All-Time Premier League: Huddersfield Town
The Tops of the Terriers
For the ninth instalment in this series, we cross the Pennines to Huddersfield – an unlikely location, one might think, for one of the great football clubs; and based on what has happened in the Premier League era, or indeed since the Second World War, one would be right. This West Yorkshire market and mill town, the birthplace of Rugby League, is a stronghold of egg chasing, and its soccer team has spent only two seasons in the modern Premier League, and only seven in the top division of English football (whatever one wants to call it) since its relegation in 1952. It has not finished as high as second, never mind first, in top-level League or Cup competition since 1938. But its inclusion in the All-Time Premier League is not a mistake. For a few years in the 1920s, Huddersfield could claim to be the centre of soccer in Great Britain, and possibly in the world, thanks to a team that had almost not existed at all.
Formed in 1908 and elected two years later to a Football League keen to establish itself in Rugby League country, the Huddersfield Town Association Football Club struggled to stay alive, never mind competitive, for the first decade of its existence; and in the autumn of 1919, matters nearly came to a head. Hilton Crowther, a local textile mill magnate who had invested huge sums of money in the club was threatening to pull the plug and have Huddersfield’s team moved to Leeds unless his loans were repaid. Only a mass fundraising and attendance drive among the townspeople of Huddersfield, and the philanthropy of a wealthy wool merchant and a few of his friends, saved the club from extinction.
Yet while all this was going on, the players were putting together a campaign on the pitch almost as impressive as that which the club captain, full-back Fred Bullock, was leading away from it. The club “rose in a season from penury to pomp,” (Sharpe, 1960) winning promotion to the First Division and a place in the 1920 FA Cup Final. Although Aston Villa won 1-0 in extra time, it was one of soccer’s great Cinderella stories, and the beginning of a golden age for this most unlikely of clubs. Huddersfield Town would enjoy an unbroken spell of thirty-two years as a First Division club, making four more Cup Final appearances and winning one. They would win the Charity Shield, and become the first club in England to win three League Championships in a row.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that my choice for the club’s all-time team consists almost entirely of players from this period. By the standards of this league, it’s a short time for a club to have been at or near the top; but Huddersfield have packed enough into their peak period to be worthy of their place.
1. Ted Taylor and Billy Mercer shared the goalkeeping duties during Huddersfield’s hat-trick of Championships, with Taylor the first-choice custodian in ’23-’24 and ’25-’26 and Mercer taking his place in between. Of the two, Taylor, who played more games for the club and won eight England caps, was probably the more valuable player over the course of his career; but it was in ’24-’25, when Mercer guarded the goal, that the club enjoyed its best ever defensive season, conceding just 28 League goals.
Sandy Mutch, who preceded Taylor, rivals him in terms of overall contributions to the club, although he never won international honours. Mutch left Aberdeen to join Huddersfield in 1910, played in the club’s first ever Football League fixture, and received its first ever player benefit when he was paid the princely sum of £794 in April 1920. That was the same month in which Huddersfield, after struggling in the Second Division for a decade, won promotion at last and played in their first Cup Final. He stayed with the Terriers for their first two seasons in the First Division, and had a happy farewell in 1922 before being transferred to Newcastle United. He played in the FA Cup Final against Preston North End and made his final appearance for Huddersfield in the Charity Shield against Liverpool, winning both games and keeping clean sheets.
But not even Mutch can match the appearances record of Hugh Turner, whose 394 first-class games for the club are a record for goalkeepers. Moving from Gateshead High Fell to Huddersfield in the spring of 1926, Turner joined the team at just the wrong time as far as winning trophies was concerned. With Mercer and Taylor initially ahead of him, he watched without making a single appearance as his new club closed its third consecutive League title. He wasn’t to know it, and the Huddersfield supporters would have had no reason to suspect it, but that would be their last major honour to this day. Over the next eleven years, Turner and his team-mates would repeatedly come close to extending the club’s list of honours, but would fall short every time.
