My Irish housemates, Kieran and Tommy, were sick of me trying to explain American sports to them. In retaliation, they forced me to choose an English Premier League soccer team to follow. I was already prejudiced against a sport that didn’t have cheerleaders and could end in a 0-0 draw, but I played along.
I looked over the list of teams that would be in the Premier League that year (2017). As with most European leagues, the bottom three teams drop into the lower division next season, and the top three from the league below it move up. I asked a few questions about some of the squads, a few I had heard of, and many I hadn’t. I didn’t take very long, nor did I put much thought into coming up with a team.
“Huddersfield Town?” Kieran and Tommy exclaimed. They explained that the Huddersfield Terriers don’t have any stars and had just got promoted into the Premier League. They were going to lose most of their matches. Most of the Irish went for Liverpool or Everton, or a bandwagon team like Manchester City. Huddersfield Town was going to struggle to avoid getting relegated back down. No one even knew where Huddersfield was.
“Here’s to being original,” I said.
Perhaps ironically, we put the Huddersfield match on the television if we happened to be in the house. This occurred once when Joe, another former housemate, had dropped by for a cup of tea. Joe was a good man that we lost to engagement, moving out to get a house with his fiancée. Or so I joked too, until I also would move into another place to live with my girlfriend. The men of 15 Rian Oisin had been divided and conquered. For all the benefits of living with a woman, one drawback is a reduction in man-time. I knew what Joe was up to when he messaged me and asked if I wanted to come over and watch the Huddersfield match. I wasn’t surprised that a man who previously also had no interest in soccer could suddenly list all the players.
For Christmas, I knew what to ask for. When I got back to Ireland I told them the news. “Hey Lads, my mom got us Huddersfield shirts.”
Suddenly, all the old housemates of 15 Rian Oisin were getting together every Saturday afternoon to watch a bottom-table Premier League team whose only notable fan in the world was Patrick Stewart from Star Trek (because he was born there). We were hanging out more than when we had all lived together, getting strangely involved in a team few had heard of before. It was a good endorsement for the nature of sports, demonstrating how it can bring people together (or so I tried to explain to my girlfriend, sneaking away yet another Saturday afternoon). I’ll admit to being proud when someone would look at my shirt and start laughing, or say “Huddersfield? Why?” I didn’t care. We were beautiful and ironic and Huddersfield fans. There was only one thing left to do: go to an actual match.
So maybe I did expect to be congratulated for being an American Huddersfield supporter in Huddersfield Town itself. At night the city was deserted because of a snowstorm, and generally looked like it would be empty anyway. When we found a pub to go into the bouncer grabbed my arm and told me to take my hat off. If I was as big as he was I would have pointed out to him that it was snowing outside, and as long as it wasn’t snowing inside the pub I was going to take my hat off. He didn’t help resolve the stereotype of the arrogant English. Even worse, inside no one seemed eager to carry us around on their shoulders. No drunken soccer chants, no singing of team songs. Instead, all the English we talked to simply said “Huddersfield? Why?”
We had chosen to see the match against Crystal Palace because they were one of the few teams below us in the table. Huddersfield lost 2-0, however, and were never really competitive in the game. Our striker blew a chance at a goal, and another shot had bounced off the post. I think the other three would agree, nonetheless, if I said that was alright. It was fun to be in the stadium that we saw on the television all those Saturdays, and to watch the players in person that we had studied on Wikipedia. It was about the getting there, and what that meant. On the highlight reel you can zoom in behind the goals and find us standing there. Our faces would be blurry and out of focus, but if they weren’t, I think you could tell that we were glad for the experience.
For those who don’t know what Huddersfield is, I can now tell you this: it’s a rally cry. It’s both a bottom tier soccer team and a state of mind and a reason for men in their thirties to meet up. It’s proof that the simplest causes can bring people together, and they don’t have to be ones that make sense. Forget the English and their dress codes and the Man City fans that celebrated winning the league that year. We knew relegation was never far away. Maybe the Terriers will be good in 30 years, maybe not. But I’ll say it again:
We are beautiful and ironic and Huddersfield fans.
This article is part of The Milk House column series, published in print across three countries and two languages. It can also be found at themilkhouse.org.
This article appeared in a similar form in Progressive Dairyman.