Blackpool Supporters' Trust column: Lessons Huddersfield teach us
The new Premier League season got up and running last weekend and it was truly heartwarming to see Huddersfield Town, back in the first tier after an absence of 45 years, secure a fantastic away win at Selhurst Park.
For Blackpool fans there is an obvious symmetry with the Seasiders’ own rise to the top in 2010, parallels that serve to evoke bittersweet memories: both Blackpool and Huddersfield were provincial clubs with famous histories but scant achievement in four decades; both reached the Premier League via the drama of a Championship play-off final; both won away handsomely on the opening day to initiate ‘the best trip’ in a lifetime for many supporters.
We all know where that trip was destined to end for Blackpool FC and can recall Ian Holloway’s famous verdict that “unfortunately our castle was built of sand” as we suffered relegation on the final day of the campaign.
And yet, despite all the problems that beset our club at the moment, we hope that somewhere down the line Blackpool FC will get another chance to play in the top division.
Bearing all of the above in mind, BST thought it might be instructive to get an insight from our friends at Huddersfield Town as to the key factors in their rise to the top – given that in 2003 they were struggling at the bottom of the fourth tier, dealing with the fallout from their own negligent owners and wondering whether their 90-year residency in the Football League was all but over.
We spoke with James Chisem of Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association, who had this to say:
“I never thought I’d live to see Huddersfield Town play in the Premier League. And that’s saying something, because at 28 I’m a relative spring chicken!
“The vast majority of pundits predicted we’d be in a relegation battle last season, with one former Blackpool manager even tipping us to finish rock-bottom, which, when you think about it, made perfect sense. For in an era of inflated parachute payments and billionaire benefactors, how are provincial clubs supposed to compete?
“Here are four factors that might just hint at an answer.
“The first is having a sustainable ownership model. This may mean supporter representation, a single, level-headed investor or a proactive foreign consortium – it doesn’t really matter so long as the powers that be always have the long-term interests of the club and its supporters in mind.
“As our chairman Dean Hoyle is fond of pointing out, the word ‘owner’ is essentially a misnomer when applied to football clubs. ‘Custodian’ is a much more fitting term.
“And it helps if those custodians know exactly what it is they’re supposed to be preserving. There are obvious touchpoints, such as a club’s history, colours and crest, but that’s only half the story.
“What about a club’s style of play, organisational structure and role within the community?
“These are all just as important and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Huddersfield’s renaissance coincided with the Board’s decision to clarify its position on all three – gegenpressing, head coach/director of football, family-oriented club. So, that’s number two, having an identity and sticking to it.
“The third is this. Once decision-makers have settled on a specific identity or system, they need to ascertain what skills and attributes will make it work, both on and off the field, while still providing value for money.
“This requires a high-degree of professionalism, prudence and above all patience. Thankfully, these are all qualities that Mr Hoyle possesses in abundance, which goes a long way to explaining why Herr Wagner and his squad of low-cost foreigners and young loanees managed to confound so many expectations throughout 2016-17.
“You see, ever since Wagner swapped the Ruhr Valley for the Colne Valley, pretty much everybody has been pulling in the same direction. The club’s marketing department dubbed this phenomenon the ‘Wagner Revolution’ and it’s defined by cheap season tickets (£199 for adults in all stands), exciting, attacking football and vociferous support from the stands.
“For me the fourth factor is key and it is this sense of common purpose between the club, players, and supporters. It has been the most important ingredient in our recent success.
“I’m sure these observations won’t come as a surprise to Blackpool supporters. As you survey the contrasting fortunes of our respective clubs, you might be forgiven for thinking we inhabit different galaxies but you’ll win in the end, of that I’m certain. In the meantime, Town fans are rooting for you, and HTSA is fully behind the good work that BST is doing on your behalf. Keep the faith.”
Reflecting on what James Chisem had to say, it appears that Huddersfield have a long-term plan that might give their fans Premier League football for more than just one term.
It is also sobering to think how far short of the Huddersfield model Blackpool FC falls on all four key factors – one reason why our tenure at the top was so brief and why our only real legacy from that Premier League season is the sprinkler system!