30 January ~ It is fairly well known that Huddersfield Town and Arsenal shared the glory years of innovative bowler-hatted manager Herbert Chapman, who guided them to a pair of League titles and an FA Cup apiece in the 1920s and 30s. What isn’t so well known is that the two have played each other for a trophy as recently as three years ago – 2008 was Huddersfield’s centenary year, and the two clubs engaged in a pre-season friendly for something called the Herbert Chapman Trophy.
Arsenal’s young reserves (who else?) took home the spoils with a 2-1 victory, and there is little to convince anyone that a similar result isn’t awaiting the Terriers when they visit the Emirates today. The main concern for Huddersfield fans right now is that for all Lee Clark’s early promise as boss, he doesn’t seem to have built a team with both the mental toughness for important games and the concentration levels to avoid countless silly mistakes. Time and again this season, a hopeful long ball over the top or a dozy backpass have been their undoing.
A recent unbeaten league run, stretching back to the end of last year, is masking fairly sub-standard performances. Medium-term injuries to two of their most bankable talents, ten-goal striker Jordan Rhodes and much-hyped goalkeeper Alex Smithies, may prevent their sale this transfer window but, as chairman Dean Hoyle made quite clear at a recent supporters’ Q&A, failure to win promotion this season may mean the "crown jewels" of the squad could be allowed to leave in the summer.
Huddersfield’s squad itself would seem on paper to have the perfect blend of youth and experience, and Hoyle has backed Clark to the hilt. The veteran Damien Johnson, on a season-long loan from cash-strapped League One rivals Plymouth, was a revelation in the middle of the park before picking up an unfortunate cruciate ligament injury. In response, Clark was allowed to bring in the enigmatic Kevin Kilbane on loan from Hull, who demonstrated his wonderful range of passing in the recent televised win against Sheffield Wednesday. In terms of youth, Huddersfield will be hoping exciting on-loan striker Benik Afobe is both fit and given permission to play against his parent club.
Today’s match marks the first competitive meeting between the two clubs since they met in the 1993-94 League Cup. In the first leg at Leeds Road, Arsenal ran riot, scoring five without reply (including an Ian Wright hat-trick). Respectability was partly restored in the second leg at Highbury, when Ian Dunn put Huddersfield ahead, only for Alan Smith to equalise and scupper the Yorkshire club’s hopes of a face-saving win. Arsenal went on to win both cups that season and find themselves competing on four fronts this season.
It’s a fairly safe bet that their two-legged tie in the last 16 of the Champions League will provide them with a sterner test (and require a stronger first 11) than the jittery journeymen and nervous nippers who will pitch up in north London today. If this tie were to also decide the current ownership of the trophy Arsenal won back in that 2008 friendly, as some have suggested it should, Huddersfield probably shouldn’t bother making room in the cabinet just yet. Dan Herd
Dan is cycling from Huddersfield to Brighton for the HTFC "Keep It Up" campaign supporting Yorkshire Air Ambulance and the club academy – his donation page is here