Re-Publishing historical football content digitally

1920s Huddersfield Town – Soccer’s First Giants / 1920s Huddersfield Town – Soccer’s First Giants

1920s Huddersfield Town – Soccer’s First Giants

By on 10 August 2017

Manchester United have done it twice, Liverpool and Arsenal once each, but it was Huddersfield Town that did it first. What?

In the mid-1920s Huddersfield became the first English team to win three consecutive Championships – a feat only repeated four more times throughout nearly 130 years of the Football League. This article first published in CBFM April 1969 tells the fascinating story of how Huddersfield managed to become the first of the “footballing giants” that dominated an era.

They were the team to beat in the 1920s. Despite only gaining entry to the Football League in 1908, surviving bankruptcy, an approved move to Leeds and the problems of being based in a Rugby League stronghold, in the 1920s they won three English League titles, were runners-up on two more occasions, won the FA Cup once and were runners-up three times.

Interestingly, when this article was written, CBFM predicted that Second Division Huddersfield, as they were then, were strong contenders to be relegated. In truth, though, the following season they won promotion to the First Division as Division Two champs! The last time before the present day that they were in the top flight.

Tap or click on the page images to see article in original form – use zoom for better view. At the page bottom we have some pics of former Huddersfield stars. Click or tap on them for bigger views.


HUDDERSFIELD TOWN started life as late as 1908, a time when football belonged to the romantics as it never can again. Within two years of being founded, the club were granted League status and by 1924 had won every honour then open to a club side – promotion from Division Two, the F.A. Cup and the First Division championship.

By 1926 they had established a record by winning the championship three seasons in a row. Just 16 years had elapsed since they had entered the League and they had reached a point where, like Alexander the Great, they had no more worlds to conquer.

Yet in that short time they had also come to the verge of bankruptcy and there was even a proposition to move the club out of the town to Leeds!

Yes, it is the very stuff of romance but when one looks at the present Second Division table and sees clubs like Huddersfield, Preston, Bolton, Blackburn, Bury, unable to regain the First Division rank they once took for granted, and playing before Third Division gates, one has to be realistic and recognise that it is an era gone beyond recall.

Huddersfield Town, a two-year-old infant, were voted into Division Two in 1910 in place of Grimsby Town and in the five seasons before the first World War brought a halt to top-class competition they made a reasonable use of their apprenticeship. Two good seasons, three of struggle in which the bottom places were avoided.

But Huddersfield, a Yorkshire town of some 130,000 population, was, at the time of the introduction of first-class Soccer, the leading stronghold of Rugby League football.

When sport started up again in 1919, it was not to Leeds Road that the locals went to see Spurs or West Ham or Wolves, but to Fartown to see Huddersfield R.F.C. take the Yorkshire Cup in 1919 and the Challenge Cup in 1920.

A Mr. Hilton Crowther and his brother had put £40,000 into Huddersfield Town, a colossal sum fifty years ago, but when the gate for the visit of Fulham came to just £90 even the Crowthers felt there was no future.

They had been warned that Soccer would be rejected in this red hot Rugby area and just before Christmas, 1919, a local newspaper displayed a placard in Huddersfield of three four-letter words – “TOWN CLUB DEAD.”

There seemed, too, a tailor-made solution for Huddersfield’s problem. Leeds City had been wound up after expulsion from the League when found guilty of making illegal war-time payments to players, so directors of Huddersfield Town met the Management Committee of the Football League and gained their approval to move the Huddersfield Town Football Club lock, stock and barrel to Leeds.

Perhaps it was this which jolted local pride into resentful wakefulness. It certainly had this effect on the club  chairman, W.L. Hardcastle. He called meetings, even harangued his fellow townsmen at street-corner hustings. He got everyone feeling that the proposed move to Leeds was a deadly insult to every inhabitant of Huddersfield whether he was interested in Soccer or not.

Tanners, tuppences, bobs, half-crowns went into collecting boxes and a new £1 share issue was floated. £8,000 was raised and the club sold their centre-forward, Jack Cock, to Chelsea. Huddersfield Town could carry on for the rest of the season.

