Football: Jackson central to Town redevelopment

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The Independent Online
Huddersfield Town strayed from the norm when they appointed their manager, and so far have been rewarded for their enterprise.

Guy Hodgson talked to Peter Jackson as he prepared for today's FA Cup fourth-round tie against Wimbledon.

It does not take a rocket scientist to work out the commodity Peter Jackson trades in. Behind the desk in his office at the McAlpine Stadium is a glass case in which the colours of Huddersfield Town are displayed. "Be proud and honoured to wear this shirt," the caption reads.

It is what Jackson, who installed this motivational tool, believes made him. Commitment, an anxiety to be seen to be working hard, call it what you will, it got him to be captain of the club and, subsequently, made him an unusual choice as manager. When the Huddersfield players take the field against Wimbledon today, the one mistake which will not be tolerated is not caring.

The usual suspects surfaced as potential replacements for the sacked Brian Horton last October, Joe Royle and Bruce Rioch among them, but Huddersfield resisted their lure and that of fading ex-internationals to go for a 36- year-old former player who was seeing out his coffee and mints days at Halifax Town looking for a job. Anything would do as long as it was in football.

If "who?" was the immediate response from outside Yorkshire, then "why?" followed immediately afterwards. The impressive McAlpine Stadium in the hands of someone who had never been a manager before? Well, it's a disappointment waiting to happen, isn't it?

Some calamity. Since Jackson arrived bringing the sages Terry Yorath and Terry Dolan with him, Huddersfield have stopped being the coconuts of the First Division shy who were rock bottom with no wins and just four points. Nine games in which only two defeats have been suffered have taken them to the relative respectability of 19th place and offered them an opportunity for Cup renown against Wimbledon.

"If you looked at the league table you couldn't take a bet on us getting relegated," Jackson said describing the situation that greeted him. "The players didn't enjoy training, they didn't enjoy matches and there was no real team spirit. We were getting beaten too easily. That's what we've turned round.

"It's such a famous old shirt, blue and white stripes, and when I was captain I used to look forward to putting it on. That's what I wanted to install in the players. What the fans want to see is pride and passion. We won't win every game but we'll give it a go."

The last sentence could sum up Jackson the player. He was a whole-hearted defender, the sort of player whom peers looked to for leadership naturally and who became a pillar beyond the confines of Bradford City after the fire that killed 52 people in May 1985. As captain, he organised hospital visits and fund-raising for the victims, taking the players out into a shocked community.

"I've been asked a 100 times to go through that day but I don't really like to talk about it, it is too horrendous to describe," he said. "It took years and years to get over, if indeed I have. I still think about it now, the memories are clear as they were the day it happened.

"We thought it hadn't affected my younger daughter, Charlotte, who was 18 months old at the time. Then some time later she drew a picture of her dad at work, playing football. The stand she drew had flames coming from it. It was on fire."

The club's promotion from the old Third Division that season was an irrelevence in the face of tragedy, but football helped Bradford move on and, in turn, it elevated Jackson, who joined Newcastle United in the First Division the following year.

It is, he says, the best trophy he ever won when he was awarded player of the season by supporters ahead of two players who have since passed out of the memory. Oh, go on, you might have heard of them: Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley.

It was also at St James' Park that Jackson came closest to the game's highest honours, a fifth- round FA Cup tie against today's opponents. "It was the year they won it, 1988, and I honestly feel if we'd beaten them that day we'd have got to the final. We were playing ever so well, it was a full house and maybe the occasion got too much for us. We were outfought basically, we didn't give them a game that day. You could say I owe Wimbledon one."

From Newcastle Jackson returned to Bradford for pounds 300,000 - "a mistake. I'm remembered now for my two bad years at the end rather than the eight good ones in my first spell" - and then was given a free transfer to Huddersfield. Like a house buyer finding the perfect home, something clicked.

"As soon as I came to the old stadium and walked through the doors I felt as though it was my club," Jackson said. "I don't know what it was but I thought: "This is for me'. My form picked up and I went from strength to strength. From that day to this I've had a wonderful relationship with the staff, the fans, everybody."

The Huddersfield board remembered that as Horton was on his way out, and called Jackson for a Sunday morning meeting. "I had all the emotions. I was playing for Halifax against Kettering on the Saturday and how I got through that game I'll never know because my mind was going, "What questions are they going to ask, what am I going to say'?"

He must have come up with some good answers because Jackson was appointed almost immediately. "Some ex-internationals or managers with 20 years experience don't get interviews for a job like this, never mind get appointed, so for a person who is not really known outside Yorkshire it was fantastic. The club have gambled on me."

So far - with Yorath and Dolan to guide him - so good and a cup run would be an embellishment to a promising start in management. Hudderfield could have lost their shirts when they bet on Jackson, instead they have had one framed.