Football: Jackson big on pride and passion

Huddersfield old boy rekindles spirit as Terriers find their bite. By Guy Hodgson
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The Independent Online
A QUIZ question, albeit of the trick variety: which First Division manager also won a championship medal for playing last season? The answer is Peter Jackson, who appeared in enough matches for Halifax Town last campaign to gain a GM Vauxhall Conference gong.

If your reaction is "who?" then it echoes the predominant one that hurtled round Huddersfield when Jackson was appointed manager of the town's football team 11 months ago. Even those who did know quickly added: "Why?"

There is no incredulity now, or if there is it is the delighted type. When Jackson walked through the doors of the McAlpine Stadium last October, Huddersfield were bottom of the First Division, having gained just four points from 15 matches. Even Manchester City were above them.

Now the club head the First for the first time in 26 years, City are so-so in the Second and the only questions concerning Jackson, who resuscitated Huddersfield to 16th last season, are those that ask what he is doing right. It is a chorus that will not quieten if his side convert a 1-1 first leg draw with Everton into a Worthington Cup second round victory at Goodison tonight.

It has been a turn-around as drastic as the difference between their creaking old home at Leeds Road and the futuristic McAlpine Stadium. As to why, the framed Huddersfield colours in Jackson's office bearing the words "Be proud to wear this shirt" gives a clue.

Jackson, a whole-hearted defender who played 150 games for Town in the early 1990s and was captain of the Bradford City team on the dreadful day of the fire 13 years ago, admits to shedding a tear when he was offered the chance to manage Huddersfield, and places huge emphasis on the old- fashioned virtues of spirit and hard work.

"It's a such a famous old shirt, blue and white stripes, and when I was captain here I used to look forward to putting it on," he said. "That's what I wanted to install in the players. There's no secret to what the fans want to see - pride and passion."

If that is a well-trodden if often elusive road to success, Jackson diverted from the norm when he named his assistants. `Never hire a potential successor' is a well-known maxim in football management, and he ignored it only to the extent he appointed two: Terry Yorath and Terry Dolan.

Folly, on the face of it, in a profession so precarious the health warnings could never be dire enough, but something worked. "If you looked at the league table, you couldn't get a bet on us getting relegated," Jackson said of the situation that faced him and the backroom staff when they arrived. "The players did not enjoy training and they didn't enjoy matches. We were getting beaten too easily."

After five successive League victories and only two defeats this season, that has been addressed. Backbone was transplanted with the signing of the former Everton captain Barry Horne while new avenues of attack have been opened by purchasing Ben Thornley, the former Manchester United winger, who snatched the injury-time winner against Wolves on Saturday.

"The critics said we would be off the top of the First Division after 24 hours, but we are still there after two weeks," Jackson said, "and long may it continue.

"We have waited 26 years to be as high as this so I want the fans and everyone connected with the club to enjoy it. It's important to enjoy the good times. We are getting results because of sheer hard work and we're sitting on top of the table because we deserve to be there."

Whether they will remain there in the near future is open to conjecture, because tonight is the first of three away games that could define their destiny. Win those and supporters will add belief to delighted surprise.

After Everton, the Terriers travel to the Reebok Stadium for what Jackson describes as potentially the most difficult trip of the season against Bolton and, next Tuesday, they meet Stockport County at Edgeley Park - a fixture and a 3-0 defeat that effectively ended Brian Horton's spell in charge last season.

Joe Royle and Bruce Rioch were among the names being touted as Horton's replacement at the time, but instead Huddersfield remembered a 36-year- old former player and called Jackson for a Sunday morning meeting. "I had all the emotions," he said. "I was playing for Halifax 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?'

"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 was not really known outside Yorkshire it was fantastic. The club gambled on me."

To say Huddersfield collected their winnings is an understatement, and last March Jackson signed a new two-year contract that confirmed his place at the McAlpine. "I love this club," he said. "When I first walked through the doors of the old stadium I don't know what it was but I had the feeling `this is for me'. The day that love disappears will be the day I lose my job."

Corny, maybe, but at a time when media moguls can buy football tradition for the price of pounds 623m, it is refreshing, nonetheless.

No matter what happens tonight, you cannot help but feel Jackson and Huddersfield are worthy of whatever success comes their way. Even a GM Vauxhall Conference medal...


P W D L F A Pts

Huddersfld 9 6 1 2 15 10 19

Sunderland 8 5 3 0 22 4 18

Birmingham 9 5 1 3 12 7 16

Bury 9 4 4 1 7 2 16

Watford 8 5 0 3 14 12 15

Sheffield Utd 9 4 2 3 15 16 14

Wolves 8 4 2 2 12 7 14

Bolton 7 3 4 0 18 13 13

West Brom 8 4 1 3 17 14 13

Ipswich 8 3 4 1 12 6 13

Norwich 7 4 1 2 12 8 13

Portsmouth 9 3 3 3 16 13 12

Barnsley 8 3 3 2 12 10 12

Grimsby 9 3 2 4 10 10 11

Stockport 9 2 4 3 9 12 10

Swindon 9 2 2 5 13 20 8

Crewe 8 2 2 4 12 14 8

Bradford C 8 2 2 4 10 13 8

C Palace 7 2 2 3 7 11 8

Port Vale 8 2 1 5 5 14 7

Oxford Utd 9 1 3 5 9 21 6

QPR 8 1 3 4 6 11 6

Bristol City 9 0 4 5 11 20 4

Tranmere 7 0 4 3 4 12 4