Huddersfield Town was given little chance to stay in the Premier League after an unlikely promotion, but the Terriers have done it, validating manager David Wagner's philosophy despite a major financial gap between themselves and England's powers.

By 90Min
May 10, 2018

In the throes of promotion joy, there is little time to think about what comes next. As Christopher Schindler's penalty hit the back of the net in London last May, and Huddersfield fans jumped around in disbelieving jubilation, did any of them dare to think of the odyssey that lay ahead?

It was the most improbable of promotion stories. A Huddersfield side who had never even troubled the top half of the Championship since returning to the second tier found themselves victorious in a Wembley playoff final, guided there by the class and commitment of one of football's brightest young managers.

David Wagner had taken over a club for whom survival meant success. To dream of more was foolish. But Dean Hoyle, Huddersfield's self-made owner, had seen something in Wagner that struck a chord. "David's football philosophy is directly in line with ours," said Hoyle. One can only imagine how Huddersfield's Yorkshire fanbase reacted to that, 'We have a philosophy now?'

In Wagner's first summer, there was a sense of something taking shape. He imposed his own image on the club, bringing in three German signings. Hoyle's part in the philosophy, it turned out, was not to interfere. He backed Wagner, allowing him to break the club's transfer record for 1860 Munich center back Schindler. The fee? £1.8m.

The season that followed was one of many wins - narrow, tense - and few defeats - often heavy. Into the play offs with a goal difference of minus two, then into the final after beating Sheffield Wednesday on penalties. Against Reading it was again a draw; again penalties. And at the end, Wagner's £1.8m man scored a £200m penalty to send Huddersfield into the Premier League.

While Huddersfield fans toasted their brilliant team and started saving up for Old Trafford, the club were forced to take stock. On the one hand, promotion to the Premier League would allow them to break their transfer record twice more - first for Aaron Mooy, then for Steve Mounie. On the other hand, they were still easily the poorest team in the top flight. 

Adjust for inflation, and you are looking at one of the poorest teams ever to have played in the Premier League. Only Swindon, Blackpool and Hull have gone up with comparable budgets. Two were relegated immediately; the other survived with a points tally that would see them relegated in most other years. And then went down the next season.

Given this, Hoyle's decision to freeze season ticket prices for the 2017/18 season seemed both generous and naive. Almost any other chairman would have milked this season for all it was worth. After all, it would probably be Huddersfield's only Premier League season.

The internet being what it is, one of the first responses I saw to Huddersfield's promotion last year was a comment wondering how badly they would be humiliated in the Premier League. Would they be the next Derby, relegated with a record low points tally of 11 in 2007/08? Or would they be the next...

No. There is no precedent for what Huddersfield Town have achieved this season. When they started the season with seven points from their first three games, including wins over Crystal Palace and Newcastle, it was easy to dismiss it as the new season bounce.

Only when they sensationally beat Manchester United 2-1 in October did you start to wonder if we were witnessing history in the making. But even then, no, stop being silly. Blackpool did the double over Liverpool in 2010/11 and they still went down. The cream, and the money, rises to the top eventually.

At times, Huddersfield's Championship squad was cruelly exposed in the harsh light of the Premier League. But their morale never sapped. Time and time again they suffered a terrible run of form, only to pull a result out of the bag.

They hadn't won in six before beating United. They'd won just one in six before thrashing Watford at Vicarage Road. They were winless in eight - and plunged into the relegation zone for the first and only time all season - before back-to-back wins over Bournemouth and West Brom lifted them decisively out of the bottom three in February.

And all without learning any lessons from last season! Huddersfield once again seemed to have neither the firepower nor the solidity to stay up. Only Swansea have scored fewer, only two teams have conceded more, only the bottom side Stoke have a worse goal difference. Only in determination were Huddersfield unsurpassed.

The players have always credited Wagner for their togetherness, but all must take credit. Hoyle's assurances that Wagner would keep his job even if Huddersfield sank without trace kept spirits high. Defender Matthias 'Zanka' Jorgensen chipped in to buy every fan who traveled to Southampton in December a free drink.

And what fans they are. With the hardcore support able to retain their season tickets, the atmosphere at the John Smith's Stadium has consistently been one of the best in the league. Rarely if ever have they got on the players backs. They appreciate what the players give, and they understand when it isn't enough. There's always next week.

This is exemplified by the fact that Schindler was voted the club's player of the year. A center back in a team that has conceded nearly 60 goals, but "Schindy" has played his part in some of Huddersfield's biggest wins of the season. 10 clean sheets is a number bettered only by the top six and Burnley.

Never has this resilience been better exemplified than in the last two games that have sealed survival. Away at free-scoring Manchester City, it was just a matter of how many the champions would score. But Huddersfield were heroic, flinging themselves in the way of every pass and shot in a desperate attempt to come away with the most unlikely point of the season.

And then at Chelsea, the same thing. I found myself almost squinting at the screen, willing my own focus and concentration onto the players. And then breaking that focus to celebrate hysterically when Laurent Depoitre broke the deadlock. And I don't even support Huddersfield.

Marcos Alonso's equalizer set up a nervous last 30 minutes, but that half an hour was a microcosm of everything this team is worth. Zanka and Schindler prostrated themselves before every shot; Depoitre and Mooy harried for every ball; Jonas Lossl made one of the saves of the season.

It was enough. The point kept Huddersfield up, and the dream lives for another season. The players joined hands to lap up the applause of their supporters, then hoisted Wagner high above their heads.

The Premier League is richer for having teams like Manchester City in it, with their flowing football and goal-scoring prowess. But it is also richer for teams like Huddersfield Town, who prove that heart and soul still have a place in a game dominated by money and cynicism.

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