utd and their ill-fated trip to Brazil for the World Club Championship (hence the FA Cup tie in mid-December1). Bruce’s dereliction of duty to go fawning over Man Utd coincided with a dip in Town’s fortunes, as they slipped to fifth. Bruce returned, and by the end of January Town appeared to have ridden out their slump with a home win over Tranmere courtesy of a goal by Marcus Stewart, followed by a hard fought point at Selhurst Park, with Stewart scoring a both goals in a draw with Palace. I remember Stewart leaving the pitch that day and applauding the Town fans. Something wasn’t right.

All was revealed on 1st February 2000 when the board announced their crazy decision. This was a decision that would wreck Town’s 1999-2000 campaign, send them spiralling down the Football League, lead to them entering administration within 3 years and spending the next 12 years in the hinterlands of the lower divisions.
That decision was of course to sell leading goalscorer Marcus Stewart to ambitious promotion rivals Ipswich Town, who were 3 points above Town, for a paltry £2.75m.

As Town fans despaired at the board’s stupidity, there was the looming fixture against Ipswich Town 12 days after Stewart’s sale. I’m sure Nostradamus didn’t follow Town, but Town fans were fully prepared for the painful fact that Stewart was destined to score against us. He did. Stewart got the winner in a 2-1 victory that strengthened Ipswich’s position above Town in the playoff chase. 2

There was a lot of anger at the sale of Stewart, and the board countered by naively stating that it was good business for Town as it was the only offer on the table. I never understood that argument. After all, none of the board would have sold their houses for £50k because it was the only offer on the table, so why do it with a prized asset?

Town limped on for the rest of the season, holding onto a playoff place heading into the final game of the season at Craven Cottage against a Fulham side with nothing to play for. The 90 minutes that followed was probably the most insipid performance that I have ever seen by a Town side, as a Lee Clark inspired Fulham ripped Town apart 3-0.

Town finished 8th whilst a Marcus Stewart inspired Ipswich finished 13 points ahead in 3rd and were promoted via the playoffs.

And so it came to pass. The next season was a disaster, Bruce was fired, his assistant Lou Macari took over but failed to stop the rot and Town were relegated at home to Birmingham City on the last day of the season, when the only possible set of results that could send Town down all fell into place, with a little bit of help from Dougie Freedman’s hand.

Meanwhile, Ipswich were the surprise package in the Premier League as Marcus Stewart was the star of Match of the Day as he ran Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a close second for the Premiership’s golden boot. On the weekend that Town were relegated, Ipswich Town were securing a place in Europe.

Two years later, Rubery and his chairman, Ian Ayre had departed2; Town dropped into the bottom division and then went into administration. This was a chain of events that had been triggered by the unnecessary sale of one key player.

And so 12 years on, with Town proudly completing their hard fought journey back to reclaim their place in the second tier of English football. Armed with their new talisman; the prolific Jordan Rhodes, and an ambitious chairman. What could possibly go wrong?

We couldn’t possibly make the same mistake again could we?

1 The FA Cup 3rd round was held in mid-December that year as it was the start of the systematic devaluing of the FA Cup, when the blazers at the FA rescheduled the rounds to cater for Man Utd entering the World Club Championships in Brazil.
2 Ian Ayre remarkably turned up at Liverpool as MD and has been at the helm for what has unsurprisingly been a turbulent period for the Merseysiders

Be sure to follow Pete on twitter @westerhampete