It’s not exactly a time to shout about at the moment for Huddersfield Town. Relegated from the Premier League on a whimper; it has not got much better in the Championship with the Terriers struggling in the bottom half for most of the campaign.
While it was expected that Town would struggle in the top-flight, last season was depressingly grim and as a supporter myself it was hard to take watching a side that seemed to accept losing every game.
There is – depending on your opinion – a season worse than the 2018/19 campaign and that was 1987/88 when the Terriers finished bottom of the Second Division (now Championship) conceding 100 goals along the way and ending up being 14 points behind the next relegated team.
Mention Malcolm Macdonald around Huddersfield and the reply might not be pretty. Fans of a certain age remember the turgid performances under ‘Super Mac’ including the infamous 10-1 against Manchester City.
Despite the billions, the firepower squad and the standard internationals that City are now accustomed to, they have not yet put double-figures past a hapless opponent. Beating Town 10-1 does get brought up from time to time by the mainstream media to the joy of every Huddersfield fan.
The 87/88 season began with Steve Smith in charge. Smith, the only person born in Huddersfield to ever manage the club, had a long association with the Terriers after featuring over 300 times for the Town as a player between 1964 and 1977 and had taken on various roles behind the scenes once his playing days were over.
He had been installed as manager after the popular Mick Buxton was sacked in December 1986 after eight years at the club following a poor start to the campaign. Smith managed to keep the club in the Second Division with three straight wins in their last three games pushing Huddersfield to a 17th place finish.
The positive end to the season proved to be a false dawn as Smith was shown the door in the October after a run of 11 games without a win. Despite coming back from two behind in the opening game against Crystal Palace to draw, the Terriers were hammered 6-1 in their next match at Plymouth Argyle and were also knocked out of the League Cup at the first hurdle by Third Division side Rotherham United.
Over 30 applicants applied for the job but the Huddersfield board turned to former Arsenal, Newcastle United and England striker Malcolm Macdonald despite at the time he had been out of football since 1984. Macdonald had previously guided Fulham to the Second Division in 1982 and was close to taking them back into the top-flight until a late slump in form before his departure.
He had applied for the job when Buxton left but was overlooked for the role and he must have wished they had overlooked him for a second time when Middlesbrough put four past the Terriers in front of a 6,000 crowd at Leeds Road in the game before his official appointment.
Town had a goal-getter in Duncan Shearer, who hit 21 goals the previous season, but the defensive frailties were a matter of concern for Macdonald – particularly away from home with the Terriers shipping 14 goals in five matches on their travels.
Although Huddersfield registered their first win of the campaign with a 2-1 win over eventual champions Millwall at the end of October, conceding goals continued to be a problem with Reading, West Bromwich Albion and Ipswich Town all scoring three goals each past the Town rearguard.
It was after the defeat to Ipswich that Town moved on to Maine Road on November 7 to face Manchester City. The game was being covered live by Granada Television and clips of the match can be found on YouTube with former Huddersfield favourite Frank Worthington on co-commentary having a £1 bet with the producer that the Terriers would come away with the win.
City were hardly flying at the time following their relegation from the First Division the season prior as they were sitting in tenth place before the visit of Huddersfield but were on a run of four games without defeat.
It started brightly enough for Town with Eric Nixon taking no chances tipping Andy May’s shot away and Shearer was inches away from connecting with David Cork’s low cross.
Cork himself wasted a glorious chance to put the visitors in front as he broke away only to flash a half-volley wide of the post before City opened the scoring with Andy McNab’s shot from the edge of the area flying into the bottom corner after 12 minutes.
Sporting the infamous ‘bruised banana’ away shirt, it was a more of a squished banana rather than a bruised one for the Terriers as the floodgates opened. Paul Stewart registered his first on 28 minutes before Tony Adcock and David White found the back of the net to put the home side 4-0 up at the break.
Martin Tyler, commentating on the game for Granada, asks Worthington if City will get double figures to which he replies “the way City are playing it looks quite likely but I don’t think they’ll get that many”.
Town had a chance cleared off the line immediately after the break but normal service was resumed with Adcock grabbing his second on 53 minutes and Stewart was not be outdone as he made it 6-0 on 66 minutes.