He shared his position with Mercer for two years, as the Terriers twice finished second in the League. In ’27-’28, they became the first team in England to finish as runners-up in both League and Cup, losing the Championship to Everton by two points and the Cup Final 3-1 to Blackburn Rovers. Mercer got the green jersey for that final, and it was his error that led to the opening goal. Almost immediately afterward, Mercer was transferred to Blackpool. Turner, now the club’s undisputed number one goalkeeper, was ever-present in five of the next six seasons. As the last line of what was one of the best defences in the First Division year after year, he was good enough to represent England twice and the Football League once. After losing an FA Cup semi-final to Bolton Wanderers in 1929, he got his big day at Wembley the following year. Arsenal, managed by Herbert Chapman, were the opposition. Chapman, the architect of Huddersfield’s three-in-a-row team, had left for London in the middle of that run and had begun to build a team that would eventually equal Huddersfield’s hat-trick. In ’25-’26, he had seen his old team beat his new team to the title by five points; but this time, he had the last laugh as Arsenal won 2-0. Four years later, Arsenal again proved to be the stumbling block, this time in the League. The Gunners beat the Terriers to the title by three points after winning both meetings between the teams. After helping his team to a third-place finish in ’35-’36, Turner was dropped from the first XI at the start of the 36-’37 season and was sold to Second Division Fulham at the end of it.
Turner may not have won any trophies in the club’s colours; but I doubt that any other goalkeeper in Huddersfield’s history has won it more games at the highest level. He takes the Number 1 jersey, with Mutch and Taylor waiting in the wings.
2. Two England internationals vie for the right-back position. Ron Staniforth, a member of the promotion-winning defence of ’52-’53 that never missed a game and conceded fewer goals than any other in the Football League, earned eight international caps in 1954, including three in the World Cup. Roy Goodall, a member of Huddersfield’s all-conquering team of the twenties, played for England twenty-five times between 1926 and 1933, and would have probably captained his country at the first World Cup in 1930 had the FA not declined to enter a team. (No, I’m not joking.) Both were tall, elegant backs, tactically astute and technically sound. Of the two, Staniforth, who was famous for his raids down the right wing, seems to have been the more adventurous attacker and the tough-tackling Goodall the more dependable defender. It is difficult to decide which was the better player at his peak; but it is not difficult to see whose peak lasted the longest.
Staniforth spent three seasons at Huddersfield, having followed his manager Andy Beattie from Third Division Stockport, before being transferred to Sheffield Wednesday, where he would spend four years bouncing up and down between the First Division and the Second. Goodall signed professional forms for Huddersfield halfway through their first season in the First Division, broke into the first team late in the 1922-’23 season and remained there almost continuously for fourteen years. He made fifteen appearances in ’23-’24, the club’s first title-winning campaign, and established himself in the first XI without a doubt in ’24-’25. Ivan Sharpe (1960) described the Taylor-Goodall-Wadsworth defence as “equal, if not superior” to Arsenal’s more celebrated trio of Moss, Male and Hapgood; and after the three won the League together again in ’25-’26, Goodall was picked for his first international. His 25 caps don’t sound like a lot by today’s standards, but they were enough to make him England’s joint third most-capped player during the inter-war period, tied with Harry Hibbs and behind only Sam Crooks and Eddie Hapgood. He was also selected for the Football League’s all-star team eight times. By the time he retired, he had racked up 440 appearances for Huddersfield, compared with Staniforth’s 118, and his 403 First Division games for the club are more than five times the 68 in which Staniforth played. For his combination of excellence and endurance, and the security he offers at the back, Goodall takes the Number 2 shirt, with Staniforth as a substitute.
3. Ray Wilson is surely the best left-back in Huddersfield Town’s history. Between 1955 and 1964, the future World Cup winner made 283 appearances for the Terriers, earning and keeping his place in the England XI while still a Second Division player. But I’ve already allocated him to Everton, and the one-team-only rule means that I must look elsewhere.
The aforementioned Fred Bullock, almost as long-serving a player as Sandy Mutch, played his first game for Huddersfield a few months after Mutch and his last game about a year before. He missed out on the triumphs with which Mutch closed his Huddersfield career, the recurrence of a knee injury sustained during his war service having eventually forced his retirement; but he had played a huge part, on and off the pitch, in the Cinderella season of 1919-’20, captaining the team to promotion and the Cup Final and serving as a speaker at fundraising meetings. His contributions to his club were recognised by his country; and almost a decade after he had won his one amateur international cap, awarded while he was playing for non-League Ilford, the England selectors picked him for a full international match against Ireland in October 1920. Alas, the postscript to his career is a sad one. Shortly after becoming a publican in the town whose team he had helped to save, he died in a suspected suicide.
