‘It goes beyond sport’: Huddersfield ready for weekend unlike any other

It is the birthplace of Patrick Stewart and the location where the Sex Pistols played their final British gig in 1977 but this weekend the West Yorkshire town of Huddersfield will be at the centre of the sporting world like never before. Huddersfield has its place in British sporting folklore already secure: it is where rugby league was founded in 1895 and Huddersfield Town were once the driving force of English football, the first club to win the league three times in a row, from 1924-26.

But the town nestled on the edge of the Pennines and in the shadow of Leeds and Manchester – geographically and metaphorically – has never known a time like this. On Saturday, Huddersfield Giants will aim to win rugby league’s Challenge Cup for the first time since 1953 when they face Wigan in the final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Related: Liam Byrne ready to be Wigan’s unlikely hero in Challenge Cup final

That alone would have heightened the mood in an area that was once at the heart of Britain’s textile boom, but 24 hours later Huddersfield Town seek a return to the Premier League in the Championship playoff final at Wembley, with Nottingham Forest their opponents.

Sport plays a huge role in the mood of folk in this part of the world and never has that been more apparent than now. “I get emails from constituents all the time and in the last few weeks, they’ve been all about Giants and Town,” says Jason McCartney, the Conservative MP for Colne Valley.

His constituency covers most of the major suburbs in and around Huddersfield and as an ardent supporter of both clubs who will be present at both games, he understands the magnitude of this weekend for his home town: on and off the pitch.

“I was in London last weekend and saw Sunderland supporters taking over Trafalgar Square and it hit home just how special a weekend this will be for our town,” he says. “It goes beyond sport. It could kickstart the town’s fortunes and take it to the next level in terms of economic growth.”

Huddersfield Town’s Harry Toffolo is carried by fans after victory in the playoff semi-final.
Huddersfield Town’s Harry Toffolo is carried by fans after victory in the playoff semi-final. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

One of the most prominent local businessmen is Ken Davy. He has owned the rugby league club since 1996 and was briefly chairman of Town, having led the bid to save them in 2003. “There have been times in the past where the two clubs haven’t probably connected how people would have liked but nowadays, it’s tremendous,” he says of the clubs, who share the John Smith’s Stadium on the outskirts of the town centre.

“Weekends like this, do they ever happen for towns like Huddersfield? I’m not sure they do. There is the chance to make the dreams of tens of thousands of people come true in unique circumstances. Little old Huddersfield will be taking over London.”

There are similarities between the clubs that represent this town with such pride. Both were given little chance to get to this stage, with the Giants outsiders for the Challenge Cup and Town even less fancied to be in the mix for promotion. “It’s such a great club because the people around here get behind you if you’re willing to put your bodies on the line,” says Jonathan Hogg, the Town captain.

“We’ve a great bunch of lads who don’t complain and moan and that’s what this town wants. Huddersfield is buzzing, everywhere you go. It’s going to be a special weekend to be a part of. If your local team does well it gives everyone a real buzz locally. It makes a huge difference to where people live but to have both teams in finals is unheard of.”

Success for both clubs could even transform Huddersfield’s temporary position on the sporting landscape to a more permanent position, potentially leading to greater fortunes for the town. You can see the history at almost every turning if you travel through the centre of Huddersfield or any of its suburbs, but a lack of serious redevelopment in recent years has left some frustrated. Sporting success could be the catalyst for that to change.

“If Giants and Town win, that will only help our case to bring more investment to the area,” McCartney says. “Town being in the Premier League brings huge opportunities that could bring parts of the town back to life. I often say that you don’t see any cranes in Huddersfield, there are no developments under way and the future of the town is in the balance. But sport is transcending what happens on the field these days and success for both brings economic benefits and enhancements we need.”

The Giants say Town’s progression to the playoff final has boosted their support heading to Tottenham, with many fans of both clubs now extending their stay. They include the family of the Town striker Danny Ward, the club’s top-scorer this season. “My wife’s family support both teams so it’s going to be a big weekend for them,” he says. “They’re all going for the full weekend.

“It’s crazy, but also brilliant for the town. The buzz has been incredible. These things don’t come around very often so for them to be on the same weekend for both clubs, it’s absolutely brilliant.”

For Town, the glitz and glamour of the Premier League is one win away and for the Giants there is a chance to end years of lingering in the shadows in a sport that was founded so close to where they play.

Perhaps the only people who could enjoy it more than the fans of either club are the local burglars as, for the next few days, Huddersfield will be pretty quiet with a large slice of the population 200 miles down the M1 taking over the capital.