It has been a long time coming.
Back in the summer of 2003 the Terriers were a hollowed-out husk of a club. Riddled by administration, relegation to English football’s fourth tier followed and players and staff departed as the club downsized.
Manager Peter Jackson — drafted in to boost the spirits of a lost cause — had just five players on his books the following pre-season. And Booth was one of them.
“Those were dark days,” Booth told Express Sport. “We had just been relegated to the bottom league and been in administration for 10 months. The players had not been paid for all that time. The club was at its lowest ebb.”
Under Jackson, Huddersfield mounted a credible challenge for automatic promotion and when they fell short, rode their luck to bypass Mansfield Town on spot-kicks in the play-off final in Cardiff.
It almost did not happen. A Mansfield goal wrongly ruled out and Liam Lawrence’s ridiculous chipped penalty miss gifted Huddersfield promotion.
Huddersfield are on the verge of joining the Premier League elite
Andy Booth (L) was part of the squad who won promotion from the old Third Division in 2004
Looking back, Booth — who started alongside team-mates mainly comprised of free transfers and non-league chancers — admits that victory in the Millennium Stadium rekindled Huddersfield’s flame. It has been slowly burning ever since.
“In my lifetime I have never seen us play at the top level. And I have to admit after that Cardiff game we were going back in the right direction,” he said.
“That was where it all started. We’ve had a few managers since then, different chairmen, but we could have easily been languishing in that lowest league.
“The longer you’re in there then the harder it is to get out. You see some clubs even dropping out of the league altogether. Jacko was the one who started it and got the club back on the right path.”
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After eight years in League One, which included play-off heartbreak on three separate occasions, Huddersfield finally returned to the Championship after beating Sheffield United 8-7 on penalties in the Wembley final.
In that time Portsmouth had won the FA Cup, Fulham reached the Europa League final and Blackpool played a league fixture at Old Trafford. All three have since fallen from grace.
Quick success has never been an option down on Leeds Road. There has been no massive gamble, no frivolous chase for glory. Huddersfield are testament to the slow burners of this world. The aim was always to return to the Championship. They did that, again on penalties, in 2012. Never did they expect a Wembley final with the Premier League in their sights.
But everything changed in November 2015 when David Wagner — as unknown then as Huddersfield’s Division Three play-off victory 13 years ago is now — arrived at the club.
He brought a swagger to the team that has not been seen in a generation. And Booth says the manager’s influence has got Town to where they are today.
Andy Booth has been mightily impressed with the impact David Wagner has had at Huddersfield
“In two weeks you could see he had made a difference to how the team played and how they trained. The thinking behind it. It has been a David Wagner effect no doubt about it,” said Booth.
“We were hoping for a good season but when you look at what David did and how he built his team, he went about it very quietly. I presume deep down David was aiming for a top-10 finish. But you don’t expect this! Us Huddersfield fans, we’re always on the negative side. If we can finish fourth from bottom we’re happy and anything else is a bonus.”
Today’s opponents Reading finished ninth in Division One the season Huddersfield won in Cardiff. They have twice gone up to the Premier League — neither time through the play-offs.
And Booth would happily take a third penalty triumph to haul his Terriers into the big time.
“You’re 90 minutes away from promotion. It’s a season-long effort,” he said. “All the hard work, sweat and toil that season comes down to this. I didn’t get nervous at many games but playing at one of those — the nerves are jangling.”