The Day Huddersfield Town beat Manchester United
based on a mainly true story
When I was little, my grandparents used to look after me twice a week while my mum and dad were at work. I loved going to their house. It was an old stately home with a long, tree-lined drive leading to the Foss Way; Grandma had bought it years before with the shedloads of money she’d made from being a children’s writer. The bottom of the house was made of thin slabs of blue lias stone taken from a Roman Emperor’s villa and the top was crumbling red brick added after Roundheads had burnt the original wooden part on their way to behead King Charles. *insert pic. of Chatsworth House here*
It was an interesting house that I never tired of exploring. My favourite part was the Town Room, a small annexe adjoining the main library wing. It was full of programmes and memorabilia from the football team they supported, Huddersfield Town. Some of the programmes, dating back to pre-decimalisation times, were wrapped in preservation paper and tied with acid-free blue ribbon. These were Grandad’s special programmes from when he was a little boy. Grandma didn’t have any programmes from when she was little. Unlike Grandad, who was born in Huddersfield and used to skive off from Polish lessons on Saturdays to go to Leeds Road, Grandma only started going to matches when she met grandad in 1981. Before that, she’d never been to a match, although when she was little her grandma followed Leeds United and so she did too but this is a dark secret nobody must ever know.
There were lots of other things in the Town Room besides programmes; hats and scarves and shirts and DVDs and framed pictures of players and teams. One of grandma’s books, There’s Only One Danny Ogle, was included because it was about a boy who suppors Huddersfield Town and Kevin Gray, a former Town player, had come to its launch at the ground in 2000. There was another children’s book, Over the Line by Tom Palmer, on the shelves; that was set in World War One and featured Jack Cock and Larrett Roebuck who were real Town players. The book I looked at most was my copy of the limited edition Huddersfield Town baby record book, filled in by my mum. It’s got banana stuck to the cover. Authentic!
I was allowed to touch almost anything I wanted in the Town Room, including the 1960s programmes. I could try on all the hats and shirts, too, even though the shirts came down to my ankles at the time. I could even wrap myself in the flag they bought at the Millennium Stadium in 2004 when Town beat Mansfield 4-1 on penalties in the Third Division Play-off Final. The only thing I wasn’t allowed to handle without permission was the special collection from the 2017-2018 Season. This was behind a glass case in the middle of the room and I needed a key, kept round grandad’s neck, to get into it. Of course, this made me want to look at the stuff even more and that’s why I can remember, even now, every single thing in that glass case.
I’d better explain why that collection was so significant that it was kept locked up. The previous May, Town had beaten Reading on penalties to win the Play-Off Final at Wembley, earning promotion to the Premier League. Nobody expected that, not even Huddersfield Town. This was a ginormous achievement.
‘You’ll get hammered’ everybody predicted at the start of the season. ‘Straight back down’ the away fans chanted.
At first, Huddersfield, under the leadership of the legendary David Wagner (his statue still stands outside the ground today), did really well and confounded their critics by getting nine points quickly but by late September progress had stalled and what the journalists called ‘a reality check’ kicked in. They lost 0-4 to Spurs and then lost 2-0 away to Swansea. It was the Swansea game that unnerved the fans because they had hoped for at least a point.
And then came the BIG ONE. On October 21st, 2017, Manchester United came to Huddersfield Town. Now, although Manchester United were no longer the force they once were, playing them was still a massive deal. Manchester United’s record was awe-inspiring; they were one of the most famous clubs in the world and playing against them was every other team’s highlight of the season even if they denied it. They were also the richest club in the world. One of their players, Paul Pogba, was on £290,000 a week, ‘…almost as much as me,’ Grandma would chuckle. The last time Huddersfield Town had met the Red Devils in a league match was 1971 and the last time they beat them was 1952. That was before my grandparents were even born, which is mind-blowing because they are well ancient.
The week before the match, grandma was full of cold. She was wheezing and sneezing all over the shop. She even stayed out of the way when I was there, something she never usually did because she loves me to bits. I don’t remember that, though – I was only one at the time. Anyway, to make matters worse, the day of the match, the weather was awful with Storm Brian causing havoc. Not that any of that put my grandma off. No way. She wrapped up warm and hoped whoever was sitting next to her at the match didn’t mind her spreading her germs.
Finally, the big day arrived. It took grandma and grandad nearly two hours to get to Huddersfield because their stately home lies on the very, very outskirts of Yorkshire. They parked up near the Sports Centre, as usual, and went to Patisserie Valerie on King Street for lunch. Grandad had a club sandwich and grandma had scrambled eggs on toast with honey-glazed bacon and mushrooms but she left her mushrooms because they weren’t very nice. Then they set off to the ground. They had to leave much earlier than normal because they knew over 24,000 tickets had been sold and neither of them liked queuing at the turnstiles. Through the wide, Georgian streets they walked, past St Peter’s Parish Church, past the ‘away pub’, the Boy and Barrel, where Manchester United fans could be heard singing loudly and slightly off-key, and on to Leeds Road.
Outside the Gas Club (for home fans) the diehard supporters were already quite merry and in good voice, while further along, between the scarf sellers and the burger vans, the strains of bagpipe music filled the air. Nobody knows to this day why there was a ‘Scottish’ piper on the bridge over the River Colne. ‘He just appeared at the start of the season,’ Grandad told me. ‘Nobody knew where he came from or why he thought Town fans would hire him for weddings, as per his hand-written placard, but there you go.’
Although it was not yet two o’clock, fans were already heading for the ground and there was an air of excitement, tinged with slight trepidation. Most fans expected to lose the match and they just hoped the team wouldn’t be thumped by too many goals. Still, that didn’t dampen their sense of occasion and they were all jolly glad they’d had the foresight to buy a season ticket before Town got promoted.
Near the main entrance to the stadium, people were selling tickets for the half-time Golden Gamble and one of Town’s sponsors, Covonia, were giving away sample packets of cough lozenges. Grandma grabbed two packets and munched them during the game. The empty packets are in the cabinet, along with the programme and cardboard clapper.
As they climbed the steps leading to the Upper Tier of the Panasonic Media Stand, Grandad had a radical idea. ‘It was that idea that helped us win the match, I’m convinced of it,’ Grandma later told everyone on Twitter.
… to be continued.