The Beautiful Game – A reoccurring exclusive where fans talk about their fondest/most unforgettable memories relating to football. Today guest EADF writer Sivan John recollects Huddersfield Town’s fantastic Premier League survival story and the plethora of emotions Huddersfield Town fans like himself felt over the season.
“10th of May 2018 will forever be an unforgettable day in my life. I started the day not only knowing that my country is ushering a new chapter in its political history but also knowing that Huddersfield Town had retained their Premiership status”
Ever since Christopher Schindler slotted his penalty at Wembley, the wait was finally over. We have been counting down every second towards our first top-flight match in 45 years. The summer of 2017 filled with too many uncertain emotions because the thought of playing in the Premier League was always a remote dream.
When I became a supporter of this club in 2011, we were competing in League One. Seven years later, we will embark on a journey and preparation to play host to the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool. It’s hard to believe as I’m so accustomed to hearing from long-time fans talking about the club days in League Two and the financially difficult years as well.
Huddersfield Town were expected to do an overhaul of the squad which got them the promotion. Both the chairmen, Dean Hoyle and David Wagner realized the need to inject new blood that was needed to compete in the Premier League. Thus, Wagner was given the liberty to make use of the money which they’d earned through their win at Wembley. He didn’t succumb to the ideas that to achieve big one has to spend big. Instead, like the year before, it was all about looking for fringe players that fitted into his system.
First order was to make Aaron Moomouy and Elias Kachunga permanent signings. The departure of Nahki Wells to Burnley meant there was a need for a replacement striker. Belgian Laurent Depoitre was brought from Porto while Steve Mounié was signed from Montpellier for a record fee of £11.5 million. Tom Ince was signed from Derby County to add some depth on the wings following the departure of Harry Bunn and Sean Scannell.
Danny Williams performances for Reading gave Wagner enough confidence that he was the right player to add some steel in the middle. To address the lack of depth in the centre and Left-Back role meant that the club signed Mathias Jørgensen (Copenhagen) and Scott Malone (Fulham). Unable to secure Wembley hero Danny Ward from Liverpool for another season, they brought in Jonas Lössl from Wagner’s old club FC Mainz.
At a time, when the world of transfer news was filled with Neymar’s record-breaking move to PSG; Huddersfield Town only spent a fraction of that. Of course, these fringe names weren’t expected to light up any Premier League enthusiast out there. As such, Huddersfield Town were seeded as the favourites to finish last in the standings. This is nothing new for Town fans.
Come Match Day 1, little did anyone know who would be leading the table. A 3-0 away win propelled Town to the top of the Premier League for at least 24 hours. This was followed by a win over Newcastle and a draw with Southampton, keeping Town undefeated in August. Thus it was no surprise, the manager of the month award went to David Wagner.
It would take another eight weeks for Town to enjoy their next win. On 14th October, Manchester United was the visiting team at the John Smith’s stadium. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything out of this game. But all of a sudden, within a space of 5 minutes, Town were 2-0 up thanks to a brilliant strike from Mooy and a wonderful finish from Depoitre. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing in front of me.
Growing up, I have seen United losing to unfashionable sides when you never expect them. That possibility of happening with my team was no longer a distant dream. They did pull one back through Marcus Rashford with just 12 minutes left to play. My heart was pounding as I was counting down to the final whistle. The referee finally ended the game and I went berserk. Taking not one but three points against one of the top six sides in the league could help our relegation fight in the long run.
But with just one win (again West Brom) in the next six games, the realities of Premier League football were beginning to creep in. December and January were going to bring a lot baptism of fire to Huddersfield Town as we were already touching the surface of the bottom three. At the time, I was on vacation in Phuket and it so happened we were playing away to Arsenal. The outcome of the game was almost similar to the weather, which was coming down non-stop for several days. Imagine staying just a few blocks away from the beach but there wasn’t any sunny day to enjoy. That’s a terrible feeling!
It gave me a chance to take a step back and analyze the situation that was coming ahead. On one hand, Wagner’s pressing game style approach had a jaded effect on the squad. Of course, the gaffer needed to bring some recruitment but that can only take place in January. So if we can only withstand the storm in December and avoid dropping into the bottom three, that itself is a great achievement.
Turns out, December was a fantastic month for Huddersfield despite concerns regarding the squad’s depth. Apart from losing to Chelsea, we collected points from the rest of the games. This included wins over Brighton and a 4-1 away win to Watford. A perfect way to kiss 2017 goodbye as we welcomed 2018 with plenty of optimism.
As expected, two new players were brought in. Dutchman Terence Kongolo arrived on loan from Monaco to address our issues at Left-Back. To add some much needed creativity in midfield, the club signed Alex Pritchard from Norwich.
Even so, January was a month to forget. Town suffered six consecutive defeats which saw us dropping to 19th place in the league. For the first time in the season, Huddersfield were now in the relegation zone. To be fair, it was going to be a stormy month with fixtures against Leicester, West Ham, Liverpool, and Manchester United.
