Sivan John takes us down a trip down memory lane as he tells the story of Huddersfield Town legend, Andy Booth
How do you a define a “hero” in football?
It’s a very subjective question as every football fan tends to see their favorite player in certain aspects that may defer from the rest. Success is one way to look at but I’ve learned a great deal that football is beyond that. No matter, how big or small a football club is, there is always a hero that endears to its supporters.
Huddersfield Town may have just been promoted to the Premier League but it is a club that is enriched with over 100 years of footballing history including being the first to win three top-flight league titles in a row. In a nutshell, it is a club that is not short of heroes.
Since I’ve fallen in love with this team in 2011, one name tends to pop up every now and then. He wasn’t part of any of the Town sides to win major honors. Instead, he played a crucial role in keeping the club going during the twilight years in the lower divisions.
If the name Andy Booth doesn’t ring a bell, then it gives me, even more, the pleasure to write this article about a player whose career has taken him from West Yorkshire to the Premier League and back.
At a time when the English game was blessed with top class strikers from the likes of Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler, Andrew Cole and much more; Andy Booth was doing his thing in the lower tiers of English football.
Born and raised in Huddersfield, he joined his boyhood club as a trainee after he was very close to signing with Scarborough FC. In March 1992, he made his debut as a substitute against Fulham. Then manager Ian Ross was convinced enough with Andy’s potential that he decided to hand him his first ever professional contract.
He was part of the squad for the 1992/93 season but still had to compete with the likes of Iwan Roberts, Phil Starbucks and Iain Dunn for a place in the starting eleven. Nevertheless, he was a very determined young professional and when called he never failed to make a good impression. He scored twice in just four appearances that season. Everyone at the club knew there was something special about him.
The following season, the club appointed a certain Neil Warnock as the new manager. His man management skill was instrumental in unearthing Booth’s talent.
Booth was given his much-needed breakthrough in the first team after fan favorite Roberts was sold to Leicester City. He forced his way into the first team and scored 10 goals that season including a cracker against Cambridge United.
The relationship between Warnock and cult favorite Starbucks wasn’t looking good, as such the latter was offloaded to Sheffield United. By then, the gaffer already knew that in Booth that he had a top striker to lead his team.
Huddersfield Town was about to embark on a new chapter for the 1994/95 season. The club has just moved into a new home ground known as John Smith’s Stadium (at that it was it called McAlpine due to sponsorship reasons).
Booth played up front alongside Ronnie Jepson, the duo would turn out to be one of the deadliest partnerships in Division Two. He had his most productive season, scoring 26 goals in the league including two hat-tricks. Huddersfield Town would eventually finish at a respectable 5th place in the standings and thus compete in the playoffs for promotion to Division One.
They were paired against league’s runners-up Brentford. Both legs ended in a 1-1 draw with Booth scoring the equalizer on their away trip to Griffin Park. As what the club would be known for years to come, Huddersfield booked their trip to Wembley after winning on penalties. Standing in their way was Bristol City.
Appearing in the world famous football arena, Booth was going to play on the biggest stage in his career. He seized the moment by scoring and providing the assist for Chris Billy’s winning goal as the Terriers emerged 2-1 victors and were promoted for the first time since 1988.
Booth scored 30 goals in all competitions that season and for his reward, was called up to join the England Under-21 side that summer.
Warnock made a sudden departure to Plymouth in the following season and was replaced by Brian Horton.
Booth continued his goal scoring form in Division One, notching 16 goals as the club narrowly missed out on a potential playoff promotion to the Premier League.
By now with his stock rising, it was only a matter of time before the Premier League vultures would start to scavenge around on his front door. Leaving Huddersfield would have surely been a difficult decision for Booth but a player of his caliber deserved the chance to play at the highest level.
He opted to remain in Yorkshire after signing for Sheffield Wednesday in 1996. The Owls paid £2.7 million for his services as manager David Pleat needed to look for reinforcements following the departures of Darko Kovacevic and Marc Degryse.
