Pressing and team spirit: Huddersfield Town’s fairytale

Two features define a stereotypical Yorkshireman: being tight with money and having a thick skin.

However, Dean Hoyle, born and bred in a suburb of Leeds, erupted in tears, on his own, in his office. 30th May 2017, Huddersfield Town were promoted to the Premier League less than 24 hours before.

You are not a penalty taker; why did you shoot?,

Hoyle asked former Munich 1860 defender Christopher Schindler.

This summer I became the club’s record signing. I certainly had to step in,

answered the German candidly. Hoyle could not pretend these words did not touch him. Eight years ago, he achieved his youth dream: buying the team he supports, also thanks to the fortune he made with his greeting cards factory. The story of this small, big, suburbs’ miracle is also the story of his chairman and the gamble he took in November 2015.

Huddersfield Town was renowned for playing really poorly. The games were so boring and the only goal was to win by the smallest margin and to not get relegated,

Matt Glennon, a former Huddersfield goalkeeper and current BBC pundit tells MondoFutbol. Eighteen months ago, the team was struggling and Chris Powell had just been sacked. In an attempt to change direction, Hoyle decided to appoint a young coach coming from one of Europe’s best schools, Borussia Dortmund, who had ended up under his radar. 

David Wagner, Klopp’s best friend and, at that time, his assistant, was considered one of the best prepared managers in Germany”, explains Bild journalist Robin Krempow.

He played for Schalke 04, the Eurofighter team who won the UEFA Cup against Inter Milan in 1997. He always wanted to play an attacking style of football, focusing a lot on empathising with players.

It did not take Wagner very long to convince Huddersfield executives they were looking at the right man.

I met David at his house”, said Stuart Webber, Huddersfield’s former head of football operations, “He had a pot of chocolate raisins on his table and he put 11 of them out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and went through every single player”.

He picked up the chocolate raisin right-back and told me exactly what he has to do, then the centre-back and so on. I ate the number 10, but I came away with a real feeling that this was a guy who knows exactly what he wants.

Wagner introduced a new approach straightaway. He began by asking his players to be fearless and increase the amount of training sessions to make sure his team would be able to play the Gegenpressing, a trademark of the BVB school.

No detail was overlooked. “Wagner managed to convince the chairman to spend some money to get the floodlights installed on the training ground”, adds Glennon. “When I was playing, we used to only train in the mornings but this is not ideal for a tournament where most of the games are played at night”. In summer 2016, the new signings supplied what was missing.

Despite its small budget (only £8 million), the club brought in thirteen players including some on loan from those bigger teams that would not give them enough chances (for example, Kasey Palmer and Isaiah from Chelsea and the Australian, Mooy, from Manchester City).

Wagner knew that a great team spirit was needed to survive such a long season.

He decided to take everyone to a Swedish forest for a few days. Rule number one: you can’t sleep in the same tent with the same teammate for two nights in a row. The players also had to erect their own tents and search for food. Back in England, Huddersfield Town were quick out of the blocks winning five out of the first six games including a triumph at the expense of one of the favorites, Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle.

It will crumble”: the pundits were dismissive of the Terriers early fortunes and kept believing the team would eventually be relegated. Between October and November, they had a bad spell losing five out of seven games. But they managed to promptly get back on their feet thanks to the great team spirit”, Leon Woobschall, Yorkshire Evening Post correspondent, told MondoFutbol. At the beginning I was a bit skeptical, but after we beat Brighton 3-1 at home, who were top of the league, and then, only three days later, we won the derby against Leeds with a last-minute goal, I also started to believe in it”. A fairytale that ended with the decisive penalties, against Reading, in the final at Wembley. To celebrate the club’s return to the top division after 45 years, Dean Hoyle decided to keep his promise. All fans who held season tickets in the last eight years will pay just £100 to watch all the Premier League action this season.

Stereotypes do not apply to every Yorkshireman after all.

Cover and article photo ©LaPresse