Paul Simpson came into his own in the second period and gave Huddersfield full-back Malcolm Brown a torrid time but it was fellow defender Simon Webster that made the mistake that allowed Adcock to complete his hat-trick after 68 minutes.
Mel Machin’s side wasn’t done as Stewart completed his treble with nine minutes left before Huddersfield did at least register a goal as Cork was fouled in the box allowing Andy May – who left Maine Road to join Town that summer – to dispatch the penalty kick.
Just when you thought that was enough for one day White completed his hat-trick as he broke away to round the advancing goalkeeper Brian Cox and sweep the ball into an empty net to make it 10.
Surprisingly, Town followed the defeat to City by going three games without losing which included back-to-back wins over Bournemouth and Leicester City. Victory over Plymouth on December 12 pushed the Terriers out of the automatic relegation places but it once again proved to be a false dawn as they returned to the foot of the league table following a 3-1 loss to Shrewsbury Town on New Years’ Day and never moved from it.
Huddersfield won only twice in the second half of the season which included a victory over neighbours Bradford City and they were to get some revenge on City as they won the return fixture in April thanks to a single goal from Carl Madrick – the only goal he ever scored for the club.
The Terriers were also so close to dumping the Citizens out of the FA Cup in January 1988 as it took a last gasp free-kick from John Gidman to force the game to a replay after two goals from the ever-dependable Shearer looked to have put Macdonald’s men in the next round.
The third-round tie went to two replays after a goalless draw at Maine Road but it was City who would be advancing when they won 3-0 at Leeds Road in front of the biggest crowd of the season.
Journalist Doug Thompson, who was at Maine Road when Huddersfield suffered their record league defeat in November 1987, believes the squad and performance that night wasn’t as bad as the scoreline suggests.
“I went to the Tuesday night game at Ipswich and Town were really bad. They didn’t play well at all and bizarrely I thought they played better at Manchester City than they did at Ipswich” said Thompson.
“The first 20,30 minutes against City we were competitive but it soon collapsed like a house of cards. It was one of those games where everything went wrong.
“Beating City (in the return fixture) and holding them in the cup showed that Town weren’t as bad as the scoreline suggested”
Macdonald was sacked by the Huddersfield board just before the final game of the season against Sheffield United with his assistant Eoin Hand stepping in to take charge. Hand was given the job permanently that summer and managed the club until 1992.
It was a massive task for Macdonald to turn around after such a poor start to the season but the board’s anticipation that he might attract better players to the club were sadly mislaid as Thompson concludes:
“Macdonald was quite a big-name appointment at the time. He’d done well at Fulham and although he had a break away from football and, on paper anyway, with his standing in the game you’d think he would be able to attract players to the club and it all goes well but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.”
“There wasn’t much direction under Macdonald and I don’t think he was in the right place at that time in his life to take on a job like that at Huddersfield.”
“Looking at the team now they did have some good players like Duncan Shearer and Ian Banks. David Cork wasn’t bad either and when you look at the team on paper you could argue that they did underperform.”
Indeed, it was Shearer who finished top scorer with 16 goals that season but left Town following their relegation and continued to find the back of the net at Swindon Town and Aberdeen.
Banks, a midfielder who registered nine goals, also left the club to join neighbours Bradford City while eight-goal Cork also headed for the exit to join Scunthorpe United.
Goalkeeper Brian Cox left after seven years at Leeds Road to join Mansfield Town while defender Webster went on to star at Sheffield United and later Charlton Athletic which led to a shot at the Premier League with West Ham United but sadly injury was to see him retire at the age of 31.
Under Hand, the Terriers finished a disappointing 14th in the Third Division (now League One) the following season but the highlight of the campaign was striker Craig Maskell. A summer signing from Southampton, Maskell broke the post-war record for most goals in a season with 33 in all competitions.
Huddersfield remained in the third tier of English football until 1995 when Neil Warnock guided the Terriers to the First Division (now Championship) via the play-offs where they would stay until 2001. It took over 10 years for Town to return to the second tier but they would reach the top-flight in 2017 for the first time in 45 years.