It was money well spent as Booth didn’t take long to light up the Premiership and Wednesday were on a roll at the start of the season. He scored 13 goals in all competitions as Wednesday narrowly missed out on a UEFA Cup spot.
The biggest highlight for Booth, however, was on the last day against Liverpool. The Owls were having a nightmare after losing both of their keepers, Kevin Pressman (injured) and Matt Clarke (sent off). Booth stepped in during the 84th minute and made several saves to help his side earn a point.
The arrival of club-record signing Paolo Di Canio from Glasgow Celtic in the following season and fellow Italian Benito Carbone meant that Booth had some competition for a place in the starting line-up.
It didn’t start well for both him and the club. Booth had to undergo a cartilage operation at the end of August thus was out for more than 2 months. The club was also struggling at the bottom end of the league.
Following a 1-6 loss to Manchester United, Pleat was told to leave and Peter Shreeves took over on a caretaker basis. He made a risky decision in his first game in charge by naming Booth (who had just recovered from his operation) in the starting line-up against Bolton Wanderers at home.
Booth repaid the manager’s faith in him by scoring a hat-trick within 17 minutes in the first half as the Owls went on a 5-0 rampage against the Trotters. The crowd at Hillsborough were on their feet and gave him a standing ovation when he was substituted.
He made 20 further appearances for the Owls that season but only managed to score 4 more goals. These included goals in vital wins against Arsenal and Leeds United which helped Wednesday to survive relegation.
The years between 1998 to 2000 was somewhat troubled times at Sheffield Wednesday. The club’s mounting debts were beginning to creep in. Booth wasn’t at his best but continued to help the club in any way possible. The Owls’ poor run on the field eventually saw them being relegated after nine successive years at the top flight.
Hoping for a quick return to the Premier League, Paul Jewell from Bradford City was brought in. Andy Booth agreed to stay on to help the club but in early 2001, he had an interesting offer on the table from his former boss David Pleat.
Pleat who was now the director of football at Tottenham Hotspur decided to bring Booth to the Lane on a one-month loan deal. Spurs were having an injury crisis with their strikers and needed someone to partner Sergei Rebrov.
It was a perfect opportunity for Booth to earn a move away from Hillsborough and another crack at the Premier League. However, North London proved to be an unhappy ground. He failed to impress in his four appearances at Spurs, and was sent back to Sheffield.
So, with his Premier League adventure already coming to an end, Booth was expected to see out his time with Wednesday until the end of the season. As always in life, a twist of an unexpected event was just about to happen.
Booth had never hidden his intention that one day he would like to return to a place he calls home. After all, this is the club he supported as a boy, got his professional debut and statistically enjoyed the best part of his football career.
Huddersfield Town was in the middle of a relegation battle and were in dire need of help to get goals to win matches. Previous season’s top scorer Clyde Winjnhard was out injured, Marcus Stewart sold to Ipswich Town and the likes of Kevin Gallen, Delroy Facey, and Martin Smith had been inconsistent.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the return of Huddersfield Town’s favorite son. Lou Macari, the manager back then, pulled off a miracle deal with Wednesday which allowed Booth to play in the club’s 10 remaining fixtures.
It was a triumphant return for the prodigal son, as he opened the score on his debut against Portsmouth which ended in a 4-1 win. To their best effort, the club almost managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. However, defeat to Birmingham City on the last day coupled with other results not going their way meant that Town was relegated to Division Two.
Booth’s experience was vital in Macari’s plan to bring the club back to Division One. He was playing alongside a gifted young striker named Leon Knight and the duo scored 30 plus goals between them. Town missed out on the automatic spot for promotion and had to settle for a playoff spot.
History was repeating itself as Town faced Brentford in the semi-final. After a goalless first leg, Booth gave the Terriers a bright start in the return leg but the home side scored twice to win 2-1 on aggregate thus avenging their loss at the same stage 7 years before.
Things didn’t look good at the start of 2002/03 season, massive debts had pulled Huddersfield Town into administration. However, Booth opted to help his beloved club by taking a pay cut. On the field, it was a disaster for the team. They were in the bottom four for most part of the season and were relegated to the lowest division for the first time since 1980.
