Steven Chicken, Yorkshire Live writer: As we speak the club’s move for Rolando Aarons has just fallen through due to a last-minute hitch in the deal. Fans were obviously very keen to see Huddersfield sign an attacking player. Does this leave you short now?
Phil Hodgkinson, Huddersfield Town chairman: No, we don’t believe it does.
It’s important to note we have five strikers at the club. Josh Koroma was signed as a striker 12 months ago with a view to us developing him for 12 months and he’s starting to now show what we can do on the pitch. We’ve got Danny Ward, who unfortunately hasn’t been able to play a league game yet due to injury but he’ll be coming back soon. We’ve got Fraizer Campbell. And then we’ve got coming through our academy – and I would say these are B-team players now – we’ve got Kian Harratt and Kieran Phillips. So we have five strikers, if you like, on the books.
It’s really important to note that we are now seen as a club that develops young players and we have signed, in the last 12-18 months, some very high-quality young players at 16 or 17 from under the noses of top-six football clubs and bigger.
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The reason they’ve joined us is because they have seen what’s happened with Lewis O’Brien, Jaden Brown, Demeaco Duhaney, Matty Daly, and they see a faster path to first-team football with us as opposed to going to a top-six club. Half a dozen of our promising players have come to us on the back of better offers from much much bigger Premier League clubs on that basis.
We’ve got a really good reputation now for giving younger players opportunities and we’ve got to be very very careful in that if we continue to sign player after player after player, those younger players do not get a chance of any first-team minutes and therefore 1) their development is slowed down and 2) we lose that reputation we’ve worked very hard to develop over the last 12-18 months that if a very talent players signs for us they are more than likely going to get a stronger chance of first-team football quicker than if they sign for a top-end Premier League club.
That’s really important to us, that reputation now, and you’ll see with some of the other signings we’re making at the moment and will make in those age groups that we are bringing in a higher quality of player at that level now and that will have a really big effect on the football club over the next two, three, four years. So there’s a little bit of that as well.
You’ve also got to bear in mind that we’ve got a really tight group again now. We’ve got everyone playing for each other in a really tight group.
The more bodies you throw at a group, the bigger the group gets, then the more that’s diluted.
Leigh Bromby, Huddersfield Town head of football operations: You can see the way we play under Carlos [Corberan] is very attacking and we get a lot of players in the box.
The closest we’ve got to his sort of style, as me and Phil understood when we interviewed him and we spoke to him, was against Rotherham.
We both knew this would take time so a new head coach coming in to this situation, we knew it’s a long-term project.
I thought against Rotherham was the most positive performance I’ve seen at a football game for a very long time and that was promising – the amount of people we got in the box, the chances that we created, was excellent; the cutbacks…it’s all linked to the style that Phil and I have bought into with Carlos.
We feel we’ve got players in this building that we can develop and improve, because that’s what we’re about; and we think the attacking options we have for this level, we believe in those players, and we believe Carlos will get the best out of those players.
PH: We’ve got to not just make sure that we’re adding the right players in the right positions with the right ability, but also with the right attitude and the right approach that will fit into the group. It makes the job a little bit harder but now that we’ve got that togetherness again it’s really important that we keep it, so we have to be very very careful on who we add to the group and why we add them.
We’ve got faith in the head coach, we’ve got faith in the coaching team, we’ve got faith in our younger players, that if we do have a couple of injuries or we do have niggles and knocks between now and January that we’ve got players who can step in.
We’ve seen that already – we’ve seen little cameos from Josh Austerfield and Ben Jackson and so on – and we don’t want to stifle their progress.
I know that maybe won’t excite some supporters but we really have faith in these young players and we really have faith in Carlos on the coaching staff to get the best out of them.
LB: I think it’s important what Phil touched on there – you look at Romoney Crichlow, who got man of the match against Nottingham Forest, and the idea with these younger players and why we changed the academy and the strategy of that was to provide that for the club.
It was a fantastic evening for him and for us as a staff and a club, someone making their debut and playing at such a high level.
