Mediocrity

miːdɪˈɒkrɪti/

noun

  1. The quality or state of being mediocre.

  2. Watching Huddersfield Town from August 2012 - November 2015.
     

I've just watched the penalties again from both games. In truth, I've watched them most days since that incredibly vivid May Bank Holiday Monday. It's still not sinking in. The fixtures for next season have been announced, there's no personal registration. I've read a dozen 'season reviews', looked at the photos, the celebrations, the countless social media videos. Nope. Nothing.

It's all a bit of a whirlwind, it's not real, so lucid, yet so quixotic (thanks Thesaurus), it's a haze... It's all just, it's... It's a Fu44ing Dream!

 

To Experience The Dream You Must Endure The Nightmare
- Jeff Arnold

Jeff Arnold? Ok, me neither, but the analogy sounds good. At the turn of the millennium, Town were a well respected (then) Division One outfit but one whose financial mismanagement saw them crash through two divisions into almost obscurity come the summer of 2003. Whilst battling their way back to the upper echelons, many independent observers and news outlets (mainly SKY) would often refer to Huddersfield as a "sleeping giant", or a "famous old club steeped in tradition and history".

When undercover Nasa technician Steve Simonson sent his football shaped satellite into space at Wembley in 2012, it signaled that the "sleeping giants" had roused and returned to what many Town fans would confidently describe as "probably our natural level". It had been 11 years, but surely nothing much had changed? Well... 

"The likes of huddersfield"
- social media  

Well not quite! Whilst on our way to wonderland, Town took the 'drink me potion' rather than the 'eat me cake', and we found ourselves somewhat re-branded, and on the end of scores of snarky and belittling comments from fans from the likes of Wigan Galactico's, Colossal Park Rangers, the irresistible force that is Fulham, Whopping Watford, and rather oddly, Reading.                             

Reading fans showed their true quality in the end, but with endearing (maybe now vague) memories of handfuls of spectators at Elm Park it certainly felt a little rich. Not that the now newly named 'The likes of Huddersfield Town AFC' reacted to all of this defiantly. After an initial transfer flurry, Town then cowed to the disdain and defended themselves about as well as a celebrity Icloud account, and started to exude negativity.

Level, WIth 10 minutes to go, you always take a point.
- Chris Powell

A once exciting and progressive League 1 club, now had a Championship mantra that stated that "we can't compete". As players came, developed, and were sold on, Town fans once excited by the clubs dynamism, now found themselves apathetic and in a malaise. Attendances dropped year on year, and 15/16 saw Town's worst average attendance since the 2007/2008 season. A series of nice, yet wooden managers failed to inspire, and lacking in identity and direction, Town were at a crossroads. 

In fairness to Dean Hoyle, from day 1 he said that he would inject capital into the club to see us to The Championship, but from there the club would have to be self-sustainable. He was true to his word. However, a split had occurred amongst supporters, with a large majority with what now sounds like a Theresa May election campaign, extolling the values of strong and stable leadership, against a much smaller group, referred to as the "vocal minority" who demanded much more capital investment.

The minority are the most vocal, the club feels it, I feel it, and I'll be straight with you, I don't like it!
- Dean Hoyle

I cast my mind back to the 12th of August 2014. The first cracks of what sounded like a fed up Dean Hoyle sounded, and many supporters started to worry. An audibly agitated Hoyle chastised the "Vocal Minority" for their treatment of Mark Robins. Hoyle went on to lament the fan pressure which he felt meant that Robins wasn't able to perform his job, and was critical of the booing at the substitution of Raddy Mejewski which had the midfielder in tears in the changing room. Hoyle also bristled at accusations that the DoF Ross Wilson was picking the team and that he had not backed his manager. Eventually Hoyle sent a chilling message that if the fans were fed up of him he would leave.

Further prickling occurred a couple of weeks later at a Q&A at Canalside, where Dean stated that any online abuse of his son Danny would result in him selling the club. Dean was quite right to make a stand, but selling the club was unthinkable to those still very much on his side. Further comments followed whereby Hoyle stated that his next managerial appointment would also be the last throw of the dice... Step forward Mr Powell! 

Football pricing is inelastic, I don't believe we would average over 15,000 in The Premier League.
- Nigel Clibbens (Q&A)

Due to the criticism received, Hoyle decided to take a backseat from the limelight and instead CEO Nigel 'The Baron' Clibbens stepped forward. Before football, Clibbens was a very successful chartered accountant with PWC and Grant Thornton, and was often on the end of glowing praise from Hoyle due to his financial acumen and knowledge of football business. However, having never been a public figure before, Clibbens found himself out of his comfort zone, and due to not possessing the natural warmth and charm of Hoyle, clashed with a small percentage of supporters and found himself in somewhat testy waters. Clibbens I'm lead to understand, was someone who cared passionately and deeply for his role at Huddersfield, but there were a number of flashpoints which alienated him from the supporter base.

