Leon Wobschall looks back 20 years to when a team containing builders, plasterers and window cleaners from non-league football set Wembley alight.
NEIL WARNOCK has sampled top-flight football with Notts County, Sheffield United, QPR and Crystal Palace – and tacitly acknowledges that Huddersfield Town could well have been the fifth name on that select list.
Warnock and the Town class of 1994-95 will reconvene for a special reunion dinner at the John Smith’s Stadium tonight where the memories and wisecracks will flow in homage to the club’s promotion to the second tier 20 years ago.
It proved one of the most memorable seasons in the club’s history, ending joyously in Second Division Play-Off final glory against Bristol Rovers at Wembley on May 28, 1995.
But for Warnock, it proved his farewell as Town manager, with his third play-off triumph at the home of football tinged with a spot of sadness.
Warnock, at loggerheads with then Town chairman Terry Fisher, left amid the glow of that fateful day and moved to Plymouth Argyle.
His departure denied him the chance of emulating his considerable feats with County – in securing back-to-back promotions in 1989-90 and 1990-91 – and ending Huddersfield’s exile from the big time.
Many, not least his players, felt that was a distinct possibility and while no-one will ever know, at least Warnock left with a blue-riband parting gift.
On whether Town could have cracked open more promotion bubbly if he had stayed, Warnock said: “Yes, I do think so. Ronnie Jepson, who has worked for me a couple of times, often says to me that he wished I’d stayed as we could have gone straight up.
“But it wasn’t meant to be in the end and that’s how I am, really. Everything is forgotten now and me and my wife Sharon are really looking forward to the reunion.
“We lived in Holmfirth and it was a great time living in the sticks there.”
A documentary of that 1994-95 season at Town, featuring some no-holds-barred dressing room footage, serves as a video reminder of that vintage campaign, which ended with the club claiming their first win at Wembley in five attempts.
It was a team of working-class heroes whose bond with Town’s supporters was inextricable. There were a fair few characters with an inexhaustible supply of team spirit and ability to boot, something Warnock and his top-scorer that season, club legend Andy Booth, can vouch for.
Warnock said:“I watched the DVD of the year we got promotion this week and it really brought back good memories.
“Even I was shocked by a few of the rollickings I dished out!
“When I look back at my promotions, the team spirit has been the main ingredient, really. But that year was a bit special. People like (Darren) Bullock; I remember going down to watch him in a midweek game at Nuneaton and he was a window-cleaner type character!
“There were no ‘big-time Charlies.’ It was a team of good lads who happened to click.”
Up front, Booth and a Town cult hero in ex-Staffordshire miner ‘Rocket’ Ronnie Jepson entered club folklore.
Some fans may, in the words of Warnock, have considered him ‘crackers’ to sell an established striker in Iwan Roberts during 1993-94 to pair a gangly, raw young striker in Booth with Jepson, but the decision was vindicated.
For the record, they hit 53 goals between them in 1994-95.
For Booth, the vibes were there for a special season from the outset, the club’s maiden campaign at their plush new McAlpine Stadium home.
Booth said: “The season just had one of those feelings, right from the first game against Blackpool and we beat them 4-1.
“The year before, we were in the Autoglass final and won most of our last nine or 10 games and felt we could challenge.
“We had some big characters. It was a dressing room where you always made sure you were first in and not last in.
“If you were last, you knew you’d get hammered with all the banter flying around!
“Ronnie was a massive character as was Gary Clayton. Then there were the likes of Reidy (Paul Reid) and (Lee) Duxbury who were the jokers.
“We had window-cleaners, builders and plasterers from the non-leagues and none of them took things for granted. Each day, they went out and gave their best.
“All the fans have great memories of that team and took them to their hearts. All down-to-earth lads and we all lived in Huddersfield, too.
“Ronnie really helped me out in my career in those first two years. He dealt with both central defenders playing against you and let me concentrate on my game.
“You don’t think two big lads playing would work together. But we did and we complimented each other and, straight away, we clicked. I owe a lot to Ronnie, in terms of the career I had. If it wasn’t for Ronnie, I don’t know where I’d have been.”
The Wembley dénouement is one Booth will never forget, even if his opening goal header on the cusp of half-time was soon cancelled out by future Town signing Marcus Stewart.
However, it was another Huddersfield lad in Chris Billy who had the final say with a brave diving headed winner.
Booth added: “You don’t forget days like that. Going down Wembley Way, all you saw was blue and white. It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
“Then scoring your at Wembley is something you always dream of. I didn’t have five or 10 minutes to enjoy my goal, though, because Marcus scored.
“After we scored again, I remember him having a late shot from about 30 yards. It was going in all the way, I was right behind it, but it just lifted at the last second and hit the crossbar. I thought: ‘This could be our day’.”