We genuinely believe we’ve got a number of those players and that’s something we’ve worked on for the last two or three years and it’s why Carlos was selected by us as a club because we look at the training that’s in place at the minute and it’s probably the highest level I’ve seen in my career, and that’s both playing and watching a lot of training sessions and being on a lot of courses.
That’s why we made the decision for Carlos to come in, because you see the performance of someone like Romoney at that level and it’s good to see that.
So there’s been a lot of positives so far and like Phil mentioned we don’t want to fill the squad with players that are just going to sit on the bench and stop the opportunity for these younger players.
SC: I don’t think anyone would object to the idea of developing young players, but I think there was a feeling – and I’ve expressed this myself as well – that perhaps recruits were needed for the front three. On the wing you’ve got Diakhaby and Mbenza, who were dropped from the club last year, and Koroma who you’ve mentioned, who has still looked a bit raw at times. So what would you say to the criticism that you needed to sign someone now who is ready to slot straight into the team?
PH: I think we want to make sure we’re signing the right players that make us better and we believed that Rolando would do that.
Unfortunately we couldn’t get it done and that’s life and it happens, but we still are confident that he’s the right player, so rather than bringing someone in at the last minute or bringing in someone else…he’s our top target, he remains so, and what we’d rather do is get through the next 10 weeks to January and get it done then rather than bring in somebody that maybe doesn’t tick all the boxes Rolando did.
It’s frustrating for us, it’s frustrating for everyone, but it does happen.
We always look at the free agent market and we’ll continue to do that and if at any point between now and January we feel that there’s a real real need for us to do something and the right player under the right circumstances and the right deal comes along then we’ll do it.
But we’re trying to minimise the numbers of mistakes that we make in recruitment and I still don’t believe we’ve made that many. People will disagree with that and football is a game of opinions, but what we’ve tried to do is make sure we don’t make too many mistakes so that we don’t panic and we don’t rush. It’s important for me as chairman that we get the right players in for the team rather than panic-buying players just to be popular, which doesn’t do a football club any favours at all.
We want the right players that fit what we want and fit the group, and yeah, on this occasion we were all absolutely gutted, nobody moreso than me that we didn’t get it over the line. But we’ll hold our nerve and look to do it January and it may well be that we look to add further bodies if an opportunity comes up that’s the right opportunity between now and then. Absolutely we’ll consider and look to do it.
SC: People will question why it took until deadline day to try and get Rolando Aarons in or try to finalise that signing. Did the Karlan Grant move getting delayed and delayed play a part in the delay in bringing in an attacker?
PH: Very much so. If Karlan Grant wasn’t going to go this window then we didn’t need to bring in another player in that area.
The reality is that I’ve got to do what’s best for the football club and up until Wednesday night-Thursday morning the deal still just wasn’t right, and if I’d accepted that I don’t think our fans would have been over the moon.
To have done the deal just to get it done would not have been the right thing to do for the football club.
The deal for Rolando was ready to go but we didn’t need to fill that position if the deal for Karlan didn’t go through. Ultimately it didn’t go through until Thursday, at which point we set everything in motion with Rolando. He was already in the area, we did his medical on Friday, and we got on with the process and it was ready to go. It was just unfortunate that something happened very very late on with minutes to go that meant that we just couldn’t do it.
It was just one of those things, not something we could have expected or provided for, but that’s life and we’ve just got to accept that sometimes these things happen in football.
SC: One thing you talked about last summer and that the club has done well previously, including in January, was loans from the Premier League. There’s been fewer of them this time around. What’s the thinking behind that?
PH: Again, it’s the right players.
We had the opportunity to look at one or two loans but when we looked at the players and Carlos looked at the players his advice to myself and Leigh was that he felt they were no better than the players we already had in the building coming through our own academy and it would be a waste of money.
You’ve also got to bear in mind that this has been a really strange summer. It’s been a very short break between seasons, so Premier League clubs’ attitudes was very much that if they were going to make players available for loan it would be at the very very last minute, it would be after the start of the season when they saw where their squads were.