We needed a quick fix before things got worse. First up was Bournemouth at home. Huddersfield were in spectacular form that day, notching a 4-1 win. The game also bore witness to the potential of Pritchard linking with Mooy and Jonathan Hogg in the centre of midfield. It was a joy to watch such a fluid performance from them throughout the game. A week later, we notched a 2-1 away win at West Brom, which lifted the club to 14th position in the league.
It was our first back to back win since the start of the season and gave us some room to breath as we headed into the last 10 games of the season. Of course, knowing Huddersfield Town, you won’t be expecting a smooth ride towards the end of the season. Unable to capitalize on home advantage to collect full points, Town stumbled to a goalless draw against 10 men Swansea and lost to Palace.
Somehow, this didn’t see us dropping into the bottom third thanks to results in other games. When Watford arrived on April 14th, expectation to win the game was very high. Despite the prodigious possession, Town couldn’t find the breakthrough as the Hornets were keeping tight at the back. However, Ince rose to the occasion to score the winning goal right in the dying seconds in injury time. This prompted the entire bench including Wagner himself to go mental.
After losing again at home to Everton a week later, it was now down to the three remaining games. Given the circumstances, Huddersfield couldn’t ask for a more difficult run of fixtures. Away to Manchester City and Chelsea and the last day fixture at home to Arsenal. All three fixture had its own significance. City having already been crowned as league champions, were looking to chase or that elusive 100 points season. Chelsea, still in the running for a top four finish and Champions League qualification. Arsenal were celebrating Arsene Wenger’s last game in charge as their manager after 20 years.
Huddersfield needed at least two points to secure safety. Of course, after one look at the fixture and the form that we had been through since March, no one was going to give us a chance. Once again, we had our backs against the wall.
The thought that we were going back to the Championship didn’t get to me. I will admit that it’s not what I wanted, but at the same time, I had no complaints either. After all, it wasn’t that long back that I could remember we were fighting to avoid dropping into League One. And if the joy of playing in the top flight is going to last for just one season, so be it. It will never diminish the love I have for this club.
There was an air of uncertainty during our travel to the Etihad to face a Manchester City side that had already clinched the Premiership. On one hand, they had nothing to play for but were chasing to achieve that elusive 100 points. Thus, it was already expected they would come out all guns blazing, which was the case within 10 minutes after kick off. I was telling myself, we got a long day ahead.
But what was amazing is how the team began to regain their composure and stayed calm at the back. We had our moments to change the direction of the game, but it was never meant to be. Instead, Wagner orchestrated a defensive approach that was going stifle everything that Pep Guardiola had written in his textbook.
In the end, the match finished in a goalless draw. Huddersfield did something only a few were capable of doing at the Etihad, that is taking points against City and stopping them from scoring at the Etihad. While City celebrated their league crowning, we took one small step against relegation and one giant leap towards Premier League survival. Even then, we weren’t in the most comfortable situation. Swansea losing to Southampton meant that we still need another point.
Going to Stamford Bridge was going to be another daunting task. Antonio Conte had to collect maximum points to keep their Champions League hopes alive. The stakes couldn’t be higher for both teams. It was a crucial day where my mind was split between two things. It was my country’s general election day. Like every responsible citizen, I did my duty to cast my vote for the future of this country. But that didn’t meant the Huddersfield trip to Chelsea wasn’t lost in me yet.
News was beginning to go around that the ruling government was about to lose power after six decades. My friends and I were drinking ourselves away while awaiting for the official result; which wasn’t being aired on mainstream channels. Little by little, it became clear that we were witnessing history at that moment.
But the day wasn’t over for me. The kick-off for the Chelsea game was at 3:45 am. I had arrived feeling piss drunk that one might wonder if I would last the game. Of course, the struggle to stay awake was unbearable. Not until when Depoitre scored in what could be the most important goal of the season, thanks to a little blunder on Willy Caballero’s part.
All we needed to do was to hang on to this lead for another 40 minutes. But that wasn’t the case as in the 62nd minute, Zanka’s clearance of Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross hit Marcos Alonso and deflected in. Chelsea were now back in the game and were going to take it to another notch. They threw everything, until a crazy goalmouth scramble saw Jonas Lossl tip Andreas Chistensen’s header against the post. That was as close as Conte’s side could get.
Once the referee blew the final whistle, I knew I couldn’t stay awake another minute longer. I headed straight to my room to crash on my bed. As I woke up to the sunlight shining on my face, slowly things were beginning to sink in for me. Not only will my country now have a new government, but also that Huddersfield Town had retained a spot for themselves in the Premier League next season.
It was all about celebration for me at this point. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe just how far this club had come since I started supporting them. From the days of playing Chester, Exeter, and Rochdale; to now standing on the shoulder of giants in world football.
As we concluded our last day of the season, the match against Arsenal was now left with little significance, unless you were about to pay tribute to Wenger. All that remains is to ponder what the future holds for the club that is so dear to the people of Huddersfield. Most importantly, at least for another season, we get to say that “WE ARE IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE”.
Feature Image via Ghana Soccer net
Image 1 via 101 Great Goals
Image 2 via The Anfield Wrap
Image 3 via BBC
To read more from ‘The Beautiful Game’ series click here.
To Read Sivan’s first piece for EADF, click here.