A couple of years ago I went down the A1 to watch Huddersfield Town take on Peterborough. Town had suffered a shocking start to the season under Stan Ternent. We were battling at the bottom, despite a summer spending spree which had brought in 11 players and seen much of the previous season's deadwood shipped out. Posh, on the other hand, were going well with their talented side, and were on the fringes of the play-offs.
What unfolded that afternoon is something nightmares are made of. In almost 17 years of watching Town, I've yet to see a side with less passion, less fight, less ability. Peterborough were a decent side, granted, but Town were simply awful. Part of this is down to the team selection. We played 4-5-1, with Liam Dickinson as a lone striker, Jim Goodwin at right back, Andy Holdsworth on the right wing and Matt Glennon in goal. We were shapeless and disorganised, and we paid for it. We lost 4-0.
It's hard to think about days like that when you're a football fan. They inspire a dullness in the pit of your stomach. Saying it feels like a death is going too far, but certainly games like that have you on the edge of tears just thinking about the state of the team you love. Looking back, there are very few games where I've felt anything similar. Losing 4-1 at Oldham 6 months previous to the Peterborough game was one of those days. A few days later, manager Andy Ritchie had got the sack. Macclesfield away, another 4-0 gubbing, is another occasion, although Town reacted to this and went on a run of just 4 defeats in 26 matches, eventually winning promotion via the play-offs.
Peterborough away is one of the top 3 for awful afternoons watching Town. Misery was compounded in the dying seconds when Chris Lucketti was sent off for a professional foul, and manager Ternent came out at the end with his now-infamous Christmas dinner statement. A 0-0 draw on the Tuesday to Yeovil and a 3-2 win over basement side Crewe weren't enough to save the Turnip's job, and he goes down in Town folklore as probably the worst manager the club has ever had.
But my point is that since that day Town have progressed beyond recognition. Two weeks after Ternent left, caretaker manager Gerry Murphy guided Town to a magnificent 2-1 victory at local rivals Leeds, a result that set Town on the winning trail. Eventually, Lee Clark was appointed manager, and guided Town to 9th that season.
Several notable incomings and changes were made between Ternent's departure and the end of the campaign. Goalkeeper Matt Glennon was dropped in favour of hot prospect Alex Smithies - who hadn't even been on the bench under Ternent. Holdsworth reverted to right-back, Goodwin to central midfield. Michael Collins returned to the first team and hit 10 goals from midfield. Incoming was wingman Anthony Pilkington for £500,000 from Stockport. In my opinion, this boy is the best player in League One. He's two-footed, powerful, blessed with great vision and technique.
Last season, even more progress was made. Town finished 6th and lost in the play-offs. The squad was so different from the Ternent days that it's hardly believable that under 2 years were between the end of last season and Ternent's departure. Right-back Lee Peltier, central defender and captain Peter Clarke, strikers Jordan Rhodes and Lee Novak are just a handful of examples of where the club has progressed in its playing staff.
Tomorrow, Town go to Peterborough for the first time since that 4-0 thrashing. The side will have only one survivor: winger Gary Roberts. 1-11, Town are stronger, and Peterborough will be a real test for the new team. Luckily, even if we do get thrashed 4-0, we won't have the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach reserved for hopeless situations. We've progressed to the point where we're unrecognisable from the perpetual underachievers of the last decade. This is a team ready to go back to the Championship.
Come on, Town!
Now, back to the writing.