There were significantly fewer young players from Premier League clubs made available and other clubs have been keeping them with them for the same reasons we’re doing. There’s a real look towards youth and whilst spending in the Premier League hasn’t really slowed down certainly I think there’s been fewer moves, the number of players moving has been smaller.
So there weren’t as many players available for loan. We did enquire about some without a shadow of a doubt. We’d already made it clear to Arsenal before the end of the season that if Emile Smith Rowe was available we wanted him but they wanted him in their first-team squad. We enquired with Chelsea about Trevoh Chalobah but they wanted him to have another challenge abroad. We did go in for a number of other players but some of them simply weren’t available for loan.
It’s a very very different market at the moment. That may change in January and we’ll continue to look at that, and as always if it’s the right player and the right deal then we’ll absolutely consider it.
SC: For all you say that though there have been a lot of high-profile players who have left the club or been sold – Karlan, Steve Mounie, Elias Kachunga, even Jon Gorenc Stankovic people will point to – but the players that have come in it’s been loans, free transfers, and in Pipa a bit of a bargain. Is that a conscious decision you’ve made, is that financially motivated – where’s the money gone?
PH: The money hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s in the club. As a football club, as I was saying to you before we started this chat…insofar as how much money has the club spent from being in the Premier League, it’s on Companies House available for everybody to be able to see in the company accounts.
To try and compete at that level costs a lot more than the money you get in those seasons.
We’re in the midst of a global pandemic and that has already cost us millions. We’ve lost parachute payments that we’re going to have to give back, masses of revenues, and things like that.
So where that money’s going is it’s staying in the bank because we don’t know how long this will last for. We don’t know whether or not we’re going to have our revenues back to normal in 3 months, 6 months, 9, 12, 18, 24. No-one knows how long this is going to continue.
We’ve still got a wage bill at the start of this season that’s double what it was the last time we were in the Championship, so we don’t have a small wage bill. We’ve got to look at that and we’ve got to be prudent. I’m the custodian of the football club and it’s my job to make sure the football club is here.
We are financially fine, we’re financially sound. We’re not one of those clubs that’s been talked about in the media as being in trouble in the Championship, that’s not us.
Myself and Mark [Devlin] have very vociferous on national radio but that’s because we love football and we care about football and actually there are too many people for me in football who don’t say what needs to be said. I’m probably opening myself up to criticism by saying what needs to be said but if I feel strongly about something then I’ll talk about it.
So that money’s in the bank and that’s where that money will stay to make sure we continue as a football club to be in a sound financial footing and position.
The flipside of that, the other half of it, is that because of coronavirus football is seeing a step change, and now there’s so many players, good quality footballers, who have been released by football clubs because they can’t afford to continue to pay the wages.
So there’s a lot of players been released, a lot of players out of contract where options haven’t been taken up, and some real quality.
What’s been offered to players now particularly in the Championship, League One and League Two is coming down, the wages, but we still as a football club have a high wage bill and we have high earners at this football club.
As a football club I took a decision and the board took a decision – we don’t believe and didn’t believe that throwing more money at it was the solution. From being in the Premier League and being successful again, we didn’t believe that throwing a lot of money at it was the way to do it.
We’ve got a very firm plan and…I make no apology to supporters, I know they would love to know the ins and outs of that, but no football club in the history of football has come out to the world and said “this is our plan” in most intricate details. But we have a really clear plan.
In a nutshell we believe the right way to do this is take the football club right back to basics, back to its original principles, which I think we got lost along the way in the Premier League, and make those squad transitions.
It’ll take as long as it takes unfortunately and this hasn’t helped, it’s slowed things down, the market is really hard at the minute, it’s really difficult. We dug our heels in on Karlan and any transfers to get the best deal for the club. We’re in a fortunate position to be able to do that.