Bullock would be the sentimental selection at left-back; but in sporting terms, I think Sam Wadsworth is the wisest. Wadsworth, one of only five players to have been present for all five of the club’s major honours, made 312 first-class appearances for the club between 1921 and 1929. A veteran of the First World War who had been wounded in action and released by Blackburn Rovers when first-class football resumed, Wadsworth was playing non-league football for Nelson when Herbert Chapman signed him for £1,600 in April 1921. Chapman, the first manager to build his strategy around the counter-attack, knew what Wadsworth’s ability to turn defence into attack with a well-placed long ball was worth; and his first full season in Huddersfield’s blue and white stripes coincided with the club’s first two trophies. Towards the end of the season, he was chosen for both the Football League XI and the England national team. Over the next four years, he would go on to win eight more international caps, the last four as captain, and play in five more inter-league matches. In 1923, when the format for the Charity Shield was switched from League Champions vs Cup Winners to Amateurs vs Professionals, it was Wadsworth who was picked to play left-back for the latter. He was selected for the same fixture again the following year. He transferred to Burnley in 1929, but injuries restricted him to just seven first-team appearances for the Clarets in two years before he retired from first-class football altogether. Soon after, he moved to the Netherlands, where he had a long career as a coach.
Reg Mountford, who also became a coach on the continent, beats Bullock to the job of backup left-back. After arriving at Leeds Road from Darlington at around the same time Wadsworth left, Mountford remained mainly a reserve player until 1932, gradually feeling his way into the first team. After playing in around half of the team’s games over the next two seasons, he became a regular. He was ever-present in two of the last four seasons before the Second World War, and missed only seven matches over the other two. By the time first-class football was suspended, he had made 255 League and Cup appearances for the Terriers, not including his three League games in the aborted ’38-’39 season; and like Bullock, he had featured in an FA Cup Final. He never won any trophies or caps at first-class level, but he did win wartime versions of each. He was still in Huddersfield’s squad when they won the Regional League North East Division in ’39-’40, and he was selected to play for England in 1941. After the war, he became a coach in Denmark, and managed his adopted country’s all-amateur national team to third place in the 1948 Olympiad.
4. Mountford’s success as a coach was partly built on the work of another Terrier. David Steele introduced the W-M formation to Denmark during a brief spell in Aalborg in 1931; but before he became a coach, he had been one of the best exponents of wing-half play in the W-W. Signed from Bristol Rovers in May 1922, Steele replaced Charlie Slade just as the latter was enjoying his finest hour. Eight years after joining the club in 1914, Slade had finally won first-class honours, helping his team to win the FA Cup and the Charity Shield; but early in the following season, he was sold to Middlesbrough. Steele slotted into the first team in his place, as the more attack-minded member of a middle line with Tom Wilson and Billy Watson. An energetic yet elegant right-half who, in the words of Ivan Sharpe (1960) “darted in and out of the fray without losing his Scottish touch and timing,” the Lanarkshire-born Steele played well enough in his first season at Leeds Road to earn three caps for his country near its end. He played in all three of Scotland’s matches in that year’s British International Championship; and although he never won another international cap, his greatest achievements at club level were still to come. In each of the following three seasons, he and Huddersfield won the First Division championship. They came close to winning a fourth in ’26-’27, finishing five points behind Newcastle United after failing to win any of their last three matches, before the near-miss double of ’27-’28. After Huddersfield had fallen to sixteenth place in the League and losing an FA Cup semi-final in ’28-’29, Steele was sold to Preston North End, where he spent a single season before retiring and commencing his coaching career.
If he has to move over to left-half, Ken Willingham, who arrived at Leeds Road two years after Steele left, can fill in on the right. His 270 games and 5 goals in first-class competition for Huddersfield compare favourably with Steele’s figures of 203 and 3, and both numbers would almost certainly have been higher had World War II not got in the way. He never won first-class honours at club level; the closest he came being a second-place finish in the League, a loser’s medal in a Cup Final and two wartime Regional League titles; but his international record beats Steele’s. He won twelve full England caps between 1937 and 1939, including eleven in consecutive internationals, and played in a further six wartime internationals. He also represented the Football League on six occasions. In 1935, he made his way into the Terriers’ trivia books when he scored what is still the fastest goal in the club’s history, putting the ball in the net ten seconds into a League match against Sunderland. Stylistically speaking, he seems to have been similar to Steele. Sharpe (1960) describes him as “England’s great little man. A nippy, cheerful, resourceful half back who darted in and out of the fight in a merry way and fitted well into the scheme of things behind Stanley Matthews. Always on the go.”
