Get it right and sport has the power to change everything, not just what happens on the pitch.
Anyone who doesn’t believe in the transformative power of sport just needs to look at Huddersfield Town.
The genuine outpouring of grief at the resignation on Monday of our head coach David Wagner is as clear an indication as you’ll ever get of the pleasure and pain of football.
Wagner’s appointment in November 2015 wasn’t the same old merry-go-round of the usual faces with zero attachment to the club and even less interest in the fans. No, Huddersfield Town wasn’t his second or third choice. We weren’t a stopgap, an interim role while he waited for a better offer to come along.
He chose us and not only that, he seemed to immediately understand the fierce underdog spirit that characterises our little part of West Yorkshire. A town with a proud heritage surrounded by bigger neighbours with more investment and larger fanbases, it really meant something when signs went up saying ‘Premier League, Premier Town’ in celebration of our unexpected promotion to the Premier League in 2017.
Wagner created a clear and consistent brand around the Terrier identity, coining the phrase that we play with ‘no limits’. His passion for the terrier even fed into the pressing style of football, as players teamed up to chase down the opposition in packs.
Perhaps even more importantly he unleashed something in the fans, a sense of excitement and passion for the game that was truly infectious. Wagner helped engender a sense of pride in our team that transcended all the pundits who wrote us off or the patronising asides on Match of the Day.
The legacy he leaves behind is more than just being the coach who took us to the Premier League and kept us up in our first season. Wagner reset our ambitions and showed us what it was like to defy the odds – not through ruthlessness or being bankrolled by billionaire backers – but through integrity, belief and hard work.
The Wagner era shows what can be done on a small budget when a club with ambition and the ability to think beyond its standing in the league, meets a coach with the vision and unfettered belief that there is no such thing as a glass ceiling in football. This is a love letter to the power of sport.