Huddersfield’s 1920’s success
Huddersfield Town had all their success in the 1920s when it comes to major honours. Their home stadium of Leeds Road saw them bring three consecutive league titles home: in 1924, 1925 and 1926. These are the only top-flight championships they have won in their history, and they were the first club to win the league three times in a row. This feat has only been matches by four clubs: Arsenal in the 1930s, Liverpool in the 1980s, Manchester United from 1999-2001 and 2007-2009, and Manchester City from 2021-2023
Huddersfield’s only FA Cup to date also came in this period, in 1922, while they won the Charity Shield in the same year. The Terriers also finished as First Division runners-up in 1927 and 1928. They were FA Cup runners-up in 1920, 1928 and 1930.
This is the story of Huddersfield’s 1920’s success.
Legendary manager Herbert Chapman joined Huddersfield in February 1921 as assistant to Ambrose Langley. But this was only after a lifetime ban from football was overturned. There were some dodgy dealings at his previous club, Leeds City, with them being accused of financial irregularities by one of their former players.
League football was suspended in 1915 following the outbreak of World War I. As players left their clubs to fight for their countries, only regional league competitions were played. Many clubs turned to guest players to play their games. These players shouldn’t have been paid to play, but at Leeds, they were. The club were expelled from the Football League, with Chapman, along with his assistant and three club directors, being banned for life.
Huddersfield helped Chapman get his ban overturned, which was the right decision. He barely even managed Leeds during the war, as he went to manage a munitions factory to help with the war efforts instead. His ban would be overturned by the FA and he was allowed to sign for Huddersfield as Langley’s assistant.
A month after joining Huddersfield, Chapman was made secretary-manager as Langley left. He began putting his stamp on the team immediately, and, in May 1921, signed striker George Brown, who, to this day, is Huddersfield’s all-time leading goalscorer with 159 goals.
Another key member of Chapman’s squad was winger Billy Smith. Smith is Huddersfield’s all-time record appearance maker, turning out 574 times for the Terriers. He’s known as a legend because of this, while he also scored the winner in Huddersfield’s only FA Cup final win to date.
In Huddersfield’s first season in the top flight, they finished comfortably away from the relegation zone.
In the 1921/22 season, Huddersfield began poorly, winning just one of their first seven league games: a 2-1 win against Newcastle United. They then went on to win six in a row, but couldn’t keep that level of performance up and finished the season in 14th: 18 points behind champions Liverpool.
But the FA Cup would provide success that season. Huddersfield beat Notts County 3-1 in the semi-final to reach the final at Stamford Bridge. This was to be the last FA Cup final before the opening of Wembley Stadium. In the final, they would play Preston North End. Conveniently, they were set to play Preston in the league just seven days before the final at Leeds Road. Huddersfield got a confidence-boosting 6-0 win.
There was some controversy surrounding the cup final, though. The aforementioned winger Billy Smith was fouled, and Huddersfield were awarded a penalty. But the foul was, in fact, outside the box. As Smith stepped up to take the penalty, there was some gamesmanship from Preston’s spectacle-wearing goalkeeper Fred Mitchell, as he jumped up and down on his line to try to put Smith off. Smith kept his nerve in front of the 53,000-strong crowd and put the penalty away. He can be fondly remembered as the man who brought the first, and only, FA Cup to the town.
Huddersfield set off on their journey to success in the 1920s.
The 1922/23 season was better in terms of the league for Huddersfield. They didn’t have a great start, winning just three of their first 10 games. But a 13-game unbeaten run, with eight wins, between November 1922 and January 1923, combined with a strong run-in that saw them lose just one of their final 12 games, with eight wins, saw them finish third in the league: seven points behind champions Liverpool.
The 1923/24 season was incredible. Liverpool were looking for a hat-trick of league titles, which had never been done before. Huddersfield and Sunderland were expected to challenge them, though. Liverpool would drop out of the title race early and go on to finish 12th. Huddersfield, Sunderland and Cardiff City would be the clubs challenging for the title. Huddersfield started the season well, losing just two of their first 14 games. But Cardiff led the way for most of the season: they lost just one of their first 22 games.
But, from March 1, 1924, things changed. Huddersfield beat Cardiff 2-0 at Leeds Road, and the Terriers went on to win another four games in a row. This game was the first of four consecutive defeats for Cardiff.