And now an unbelievable thing happened. From mid-December, 1919, to the end of April, 1920, Huddersfield lost only two of  32 League and Cup games. They finished runners-up to Tottenham to reach Division One and they met Aston Villa in what was the first of the three Stamford Bridge Cup Finals.

Villa won 1-0 by an own goal from Tom Wilson off Kirton’s header in extra time, but Town had made their impact and now all Huddersfield wanted to be associated with them.

The team which put Huddersfield on an amazing seven-year glory road was: Mutch; Wood, Bullock; Slade, Wilson, Watson; Richardson, Mann, Taylor, Swan, Islip.

Huddersfield took two seasons to adjust to First Division demands, but at the end of that second season they were once more in the Cup Final – an historic one for it was the last to be played at a venue other than Wembley.

The defence showed only one change, the great Sam Wadsworth having appeared on the scene at left-back. The attack showed changes for now Islip was at No. 9 and there was a new and famous leftwing pair, Clem Stephenson and W.H.Smith.

Billy Smith had missed the previous Final because he was suspended two days before it took place because of an offence committed in a League game a month earlier.

It might comfort the champions of modern football to learn that the 1922 Cup Final was one long brawl of a match. Another goalless 90 minutes was in the making when Preston full-back Tom Hamilton brought down Billy Smith.

North End had a goalkeeper called Mitchell who played in spectacles, the only known instance that I have ever been able to discover of a League goalkeeper doing so, but these aids to vision could not help him to stop Smith’s spot kick, and Huddersfield took the Cup to Yorkshire after 12 years of first-class status.

After the game it was claimed by many disappointed Lancastrians that the skidmarks made by Hamilton’s boot as he brought down Smith were plainly visible 18 inches outside the 18-yard line.

Sixteen years on there was to be a similar incident with Preston gaining their revenge over Huddersfield at Wembley in the same way – but that is running ahead of our story.

Huddersfield, in 1922, appointed the former Leeds City manager as their boss – one Herbert Chapman.

First with Huddersfield and then with Arsenal he was to become the outstanding manager in all British football history.

Chapman’s first great stroke was to secure for Huddersfield the services of Clem Stephenson from Aston Villa. Stephenson made a good, sound side an irresistible force which for a brief spell in the mid-twenties became England’s No. 1 club side.

The year after winning the Cup, Town finished third in Division One, their best performance in the League. In 1924 the League Championship followed the Cup to Leeds Road.

There was a remarkable end to the season with Cardiff City, the only menace to Huddersfield’s title hopes, missing a penalty on the closing afternoon of the season.

Both clubs finished the campaign with 57 points but Town’s goal average of 60-33 was fractionally superior to Cardiff’s 61-34 – 1.818 against 1.794.

The next season, giving away only 28 goals in 42 First Division games, Huddersfield won 21 and drew 16 of their matches, retaining the title with two points to spare over West Bromwich Albion.

The 1925-6 season was one of triple sensation for Huddersfield. They made history by taking the championship again – the first time the hat-trick of title wins had been achieved.

During the early part of this historic campaign Herbert Chapman left the club to manage Arsenal where he immediately steered them into the runners-up spot for the first time and where he was to make an even greater reputation than he had at Leeds Road.

Finally, it was touch-and-go whether the season would be completed, for in the closing days of April the General Strike was about to bring the country’s industry and transport to a standstill.

The Cabinet had already decided that the League’s final batch of fixtures on May 1 would have to be cancelled if the strike started that day. It began on May 3 and lasted until May 12. Huddersfield had made history by a matter of 48 hours’ grace.

Chapman had gone, but as long as this great Huddersfield team stayed together Huddersfield followers were to know little but success.

Newcastle United broke their monopoly of the championship in 1927 but Huddersfield finished in second place. They were second to Everton in 1928, a year when they also reached the Final of the F.A. Cup.

Blackburn Rovers, in the middle of the First Division table, were regarded as no real Wembley opposition for Town but in the first minute their goalkeeper, Mercer, let through a soft goal and the Yorkshire cracks never recovered. Rovers swiftly added a second and then Bob Kelly was injured and Blackburn went on to take the Cup 3-1.