But I believe and we believe that the way to do this is not to fling a load of money at it. It’s got nothing to do with whether we’ve got it or not. They’re expensive mistakes, and as a club we’ve made some expensive mistakes, every football club has, so the way we view it is: we’ve now got a fantastic head coach, and his philosophy and his style of play and the way he goes around things and what he’s done to the atmosphere and the attitude of people is unbelievable. He’s fantastic.
He’s got a style of play and we’ve not had that for a couple of years, we’ve not had ‘this is our style of play’. What that allows us to do as a football club is we know what type of player we want in every position, we know what he wants as a head coach and what fits his style, and that allows us to recruit specifically to how we want to play.
So rather than just signing a right-back or a left-back or a centre-half or a midfielder, we actually know exactly what we’re looking for and the recruitment team know what Carlos wants and what we’re looking for. That allows us to narrow down the ability to make those mistakes.
As a custodian what I want to try and do is make sure that if we do make any mistakes they’re not expensive ones.
If you look at every Championship club, if you look at the EFL, I think the stats I saw yesterday were that transfer spend is down 75% this window compared to the last summer window. We love this net spend phrase but if you look at that in the Championship, there’s no Championship club that’s throwing money around because everyone’s doing what we’re doing which is being sensible.
Free transfers are not to be frowned upon. We have spent money. When the accounts come out for this season, what supporters will see if they look on Companies House is that by the time we get to the end of this season we will have spent over £13m on transfer fees because we’re still paying transfer fees from the Premier League because that hasn’t stopped yet. There’s a lot of that going on.
We’re not specifically looking for free transfers, we’re not specifically looking for loans, we’re not specifically looking for cheap players. What we’re looking for is the right player to fit the style and the philosophy that Carlos wants and I think this window we’ve done a good job of that, I think the team have done a good job of that, and we’ve been fortunate that we’ve not had to break the bank to do it.
SC: So the fact you’ve been outspoken in the national media shouldn’t be taken as any indication that Huddersfield Town are in trouble?
PH: Absolutely not.
SC: So based on the current forecasts, if there were no sales, no purchases, no players in or out…how long would the club be able to keep going based on the current forecasts?
PH: As it stands we’re absolutely fine.
God forbid but if there were no fans back in stadia for the rest of this season, we’re fine. If there’s no fans in for the whole of next season as well, then we’ll have to be even more careful than we’re being now, because the reality is this affects everybody.
It’s affected every business in and outside of football: it’s affected my business, it’s affected every business that I know of, so you can’t put the football club at risk by making rash decisions.
I know that probably is not something that will excite supporters, it doesn’t necessarily excite me as a supporter, but it’s in the best interests of the football club and we’ve got to do what’s right for the football club.
If a vaccine comes out in three months’ time and the situation changes then our philosophy will change and we’ll approach it slightly differently, but what we’ve got to do is what’s right for the football club.
We will always be fine. The longer this goes on, the more prudent we have to be, basically.
I don’t have any concerns about the solvency of this football club.
SC: We talk about looking in the accounts and if fans do go and look at the accounts for last season they’ll see there’s been £15m repaid to Dean Hoyle and will be for the next couple of years as well. Can you understand why fans might look at that and wonder if that money could have been invested in the squad?
PH: It wouldn’t really be reasonable of me to comment on that. I think to be fair that it’s been done to death a few times and that was a decision that was made.
The reality is Dean Hoyle is a lifelong Huddersfield Town supporter, the most successful chairman of the modern era, possibly of all time, took the football club to somewhere we only ever dreamed would be possible, and spent a significant amount of his own personal fortune that he’s worked all his life from nothing to build up.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Dean to want some or all of that repaid. To be fair to Dean, Dean’s never going to do anything that puts this football club in a difficult position and in fact he’s already deferred one of his payments to assist the football club because of the situation that we football finds itself in as a whole.
There’s nothing really else from my perspective to say on that. I could understand on the one hand why fans would prefer that money to be spent on players or on the football club but on the other hand I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to just write that off.