Willingham might have been a better player than Steele, but it’s the Scotsman who fits the system better. Finally, two post-war players merit mention. Bill McGarry and Jimmy Nicholson, ever-present in the promotion-winning campaigns of ’52-’53 and ’69-’70 respectively, each made more than 300 appearances for Huddersfield, although most were in the lower divisions. McGarry, part of a defence that went unchanged all season, repeated the feat of playing in every game in ’53-’54 as Huddersfield finished third in the First Division, and was selected to play for England at the World Cup in Switzerland. Nicholson, a Northern Irishman, beat by one Ray Wilson’s club record of 30 international caps before an injury prematurely put paid to his hopes of getting more.
5. Tom Wilson was the hub of Huddersfield’s all-conquering team of the twenties. Born in Seaham, Durham, he had briefly played for Sunderland before the First World War but had not been retained after it, and was back in his hometown when Huddersfield Town came calling in the summer of 1919. The previous season, he had been playing for Seaham Colliery. The next, he was in the Football League, helping a club fighting for its very existence to push for promotion and win a place in the Cup Final. He was ever-present in 1920-’21 as the Terriers fought off relegation, and missed only sixteen games over the next eight seasons. By the time they won their first trophy, he had been made the club captain, a position he would hold until he handed over the job to Clem Stephenson. He scored the winning goal in the 1922 Charity Shield, though this was one of only five he notched in his 501 first-class games for the club. The W-M formation, with its stopper centre-half, would not be fully formed until the late twenties and early thirties; but Herbert Chapman was feeling his way towards the third back game even in his Huddersfield days, and Wilson often played a more withdrawn position than the typical centre-half of his time – deep enough, in the FA Cup Final of 1922, to earn his manager a reprimand from the FA for what it considered unsportsmanlike tactics, although Wilson, known as “The Gentleman of Football,” was not a dirty player.
By 31 March 1928, any unfavourable impression the FA had had of him seems to have disappeared. That year, he was awarded his first, and as it transpired, last international cap, when he played for England against Scotland’s “Wembley Wizards.” He was back at Wembley later that year for the Cup Final, and again in 1930, when a waxwork figure of him was displayed in Madame Tussaud’s, but Huddersfield lost on both occasions. The emergence of Alf Young saw him lose his place in the first team halfway through the ’30-’31 season, and he left Huddersfield to join Blackpool a year later. He saw out the ’31-’32 season with the Seasiders, before returning to Leeds Road to become a trainer.
Young, more or less a pure policeman, enjoyed a fine career himself, making 309 appearances and scoring 6 goals for Huddersfield before Hitler’s war halted his first-class career. Like Wilson, he captained his team in a Cup Final against Preston North End; although unlike Wilson in 1922, he ended up on the losing side in 1938. He earned more international caps than Wilson, playing for England on nine occasions, including the famous 6-3 win over Germany in Berlin in 1938. But I’ve gone with Wilson, who could play as either an advanced or a withdrawn centre-half, allowing the formation to fluctuate as and when needed. If a true stopper is required, Young can play in his place.
6. As at right-half and centre-half, so at left-half: a member of the good-but-not great teams of the thirties loses out to one of the title-winners of the twenties. Billy Watson, father of the football and cricket double international Willy Watson, fights off two challengers to take the Number 6 shirt. Austen Campbell, who helped Blackburn Rovers to beat Huddersfield at Wembley in 1928 before being transferred between the clubs a year later, reached another final in his first season with his new team. Over the next six years, he made more than 200 first-team appearances for the Terriers, scoring 6 goals, and added six more England caps to the two he had won while with Blackburn. Eddie Boot, bought from Sheffield United in 1937, matched Campbell’s feat of helping Huddersfield to the Cup Final at the first opportunity. He went on to make more than 300 first-class appearances in the club’s colours either side of the Second World War, scoring 5 goals in 325 official games.
