FOR all those connected with Huddersfield Town who can painfully recall their dark days of just 14 years ago, Monday’s blue-riband occasion will seem a touch surreal.
Town are currently dreaming of Wembley highs in the Championship play-off final against Reading and securing a £200m golden ticket to the Premier League in a game regarded as the most lucrative in world club football.
But their battle back in the Spring of 2003 was all to do with survival.
Possible relegation to football’s basement was far from the full story. Far more critical was the fact that Town were enduring stricken times in administration, with fears growing that the famous old club could disappear amid debts of nearly £20m.
Thankfully, Town were saved by Ken Davy that summer and the fightback began in 2003-04 when promotion from the bottom tier was secured at the first time of asking on a tumultuous afternoon at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, with Dean Hoyle later taking on the baton from Davy.
Their play-off final win on penalties against Mansfield on May, 31, 2004 is an occasion that the likes of Andy Holdsworth, then just turned 20, will never forget.
It also does help when you have an owner who loves the club and wants the best for his fans, himself and the club.Andy Holdsworth
Holdsworth was part of a line-up of experienced heads laced with fresh-faced youngsters who drew strength from adversity under a charismatic manager in Peter Jackson – and just as that proved an endearing story, so too is this season’s compelling tale under head coach David Wagner.
Holdsworth, now coaching at Barnsley, told The Yorkshire Post: “It is a special story, like ours. To come this far and finish it off would be a fairytale.
“It is the biggest game in the club’s history. If it comes to fruition and Huddersfield get to the Premier League by six o’clock on Monday, the club will be a completely different one next season. Fingers crossed that it happens.
“It would reward the fans who have backed them through thick and thin over the years. Especially the staff in the offices behind the scenes, too, such as Sue Beaumont in the ticket office and there’s others such as Andy Brook, the kit man.
“They have been there for so many years and it is a reward for their hard work at the same time.
“It is like I said to my wife the other day, it is a club who have helped me get to where I am today, with my house, family and kids. It gave me some fantastic moments in my career. Don’t get me wrong, there were points there where I was lower than a snake’s belly, but it has always dragged me back up.”
Should Town prevail on Monday and earn the right to become the 49th club to compete in the Premier League, it would complete one of the most remarkable footballing stories this century.
The stage for Wagner’s class of 2016-17 may be Wembley as opposed to Cardiff back in May, 2003, but Holdsworth can see parallels between the mentality of both line-ups, with each adopting an ‘us against them’ mindset during a nine-month marathon, with their conviction in each other, and single-minded approach, very evident.
Recalling that 2003-04 season, Holdsworth said: “It was kind of a weird situation because many of us pretty much came straight from the youth team to the first team.
“The club were at one of their lowest points and we couldn’t really lose, in a sense. Every week we were going out, we were getting results, but also playing with freedom and enjoying it.
“I think that is what Town have done this season. You can see it with some of their performances and the manager has just been an absolute breath of fresh air with his ideas and how he has worked and the budget that they are on, compared to many other teams.
“For us, there was a mentality of wanting to do well for the town and fans and not just ourselves. I think that is what these current players are also trying to do.
“There’s no bad eggs and you never hear stories or whatever saying ‘so-and-so has done this.’ The club are all in it together.
“We had an ‘us and them’ mentality. It was kind of, ‘We are Huddersfield Town and we shouldn’t be in this league’. We felt we were better than that league and were better than the other players.
“I think what Wagner has done at the moment is create a team who are also playing with such confidence, too. You can see that with the way that they are playing and the performances that they are putting in.
“It also does help when you have an owner who loves the club and wants the best for his fans, himself and the club. Sometimes, when you get the foreign owners, it is a completely different ball game. I would like to be at Dean’s house on Monday night if Town end up going up!”