SC: The other thing in the last set of accounts was there was a pretty sizeable bank loan. Has that been repaid in full?
PH: Just like any football club there are loans for various things and bank loans but as with any bank loan there’s a repayment schedule and that’s in the forecast and doesn’t cause us any issues or anything of that nature. It gets paid off over a short period of time and ultimately the plan is that the football club will be a debt-free football club in the fullness of time.
It might take a tiny bit longer with what we’re going through at the moment but the plan was we’d be a debt-free football club that was managed sensibly.
Football has got out of control, financially football has got out of control.
I believe we will continue to be a competitive football club as we move forward over the next few years.
SC: With all these things added together – the perceived lack of spending on players, the loans and so on – can you understand why the fans have been quite frustrated over the last few months? And why hasn’t this kind of conversation been had with them before?
PH: I can understand absolutely where there might be some frustrations. Some of these are things that you just don’t talk about: you don’t see football clubs out there coming out and discussing with the fans the finances and everything that goes on. It’s just not the done thing. You don’t see businesses doing that either.
I can understand to a degree some of the frustrations but I would temper that by saying that perhaps some of the information that fans would like to hear is not the kind of information that football clubs discuss with supporters and I don’t see us as being any different.
What I wanted to do was do something like this at the appropriate time, preferably at the end of the transfer window, but we can’t discuss everything with supporters, we can’t tell supporters everything.
The financial side of everything at football clubs, the accounts come out every year, they’re there for public consumption, but that level of information is just not something I’ve ever seen football clubs go into with supporters in a scenario like this.
We’ve got a job to do and our job is the do the best for Huddersfield Town football club in the circumstances we’re in and we’re confident with what we’re doing, we’re confident with where we’re taking the football club, we’re confident on the path we’re following, we’re confident on the plan that we’ve got in place and we’re sticking to that plan, and we’re confident that we’ve got the right people in place.
It will just take time for that to all gel and come together and hopefully supporters in the fullness of time will see that and hopefully some people’s minds will be changed.
SC: The other thing people might look at would be the shirt sponsorship situation, the fact there’s still no sponsor on the front of the shirt. Is it the case that nobody’s come with an appropriate offer and should the club have dropped their asking price perhaps?
PH: That’s been sorted and there will be announcements next few weeks. The front of shirt sponsor is sorted and that will be announced in the coming weeks. We’re doing something different and innovative and hopefully that will tick a lot of boxes.
From my perspective with made a mistake last year with Paddy Power. It was good for them, it wasn’t good for us in lots of ways.
It’s a mistake and we have to hold our hands up. That wasn’t good for the football club overall. We did a one-year deal, most clubs in the Championship have done two- or three-year deals which is why they’ve not had a problem with shirt sponsorship.
Covid’s had a massive effect. We’ve had a lot of interest in shirt sponsorship but every time we’ve got to a point to get one over the line that company’s board or whatever have decided that due to the pandemic…we had one nearly over the line last week and then Boris announced there were going to be further lockdowns and they just said ‘we just can’t risk it’.
Companies aren’t spending money on shirt sponsorship. The vast majority of the deals in the Championship were more than one year deals so this year was already a given.
The biggest sponsors in the Championship and the Premier League are betting companies and the deal that we did last season with Paddy Power alienated us from the vast majority of betting companies this season.
We’ll learn from that mistake, it’s a mistake, I hold my hands up, I’m the chairman of the football club. It’s a mistake and we’ll learn from it.
But the front of shirt is sorted. It wasn’t necessarily a situation of us thinking we were worth more or anything like that, we weren’t particularly asking for anything ridiculous, but with the best will in the world 90% of the issue is the coronavirus pandemic because people are not spending money on luxury items.
SC: Can you understand though Phil, that with the lack of a shirt sponsor, fans feeling like the club haven’t invested in players, the situations with Rolando Aarons, the difficult season you had last year, the sudden change of manager…why people might feel that things are a bit disordered at the moment?
PH: I can understand why they might think that. It’s the opposite of the reality.
