TO appreciate the transformation of Huddersfield Town, you really ought to have been among the 1,638 fans who gathered inside the club’s old Leeds Road ground to witness the closing minutes of the 1977/78 season.
One of the smallest crowds in the club’s history watched Town play Bournemouth, at the end of a season which saw The Terriers slump to their lowest ever position in the football league; 11th in the old Fourth Division.
It sticks in my mind because I was among the crowd that day. Forty years later, I’ve still got affectionate memories of the Town team of that era, toiling doggedly against the likes of Torquay United and Aldershot.
These sights are packaged with other memories of the late 1970s, including the sound of Suzi Quatro booming out around the sparsely populated ground, which had hosted Best and Charlton only six years earlier.
Four decades later, Town played Bournemouth at home as members of the Premier League, a brand which can command a cumulative audience of 1.61 billion viewers.
Under the club’s German manager David Wagner, Town have defied the sceptics to earn a second season among the elite. Huddersfield has become synonymous with the “Terrier spirit”, the tireless underdog who never quits in the face of rising odds.
In the late 1970s, nobody would have believed that football offered the route to Huddersfield’s prosperity. But it was the era that first attracted a young Dean Hoyle to Leeds Road. Decades later, as a local boy made good, he masterminded the move to the Premier League by taking an inspired gamble and showing faith in David Wagner.
The Premier League status is a source of pride for the fans and a source of significant revenue for the club. But what about the town? Will the club’s increased exposure bring benefits to the people who live and work in Huddersfield?
Sean Jarvis, the club’s commercial director, certainly hopes so. The club has joined forces with other Huddersfield-based businesses and cultural organisations to launch the #backinghuddersfield campaign, which encourages local people to spread the word about their home town. At the campaign’s inaugural event ‘H’ shaped lapel pins were handed out, alongside business cards, which highlighted Huddersfield’s strong transport connections and dynamic businesses.
However, Mr Jarvis still feels that he has to throw down the gauntlet to encourage more Yorkshire firms to work with the club to bang the drum for our region on a global scale.
“We’re seeing so many audiences booking into Huddersfield,’’ he said.
“We’re seeing groups from Sweden, Germany, Canada and the US. They are coming into our area and once they go back to their territories we would hope they would take some knowledge of
Huddersfield and the businesses that are in our region.”
Big global players want to do business with Huddersfield Town.
They can see the long term economic benefits of aligning their business with a club that cares about its community. But Mr Jarvis fears that home grown brands could lose out by being too reticent.
He added: “My plea to those big Yorkshire brands is be adventurous, seize the day, talk to us.”
He added: “What I’m seeing is maybe a bit of shyness from our brands in this region to really go for it. The global footprint gets bigger and bigger and that’s not just good for Huddersfield but for Yorkshire as well.”
With Brexit approaching, Yorkshire companies must think long and hard about the best way of forging ties with emerging markets. This is where Town’s Premier League clout is vital. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest share of the Premier League’s live global audience. Potentially millions of people are talking about Huddersfield in China, Indonesia and Thailand. If just a tiny percentage of this audience decides to form a commercial relationship with Huddersfield, the town is on to a winner. It’s time for local firms to pick up the gauntlet and embrace a world of opportunity.