Watson, whose career straddled the First World War, is one place below Boot in Huddersfield’s all-time appearances list. He is credited with 322 games, several of which were in the Second Division, and only one goal, scored against Burnley during the Cup run of 1922. However, one cannot compare his goal-scoring record with those of the competing candidates without considering the different contexts in which they played. Campbell played most of his professional football, and Boot all of his, after the change in the offside law; and they not only played in a more attacking period but also probably played a more attacking role in their teams, the gradual withdrawal of the centre-half allowing the wing-halves to get forward with greater freedom. Watson, on the other hand, hardly experienced the explosion of goal-scoring which took place after the change; and the team he played in before it took effect was a deep-sitting, counter-attacking team, reliant on rapid raids from the forwards. There was little need or time for the half-backs or full-backs to follow up and score themselves, and what need there was could mostly be fulfilled by Slade or Steele on the opposite flank. A strong tackler and a composed passer, Watson was content to take a back seat in attack, allowing the strikers to star on a stage built from the back. Unlike Campbell, and unlike Steele and Wilson, he never won international honours; but while may have been the poor relation in his team’s famous half-line, he fitted into it perfectly. Nicknamed “The War Horse” for his indefatigable industry, he played a part in all five of Huddersfield’s first-class honours won under Herbert Chapman and Cecil Potter. He missed only one game in their first two title-winning campaigns before losing his first-team place, probably due to injury, halfway through the third. He played only once more, later that season, and retired at the end of the next.
Campbell, the international, takes the substitute’s spot ahead of Boot, the Wartime League Champion. Individually, he might have been a better player than Watson; but so successfully did Steele, Wilson and Watson work together that I have imported them en bloc into my all-time Huddersfield XI. Willingham, Young and Campbell are an excellent alternative.
7. It wouldn’t be an all-time Terriers team without Alex Jackson. Signed in the summer of 1925 for a club record fee of £5,000, the wafer-thin winger was Herbert Chapman’s parting gift to the club he was about to leave. Already a full international, the nineteen-year-old Jackson had travelled a long way in his three years as a professional – in more ways than one. At the age of sixteen, he had left his local team, Renton Victoria, to sign for the Scottish League’s Dumbarton, his first transfer fee being a new football. He had played for three different teams in the three years since, transferring every summer. The second of these had been the Bethlehem Steel club of the American Soccer League, where had been a star. Plenty of world soccer stars have wound down their careers in the United States, but Jackson may have been the only one to get his first “big break” in the game there. After returning to his native Scotland to play for Aberdeen, he had quickly become the best outside-right in the country. Nicknamed “The Gay Cavalier” for the debonair demeanour with which he skipped his way past defenders, he had dazzled spectators and made an immediate impression on the Scotland selectors, who picked him for all three of their country’s games in the 1925 British International Championship.
Herbert Chapman signed Jackson for Huddersfield in the summer that followed. Although Chapman left before the start of the next season, the team he had left behind picked up where they had left off. Augmented by their new arrival, they won their third consecutive First Division Championship. The wafer-thin wing-forward was one of the stars of the show; and, taking full advantage of the new, liberalised offside law, he added another trick to his already extensive repertoire. The speed, balance and ball control with which he eluded the challenges of far stronger men made him a wonder to behold; and he was something of a specialist when it came to taking free kicks; but it was his opportunistic goal-grabbing that came to set him apart in style from the other outside-forwards of his day. It helped that the manager who had signed him had already been somewhat suspicious of traditional wing-play, preferring his players to pass their way through the middle of the pitch rather than relying too heavily on crosses; and even though Chapman had left Leeds Road, his influence remained. With the inside-forwards dropping back to link the midfield to the attack, and the team as a whole defending deep in order to spring a counter-attack, there was room for the wing-forwards to cut inside and shoot; and when the ball was played wide to the left flank, Jackson could and would join his centre-forward to follow up in the penalty box. Under Chapman’s management, Cliff Bastin would later do the same from the left flank for Arsenal; but it was Jackson who got there first. By this method, he scored the first hat-trick seen at the Empire Stadium, combining with Alan Morton for three goals as Scotland’s “Wembley Wizards” picked apart a disjointed England defence to win 5-1 in 1928. He had scored 8 goals in 34 Scottish League games for Aberdeen. In his first season playing for Huddersfield, he scored 16 goals in 39 Football League games. Over five years at the club, he scored 89 goals in 203 first-class appearances, and eight in a further fourteen internationals.
After the 1930 Cup Final, he was transferred to Chelsea, but the bright lights of the big city proved to be his undoing. He became more of a businessman and playboy than a professional footballer; and although he continued to score at a similar rate, he fell out with the Chelsea directors and left after two seasons. He spent ’32-’33 playing non-League football and the next three years in France, where he played for Nice and Le Touquet, before giving up the game at the age of 28. He died in the line of military duty in 1945.
