Soccer: English game still in debt to once mighty Huddersfield
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - In geographical terms 30 miles is all that separates Huddersfield Town to Manchester United yet for 45 years the two clubs may as well have existed in different football universes.
On Saturday the Terriers host the 20-times English champions for the first time since 1971 -- their biggest game since returning to the top flight via the Championship playoffs -- after spending decades decaying in the football wilderness.
A generation of English football fans, for whom "Year Zero" is 1992 when the Premier League was born, can be forgiven for regarding Huddersfield as plucky newcomers from a former industrial heartland better known for rugby league.
Yet Huddersfield were once giants of the English game and responsible for some of the greats in football folklore with one, in particular, becoming 'The King' of Old Trafford.
Denis Law arrived as a scrawny, bespectacled and homesick teenager from Aberdeen in 1956 to begin a career that would later peak at Manchester United for whom he scored 237 goals in an 11-year stay which included two English titles and an FA Cup.
He was also part of the 1968 European Cup winning side although injury ruled him out of the final against Benfica.
The man that launched Law down the road to stardom was fellow Scot Bill Shankly, who stepped up from reserve team duties to become Huddersfield's manager in 1956.
Huddersfield, under Shankly, played the game with a carefree abandon, famously losing one match to Charlton Athletic 7-6, but under his charge they failed to return to the top flight they departed in 1952 after 32 years.
Shankly left for Liverpool three years later and became an Anfield idol, winning three first division titles and two FA Cups and leaving a legacy that ensured Liverpool would dominate the English game for years to come.
While Law and Shankly's careers were defined away from west Yorkshire, Herbert Chapman forged his place amongst the pantheon of great English managers while turning Huddersfield into a mighty force in the 1920s.
Regarded as one of the game's great innovators, Chapman experimented with new formations and training methods during his four years as Huddersfield manager. He was rewarded with two titles and left the structure in place for a third consecutive title in 1926, the year after he left to begin a dynasty at Arsenal.
Chapman died aged 55 in 1934 but would no doubt nod approvingly at the man now restoring the pride of a club that nearly went out of business in 2003.
David Wagner has only been in charge two years but in that time the 46-year-old has gone some way to writing his name into the town's folklore, revamping the squad and introducing a style of play that has earned him praise from his top-flight peers.
He was named Premier League Manager of the Month in August -- beating off Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Juergen Klopp, who he once worked under at Borussia Dortmund, to the award after Huddersfield began the season with two wins and a draw in which they did not concede a goal.
Since those heady early days, Huddersfield's form has tailed off and they have dropped to 12th as they prepare to welcome second-placed United to the futuristic John Smith's Stadium.
Under chairman Dean Hoyle, a local businessman who made it big in greetings cards, Huddersfield are writing another chapter in the club's rich history.
"For me, for the club and for the supporters, to have that badge on the world stage means absolutely everything," he said.
"Probably it's the biggest thing to happen to this town since the 1960s."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)