Horton riding the Huddersfield revolution

High hopes: the futuristic Alfred McAlpine Stadium forms an impressive backdrop to Brian Horton's early achievements as the manager of Huddersfield Town Photograph: Simon Wilkinson; First Division innovators greet Wimbledon in today's FA Cup fifth round. Glenn Moore met their manager'We could have had a smaller stadium, but we decided to build something for the next 100 years''They had just got promoted, had a brand new stadium and I could bring my own staff in'
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Huddersfield. The very name conjures images of cloth caps and cotton mills, dole queues and slate grey skies. Its football, like its textile industry, seemed consigned to the past. Huddersfield Town are better remembered for being beaten 10-1 by Manchester City nine years ago, than for winning three successive championships in the 1920s.

But, go to the town and look around. The grimy smokestacks and confident Victorian buildings that are landmarks in such towns are present, but so is something else: the most imaginative new sports stadium in Britain.

Even on a cloudy day, the Alfred McAlpine Stadium is stunning. It has to be seen to be believed, ideally from the hills overlooking the town. From a pillar-box housing estate, one looks down upon a blue-and-white space station, part-Richard Rodgers, part-Buck Rogers. Great crescents of white steel arch over the ground, fringing curved blue roofs. It was the Royal Institute of British Architects' Building of the Year last year, and it is not even finished. It is a stadium for Paris or Rome, not an unfashionable West Yorkshire town. It is also an example for all football clubs looking to relocate.

"It is putting the place on the map," Paul Fletcher said. "We wanted to make a statement." Fletcher was once a centre-forward for Bolton, Burnley and Blackpool. Now he is the chief executive at Huddersfield and one of the founding fathers of the new ground.

"It would have been possible to build a Scunthorpe or a Walsall, a smaller stadium. Funding that would have been relatively straightforward. We decided that if we did that we would be relegating the club forever to the lower divisions. We decided to build something for the next 100 years.

"We had to find a Jack Walker, or a partner. There was not a Jack Walker in town so the only potential partner was the local authority [Kirklees]. By going into business with them we were able to build a community stadium, a place that stays open seven days a week. It has not cost Huddersfield Town one penny."

The cash (pounds 18m so far) has come from the sale of the old Leeds Road ground, various grants, commercial loans and sponsors (like McAlpine). The council and football club own 40 per cent, the rugby league club, who ground-share, 20 per cent.

"It was the only way forward. Huddersfield Town would have struggled to stay in business. They needed pounds 2-3m just to refurbish the old ground, and it would still have been an old ground with no extra facilities."

When it is completed the new ground will have 25,000 seats, a 10-screen cinema, a swimming pool, private health and leisure club, bars and restaurants and even hotel rooms (converted for weekday use from executive boxes). It has already hosted two REM concerts, which put pounds 3m into the local economy.

"But this stadium is not something to come and look at and say 'isn't this wonderful'," Fletcher added. "The key to this is what goes on on the field. Nothing else matters."

That is the responsibility of Brian Horton who, like the club, has undergone a change of image. The beard which served during his playing days at Luton and Brighton, and for 13 years of management, has gone. He now has a clean- jawed look which appears to have taken years off him. Or maybe it is the relief of being out of Maine Road after two years on the brink of the axe.

No, insists Horton, the pressure was never a problem. "I like to enjoy it," he said. "I never take it home. I do not lose sleep over it. I have had too good a time out of football to worry about it. Manchester City is gone. It is no good looking back in football and being bitter. Whether they go down or stay up I could not really care less."

But there must be times when he looks at their season and thinks, maybe I am not as bad as you thought I was? "Course there is, I'm human. That is human nature, but it is gone."

After leaving City in May Horton was interviewed by Bolton, Derby and Luton before he and Huddersfield settled on each other. "They had just got promoted - 99 per cent of times you take over a club in trouble. They had a brand new stadium, I could bring my own staff in, and they made me a very good offer. I could also stay in Manchester where my children are settling into a new school."

Horton took over a team which had been promoted through the play-offs only to lose Neil Warnock, their manager, to Third Division Plymouth. Horton, who has never been relegated, was told to ensure Huddersfield stayed up. He was fortunate in that the leading scorer, England under- 21 international Andy Booth, is a local lad who wants to play for Huddersfield, not Manchester United.

He has made changes, spending pounds 700,000 to bring in the young Welsh international defender Steve Jenkins, the veteran goalkeeper Tony Norman, Paul Dalton from Plymouth and Lee Makel, who had disappeared at Blackburn.

Huddersfield have subsequently done a lot more than just survive. They have lost two of their last 19 games and are third in the First Division. Today they entertain Wimbledon in the FA Cup fifth round.

"I played with Joe Kinnear [he and the Wimbledon manager were room-mates at Brighton] and they will be a hard side to beat, but we have nothing to fear. I have said to the players, these are the games where you make your reputations. I will find out on Saturday what some of them are about."

Neither Huddersfield nor Horton are blessed with a Cup tradition. Huddersfield have, at least, won the pot, back in in 1922, but they have not reached this stage since 1972, when Frank Worthington and Trevor Cherry were in the team.

Horton has never been past the quarter-finals. "The closest I have got to Wembley was when I was at Hull in 1986. We lost in the last minute of the northern final of the Full Members Cup to Manchester City. There were tears in the dressing room that night. But better players than me never had a promotion or a cup final: I have had four promotions."

That sense of perspective comes from a period out of the game, as a young player, during which Horton ran his own business. There are other reminders of a footballer's good fortune. On Horton's desk is a big Valentine card. "It is from Teresa, a young girl who is severely handicapped. I met her at a do with Steve Bruce. I sent her a Huddersfield shirt, she sends me Christmas cards and Valentine's cards. We got her on the stage and she was fantastic. It brings you down to earth."

Outside there is another reminder of football's capacity to enrich lives. A group of wide-eyed local schoolchildren are touring the ground with Ian Foster of the club's highly regarded Football In the Community Scheme.

"We book up a series of local schools each term," Foster said. "We do a few sessions and take them round the ground. At half-term we run soccer schools. We do a coaching session, a penalty competition. Everybody who attends gets a free match ticket and a pizza and we have several prizes." Not bad for pounds 7 and those schools who look as if they will use it get a bundle of kit and balls. In return, Huddersfield hope, they get new supporters and, maybe, another Andy Booth.

Huddersfield, squeezed between Leeds and Manchester, need such initiatives. "We try to encourage them to support Town," Foster said. "On the TV and radio it is all Manchester this and Manchester that." As he speaks a boy walks past wearing a Manchester United top.

Huddersfield have not forgotten their past. The Leeds Road ground may be occupied by light industrial units but photographs of it are dotted around the new one. So too are yesterday's heroes, from Sir Herbert Chapman to Denis Law and Worthington.

The focus, however, is on the future. Pictures of Alf, as the stadium is locally known, are every- where. Today, on the pitch, Horton's team have the chance to take a big step towards creating some new heroes to match.