Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Birthplace of rugby league, the West Yorkshire market town of Huddersfield is represented by European contenders in the oval-ball game and long-term underachievers in football. Super League side Huddersfield Giants have shared the John Smith’s Stadium with Huddersfield Town FC since it was opened in 1994.
Decades of lower-tier scrapping were cast aside when German-born centre-back Christopher Schindler converted the last penalty kick of a shoot-out to beat Reading and claim a Premier League place for the Terriers in May 2017.
It had been 45 years since Huddersfield Town last graced the top flight. In between, rugby league remained the focus for many.
The first meeting of northern rugby clubs who broke away from a game dominated by the southern privately educated elite took place in 1895 at the George Hotel in Huddersfield’s town centre. Soon to house a heritage centre for the sport, this historic landmark passed into municipal hands in 2020.
The building stands opposite a statue of Beatles-era prime minister, Harold Wilson, a football man who grew up through the only time in history when his home-town team were the best in the land. Then based at Leeds Road, just the other side of the narrow River Colne from today’s John Smith’s Stadium, north-east of the city centre, Huddersfield FC famously won three league titles in a row in the mid-1920s.
For a textile hub close to the Lancashire mill towns where professional football boomed in the 1880s, rugby-dominated Huddersfield had come late to the round-ball game.
A soccer club wasn’t formed until 1908, when a pitch was found at Leeds Road and the great stadium architect of the day, Archibald Leitch, hired at today’s equivalent of nearly half a million pounds. Leitch duly built a ground alongside the river, the pitch suffered and the new club went bust in two years.
In the economic chaos after World War I, another club, Huddersfield Town, was formed. But attracting crowds away from the all-conquering local rugby league side, based in Fartown, further north of town, still proved tricky.
Soon saddled with debt, Huddersfield Town even considered a move to nearby Leeds, whose own local football club had folded in 1919.
By chance, the last manager of Leeds City was a Yorkshireman, Herbert Chapman. Having left the game to work at a factory in Selby, he took little persuasion to come over to Huddersfield – particularly as the club had just won through to their first FA Cup final, losing after extra-time to Aston Villa.
Chapman poached Villa’s Clem Stephenson, made him captain and lynchpin of his new Huddersfield side, won the FA Cup in 1922 then, in 1924, the first of three consecutive league titles.
It was a historic achievement for a club that had nearly gone out of business only five years before, and one that saw the Leeds Road ground expanded to 60,000. Before the third of Huddersfield’s titles, Chapman had gone to make history with Arsenal, but his groundbreaking modern managership was established at Leeds Road. A plaque now stands in the B&Q car park where the centre-spot once lay.
Seventy years after Huddersfield’s first title, the ground staged its last league game in 1994. For two years, Town had shared it with the Huddersfield’s rugby league club, the two moving together to the new stadium over the Colne.
Given Huddersfield’s high rugby profile, it’s no surprise that the John Smith’s Stadium has staged World Cup and international matches in both oval-ball codes. As for football, then lowly Huddersfield Town were saved from collapse by Giants chairman Ken Davy in 2003. Greetings card millionaire and lifelong fan Dean Hoyle then took majority shares in the club in 2009, prompting tension between the two entrepreneurs and groundshare clubs, resolved with a £2 million deal in 2013.
The stay in the Premier League after the play-off win of 2017 proved relatively short. The Terriers then almost dropped out of the Championship on each of the two seasons after their two-year stint in the top tier.
Arriving in town, local transport and tips
The nearest airport to Huddersfield is Leeds-Bradford, 35km (22 miles) north. There’s no direct service by public transport. The FLYER A1 bus runs to Leeds every 20-30mins, calling at City Square (£5, journey time 40-50mins), a short walk from Leeds train station. The frequent train to Huddersfield (£7.50) takes 20mins. From Manchester Piccadilly (£13), it’s 40mins. Any train from London (3hrs) requires a change, usually at Leeds or Manchester. Adding a £4 PlusBus to your train fare allows you to use all local bus services that day.
Huddersfield’s impressive train station is by St George’s Square on the edge of the town centre. The bus station is nearby, just the other side of Westgate.
West Yorkshire Metro oversees all local and regional buses.
A1 Taxis (01484 541 111) are Huddersfield-based and quote £35 to town from Leeds-Bradford airport.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Within the railway station buildings (direct access from platform 1), the Head of Steam is another ale lovers’ haunt with TV sport, one of several branches in major northern cities. Nearby, giving a contemporary touch to a traditional hostelry, award-winning The Sportsman near the station goes big on craft beers, particularly Huddersfield-based Mallinson’s, as well as all-day food from mainly local suppliers and occasional live music. On the city side of the station, The Cherry Tree is a large Wetherspoon in the Pearl Assurance House, with the usual drinks deals and afternoon sports on TV.
On St Peter’s Street at the edge of the town centre, The Vulcan is a cosy pub for Premier League action on two big-screen televisions, meal deals and themed party nights. Pool and jukebox too.
For drinks with a view, The Aspley, part of the Table Table group, set beside the boating marina and the Premier Inn hotel. TV sport is another attraction.
Just outside Huddersfield, accessible by the half-hourly 393 bus, The Bulls Head in tranquil Linthwaite is a superb country pub and restaurant with a rotating selection of guest ales.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the ground and around town
The nearest lodging to the ground, 400 yards away, is the Huddersfield Travelodge, a modern building set back from the road, close to the Yorkshire Rose pub/eaterie. On the same side of town, a pleasant 10min walk from the John Smith’s Stadium via a canal towpath, is another affordable chain choice, the Huddersfield Central Premier Inn has a lovely waterside location.
In the town centre, the Huddersfield Hotel on Kirkgate is a mid-range cheapie. It’s a 10min walk from the stadium, turning left, left again then right onto Leeds Road and right onto Gasworks Street.
For a relaxing stay out by the golf club, the Cedar Court is the only local four-star, at the junction of the M62, taking full advantage of its lofty setting on Ainley Top overlooking Huddersfield. A grill restaurant and in-house health club encourage weekend stays. Buses 501 and 503 from outside the hotel takes you to Fitzwilliam Street, less than 10mins from the stadium.
For a real upmarket getaway, the Woodman Inn in Thunderbridge, in a rural hamlet three miles south-east of town, has been transformed from an 18th-century drinking inn to a superb contemporary hotel and restaurant. Nearby, an hourly train leaves for Huddersfield from Stocksmoor station 15mins away.