8. With Bob Kelly, Jackson’s wing partner at Wembley in the Cup Finals of 1928 and 1930, already assigned to Burnley; and Denis Law reserved for Manchester United; the inside-right position is contested by two less famous names.
Frank Mann, whose contributions to the club’s promotion campaign and Cup run of 1919-’20 were a repayment of an eight-year-old favour, earned a mention in Sharpe’s list of the greats for the part he played in the club’s footballing fairy-tale. Back in 1912, he had been a twenty-one-year-old nobody who had spent seasons with Leeds City and Lincoln City without getting a look-in, and had just been released by Aston Villa after only one first-team game. Someone at Huddersfield saw something in in him; and either years later, his inspired inside-forward play helped to save the club that had saved his career. He was still around in 1922 to help his team to win its first two major honours, ferrying the ball between defence and attack. His move to Manchester United in 1923 meant that he missed out on the club’s hat-trick of Championships, he is one of its heroes. Without him, there may not have been a Huddersfield Town Association Football Club to win those titles at all.
But here, I’m going to follow the judgement of the England selectors. Whereas Mann never won an international cap, Harold Hassall was awarded five, four of them while he was with Huddersfield. Born in Bolton in 1929, Hassall was scouted and snatched by Huddersfield before his home-town club could sign him up, and made his first-team debut on the opening day of the ’48-’49 season. Partly because of injuries, it took him until ’50-’51 to establish himself as a regular, but his ability was obvious from the start. A rangy playmaker with a deft touch and an eye for goal, he played predominantly as an inside-left; but with his intelligence and industry, he could and would play any position asked of him, and moving him to inside-right would give him no trouble. Playing away at Preston in the fourth round of the ’50-’51 FA Cup, he even filled in for an injured goalkeeper. That he kept a clean sheet, saving a penalty kick from Tom Finney into the bargain, attracted attention on a national scale; but his outfield performances proved that he was more than a mere curiosity. Playing for a struggling team, he scored 18 goals; and the passes he provided for his wing-man and centre-forward got them going on a regular basis. Near the end of the season, he was awarded his first international cap in the England-Scotland match at Wembley. Playing in a forward line that included Stanley Matthews, Stanley Mortensen, Wilf Mannion and Tom Finney, Hassall held his own, scoring the opening goal of the game. Although England lost, he kept his place for her next three internationals, scoring another goal in a 5-2 win over Portugal. A long and successful career for club and country seemed to await him, but events would soon take another turn. In ’51-’52, the Terriers struggles were even more desperate than they had been the season before. Hassall was sold to Bolton Wanderers halfway through the season; and although he might have been happy about being brought back home, the move would come to have unhappy consequences.
Had he stayed at Leeds Road, things might have been very different – for him and for Huddersfield. Without Hassall, whatever hopes the Town might have had of staying in the First Division disappeared; and although he would continue to play well for Bolton, reaching the FA Cup Final and winning another cap in 1953, another injury brought a premature end to his career in 1955. Would he still have got injured had he still been playing for Huddersfield? Would he have done enough to keep the club in the First Division, obviating the need for the ’52-’53 promotion campaign? Would he have made the difference between third place and first in ’53-’54? What would have been the knock-on effect if he had? We’ll never know for sure, but I’m sure Huddersfield fans have their theories.
9. Harold Wilson, who served two and a half terms as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the sixties and seventies, was born in Huddersfield in 1916. A fanatical football follower, he was said during his premiership to carry around in his pocket a photograph of the title-winning team he had grown up supporting; and it is tempting to wonder whether or not that team ended up having an indirect effect on state affairs forty years later. As far as I know, students of politics have ignored the fact; but it is one of the curious coincidences of history that one of his cabinet members, especially one whom he found so obstructive, should share a name with one of his childhood heroes.