#Itsclibberingtime
- Twitter

Not an often used hashtag I admit, but once Clibbens had his dander up on social media, this scenario was often referred to as "CLIBBERING TIME". Many fans appreciate it when the club takes the time to interact with them, address concerns and build relationships. Supporters tend not to react so well to a CEO's passive aggressive comments and smug retweets upon signing a new centre half.

Clibbens's social media etiquette was largely unpopular, but drew humour from other sections. One such humourous moment was when Clibbens won a faux award at the 2014/2015 end of season ceremony:

Announced on video to scores of laughter, Clibbens (whose seat remained laughter free) curtly smiled, and carried on with the evening for 20 minutes.... Of course, there was no danger of Clibbens taking offence to the joke was there? Well... during a break in the evening Clbbens trapped the unwitting Sean Jarvis (who had sanctioned the awards video) in a quiet space, before giving him an irate dressing down.

Clibbens's popularity with supporters dipped further during a Q&A. Supporters unhappy with season ticket costs, and the £30.50 walk up price had long since asked for a fairer pricing structure, to not only maintain the fan base but to encourage others to also come to the games. Clibbens dismissed these concerns and revealed to the crowd that he felt that the prices were fair. Clibbens went on to state that he felt that the prices were inelastic, and intimated that he felt that the hardcore supporters would pay whatever price he put them as. Clibbens was challenged upon this by a Town supporter, who used Bradford City as a point of reference. Using passionate conjecture, the supporter felt that the prices were driving away potential new fans, and that our current crowds were also dwindling as a result of this and the dull football on offer. Clibbens disagreed with the Bradford comparison and countered that he believed that even with cheap pricing and Premier League football, he felt that Huddersfield Town would never have over 15,000 home supporters inside the stadium.

From Bean Counter to Baked Bean Counter.

As previously mentioned, Clibbens was a master bean counter, and often looked at ways in which the club could reduce overheads. Clibbens by and large was very successful at this, and it is a huge strength that he possesses. Although maybe he could go a bit far on occasion, like the time he allegedly threatened to remove some of the kitchen staff at Canalside, unless they reduced the portion sizes they were dolling out to punters. Or when he allegedly on a staff night out got rather irate with a sports scientist for choosing to upgrade his 2 course meal to a 3 with a pudding. Ross Wilson had jibed that a sports scientist should be setting an example with their eating habits, a joke lost, and dinner time became Clibbering Time.

I personally like to imagine Clibbens as the type of character who would silently tiptoe around his local supermarket, watching the supermarket assistant like a hawk, ready to pounce like a lion on a reduced tin of kidney beans at the precise second that the yellow sticker hits. That or him wrestling with other shoppers on Black Friday and coming to blows over a reduced toaster. I do have a few genuinely toe curling stories from Clibbens's time with the club, but I write these things for fun, and don't fancy ending up in court. :-)

For the fans that sit and moan all game, don't come simple. You don't have a clue what your talking about!! #helmets
- @Hunty32

Ah, Jack... Those were the days eh? Log on, argue, praise Costa Coffee and Netflix, then go to bed. Insightful stuff.

It wasn't only board members that supporters suffered a disconnect from. There was also friction between supporters and some of the players. Many players often tweeted to supporters post game, but many tweets felt scripted and disingenuous. There were also, a handful of players who whilst being far from contrived would be incredibly outspoken, and disparaging of Town and their supporters.

Away from Twitter and other forms of Social Media, the efforts of the players were also disappointing, and many fans felt short changed with suggestions that the players had no real affinity or respect for the club. As ill feeling grew, stories circulated such as; Jacob Butterfield refusing to board the bus to Fulham, Martin Paterson lamping Adam Clayton at training, James Vaughan refusing to do any community work or face to face interaction with supporters, and manager Chris Powell's rather lax training scheme, which apparently involved multiple days off to allow the manager extra time in London. Let's gloss over the twitter rantings of Anthony Gerrard. 

With energetic performances on the pitch also few and far between, supporting the team wasn't fun. The players seemed to care little for the club and supporters, and the supporters struggling to care for the team and club. Nobody was feeling the love anymore, the club felt rudderless and passionless, with no real identity.

