Bygones: Signing off in style at Wembley to delight of Terriers’ faithful fans

Chris Billy.
Chris Billy.
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THE merry month of May 1995 will forever by remembered by Huddersfield Town supporters as a time of sweet blossom.

For Huddersfield lad Chris Billy, life simply did not get much better and, 20 years on, he still gets asked about one particular moment at Wembley that as an ex-player you would never tire of recollecting.

The home of football has been graced by the most noblest footballing operators of our time – from Messi to Best, Beckenbauer to Moore and Charlton to Eusebio.

But there is something truly special about ordinary blue-collar professionals enjoying the equivalent of what Andy Warhol referred to as 15 minutes of fame.

Billy achieved it on May 28, 1995, netting the winning goal for Town in their 2-1 Division Two play-off final against Bristol Rovers in front of 59,175 spectators, with his decisive close-range header arriving 10 minutes from time.

Mention the names of Keith Houchen, Alan Sunderland, Alan Taylor and Lawrie Sanchez to fans of certain clubs and evocative images of Wembley glory will be conjured.

It is the same when the name of Billy crops up in conversation to those of a Huddersfield persuasion.

It was not a bad way to sign off at your hometown club, who were afforded the highs of their first Wembley victory at their fifth attempt.

Now 42, Billy, who left the club that summer along with manager Neil Warnock to head to Plymouth Argyle, said: “It is the only thing I am remembered about really. But it’s a nice thing to be remembered by.

“It was definitely my proudest moment, being a Huddersfield lad.

“But when you are young, you don’t savour and appreciate it as much as when you get older.

“I see folk out in Huddersfield and they still talk to me about it now, even though it was a long time ago.

“With the social media and everything, you can see it all over now.

“It is something to look back on and show to anyone who doesn’t believe me.

“I also have three boys and two are pretty young and it is nice for them to see it, while my eldest is a Town fan and I think he appreciates it even more.”

Billy, who still lives in his hometown, added: “I remember going to the ground on the day before and it was empty.

“I remember standing on the pitch thinking: ‘This is alright.’ The pitch was big, but when it came to the game with all the players on it, it seemed like a normal size.

“I was not nervous or anything, but just looking forward to it more than anything.

“I remember Dunny (Iain Dunn) came on and he crossed it over and it went over me. I remember thinking: ‘It might come back this, you never know.’

“And it found its way back and I just chucked myself at it.”

Billy, and the man who provided the assist in heading Dunn’s cross invitingly into his path, is Town legend and club ambassador Andy Booth, who will be present at a special 20-year reunion at the John Smith’s Stadium on June 5.

The rest of the victorious 1994-95 side will gather, including Warnock and while it was Billy who took the glory and captain Lee Sinnott who lifted the play-off trophy to the delight of the delirious Town hordes, every member of that squad played their part.

None moreso than on a memorable night in West London on May 17, 1995, when Town booked their Wembley ticket in dramatic fashion.

Both semi-final legs against Brentford ended deadlocked at 1-1, with the penalty lottery deciding the fate of both Town and the Bees, who had provided the ideal team talk for Warnock after two dozen bottles of champagne had been spotted in the hosts’ director’s box before the game.

Billy scored Town’s goal in the opener in Huddersfield, but did not take part in the penalty shoot-out, when a couple of heroes emerged in Essex-born goalkeeper Steve Francis and midfield hard man Darren Bullock.

London-born Francis saved efforts from Denny Mundee and Bees’ stalwart Jamie Bates, with it then left to Bullock to fire home the winning penalty.

Bullock’s conversion in front of home supporters in the Ealing Road end clinched a 4-3 success for Town, whose other scorers were Ronnie Jepson, Sinnott and Lee Duxbury, with defender Pat Scully seeing his effort saved by Kevin Dearden.

Bullock was asked to take the last penalty, if it came down to it, a few days before the second leg by Warnock, although legend has it that the Worcester-born midfielder did not know it was potentially the final spot-kick when he walked up to the spot, watched by his anxious team-mates on the halfway line.

His strike was the cue for wild celebrations in front of the packed Town contingent in the Braemar Road stand, with footage of those scenes alongside the dressing-room words in victory of Warnock subsequently featuring as part of a TV documentary.

It was Warnock’s third successful play-off semi-final victory, following his previous experiences with Notts County and it would ultimately prove to be his third promotion via the end-of-season lottery route.

His Town side was certainly not shy in terms of character in the shape of former Staffordshire miner Jepson and West Country hard man Bullock.

Seasoned professionals and big dressing-room characters also prevailed in the likes of Francis, Paul Reid and Simon Trevitt, alongside young guns in the shape of Billy and Booth and a cult hero in the follically-challenged Iain Dunn.

The work ethic and organisation qualities associated with a Warnock side were a given, but there was quality too in Booth’s striking partnership with Jepson, which took on legendary status among the Town faithful.

But unfortunately, that promotion was not savoured for too long by Warnock after affording himself a champagne night once promotion was clinched at the expense of Rovers, whose supporters had sent hate mail to him during the previous season.

With the promotion sealed, attention quickly turned to his future.

After a meeting with chairman Tony Fisher, Warnock, who had been working without a contract and had expressed his disappointment at the perceived reluctance by the board to tie down his future, left the club.

Footage in the immediate aftermath of that Wembley win told a story, with Warnock, in thoughtful pose, watching his side head up the steps and up to the royal box to receive their medals.

His destination was Plymouth, despite being interviewed by Derby County and his former club Notts.

On his exit, Warnock subsequently wrote: “I could have turned Huddersfield into another Notts County and taken them up to the Premiership.

“But it wasn’t plain sailing. In fact, by the time I won the play-off final, I had made up my mind I wanted to leave. It was the same old thing, falling out with the chairman.”

It was a sad end to Warnock’s reign but, on the pitch at least, he bowed out in style.