The first George Brown to make an impression in the great statesman’s life was a miner who tried his hand at professional soccer while his trade union was on strike. Attending a trial for Huddersfield Town in March 1921, he impressed the club’s management enough to earn a contract, escaping the harsh conditions of his home- town colliery. He was placed in the first team for the first time on New Years’ Eve, and scored both of Huddersfield’s goals in a 3-2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. He scored in each of his next two matches; and although competition for places prevented his holding down a position, he continued to find the net frequently whenever he played. Gradually, his first-team appearances became more and more frequent, with his managers moving him around in order to get him into the eleven. With his combination of excellent dribbling and unselfish distribution of the ball, allied to composed finishing and a powerful right-footed shot, “Bomber” Brown could not be ignored. After scoring 4 goals in 6 games in 1921-’22 and 6 in 12 in ’22-’23, he cracked the twenty-appearances mark for the first time in ’23-’24. He played in 22 League matches and one Cup-tie, scoring 8 goals, including the one that secured the Championship on goal average. The following season, he made 32 appearances, all in the League, as the Terriers retained their title, and scored 20 goals. He would better that tally in each of the following four seasons, twice scoring 35; and by the time he was transferred to Aston Villa in 1929, he had become Huddersfield Town’s highest ever goal-scorer. His tally of 159 goals in 229 first-class appearances has been high enough to keep him atop the list to this day.
Yet, for most of this time, he seems not to have had a settled position he could call his own. I haven’t seen any game-by-game records for Huddersfield through this period; but the scattered match records I have seen show him to have played at both inside-right and centre-forward, and the season-by-season statistics suggest that he shared the former position with Billy Cook and the latter with Charlie Wilson through the three-in-a-row run of Championships. In October 1926, he was handed his first England cap at inside-right, and all eight of those he won while with Huddersfield were at that position. The line-up for the 1928 Cup Final shows Brown at centre-forward, with Bob Kelly in his own favoured inside-right role. Sharpe, in his “Personalities of the Field of Play,” listed Brown among the centre-forwards. For the purposes of this team, I’ve chosen to have him lead the line.
If he is indisposed, or if he has to cover for Mann, two team-mates of later years will vie for the Number 9 jersey. Billy Price, who broke into the first team in 1938 and left for Reading in 1947, is credited with 31 goals in just 60 first-class games for Huddersfield; but had it not been for the Second World War, he might well have broken Brown’s goal-scoring record. Jimmy Glazzard, a master of the hanging header who joined the Terriers during the war and scored 154 first-class goals after it, almost certainly would. If an extra striker is needed, any two of these three can play together, with Hassall dropping out of the line-up. Frank Worthington, whose talents did not fully flower until he left Leeds Road to join Leicester City, is not considered.
10. The English Football Hall of Fame contains six men who played for or managed this club; and Clem Stephenson, who did both, is the only one of the six who can be confidently classified as a Terrier first and foremost. As has already been mentioned, Ray Wilson and Denis Law enjoyed their greatest achievements after leaving Leeds Road; and although Bill Shankly managed both, it is outside Liverpool’s Anfield ground that his statue stands. Peter Doherty, who played the same position as Stephenson, was still a regular Ireland international during the three years he spent at Leeds Road in the late forties; but if one has to pick one team with which to identify him, it has to be Manchester City. For Herbert Chapman, it’s a toss-up between Huddersfield and Arsenal, the tie-breaker being the fact that the former club needs him more. But think of Stephenson, the schemer-in-chief of Chapman’s first great team, and you’ll think of him in the Terriers’ blue-and-white stripes.
Not that this would have seemed likely in May 1920, when he was one of the eleven men of Aston Villa who dashed Huddersfield’s hopes at Stamford Bridge. But two years later, he was on the same ground, helping the Terriers to claim their first major honour. In the 1920-’21 season, Stephenson had fallen out with the Aston Villa directors after they demanded that he move house. Believing that Stephenson, by then in his thirties, was declining, they decided to sell him to Huddersfield for £4,000. Herbert Chapman, who had managed him during his guest appearances for Leeds City during the First World War, was well prepared to pay the price. The club was cash-strapped, but Chapman persuaded his directors that signing a star attraction would bring in more money in gate receipts than it cost. The stocky schemer may have been losing what little pace he possessed, but his tactical intelligence and leadership would more than make up for the fact.
Chapman would be proved right on both counts. A close comparison in more recent times would be Alex Ferguson’s signing of Teddy Sheringham for Manchester United in 1997: both were ageing inside-forwards believed at the time to be past their best; both outperformed expectations, overcoming slowness of movement with speed of thought; and both played their part in hat-tricks of Championships. Feeding his fellow forwards with pinpointed through-passes, Stephenson started many a counter-attack, much as Alex James would do for Chapman’s Arsenal team; and although he didn’t score as frequently for Huddersfield as he had for Aston Villa, his overall contributions to the team’s play were probably no less. “Never,” wrote Sharpe, “did a star more abundantly justify top-billing. Stephenson made everyone play – swung on his heel and pulled the half backs into the game in a manner they had not thought possible.” Chapman, it seems, would have agreed: after their first Championship-winning season, he wrote his inside-left a personal letter of thanks. He was finally awarded his first international cap that year, in England’s match against Wales, but it would prove to be his last – an oversight Sharpe would describe as the greatest mistake he had known the England selectors to make. For Huddersfield, he continued to play until 1929, whereupon he became the club’s manager. He led the team to the Cup Final in his first season in charge, and to another in 1938, before retiring in 1942. To this day, he is not only one of Huddersfield Town’s greatest ever players but also its longest-serving manager. In this team, he’ll stay on the pitch, taking the Number 10 shirt without serious competition. If he is unavailable, Hassall can move over to the left.
