PHILIP BILLING may have had to consult the computer game FIFA to discover who Huddersfield Town were when leaving Denmark as a 16-year-old to join the Yorkshire club.
But, after last weekend’s man-of-the-match display as the Terriers beat Wolverhampton Wanderers in Sky Sports’ prime broadcast slot, the midfielder is no longer an unknown quantity.
Pat Nevin, the former Chelsea winger working at Molineux for BBC 5 Live, went so far as to suggest Billing “will not be at Huddersfield next season” after such a sterling display.
Other pundits were equally fulsome in their praise for someone who, until that 2-0 triumph in the ‘Super Sunday’ game that was broadcast live in 154 countries, had flown under the radar with any spotlight trained on Town instead invariably falling on the likes of Aaron Mooy, Christopher Schindler or David Wagner.
“It is nice to get praise,” said the 22-year-old when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s home game with Brighton & Hove Albion.
“A bit of a bonus. Nice but I don’t really care that much as after one game you cannot sit back and relax. You have to keep working hard. That is what I will do.
“I want to have another good game against Brighton. I have to push myself to do better. That is the direction I want to go.”
This new-found maturity has delighted Wagner. The Town chief always felt Billing had the ability to shine in the top flight but maybe lacked the necessary “fighting gene” to truly prosper.
A succession of coaches, both at youth level and in the seniors, would have nodded along at such an assessment with Billing’s potential having shone through from the moment he arrived in England from Danish club Esbjerg in the summer of 2013.
His senior team debut followed at the end of that same season against Leicester City as a substitute but a first start did not come along until 18 months later.
Sometimes in life, you have to take risks. I did that, a big risk at the time. But things are working out well.Danish midfielder Philip Billing
It was not until the second half of the promotion season that Billing became a regular in the match-day squad, the midfielder being described as “brilliant” by Alan Shearer in the wake of Town’s FA Cup fifth-round exit to Manchester City.
Even last season, though, Billing – the subject of a £10m enquiry from Swansea City ahead of Town’s bow in the Premier League – found himself way down the midfield pecking order.
Sometimes, he cut a forlorn figure. This correspondent vividly recalls speaking to Billing in the mixed zone at Old Trafford after Town’s 2-0 defeat and his non-plussed response to being quizzed about why he had been hauled off after only 33 minutes when not injured.
Nine months on, however, and the 22-year-old is rightly receiving top billing to justify the big leap of faith made when swapping Denmark for West Yorkshire.
“It was a big move for me,” added Billing, whose current contract runs until 2020 with the club having the option of extending it by a further 12 months.
“I didn’t know who Huddersfield were when the chance came to sign. I had to go on FIFA to find out who they were.
“I came across on my own at just 16. I had to look after myself, I had to learn another language and what it was like in another country.
“Sometimes in life, you have to take risks. I did that, a big risk at the time. But things are working out well.”
Billing may not have been too familiar back then with Huddersfield, who had been promoted from League One under Simon Grayson the previous year. But he was a big fan of English football and the Premier League.
“To me, English football is the best,” he added. “All I ever wanted to do growing up in Denmark was to play in England.
“Of course, I also liked Real Madrid and Barcelona. I loved watching Ronaldinho. Watching him made me want to play football. But my first Premier League game was Arsenal against Manchester United.
“That is when I really fell in love with English football. I really wanted to be there after that. The tempo and the fact players could tackle without the referees blowing the whistle was great. A different kind of football to what I was used to back in Denmark.
“I watched every single Premier League team, even the smaller ones. I found it fascinating to watch, with the atmosphere and the tempo of the game. That was how I wanted to play.
“All my friends would be going out to parties. But all I wanted to do was stay at home and watch the Premier League. That is what my Saturdays and Sundays were all about.
“When I had the chance to come over here, it was a no-brainer – and things have gone really well.
“When I signed at the stadium, the chairman (Dean Hoyle) came over to me and said the goal was to reach the Premier League within five years.
“We did it a year early! He was not lying.
“To see how the club has progressed in the last few years has been great. The Premier League was a dream so to finally get here was brilliant.”
After a fantastic November that brought seven points from three games and a rise up the table to 15th place, Town’s task is to maintain that upward trajectory during a month that features home games against Brighton, Newcastle United and Southampton.
“These two victories have been big,” he said about taking six points off Wolves and Fulham, while drawing 1-1 with West Ham United. “I saw on Sky how people were saying what a good performance it had been by us against Wolves.
“But I believe we have been like that in the majority of our games. Even the ones like Watford when we lost badly, we had chances early on.
“People don’t see that. They just see the results and think, ‘Oh, Huddersfield lost again’. If people had watched our games, I honestly believe they would think we did not deserve to be where we were in the table.
“The chances have been there. We just haven’t been able to score the goals. Putting the ball in the net was a problem. Now, we have to continue doing what has brought us those wins.”