Two years later, Huddersfield again made a fruitless journey to Wembley in a Final which marked the replacing of Town by Arsenal as England’s leading club side.

Huddersfield had been the Kings of the 1920s, but now came even greater successors. From 1930 to 1938 Arsenal won five championships, two Cup Finals and in 1932 were finalists and League runners-up.

The 1930 Cup Final was memorable for many things. The first goal, so vital at Wembley, was scored for Arsenal by, of all people, Alex James. During the game a shadow momentarily obscured the sun as the huge German airship Graf Zeppelin flew slowly over the striving footballers and crowd of 92,000.

Billy Smith, whose controversial spot kick had won that Stamford Bridge final 8 years before, was still on the left wing. Obviously, this would be the last time he could hope to appear on such a national stage as Wembley but that was going to apply to other men whose coloured images in cigarette packets were collected by boys of all ages 9 to 92 – Alex Jackson, Bob Kelly, Clem Stephenson, Roy Goodall, Barkas, Wilson, Steele.

There were still good years ahead – Town finished in the top six in each of the next four seasons – but the supreme achievements were now tantalisingly out of reach and slowly but inexorably the gulf widened.

Town took third spot in 1936, but in the last three pre-war seasons they came clattering down the First Division until they were only three places from the bottom.

When Huddersfield were the best England had, it did not seem strange or in any way relevant that it was rather a cutoff sort of place, not too well served by trains, a workers’ town depending on the health of the wool and cotton trades.

Even by 1938 when they returned again to Wembley, the provincialism and comparative smallness of Huddersfield was mentioned and commented on for the first time. That was the Final that went closer than any other since it moved to Wembley in 1923 to producing a replay.

Only seconds of extra time remained and the game was still goal-less when Alf Young brought down George Mutch, the Preston inside-right. The referee awarded North End a penalty which Mutch himself converted although he was lucky to see his shot go in off the underside of the bar.

At this time, Wembley was equipped with the old, full-faced type of posts and crossbar, not the present elliptical ones, and if Mutch had been a fraction higher the ball would not have bounced down over the line. What poetic justice it was for the 1922 penalty!

From 1946, Huddersfield’s image of one of several once-great Soccer centres no longer able to compete against London, Liverpool and Manchester has been mirrored all too accurately. They hung on to First Division status for six seasons but “hung on” is the appropriate term, never finishing higher than seventh from the bottom.

They came back at the first time of asking and the Second Division season of 1952-53 saw Huddersfield set one more new League record in that their entire defence of Wheeler; Staniforth, Kelly; McGarry, McEvoy, Quested, played in all 42 matches. In addition, Vic Metcalfe, the outside-left, did not miss a game so Huddersfield had the staggering number of seven ever-present in one season.

That team were good enough to gain Huddersfield 3rd place in Division One in 1954, but by 1956 Town were back in Division Two. There they have been since and each season the prospect of Town ever again becoming a powerful First Division outfit grows remoter.

A dozen years of Second Division mediocrity mean that Leeds Road is more often than not five-sixths empty.

Between 1920 and 1930 Huddersfield made nearly a quarter-of-a-million sterling out of the F.A. Cup alone.

Now, after 60 years of life, Huddersfield face a future in which the possibility of an association with the Third Division seems more likely than a return to the First.

*end article*

Denis Law, Huddersfield Town 1955-60

Law – Signed as a 14-year old

Ray Wilson, Huddersfield 1952-64

Wilson – World Cup ’66 Winner

Frank Worthington Huddersfield 1966-72

Worthington – No. 9 in Town’s last top-flight season

Special Notice

road-to-wembley-book-coverFans of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly can now buy this limited edition, hardback book for just £17.99 inc. UK P&P – The Road to Wembley 1966 – through the pages of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. This collector’s item takes you through the lows and highs of England’s World Cup campaigns from 1952 through to 1966 when Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy – all through the original articles and pictures from the world’s greatest football magazine. Click here for more details.