After Huddersfield beat Cardiff, they went on to lose just one of their remaining 12 league games. But the loss was a costly one. They were beaten 3-1 away to Aston Villa in the penultimate game of the season.
That loss meant that the title would go down to the final day of the season. Huddersfield were set to play Nottingham Forest at home, while Cardiff traveled to play Birmingham. Just one point separated the sides, with Cardiff leading the way. Two points were awarded for a win then. Huddersfield would need Birmingham to do them a favour and beat Cardiff.
If Cardiff drew and Huddersfield won, the league would go down to goal average, which was used until 1976, when the more effective goal difference was brought in. To calculate goal average, the number of goals scored was divided by the number of goals conceded. Before the games, Cardiff had a better goal average than Huddersfield.
Both games kicked off at the same time. Huddersfield took a 2-0 lead into half time against Nottingham Forest. Cardiff were being held by Birmingham, with their game 0-0.
In the second half, Cardiff were awarded a penalty. Score, and they would likely win the league. But striker Len Davies – Cardiff’s all-time leading goalscorer – missed it. Huddersfield went on to score a third goal against Forest, which gave them a better goal average than Cardiff. The Welsh club needed to find a winner to win the league, but didn’t.
Huddersfield won the league by goal average! It was an extremely tight championship decider, with Huddersfield’s goal average of 1.818 beating Cardiff’s of 1.794. That season, Huddersfield scored 60 goals and conceded 33, with Cardiff scoring 61 and conceding 34. By today’s rules, they would have been level on goal difference and Cardiff would have won the league on goals scored, but that obviously wasn’t the case.
It was an amazing win for Huddersfield, who had won their first ever league title. Huddersfield’s 1920’s success began.
After Huddersfield won their game, they had to wait around for news from the Cardiff game. There were limited means of communication in those days. After the game, the Huddersfield Examiner reported:
It was an unusual sight when the match was over to see a large crowd hanging about the ground instead of rushing for the tram-cars. The little room at the end of the paddock, where the scores are received, became for once the centre of attraction. Through its windows we could see an anxious group waiting around the telephone.
Then suddenly the door was flung open and Mr Chapman dashed out with his face one huge smile and shouting: “We’ve won!”
There was a tremendous cheer before the words had left his mouth. It was taken up inside the ground and out. The championship had come to Huddersfield for the first time.
The 1924/25 season started well, as Huddersfield’s 1920s team looked for more success. The Terriers won their first four games, followed by four draws, then another win and another draw. While they were up and down, being unbeaten for their first 10 games was impressive. Draws were more valuable then too, since just two points were awarded for a win. Huddersfield were top of the league, ahead of Notts County and West Bromwich Albion on goal average.
But then Huddersfield goalkeeper Ted Taylor broke his leg. Leonard Boot was their second-choice goalkeeper, but results slipped when he had to play. They went on to win just one game from their next seven, with four losses and two draws. Huddersfield slipped to seventh in the table, but were still just three points off the top. Chapman went out and signed goalkeeper Billy Mercer from Hull City, who helped turn things around.
A 2-0 win at Everton on November 29, 1924 set them off on an incredible run of form. Including that game, there were 26 league games left to play. Huddersfield lost just one – a 2-1 defeat to West Ham – and went on to win the league for the second time in a row. The Terriers finished the season two points clear of West Brom.
But there was some terrible news for Huddersfield after the season ended. Herbert Chapman left the club. He went on to join Arsenal. He was attracted by the chance to manage in London, the bigger crowds at Highbury and the fact that Arsenal doubled his wage from £1,000 to £2,000 per year. Huddersfield reportedly matched Arsenal’s offer, but Chapman moved on anyway. It was a big blow to lose one of the best managers of the generation, but the Terriers would keep going. Huddersfield’s amazing success of the 1920’s wouldn’t stop there.
Cecil Potter was the man trusted as taking over as secretary-manager when Herbert Chapman left the club. Potter was brought in from Derby County, who finished third in the Second Division the previous season.
Huddersfield got off to another good start without Chapman, though. They were unbeaten in their first 10 games: winning six and drawing four. They did lose some games throughout the season, but didn’t suffer disastrous losses of form like they had in previous seasons.
The Terriers went on to win the league again, for the third time in a row. This was unprecedented: nobody had ever done it before. Liverpool had won two in a row a few seasons earlier, but Huddersfield were the first to do it.