 

“Huddersfield were like a club that had won a raffle to be in the Championship. The focus wasn’t on winning, it was all about survival and there was no identity."
- Stuart Webber

Stuart Webber hits the nail full on the head for me. The club had a 'happy to be here' mentality, and aside from being a club that purchased fringe players and rough diamonds to spit shine and sell on, it had no other identity. As a supporter you would sit there unsure of what you were seeing. Who were we? What were we? What is our style? What is our modus operandi? From the summer of 2012 until November 2015, I don't think anyone at Huddersfield Town could answer those questions.

I took Huddersfield from nothing to the Championship, 43 games unbeaten and unearthed gems.
- Lee Clark

As daft as Lee Clark's statement seems on the surface, the geordie knew that it was important to create an imprint. In the summer of 2009, Clark promised to get his players supremely fit in order to play a high intensive brand of football, and for 12 months this, with Clark's penchant for bringing in talented young players on an upward trajectory gave Huddersfield fans much excitement. Clark also brought a new media profile to the club, and he used this well in conjunction with promoting the virtues of Huddersfield Town where possible.

Sadly, cracks emerged in Clark's managerial thesis at the first taste of disappointment. A defeat to Millwall in the playoffs was the beginning of a tactical and recruitment regression, which saw Clark go from innovator to habitual lower league managerial journeyman. Over the next 18 months, the players became more seasoned, and the play became more static and direct, Clark had abandoned his earlier Keegan style ethos in favour of the Charles Hughes manual. He eventually paid for his tactical deterioration with his job. It's interesting to think what could have become of Huddersfield and Lee Clark had he had any courage in his convictions.

Even when we were up in the top reaches, I still knew it was a tough division and that we were likely to hit difficulty.
- Simon Grayson    

The job that Clark left unfinished was completed by Simon Grayson. Town fans should always be thankful to Grayson for getting us over the line in the end, but the club were dipping alarmingly in his first full season in charge and looked to be heading back to League 1. Grayson always had the manner of a man who'd been dating his dream girl, but had found himself jilted and was now on the rebound. Town seemed to be Grayson's rebound job and in truth, many fans didn't feel that Grayson's heart was truly in it. They were probably correct. Grayson appeared flippant throughout a difficult run and he like Clark paid with his job. In truth, Grayson barely had time to put an identity in place, but the direct balls into the corners was certainly not how supporters wanted the team to play.

It’s a fluid system and it’s about us getting on the ball and doing what I want us to do.
- Mark Robins

Mark Robins had a bit of a nightmare start. The Lancastrian was brought in after successive away reversals of 6-1, 4-0 and 3-0 had dented confidence among the squad. Town were to lose Robins's first two games 4-1 and 6-1. Robins to be fair did a great job in slowly turning Town's fortunes around, and despite being in a relegation position with 10 minutes of the season left, Town were to finish safely in 19th. 

Where Robins perhaps didn't do such a great job was when he was tasked with helping to create a possession based identity that Town could build around. Despite some initial success with a bit of a lopsided 352/442 hybrid, Robins's stubbornness and Town's questionable recruitment would eventually see them looking for yet another manager. Town's pedestrian and boring identity quite simply didn't work, and Robins's insistence on playing it with two or three centre backs who were incredibly uncomfortable on the ball passing out from the back would eventually see the crowd turn.

We take comfort in the fact we haven’t lost and we have kept a clean sheet.
- Chris Powell

Chris Powell was appointed to "crank up the play a notch". Sadly, all that was cranked up was the number of z's floating above the stadium on match day. Town laboured under Powell and despite the rare exciting game here n there the entertainment factor was still missing. Pride was also missing, Town's record in Yorkshire derbies under Powell was P9, W0, D3, L6. A lovely 0% win ratio to really endear himself to the supporters. The supporters themselves were starting to stay away. Swathes of unhappy husbands, wives and children were now aimlessly wandering around the likes of Ikea, B&Q and Whiteley's Garden Centre, as attendances were 15.66% down from Town's first season in The Championship. 
 

Town were now at the aforementioned crossroads. We had become a club that earned no respect, in part because we had very little respect for ourselves. The players didn't seem to care for or particularly want to play for the club, the supporters couldn't be bothered supporting the club, and the marketing department had seemingly long given up on marketing ourselves in any fitting way. Town had no real plan, no direction, no hopes, no ambition, no identity and no media presence. Huddersfield Town were to be blunt, a complete none entity who couldn't be arsed, so long as we survived at Championship level. 

Then something changed...
 

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