Huddersfield Town rejection and pixie ears: Introducing Andy Holdsworth, the man steering Sheffield Wednesday's promising under-18 side
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Recently introduced to the first team at Huddersfield Town, the teenage right-back was one of the pros invited to switch on the Christmas lights alongside a couple of local celebrities in the town centre.
Huddersfield, fresh out of administration, didn’t have many professionals on the books at the time and on arrival were hit with the news that the organisers had requested a couple of the players dress up as elves and drive around on a motorised train, throwing sweets to the hoardes of kiddies eager to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
It was a tough sell. And as senior players made giggling excuses and pointed towards their younger teammates, Holdsworth reluctantly agreed. The club had made an commitment, he surmised. And those kiddies needed their sweets.
Fast-forward to the image of a young Holdsworth in full elf uniform, pixie ears and with a face full of rosy-cheeked makeup. It wasn’t quite the glamorous introduction to professional football he might have imagined.
Though tongue-in-cheek, it was a moment that summed up Holdsworth’s commitment to the club’s fans even at a rookie age, Booth told The Star.
“He was in the academy when I came back to Town,” he said. “My first recollection of him was when we were in administration. It was a horrible time for the club, very dark times.
“We’d already been relegated and the lads who were coming to the end of their deals had packed it in for the season. We ended up playing six or seven young lads.
“We’d not trained a huge amount with them but they were thrown straight in. Straight away you could tell what a good footballer he was. He was an excellent right-back, a really good footballer.
“Of the field he’s a gentleman who would do anything for anybody.”
Nearly two decades on the now 37-year-old last week presided over Wednesday’s FA Youth Cup win over Southampton, renowned as one of the most prolific academies in European football.
It was a win unexpected but perhaps not all that shocking given the achievements of this talented group of young Owls, who are also riding high in the Professional Development League table.
Such a promising coaching career was always on the cards, Booth remembers on a Huddersfield player whose time in West Yorkshire was cut short by the arrival of Lee Clark.
With a player of the year award and 230 league games under his belt by the time he was 25 it seemed he would go on to club legend status at the club, but three years later via short stints at Oldham and Morecambe found himself playing non-league first at Alfreton Town and then at Guiseley, where he found a home.
“He always wanted to learn about the game,” Booth said. “Even in dressing room meetings as a young lad he’d have his say.
“Usually young fellas will keep quiet and keep their head down but he was at the forefront of the discussions. As a player he could read a game and he knew football. His next step was always going to be coaching.
“Straight away from him being a really young lad you could tell he has a football brain, he understood the game from a young age and went on to play over 250 games for the club. It was a disappointment how he left.
“I don’t know what happened, it was strange. He was player of the year, a fan favourite. It didn’t make any sense.
“He could have played all his career for Huddersfield, played 500 or 600 games for them and ended up being a real legend of the club.
“You don’t get many fan favourites like that at full-back, but they loved him. You knew what you got from Andy, he was honest, whole-hearted and he was a good footballer.”
When landing in non-league, he quickly recalibrated and undertook his coaching badges, starting out with work at Barnsley while still at Guiseley, where he remains a club legend having captained the side to a historic promotion to the National League in 2015.
He retired soon afterwards to take on a full-time role at Oakwell and moved to his role at Wednesday in 2018, a move that came as no surprise to former Bradford City captain and current Bradford Park Avenue boss Mark Bower, his teammate and later manager at Guiseley.
“We signed at a similar time,” he said. “You could see then he was really clued-up on the game, knowledgeable and got his message across really well as a player and a captain.
“A lot of us at the club were doing our coaching badges and he was well on to that then.
“He was so down to earth, approachable and was always someone that was good with young players.
“When I became the manager and there were maybe times he was in and out of the team a bit, but he was so reliable and I never had any problems with him. He was different class, the perfect character to have in your dressing room.
“I have no doubt the young lads at Wednesday are getting quality coaching and have a really good mentor to learn from.”
A solitary Covid stand-in match in last season’s FA Cup is the breadth of first team management experience Andy Holdsworth has. As it stands, he’s one from one.
There’s no doubt that those who know him feel, like the Owlets he looks after, he has the potential to grow into bigger things.