After the league win, the Huddersfield Examiner reported:
Hail! Town!! Thrice Champions!!!
In securing the championship for the third year running Town have accomplished a performance without parallel in the history of the League.
Up to last night no club had done the treble. It was left to Town to make a record which may stand for ever – unless the Leeds Roaders beat it themselves by carrying off honours next season, for the fourth time!
To the directors of the club and to Mr Potter, its secretary-manager, as well as to the gallant players who have borne the heat and burden of the day, the congratulations of the whole football world will be extended on a performance to which the League should pay adequate tribute.
Huddersfield won the league more comfortably this season: finishing five points clear of Chapman’s Arsenal, despite losing their final two games. Having the league already won would have contributed to these defeats, too.
Huddersfield drew 2-2 against Chapman’s Arsenal at Leeds Road, but were beaten 3-1 at Highbury. But the defeat was in the penultimate game of the season, so Huddersfield having their foot already off the gas would have contributed to that.
It was another amazing season for Huddersfield, as they continued their dominance in the 1920s.
Huddersfield began the 1926/27 season well, as they tried to continue their amazing success of the 1920s and attempted to win the league for the fourth consecutive time. Jack Chaplin was their manager; taking over from Potter in August 1926. They lost just one of their first 19 games, but this run was littered with draws. The Terriers lost eight league games in total that season, which was the same as the 1925/26 season, but drew 17 times, compared to 11 the season before. This meant that they were six points worse off than the previous season: finishing on 51 points.
They weren’t particularly close to winning the title either, despite finishing second. With four games to go, they beat Newcastle, who they were challenging for the title. But they didn’t manage to win any of their last three games, with two draws and a loss, and Newcastle won the league by five points. If Huddersfield had a repeat of the previous season and managed to rack up 57 points they would have won the league again, but the huge amount of draws was their downfall. Their dream of winning four titles in a row was over, but they couldn’t be overly upset after their amazing success in the seasons beforehand.
Huddersfield’s success in the 1920s came to an end.
The 1927/28 season began and ended terribly for Huddersfield. They lost their first three games in a row, but then got back on track. The Terriers lost some games now and again, but picked up plenty of wins along the way.
At one stage, Huddersfield even looked like they could be on course for a league and FA Cup double. On April 2, 1928, they beat Sheffield United 1-0 in an FA Cup semi-final replay at Manchester City’s Maine Road in front of 69,000 fans. This set up an FA Cup final showdown with Blackburn Rovers.
At this stage, Huddersfield were top of the league: three points clear of Everton, with two games in hand. But a disastrous end to the season, in which they would win just three of their remaining nine league games, with five losses and a draw, saw their season fall apart. They lost 3-1 against Blackburn in the FA Cup final and finished second in the league: two points behind Everton.
Huddersfield would be bitterly disappointed, as they were so used to success in the 1920s, but hadn’t won anything for a couple of years.
Huddersfield went on another FA Cup run in the 1928/29 season, but lost 3-1 in the semi-final against Bolton Wanderers. They had an awful league campaign and finished 16th.
Former player Clem Stephenson managed Huddersfield in the 1929/30 season. He took over from Jack Chaplin in May 1929, and went on to manage over 550 games until 1942, making him their all-time longest-serving manager. Huddersfield finished 10th in the league. But they got to another FA Cup final, where they played Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal. It was the first time the two teams entered the pitch side-by-side in the cup final; in honour of Chapman.
But Huddersfield lost the game 2-0 and Arsenal won their first FA Cup. It was also Chapman’s first trophy as Arsenal manager.
The game is also notable for the Graf Zeppelin passing over Wembley.
Huddersfield wouldn’t go on to win another trophy. They haven’t won another top-flight championship or FA Cup ever since. The Terriers have had some great moments since, but nothing will ever compare to Huddersfield’s 1920s success. Their success since then has come in the lower leagues. Gaining promotion to the Premier League in 2017 when they won the Championship play-off was amazing, and they did brilliantly to survive in the Premier League the season after, but it seems unlikely that they will ever get back to those glory days.
Even though they were successful after Herbert Chapman left, their success must be put down to him. He did amazing things at Huddersfield, and will go down as their greatest ever manager.
Huddersfield’s success in the 1920s is legendary, and rightly so. The club can be proud of their history.
Thanks to 11v11.com for historical league tables and results. It’s a fantastic website.