Huddersfield Town are safe in the Premier League. With a game to spare. I say that baldly and bluntly, partly because I don’t quite believe it myself yet, but partly because it deserves stating baldly. It’s a mammoth achievement.
They call them heroes, those players, as though securing points at Manchester City and Chelsea in consecutive games is heroic. I can’t belittle the scale of what they did, and I shan’t . It is truly impressive and, if you’ve any experience with Huddersfield Town’s recent successes, entirely typical that it was achieved by draws (the only surprise to that end being that the Terriers actually scored; half-man half-bulldozer Laurent Depoitre flattening both Willy Caballero and Stamford Bridge before delicately steering home) but it is not heroic.
What went up did not come down
David Wagner, having masterminded not just this success but the previous one, the promotion that allowed this success, is not heroic either. He is a bloody good coach, a charismatic man and a better user of English than he suggested in his post-match interview, but he is not a hero.
Christopher Schindler is not a hero, though he was responsible for the penalty that took Town to the top floor, but just as responsible for the defensive work that kept them from descending. The escalator and lift company that share his name will have to be half-proud; what went up did not come down.
Zanka is not a hero. He might have bought everyone who travelled to Southampton a pint – a favour they would likely willingly repay now – and he stood like a colossus alongside Schindler during those two games, his only error being to smash the ball off Marcos Alonso’s face into the goal in a style James Milner will have been familiar with.
Nor is Jonas Lössl a hero, though he looked every bit the goalkeeper he can be during the last two games, demonstrating the twin arts of reaction and strength. His save late on was preposterous and deserves lauding every bit as much as David Seaman’s in that FA Cup Semi Final those years ago.
Like a zookeeper unlocking a bear’s cage
The list of players goes on. Aaron Mooy, who produced one of the passes of the season to release Depoitre at Chelsea, like a zookeeper unlocking a bear’s cage, then standing aside as he mauls the visitors.
Jonathan Hogg, a man who has come to represent the Terrier spirit as well as anyone and who made some tackles of stunning timing at Stamford Bridge and never stopped running, never stopped. He probably tackled Birmingham on the way back up to Huddersfield, too; left it blinking confusedly wondering quite what had happened.
Scott Malone came in for some stick during the season, but his late surge brought relief as time ebbed away, the six minutes finally running out on Chelsea while their fans continued to jeer vituperatively behind the goal. That, I have to say, was out of keeping with the night. The large proportion of Chelsea supporters seem to have responded with frustration but acceptance – perhaps taking their lead from Eden Hazard. He was shown at full time being approached by beaming Huddersfield players. Initially stern-faced, he melted into a half-smile. Others, less so.
I could name everyone in the squad, every player, and what they have brought. I haven’t seen every game, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have seen every action of every player in every game, all the heart and nerve and sinew that has gone into this barely believable season.
Dean Hoyle has the most right to call himself a hero
Dean Hoyle, the chairman, and the man to whom Huddersfield Town means so much, and to whom the club owes so much was there on Wednesday night. Of all the people mentioned this far, he has the most right to call himself a hero, but it was his actions after the game that show the scale of the man, the nature of the club and give us the real heroes.
On Thursday, Hoyle, along with his wife Janet and club ambassador Andy Booth (club legend to some, father of a boy who once gleefully greeted my mum in a bank to me) laid a wreath at the Menin Gate. Much has been written about Hoyle, but the very fact he flew out to do that the morning after his side’s draw at Chelsea gives a fair indication of who he is and the depth of commitment to his club and his town. That was never up for debate, but it’s nice to highlight from time to time.
This year represents the ninth year of Hoyle’s ownership of the club. It has been a time of gradual progress, year on year – occasionally agonising, sometimes painful, recently joyous; it would be nice to see this continue, to see wherever this season finishes (amazingly, even as recently as Wednesday, it might have been the top half) that the club can push on, push higher, and continue that trend.
It is also the ninth season of Pedal for Pounds, with a group of supporters taking to the roads first of the UK and later of Europe (such places as Dortmund) to raise money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. As I write, the group have raised almost £56,000, and they do this every year – just one part of the support that makes me phenomenally proud.
I saw a picture of the chairman taking a break somewhere along the route through France, or Belgium. He was wearing a cycling shirt from the third instalment – Yeovil to Huddersfield, the two sides who met in the last league game of that season. The story is old, but it goes on.
Their names are familiar
Here we come closer to the real heroes of this story. Laying a wreath at the Menin Gate to commemorate the dead of war is an honourable act, and although the Hoyles and Booth were the figureheads, they were flanked on all sides by people who were there to remember, there for their lost family members and their history, there for the countless who went to France 100 years ago and more and never returned.
Their names are familiar. Surnames live on, of course, and first names are given in tribute; we are in a period of vintage names. It is pleasing in a way to think that, even a century later, those young men who fought and died, or fought and lived, are honoured by a generation too young to even remember World War II, let alone ‘The War to End All Wars’.
So, those names matter. Those people matter, both those in tears and those for whom they weep. In every story of every supporter of every football club, there will be someone who passed the club on. It’s how it works. Many will be family members, others friends, others still will have gained their love from less tangibly obvious sources.
Those people are the heroes. The people who have passed Huddersfield Town down through the generations. The ones who might go every week, or might go every now and then, but have an unquestionable and unquenchable love of the club and of the town. The people who made, and make the club.
It is easy to support a successful team
I have my own heroes, of course. My mum is a hero, her partner, too. If they are reading this, then thank you to both. In Huddersfield Town, you gave me a gift I will never lose, and a place I will always be able to call home and return to when I need it, and sometimes when I don’t.
The players will come and go, (and come back again in a few cases) but they will have a special time to look back on. They have contributed to making so many other stories, so many heroes of the future will have been made over these last two years, so many will continue to be made.
It is easy to support a successful team, easy to wear the shirt, to have a drink and a laugh and enjoy a game. These times that have come around have come to people who have been waiting forty years and more for them, never expecting they might come along. The people who pinch themselves to see if its real or find themselves crying every now and then on public transport.
For the team to stay in the Premier League is an astonishing achievement, barely conceivable even as recently as two years ago, and yet it happened. A chairman of legend did it, a manager of legend did it, a team of legends did it, and they did it for a town of heroes. My town. My heroes.