The trouble within the club didn’t just stop there. Administration and financial issues meant the club were forced to clear most of its squad players and were eventually left with 8 professionals. It was a turbulent preparation for the 2003/04 season.
Luckily a new consortium led by Ken Davy who was the chairman of Huddersfield Giants rugby league side took over and rescued the team. A new manager by the name of Peter Jackson was appointed. His main task was to build a team around Booth and other experienced players by using shrewd signings, loan deals and youngsters from the academy.
It turned out to a be a remarkable season as Booth galvanized a young side that needed to beat Cheltenham on the last day to earn the automatic slot. Booth rose to the occasion to score his 100th goal for the club. However, a costly mistake from Pawel Abbott involving goalkeeper Paul Rachubka brought the score level.
Huddersfield Town was back in the playoffs and this time they faced Lincoln Town. The Terriers came away with a 2-1 win and were looking to close things out at home in the second leg. Lincoln rallied back to take a 2-0 lead at halftime, and it seemed like Huddersfield’s season was slipping away again.
This time, the Terriers weren’t backing down and came back strongly in the second half. First, Danny Schofield scored from the spot to level things on aggregate after a charging Booth was tripped in the box. Then seven minutes from time, team captain Rob Edwards smashed it home to give Town the lead on aggregate thus booking their place in Cardiff, where they met Mansfield Town.
At the Millennium Stadium, Booth came close to scoring on several occasions but both sides couldn’t break the deadlock so the match was decided on penalties. Huddersfield Town converted their four kicks and won the shoot-out 4-1, and were back in Division One (now being re-branded as the Coca-Cola League One).
The club had an inconsistent season in League One but surged on to win nine of out their last 10 fixtures starting with the 5-3 victory over Stockport County; narrowly missing out on the playoffs.
This improvement only continued in the following year with Booth scoring 13 goals (including a hat-trick of headers against Rotherham) to help the club to a fourth-place finish. They lost to Barnsley in the playoff semi-final.
In July 2006, Huddersfield Town arranged a testimonial match against La Liga side Real Sociedad in honor of Booth service to the club. Questions about Booth’s retirement were put to rest when in February 2007, he signed a one-year extension to his existing contract.
Huddersfield Town celebrated their centenary year during the 2007/08 season. The season would also mark the arrival of local businessman Dean Hoyle who was the newly elected chairman taking over from Ken Davy, thus ushering a new era in the club’s history.
In February 2008, Booth was the subject of a petition to Parliament as fans wanted to build a statue of him (which has yet to be erected) at the entrance of John’s Smith Stadium. That summer, he agreed to sign another one-year extension which would keep him until the end of the 2008/09 season.
On the 22nd of April 2009, it was a sad day for everyone at Huddersfield Town Football Club. It was the day in which Andy Booth announced that he was retiring at the end of the season.
Three days later, he appeared in front of a crowd of 14,000 people that came to watch his last home fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion. Booth was even named the captain and scored a goal which ended in a 2-2 draw. The celebration that followed right after he scored was filled with teary emotions from everyone in the stands.
On the season’s final fixture, he scored his 150th goal in a 1-1 draw to Leyton Orient, putting him in 3rd place on the all-time goal-scoring list for the club. In total, he has made 452 appearances (the fourth most), a perfect way to sign off a career spanning for 17 years playing in all four divisions.
Upon retiring, Booth took up a role which will allowed him to stay close to the club that he has given so much. He was appointed as the club’s ambassador, a role which he has carried out with distinction. In his new role, he has represented the club well in many charitable and social causes.
It’s no wonder that for all the contribution and sacrifices he made for the club, Booth is held high among the Town faithful. Hence why he truly deserves to be known as Mr. Huddersfield.
MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi allegedly once mentioned to BBC presenter & Town supporter Matt Roberts that Andy Booth is the number two striker in the world, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Not sure how far this is true but one thing we do know that in Huddersfield, Zlatan is indeed the best striker in the world, right after Andy Booth, period!
- Mr. Huddersfield: Why Andy Booth is a Huddersfield Town Legend - November 21, 2017