Back in 2019 Huddersfield Town were relegated from the Premier League. The club’s owner Dean Hoyle had fallen ill and decided to sell a 75% stake in the club to businessman and fellow fan Phil Hodgkinson. Three years later Hodgkinson has gone and Hoyle is about to take back 100% ownership. STEVEN DOWNES looks back on the Hodgkinson era.
The 10 years up to 2019 had been a time of progress under Dean Hoyle culminating in the historic promotion to the Premier League. However in 2019 the club faced its first major crisis.
With Hoyle hospitalised with an acute form of pancreatitis, the steadying factor at the Terriers was no longer there. David Wagner had left his position as manager and fellow German Jan Siewert had been installed at the helm. However, by the time Hoyle and Hodgkinson had come to an agreement over the sale of the club, Town were already relegated.
Town fans were intrigued by their new owner, a man who was CEO and founder of the PURE Business Group. He was also owner and director of non-league club Southport, a position he subsequently relinquished on purchasing Town.
Unlike Hoyle, a self-made man who set up Card Factory after selling cards from the back of a van, many fans didn’t know a lot about Hodgkinson, his wealth and his business background. Information at the time was thin on the ground and Southport fans couldn’t shed much light either.
Despite those grumblings of discontent you would think that Hodgkinson would garner the same respect that Hoyle had. However that was far from being the truth and, unfortunately, by the time it came to the following campaign some fans had made their minds up.
One thing fans can say about Dean Hoyle is that whilst he didn’t get every decision right, he and the club on a number of levels communicated well with the fans. Some might say he was too open at times.
Hodgkinson wasn’t as slick at communicating as Hoyle and in interviews he didn’t always come across well. To be fair, though, Hodgkinson had the toughest act to follow. Hoyle, backed by head of football operations Stuart Webber and manager Wagner, had marched Town to the Promised Land.
Where Hoyle was the messiah, Hodgkinson had taken the reins of a club already relegated and with mounting problems. He inherited players who seemed less inclined to care about the club than those who had got the club into the Premier League in the first place. The financial situation was more tangled than a knitted ball.
As the club entered the Championship season finances were being squeezed and Hodgkinson had jumped well and truly into a fire. With confidence low, and fan discontent all around, he made the decision to sack Jan Siewert on August 16, just four games into the new campaign. Town had picked up one point from their first three league games and were dumped out of the FA Cup to Lincoln City.
Hodgkinson’s first big decision had been taken. His second was the appointment of Danny Cowley. Now the manager of League One side Portsmouth, Danny and his brother Nicky had beaten Town with their Lincoln side in the FA Cup. Having built a good reputation at Lincoln it was difficult to judge how Town fans would react to having a defensive minded British coach back in charge again.
Early signs looked good and it seemed that Hodgkinson had made the right choice. Results had picked up so much that the brothers won October Manager of the Month in 2019.
As if the club didn’t have enough to deal with along came a global pandemic, and the world shifted. As football went behind closed doors results started to become more negative.
With no supporters close, Cowley wasn’t able to connect with the fanbase. The relationship just couldn’t gel. The Cowleys, however, succeeded in their sole mission – to keep the Terriers in the Championship. A 2-1 win over promotion-chasing West Brom completed their survival.
Hodgkinson took the brave decision to sack the Cowleys the next day. That’s the harsh reality of football. Even ‘success’ can result in the sack.
These guys were the ‘darlings’ of British football and seen as rising stars in the managerial ranks. Commentators outside the club were shocked and Town fans were split.
Hodgkinson and Cowley in the end didn’t agree with the path the football club wanted to take. Cowley, it seemed, wanted everything his own way and Hodgkinson wasn’t going to allow it.
Hodgkinson then appointed out of nowhere Spaniard Carlos Corberan from Leeds United. The 38-year-old had been working with Marcelo Bielsa, a world-renowned coach lauded for his tactical ability but who has just been sacked by Leeds for his uncompromising attitude and unwillingness to adapt.
Corberan is very different. Having had different managerial and coaching experiences across the world Corberan is very much a learn-on-the-spot head coach which means he can work with different players and systems and isn’t rigid tactically.
Corberan had a very bumpy first season. Town fans couldn’t get to grips with his style of play or his sometimes incomprehensible answers in interviews. With credit to him, he’s tried to improve his English and at least didn’t hide behind an interpreter like his former boss at Elland Road. Bielsa’s interpreter is now looking for a new job, by the way…
Town took some heavy beatings in his first season and it led to calls for Hodgkinson to give Carlos the boot. However time and again he said he backed him. Hodgkinson had said this about Cowley only to then sack him. However because Leigh Bromby had brought Corberan in, Hodgkinson may have felt he had to show faith and be patient.
Town fans were nervous about the current campaign we are in now. Significant squad changes had taken place and old faces had returned. However this shift in policy of bringing in bright young talent and experienced pros with the right attitude has clearly worked. Town currently sit in the play-off places in the Championship, something only the most ardent (and optimistic) of fans would have dreamed of.
Just before Christmas 2021, one of Hodgkinson’s companies went into administration. There were fears for Town but the club insisted protections were in place and it was business as usual.
Understandably, Hodgkinson stepped back from Town to concentrate on his business interests. It’s now been announced he’s formally severed his ties with the club and Hoyle is taking back his 75% shareholding.
This is my conclusion on Hodgkinson’s time at the club
In my view Hodgkinson was always on the back foot with the fans and anyone who had to follow Dean Hoyle would have been in the same position.
There was always a worry in the background about whether Hodgkinson had the financial muscle for a Championship club but he may have seen it through had Covid not intervened. We shall never know.
Hodgkinson needed to engage better with the fans. He struggled to build a rapport with the fanbase and there were own goals too such as the ill-fated Paddy Power fake kit, a PR stunt which back-fired.
There was a period under Hodgkinson in which communication had stopped and it became a psychological stand off between board and fans. This was at the same time Corberan found things difficult on the pitch.
Hodgkinson had the Premier League hangover to resolve and had a massive rebuilding job. Then came a global pandemic. You wouldn’t wish that task on your worst enemy.
He was targeted on social media and that is never, ever acceptable. That is not what Town’s fanbase is about and those individuals should be rooted out and banned. Fans are allowed to have strong opinions but need to voice them in the right way.
Having said all, Phil, I would like to thank you for your hard work. Many of the most successful elements of this season are down to the processes you built behind the scenes.
You moved on the players who didn’t care enough about the club and helped to build a more positive approach on and off the field. You were strong in the transfer market and led a more focused approach which has borne fruit.
Phil’s legacy should be looked on more positively than it is and, being a fan, hopefully he’ll be in the stadium again one day to watch us play. Outside circumstances conspired against him and the timing just wasn’t right.
Thanks for what you’ve done for the club, Phil, and all the very best for the future.