Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Colin Wanker Rides Again

Neil Warnock at Huddersfield Town in 2023

Having made a surprise post-retirement return to management at Huddersfield, a mere thirty years after his last stint, the man dubbed Colin by those who have a considerably softer spot for anagrams than they do him- that is to say Neil Warnock- is back. It's probably worth pondering the state the Terriers find themselves in now against how things were during that final season at Leeds Road before a move to what was then known as the McAlpine Stadium.



The 1993-94 campaign saw Warnock end a short stint down south at Torquay to come home, in a sense, and take over from Ian Ross, who had lasted just one season before joining Sunderland as assistant to another former Town gaffer, Mick Buxton.


Any fans of a more recent vintage may be a little alarmed to find that his start in charge wasn't exactly promising, suffering an opening day 3-0 home defeat by Reading. The one bright spot in the opening eight games was a 3-2 away Yorkshire derby victory over Rotherham the following Saturday, goals courtesy of Mark Wells, Iwan Roberts and Iffy Onuora.


There was at least some small measure of relief through the cups, the best remembered being their Football League Trophy run to the final. This ended in defeat on penalties to Swansea after a 1-1 draw in normal time, following an equaliser on the hour by Richard Logan to haul Town back into the contest, on their first big day out at Wembley since the 1938 FA Cup final ended in defeat by Preston.


Yet old Colin was able to pull something out of his hat and turn potential disaster into relative safety, a late season run of form in the league taking them from near the foot of the Second Division in March (twentieth to be precise) to eleventh by the last day of the season in May. The green shoots of recovery arguably started to show by as early as 19th March, after Andy Booth's strike gave the Terriers a share of the spoils at Fulham.


Following that they went from positively spilling points to hoovering them up, going unbeaten across their final twelve games! It was Booth again who popped up to secure a win at home to Plymouth Argyle the week after, with another away at Bournemouth in addition to Phil Starbuck's snaffling another all important three points. Booth kept scoring crucial goals, going on to nab a solitary point against Hartlepool at home before having a breather the next weekend, as Starbuck and Simon Baldry helped the men in blue and white take a point away with them from Cardiff.


Perhaps deciding he'd better start scoring again after a game off, Booth got the winner at home to Leyton Orient and another one in front of the Leeds Road crowd against Wrexham hardly harmed his cause in what was his first full season of consistent first team football. Starbuck and future Warnock assistant Ronnie Jepson rounding off another successful day at the soon to close office. Booth filled his boots with another two to see off Cardiff at home the week after letting someone else score- Iain Dunn snatching a point at home to Bradford.


Most remarkable of the lot was a 5-4 win away at Cambridge just two games from the end of the campaign- a Starbuck treble cementing his position as top scorer with Dunn and Booth also chipping in and helping to set up an emotional send- off to Leeds Road. Blackpool were seen off 2-1 and Starbuck helped himself to the last of his twelve goals just to cap things off.


Having done the sort of job he would later become routinely hailed for, Warnock would go one better the next season, after the move to the McAlpine, and lift Huddersfield into the First Division through the play- offs. Starbuck was made club captain after signing a new deal. Never sinking lower than twelfth in the league during the regular season, they also reached the quarter finals of the Football League Trophy- losing to Bury. Booth finished as top scorer on thirty goals in all competitions, capped with the first in the play-off final win over Bristol Rovers before his eventual departure to Sheffield Wednesday the following season.


Mere days after the game itself, Warnock was out, resigning before resurfacing back in Devon at Plymouth! A falling out with the club board of the time was behind his decision and perhaps it's a sense of unfinished business that persuaded him to come back?

I’m really excited about this challenge. My first spell at Huddersfield Town had everything; we went to Wembley twice, moved into the new stadium and really built the club from nothing. It was a special time. I’m coming back to help the club, but also [the chairman] Dean Hoyle. I know what he has done behind the scenes and I’ve always had a lot of time for him. I’ve looked at the fixtures and we’ve got some fantastic games to come. I want to come back and put smiles on faces.”

The man who appointed him isn't exactly new to these parts either, returning after the man he'd originally sold the club to upon his original exit in 2019, Phil Hodgkinson, ran into financial difficulties in the latter part of last year. He'll no doubt be hoping for a decent result from his investment in nostalgia after the relatively recent trend for imports via Germany- former Hertha Berlin assistant Mark Fotheringham lasting just 21 games in his first managerial role before biting the bullet as David Wagner and Jan Siewert before him had.


Warnock's second stint started better than his first- a 2-1 win over Birmingham at what is now officially branded the John Smith's Stadium, Ronnie Jepson by his side once more as goals from Jaheim Headley and Joe Hungbo ensured the salvage job he was brought in for got off on the good foot.


"Every one of the fans have gone home happy, and every one of the players now believes. That's a big thing and that's why I am in the game and why I came back. I owed Huddersfield something because I didn't really want to leave when I left but it was something I couldn't tolerate.


Smiles back on faces, then- the one remaining question is for how long?

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