My Second Team: Huddersfield Town
I was born in York. The house I grew up in was a ten-minute walk from Bootham Crescent. I went to school in York while Liverpool were the glamour side of the time and Manchester United hadn’t won anything in donkeys years. Both had their charms, of course, and came with peer pressure but Bootham Crescent was where I got my first taste of live football and where I keep going back to. I, for good or ill, am a York City fan. For me, Huddersfield Town were simply the TBs – Town Bastards.
At age 18, I went to university and ended up in the Pennines. I knew of Huddersfield, its industrial heritage and architecture, but little of their football. And living with fellow freshers from around the country in my first year, little changed.
One thing that did change was that I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. A local, I started moving in her social circles, mixing more with locals than fellow students. And before I knew it, the plan came for the town to be my home in the long term.
Town used to be good. Bit before my time, like, but really they did. The locals don’t like to mention that though as they’re archetypically Yorkshire and therefore rather reticent to blow their own trumpets. At the end of 1993, they were a third tier side and about to play the final season at the dilapidated Leeds Road. I neither knew nor cared, but the huge arches beginning to sprout from the old gasworks nearby began to arouse some curiosity.
Those arches formed the framework for the stadium I will always refer to as The Gasworks Ground. With splendid offers on for students, I got my sporting fix down there watching the rugby league side, including a world record 142-4 win over Blackpool attended by 1,111 souls and a packed house for the 1995 World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and Australia.
That first season in their new home wasn’t a bad one for Town. It wasn’t a bad one for York either who finished in the play-offs in the third tier. I was at neither game between the two – call it a teenaged lapse. For Town the year finished at Wembley, defeated in the Auto Windscreens Trophy (as was) on a night where the whole of town appeared deserted. And I was there for neither of the games the following year where the two clubs paths diverged as Town were promoted via the play-offs to the second tier. Again, that day was notable for how quiet town was. Nipping to the shop gave one the feeling that some extraordinary occurrence had wiped out 95% of the population. The temptation to walk in the middle of the road was close to overwhelming.
Enjoying life in Division 1, as was, I had the occasional offer of someone’s season ticket and remember a 3-1 win over Leicester – whatever happened to them? – being a particular high spot. Maybe that helped inspire me get along to York a bit more, maybe it was coincidence, but I was growing back into the game. Town’s life in Division 1 wasn’t to last. The controversial sale of Marcus Stewart to promotion rivals Ipswich scuppered a promising campaign and the decline set in. On the way down, I enjoyed an afternoon out on the wooden away terrace at Bury – the one time I’ve actually paid cash money to see Town, sold to me as a good idea on the basis of it being a wooden terrace. They lost. Within a few seasons Town were back in the fourth tier.
There, York were waiting for them. It’s York’s natural level, to be fair, albeit propped up by the gerrymandered re-election system on more occasions than anyone should be comfortable with. I was away when City stormed the Gasworks Ground with Lee Bullock’s 20-yarder as they set the pace at the top of the division in the first four rounds of games of the 2003/4 season. The return fixture was on January 25 and plans were made for a mass trip out from the local. Beers prior to the game were great before my Huddersfield mates crammed themselves in on the Grosvenor Road terrace while I and my York mates stood opposite. A close game was heading for a goalless draw before Town manager Peter Jackson sent on young centre-back David Mirfin as an extra striker just as the 90 minutes were up. He scored. Twice. That was the first of 20 straight games without a win for York as off-field turmoil turned into on-field haplessness and we slumped to the bottom of the football league and, without re-election to fall back on any more, out of it. To this day, I am reminded of “the day that Town sent City down”. It may as well be fact now.
Over the 20+ years I’ve lived in Huddersfield, York have had plenty of former Town players on their books – Tom Cowan, Darren Edmondson, Anthony Lloyd and some that weren’t full-backs – which I’ve always kept a particular eye out for. For the last eight years, I’ve been commentating on Town for Huddersfield Hospital Radio, the token non-Town fan charged with owning the only pair of non-rose-tinted spectacles among the team and keeping it slightly real. But even then, I do care a little bit. This is my home, this is the team of some of my oldest and closest friends, the team of half my family. It has reached the point where adverts for the new Leeds United kit appearing at Huddersfield railway station annoy me to the point of wanting to deface them. This is Huddersfield, godammit, away with your dirty Leeds nonsense.
I’d like to think there’s a small amount of affection going back the other way from friends here, but neither am I naive enough to think that that’s true. TBs, you see. Always will be.