We’ve got a plan. We are working to it, we are sticking to it rigidly. We’ve got to be brave, we are being brave, and we know exactly what we want to do and we’re executing it. The only thing we can’t control is how long it takes.
I can understand supporters getting that feeling but as a football club…again, the expectation of us to explain everything we’re doing every other day, football clubs don’t do that.
I think maybe expectations on that front are out of kilter with reality so I can sympathise and understand but I can assure you – and I’m sure that Leigh would happily give his opinion – but we’re sticking to the plan and we’re on target. We’re happy with the progress we’re making and Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you try and rush things you make mistakes and in football mistakes are expensive.
There’s been a lot of criticism over mistakes that have been made in the past, particularly in the Premier League, particularly around how much money we’ve paid for people and things like that. So to rush everything and give everybody what they want is an impossibility in football, but it’s also where you make expensive mistakes and we’ve got to avoid that.
SC: The signings that have been made, to be fair, do look pretty shrewd. Carel Eiting has shown moments of quality and if you can get him on a ball a bit more I think we’ll see a lot more out of him, Naby Sarr looks really well-suited to this style, and I think Pipa in particular has caught the eye. Are you happy with the work you’ve done in the window?
LB: Yeah, definitely. Just to go back on the comment before, you mention disorder and this is why we made a brave decision.
I feel those players may not be the most exciting or the biggest transfer fees but they fit. That’s it, really really simple.
SC: As in they fit the club well, or…?
LB: The style, the club, the culture, the supporters, the type of player, the brand, whatever you want to call it, people talk about philosophies and everything…to Huddersfield Town as a club they fit the plan Phil is referring to.
I think the “disordered” and those thing the supporters might be feeling…that’s the decision and the brave decision Phil make ultimately in the summer, and it allows you then…Phil has spoken about knowing exactly what type of player we need for this club. That’s off the pitch, on the pitch, who represents the supporters in the Huddersfield Town way. I feel we’ve got that right this summer.
Players will do well, they’ll get injured, they’ll have dips of form, but I feel really positive with the players we’ve brought in and limited the mistakes with the amount of money that was spent.
That’s due to a plan and due diligence and the work we’ve done behind the scenes to make sure they fit exactly what we’re trying to do.
We could have gone out and signed a lot more players. Carlos has had that option to sign players, which is the recruitment guys’ job to bring players to him, and he feels we’ve got players in the building he can work with.
We’re really pleased with the players and how they’ve done so far. We’ll have games where we win and lose but the signs so far are that they’ve performed well when they’ve come in.
That’s credit to the coaching staff, credit to the recruitment guys, because there’s been no pre-season, and if you look at our team I don’t think the same team has played in consecutive games. Credit to those guys for coming in: Naby Sarr has not trained since he finished with Charlton, comes in, hasn’t played a pre-season game, comes into the Rotherham game, and I thought was outstanding to say I think he’d had a week’s training.
There’s a lot of good work going on and I think it’s exciting for the supporters.
I understand the frustrations from before. This club’s has huge success. I think the highest the club had finished since I’ve been at the club was 16th in the Championship and they went on a journey that was unbelievable, and I enjoyed it as much as everyone else, it was excellent to be here at this club.
I think there’s a reset button and it’s not exciting and it’s going to be long term but that reset button is being hit and I hope the fans come on board because this is a new era.
Phil owns the club now and people might like him or not, that’s personality, and we’re really hopeful and determined to make sure this club moves forward in a way that when I came to this club, the excitement around the supporters and what we were trying to do was there.
When you get that backing from the supporters and from all the staff and all the players you can feel it.
The fans help hugely with that and I think the direction we’re going, we’ll be as honest as we can be. We can’t tell everyone the detail of the plan and what we’re trying to do and what we speak about every day, every night…
PH: Every hour.
LB: Every hour! Because there’s some trade secrets. We’ll be as open and honest as we can be but one thing we’ll genuinely do and everybody is doing at this club is work as hard as we can. The lights at the training ground are staying on later and later, so we might have to raise some money for the bills!
