LONDON — Huddersfield Town have been promoted to the Premier League.
Let that sink in.
[ MORE: Wagner reacts to “fairytale” ]
The Terriers, for the first time in their history, will play in the PL and for the first time since 1972 they will be in the top-flight of English soccer.
German-American manager David Wagner has worked a miracle to turnaround a team who finished in 19th place in the Championship last season. They beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks on Monday after a tight, tense 120 minutes of action at Wembley Stadium, holding their nerve to seal an estimated windfall of $218 million next season and up to $372 million if they survive in the PL for another season.
All day long, and perhaps all season long, it has felt like Huddersfield were destined for promotion.
Huddersfield sold out their full allocation of tickets, 39,150, and their fans made the most noise all day long. There was no contest.
In central London Huddersfield’s fans piled on to the tube heading to Wembley for their day of reckoning.
“It’s his first full season as a fan!” said a proud mother decked out in a Huddersfield shirt as she hugged her five-year-old son proudly. “What a time to start!” replied a stranger, also a Huddersfield fan.
Excited chatter filled the 15 minute tube ride from Baker Street to Wembley Park as fans “I can’t believe it,” said one fan to another, quietly. “It will hit home when we get into the stadium,” his friend replied.
Steven Sunderland stood outside Wembley with his wife Melanie and their daughter Megan.
He summed up the surprise that Huddersfield were even one game away from the Premier League to start with.
“It would be amazing to play all of the big clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, clubs like that,” Sunderland said. “I never thought we would make it. No chance. I just thought if we make midtable, it would be an improvement on last season because we’ve been struggling with relegation the last few seasons. This season, David Wagner has got the team playing really well, best team spirit I’ve ever seen for a long, long time. The fans are really connected. It shows today, there are nearly 40,000 Huddersfield fans here today and they are up for it.”
Oh yes. Yes they were.
Amid dissecting the struggles of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, talk of just going up to the PL for one year and then enjoying it “no matter how we do” was rife among the Huddersfield fans. One Terriers supporter puffed out his cheeks, gripping his can of cider nervously as he walked up Wembley Way.
Tense was the word of the day.
With the future of both clubs on the line, the game itself didn’t deliver end-to-end excitement. With an estimated $218 million on the line for next season and $370 million if they manage to stay up one year in the PL, the economic benefit for Huddersfield the club, and the town, will be huge.
When Michael Hefele headed wide and Isaiah Brown missed a glorious chance early on, you began to wonder if it was Huddersfield’s day. In the end none of that mattered.
Christopher Schindler stepped up and slotted home the winning penalty kick after Danny Ward saved from Jordan Obita as Huddersfield had reached the promised land.
Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle summed up his emotions after taking over the club and putting in a prudent plan for promotion involving loan players and a budget less than $12 million this season.
“I’m so emotional. To say I’ve been supporting this club since 1969, to be a Premier League team now – dreams come true,” Hoyle said. “It’s huge what it means for Huddersfield, we’re on the big stage. It proves you don’t have to blow your brains to get promoted. We’ve done it the right way.”
What impact will this have on the Yorkshire town?
Sunderland and his family summed it up perfectly as yet another underdog, just like Bournemouth, Blackpool and Burnley before them, has risen to the promised land.
“It is massive. It is the land of milk and honey if you like, the place where everybody wants to be,” Sunderland said. “It will be brilliant, for the town. Just that little bit of success makes a big difference. We’ve been on TV this season more times than we have been the last 10 seasons. Next year it will be high profile very week. Match of the Day, on TV… Champions League the year after!? You never know.”
Melanie Sunderland simply said of a potential promotion that “people will stop laughing at us and won’t call us ‘that little town’ anymore.”
That little town in Yorkshire (population 162,00) will have the eyes of the world watching it next season.
What did Wagner have to say?
He told ProSoccerTalk he wants Huddersfield to keep the identity he has helped build, then nurture.
“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves. This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”
They certainly are. Even if their fans can’t quite believe it.
As some posed for photos outside the electronic board at Wembley which said “congratulations Huddersfield!” others stood around in disbelief.
A group of three young Yorkshiremen sat on the tube back to Baker Street in stunned silence.
“We are going to be on Match of the Day!” said one fan, rubbing his hands in glee as he recites an intro to next years show which, of course, features Huddersfield top of the bill.
Discussion then switches to which games they’re most looking forward to. Arsenal, Liverpool and Man United away tops the list.
“We can’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said one fan as they looked at each other with dropped jaws.
Believe it, lads.
Watch out, Premier League. Huddersfield are on their way.