I’m a Huddersfield Town supporter. A lot of you will already know that, and those that didn’t do now. I am a supporter in that I want the team to succeed, but perhaps moreso in that I recognise the importance of the work the club do, both with footballers and around Huddersfield as a whole.
I am not a fan(atic), at least any longer, I simply offer my support to things I think are good around both the team and the club rather than seeking to lambast what doesn’t work (Huddersfield Town are, of course, a Championship team, they are working within certain constraints. For me, so long as they are making decisions for the right reasons, I am happy. They may be the wrong decisions, but human beings can make mistakes).
Recently, Huddersfield Town elected to relieve Chris Powell of his duties as club manager. To some outsiders it must have looked a peculiar decision. While Powell’s Terriers had not pulled up any trees, the side were solid and he had achieved his goal of safety.1
Football has changed, however. The Championship remains a results business, as the old cliché goes, but Powell did not leave because of results. He left because the results were not being achieved in the way the club want.
This aspect of the modern game does not seem to have permeated the media yet, except in a very vague way, yet on the ground it is very real.
Football is entertainment. To those paying £25 and (far, sometimes) more for a ticket, as they have to do at Championship level, it is a commitment that needs to be worth their while.
Supporters are not idiots. Had Dean Hoyle said in the summer that he expected a title push, the supporters would not have believed him, and reasonably so. The financial disparity in the division means that while a Burnley or a Swansea City situation could occur, there is no way it can be guaranteed.
Dean Hoyle, and his staff, had to sell the season they were going to have. It would have Chris Powell at the helm. The Terriers would likely stay up. They would probably have a good run or two. They would get a few tonkings, one probably at Derby.
It is not the stuff dreams are made of. At least not the stuff £50 afternoons are made of.
Supporter numbers have dropped off since the initial return to the Championship. Steady ships do not make for great viewing. This becomes a Catch 22 situation. Without excitement over league position, a season can stagnate quickly, this is why playoffs exist.
Yet, as the only guaranteed positional excitement would come in peril, it is not ideal. How, then, to instil excitement without sacrificing stability?
This question exists within a Catch 22 of its own. In order to improve, better players are needed, with money coming from increased supporter revenue.
Because the improvement has not yet been made, supporters stay away because they don’t want to watch an inferior product.
I’ve been guilty of it myself. I’ve sat on Saturday afternoons not missing going to Huddersfield because I find them boring. I have resolved not to do so again.
Dean Hoyle is not a man to fiddle while Rome burns. He took decisive action, dispatching Powell with a thank you, and installing David Wagner, formerly of Borussia Dortmund (Borussia Dortmund II coach, if you hadn’t heard).
On the surface, at least, it worked.
Immediately there was a buzz about the club. Immediately, an excitement about what might come about with this man at the helm. There have been two defeats so far under Wagner, but supporters remain positive about the move.
This positivity will be finite, I would imagine, should results not improve, but in hiring a man who insists on his side playing a high intensity attacking style, Hoyle has given the supporters what they want. He might not be able to fund a title push, but he can ensure a memorable trip to wherever in the table the Terriers do end up.
This is the aspect of football that is bypassed when talking about the Championship. For all its ups and downs and inconsistencies, there are a number of similarly able teams bunched behind the best and ahead of the worst.
Their seasons, while the details may be unconfirmed, are largely sketched out at the start – those clubs that would admit that ‘playoff push would be nice’.
Huddersfield Town are a small provincial club. Their glory days are too long ago to suggest they are a ‘sleeping giant’ and they were never even a giant then, just a very successful David.
It is worth sitting up and taking notice, then, that such a club – a footballing backwater and unfashionable entity (the club have been used as a ‘rainy Tuesday night in’ statement in the past) should fire a manager for, essentially, being out of keeping with the ethos the club wishes to follow. Not his results, nor the league position, but the way he set up his team and the actions they made at his behest.
To the outsider, a division in which everyone can beat everyone else and does might be the most exciting thing in the world, but the reality is somewhat disappointing. When it becomes clear that promotion is off the cards, and relegation is somewhere over one’s shoulders, seasons drag. Knowing that you might lose to Charlton or beat them, and the same with Bolton, doesn’t make the drag any less tedious.
So with results pretty much guaranteed, the club have taken a different step.
Even writing it sounds pretentious, and of course, it may end up being a gamble that doesn’t pay off.
That such a club can legitimately sidestep the ‘results business’ side of managerial opinion and fall so heavily on the side of sport entertainment is only further indication that football has progressed to a point that what happens on the field can be relegated behind the way it happens.
It is present at Manchester United, where Louis van Gaal’s patient style is lambasted by those who watch it only to be lauded by those who see the results.
It was present at Huddersfield Town, too. In that, perhaps, it is the first ‘big club’ move they have made in a good while.
The move put me in mind of Brian Clough, as it goes, wanting not just to win the league but to “win it better”.
All in all, what has happened has been a lesson in that a club can only be judged on their actions when one is aware of the reasoning behind them.
All those who said it was wrong to dismiss Powell because his results were good have been negated, their opinions washed away as if written in sand.
There is an excitement around the club that it is important not to lose. There is a man in charge who promises much, but will need time to deliver it. There is a chairman who has made his biggest statement in the last five years.
They might never reach the level of ‘successful David’ again, but they can at least aspire to it under the stewardship of another successful David.
In short, football is a results business. Sports entertainment is not. The Championship, to those ensconced within it, is now caught between those two stools.
1Chris Powell is a classy, intelligent man. I wish him all the best in his future endeavours and I feel that Huddersfield Town are a better club from him having been there.