That’s what we wanted, we wanted a hard-working team, and that’s all we can give to the supporters.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with two owners who are supporters of the club. I’ve played at clubs and been involved at other clubs where those owners are not supporters and this is the best feel. To be a supporter of a club where the owners are supporters, I can guarantee you, every other club’s supporters would like that.
SC: Phil, have you put any of your own money into the club?
PH: Yep, and that will be reflected in the accounts for the season.
SC: So is that the accounts that will be out in March this year?
PH: No, this year’s accounts [2020/21]. So that will be [published in] 2022. But I have indeed.
SC: Can you give us an idea of how much you might have put in?
PH: You might be better off waiting until the accounts come out because it goes up every month! [laughs]
SC: I wrote a piece earlier this summer after you dismissed the Cowleys, or the club took the decision to dismiss the Cowleys, saying your reputation as a chairman would live or die by what would happen next under Carlos Corberan. Are you still confident you’re going to come out with your reputation intact having made that change and that things are moving in the right direction?
PH: I couldn’t be any happier with the decision that we made to bring in Carlos. Could not be any happier.
He’s an absolutely superb head coach, his work ethic, the coaches he’s brought with him, what I see on the training pitch, what I see in the players, what I see in the staff here, it’s night and day. The atmosphere, the style of play, the way they train, everything, it’s absolutely night and day.
I’ve got a good relationship with Carlos, we get on, I’ve got a good relationship with him, and I trust him implicitly, I trust in what he’s doing, I trust in his decisions, I trust in the players he’s wanted to bring in.
Absolutely unequivocally 100%. If I could go more than 100% I would.
I absolutely think the decision that we made, and it wasn’t just me, is going to be an unbelievable one for this football club in the fullness of time.
LB: Yeah, that’s something to touch on as well is that it was a collective board decision. I read an article from the Rotherham manager after the game where he came out and said we’re the best team they’ve played performance-wise.
Now, we didn’t win the game, but the board decided together that we wanted that identity…going to a team like Rotherham, dominating the game, showing a real style, is what we wanted as a club. I’m sure the supporters do as well.
PH: Yeah, We wanted to go back to enjoying watching us play football again, and I am. I’m enjoying watching us play football. That’s the starting point for me. It’s not whether you spend £500m on players…if you can enjoy watching your team play football, you build it from there.
We’re four league games in and I’m already enjoying watching us play football.
I might not enjoy every game but I’ve said I’m enjoying watching us play football again already four league games in. I’m happy.
SC: Anything else either of you two want to add?
David Threlfall-Sykes, Huddersfield Town marketing and communications director: I have something to add.
Just on the comms piece…I think these two guys spoke about two different sides of it, and what I would say, Steve, and I said this in the All Together Town meeting when we had that…the first thing I’d say is that maybe not in the same way but we have been communicating, and you did a piece where you said all the things we have said over the summer… maybe we’ve done it in different formats, different ways.
We said this to one of the fans’ panel groups we have, so in a sense that in itself is a form of communication as well, but there comes a point and I think we probably reached it – and this is my call, ultimately, and I’m very lucky that Phil trusts me to do this, which is why he’s put me in this position…
We’ve done more talking as a football club over my 15 years than any other club in this country, I would back that, through the chairmen we’ve had through that whole period, and in a lot of way it’s been great, particularly when we’ve been on an upwards trajectory, it’s a really pleasant experience.
Over the last two and a half years we have not had a good time of it on the pitch. We haven’t won enough football games, that’s what it fundamentally comes down to. We all know this, we all want to win more, but we didn’t.
We spoke a lot through that first period, particularly when Phil first came in as well, about his intentions for the club: why we put Jan [Siewert] in, why we put Danny [Cowley] in, and the full intentions and honest view on why we’d done that in the hopes that it works out. In the due course of time we had mixed degrees of success on that.
We felt like we’d reached a point where we needed to start delivering some things on the pitch instead of just talking incessantly about it.