11. Stephenson is reunited with his old wing-partner; and before we get into the story, let me clear up some possible confusion. The R.S. McColl chain of newsagents’ shops was indeed named after the great Scottish centre-forward, who founded the business with his brother; but the W.H. Smith who dashed down the left wing at Leeds Road had nothing to do with the similar business bearing his name. A different William Henry Smith had renamed his family business after himself almost fifty years before a boy born in Tantoby, Durham, was given the same name.
The boy became an excellent footballer, attracting the interest of Huddersfield Town. Unusually for the footballers of his time, he felt confident enough to demand what his work was worth; and in September 1913, a letter from the eighteen-year-old triallist was discussed during a directors’ meeting. Smith, the letter explained, would not sign for less than fifty shillings per week. The directors agreed to the demand, and Smith soon demonstrated that they had been right to do so. After three months as a reserve, he got the best Christmas present he could have hoped for when he was handed his Football League debut on 25 December. Huddersfield were beaten 3-0 at home by Hull City; but Smith did well enough to keep his place for the Boxing Day return match, in which he scored his side’s only goal as the hosts won 4-1.
He would remain in the Terriers’ first team for more than two decades, military duties permitting; and in spite of the interruption to his career caused by the First World War, he made 574 first-class appearances in the Town’s colours, a club record that stands to this day. Although he seems to have been more of a maker than a taker of chances, chasing Stephenson’s long passes or dribbling his way down the wing before crossing for Jackson or Brown to score, his 126 goals have him ranked third on the club’s all-time scoring list. Two of those, one in the 1922 Cup Final and one in a League match against Arsenal in 1924, earned him places in the list of football firsts. The former made him the first man to decide an FA Cup Final with a penalty; and with the latter, he became the first player in English football to score directly from a corner kick. He could certainly shoulder the burden of goal-scoring when it was placed upon him, netting 21 times in the ’27-’28 season. His performances at that time earned him a recall to the England XI after a six-year absence, although the cap he won in the Wembley Wizards match would be his last. He left Huddersfield in 1934 to become a player-manager at Rochdale, where he lasted less than two seasons before retiring to run a pub. After seeing his son, Conway, continue his legacy at Leeds Road, he died in 1951, the mistreatment of an old industrial injury having caused cancer.
On the bench is Vic Metcalfe, who was to the Town teams of the forties and fifties what Smith was to those of the inter-war years. Cited by Henry Cockburn as the one outside-left who had the beating of Johnny Carey, he struck up a brilliant partnership with Glazzard, who headed home his perfectly-placed crosses. On one occasion, the two combined thus for four goals in the same game. A powerful shot, he scored 90 goals of his own in 459 first-class appearances in the club’s colours between 1945 and 1958; and like Smith, would have probably added considerably to both tallies had it not been for war. Choosing between him and Smith is tough; but Smith’s slight lead in goals, games, strike-rate and representative honours gets him the starting spot. Pat Beasley, a two-sided winger who preceded Metcalfe, fills up the roster. An FA Cup Finalist in 1938, an England international for one game in 1939, and a Wartime League winner in 1940, Beasley scored 27 goals in 123 First Division games for the Town over the last three seasons before World War II.
The team’s shape is the W-W formation that was used by Huddersfield’ most successful teams. In its modern incarnation, as employed by Josep Guardiola, it looks like a 4-3-3 in defence before becoming a 2-3-5 in attack, with wing-halves joining the midfield and inside-forwards pushing up. With the centre-half capable of playing in midfield or at the back, a 3-4-3 is also possible. Modern football requires more fitness and more flexibility than most of these players ever had to display; but Chapman, given modern knowledge, could be trusted to bring his players up to speed. Captain Picard, the holodeck awaits!