PH: That’s exactly it.
DTS: Because ultimately if you keep talking about what you’re trying to do and not achieving it, it discredits and devalues what you’re saying, and rightly so in my view.
This is probably ironic as the person in charge of communications but there’s a time when you need to deliver on things and I felt we had reached that point.
When we brought Carlos in there was obviously a lot of talk and speculation from supporters about why the previous management duo left, why we were doing this…we completely knew that was coming.
PH: Oh, yeah.
DTS: That wasn’t a surprise. We tried to be as honest as we could be without going into endless detail, and then it was a case that we knew what Carlos was going to do here. Leigh had spent an awful lot of time with Carlos and we knew what we were getting with him, and we knew it would be a big change internally here as well as externally and hopefully on the pitch in due course.
But talking about it and actually doing it are two different things and we felt like we’d reached a point where we had to deliver some things rather than just talk about what we want to do. The plan was always to do this with you, with us, with other media outlets, to explain after the event why we had done some of the stuff we had.
The end of the transfer window is an obvious point to have this kind discussion.
SC: You don’t want to go and say “we’ve got loads of money” or “we’ve got no money” or…
DTS: Yeah, because ultimately we’ve got some pretty big negotiations to do. Karlan Grant is a big transfer for this football club, and if we were talking about the things Phil’s talking about here about the current economic climate, it doesn’t do much for your negotiating power while you’re speaking to other clubs about these things. There are relevant times to speak about things.
Like Leigh says we will always try and be as open as possible with our supporters. The relationship with the supporters and the importance that has for the success of the club and the success of the team on the pitch, we’ve seen that, we’ve lived that.
The first year in the Premier League, one of the main reasons we stayed in the division in my view was the home atmosphere and how all-together and how pulling the same direction we were as a club.
PH: And we got a fast start as well, we got the momentum from being promoted and got some points on the board.
DTS: We want that back
PH: We do.
DTS: And a big part of that is for us to tell fans what we’re trying to do. If it was just a case of saying everything to everyone all the time I probably wouldn’t be here, there’d be no need for me. Timing is a big thing in football.
I’m not saying we’ve got it perfectly right – we’ve made mistakes and we probably will in the future – but the intentions are there.
PH: Covid has had an effect. Because it’s stopped things, slowed things down, or we’ve even not known ourselves what’s happening, you can’t communicate about certain things.
Fans want to know what’s happening with getting fans back in the ground, what’s happening with the shirt sponsorship, what’s happening with this…it’s been impossible to say anything because we haven’t known ourselves.
Genuinely, in my business and in this transfer window, I’ve never lived through a weirder period in 48 years of my life. It’s bizarre! Some of the stuff that I’m seeing and decisions people are making…it’s almost like, we’re best just waiting to see how this pans out before we say anything.
I’ve seen things be agreed and then within 48 hours a complete backtrack, both in football and business.
It’s been a really strange time and it’s affecting businesses and people and we’ve been in a situation whereby we haven’t really been able to say anything because it might change tomorrow. It’s been really difficult.
DTS: You layer that with the fact that naturally as a football fan you’re going to feel disengaged from your club right now because the core, the fulcrum, of being a football fan is going to games, seeing your team, seeing your friends, reading the programme, doing whatever.
That’s been taken away and it’s dreadful. We are four of the people who are lucky enough to be able to get to go to the football games right now and I think I’d speak for all of us in saying it’s a completely different experience.
I can’t sit there and put myself fully in the mind of a fan, like I was before I started work here, and imagine what that must feel like, but I imagine it’s pretty crap.
At that point, when you’re already feeling disengaged from football because you can’t go, you’re even more focused…like I say, I’m not saying we’ve got everything right, far from it…
PH: We’re not narcissistic, we’re not megalomaniacs, we don’t think we’ve got everything right. But we are doing our best.
DTS: Live and learn. I think the main message is it’s our full intention to be as open and as honest with supporters as we possibly can be at all points.