Former Town Manager was keen to develop young players
- Final part to the special Mick Buxton interview series
- Former Town Manager on promoting and using younger players
- Buxton explains why he gave Dave Cowling his debut
They say if you’re good enough you’re old enough and that was certainly the case as far as Mick Buxton was concerned in his Huddersfield Town days.
In a statement of intent, one of the first things Buxton after taking over as manager from Tom Johnston was to promote an up-and-coming player.
It says it all that Dave Cowling got the nod from Buxton to make his debut in a Yorkshire derby against Barnsley on Saturday, September 16, 1978.
And then Cowling never looked back after the 1-0 defeat at Oakwell as he went on to makes 392 appearances for Town to become a club legend.
As well as demonstrating Buxton’s policy of putting his faith in youth, Cowling’s selection also showed the new Town manager was determined to re-build the club’s youth set-up.
That had seen Town reach the 1974 FA Youth Cup final where Robin Wray’s side lost to Spurs before they got to the semi-finals the following year when they were knocked out by Ipswich side boasting future stars such as John Wark and Kevin Beattie.
Future Town skipper Peter Hart featured in that side and is mystified that the club did not build on that abundant youthful promise after manager Ian Greaves left Leeds Road.
But that was something Buxton insists he was keen to put right and in the third and final part of an exclusive interview with htafc.com, he has spoken of his pride at the club’s youth development in his tenure.
“I once wrote down a list of players who’d come through our youth system and gone on to have what I think constitutes good professional football careers,” Buxton told htafc.com.
“That came to 20 and was something that I’m particularly proud of because when I took over as manager at Town I didn't want to just build a team, I wanted to build a football club for the good of its long-term health."
Just weeks after succeeding Tom Johnston, initially on a temporary basis, Buxton surprised many when he gave Cowling a chance to do what Paul Bielby was doing and prove himself at first-team level.
“Age was never a factor for me when it came to choosing my teams,” said Buxton who will turn 77 at the end of May.
“All I cared about was what was best for the team and our prospects of getting a good result – nothing else mattered and there was never, ever any favouritism.
“I looked round at what playing resources I had at my disposal and kept a close eye on training sessions and that’s why I gave Cowling his first-team debut.
“I remember him as an apprentice at Mansfield, I knew he was a good player and great crosser of the ball and he deserved his chance.
“We lost 1-0 and afterwards I remember being asked by a reporter if I was concerned about putting him in.
“He was 18 or 19 and I told him I wasn’t worried at all because he was a good player and that you don't worry about playing good players.”
Cowling played 25 times that season – mainly as a forward alongside Ian Robins, before making the left-wing berth his own in the Fourth Division title-winning season.
Buxton would generally rely on experienced players throughout the campaign when he used just 16 players.
But behind the scenes, the youth system was taking shape and next off the production line was Mark Lillis who would make a name for himself as an attacking midfielder.
“Mark Lillis and Dave Cowling set the tone but then along came people like Peter Valentine, Ian Measham and Simon Trevitt and Paul Wilson,” Buxton said.
“There was Graham Mitchell, who was a really good player that I gave a debut to at Crystal Palace, Julian Winter, Peter Butler and Liam Robinson.
“And there’s Junior Bent, Steven Stoutt, Robbie Turner, Andy Watson and Andy Thackeray and the goalkeeper Lee Martin.
“They kicked on thanks to their time at Leeds Road which is something that gives me immense pride because we gave them the platform to go on and succeed.”
Buxton insists that Reserves manager Jimmy Robson and youth team coach Steve Smith were key to their progress.
“My advice to the young players when they came in was that they had the ability but that would count for nothing without a strong work ethic and discipline,” Buxton said.
“But they had to listen and learn from our own people who knew the game inside-out.
“Jimmy had won the First Division with Burnley 60 years ago and scored the 100th goal in FA Cup finals to be played at Wembley.
“In my opinion, Jimmy should have played for England but he had lots of experience to impart and was willing to share because he is a lovely fella.
“As for Steve, he had been one of the top players Huddersfield had seen in recent times.
“He was a local lad, and like Jimmy he was willing to talk the players, advise the players and work with them.
“And they worked over-time because they were motivated by the best of intentions – Jimmy and Steven wanted the young players to make it and they wanted to do it for the sake of Huddersfield Town.
“They did wonders on the coaching front and there was John Haselden who was there in the background as first-team coach and physio, ready to crack the whip to make sure they were strong enough for the first time.
“And there were lots of senior players on the books who would gladly help out as well because they were good people who wanted to help others get on.
“It wasn’t just the way they led by example on and off the field but they would share useful tips of the trade as well – people like Steve Kindon, Joey Jones, Paul Jones and Sam Allardyce who were great with the young lads.”
The rising stars had to ply their trade as Under-18s in the Northern Intermediate League, which was where Butler came up against future England star Paul Gascoigne as well as future Bradford players Stuart McCall and Don Goodman.
But the prospects of making it became harder as Town followed the 1980 Fourth Division title win by gaining promotion again in 1983 and competition for places intensified.
Yet Buxton still kept an eye on local non-League clubs and that’s how Graham Cooper and Steven Stoutt got their chance with Town after impressing with, respectively, Emley and Bradley Rangers.
And both would play key roles in one of the most memorable Leeds Road games in Buxton’s seven-year Town reign – a 2-2 draw with Newcastle in front of 25,101 fans.
“It was a Bank Holiday game and at ten o’clock in the morning when we had a role-call we realised we were struggling to make a team for one of the biggest games of the season.
“I know we'd had a lot of injuries and we were going to the hotel for something to eat and John pulled me to one side and said ‘gaffer we've only got ten players.
“There was no sign of Stoutty who was on a part-time contract with us and he had another job in a mill and when John got in touch with his mum it turned out he was working.
“The foreman wouldn’t let him have the rest of the day off but we managed to let him go at lunchtime and next thing he knows he was up against a team on the brink of promotion, roared on by 20,000 Geordies.”
Stoutt excelled in the heart of Town’s defence in an exhilarating 2-2 draw that saw Cooper strike a memorable goal for the Terriers against a side featuring Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle.
“That was a game that summed us up,” Buxton said. “We did well because of the character throughout the club: we didn’t give in to anything or anyone not even Newcastle.
“Sometimes the lads might not have played as well as they could do but they never let me down in terms of effort.
“They gave me everything but some days that just wasn’t enough which is when you learn most - how you deal with setbacks that really counts.”
Buxton concluded: “Town fans will fondly remember the good old days like when we beat Hartlepool to win the Fourth Division title and when we beat Newport to go up to the old Second Division.
“I have to sat that it’s pleasantly surprising that Town fans regard that era with such affection.
“It might have something to do with the attacking play that we always tried to produce.
“But behind the scenes there was a lot of hard work on the training ground that went into making us attractive to watch.
“We did loads of work on set-plays which would drive the players mad because I made them repeat things until we get them right.
“But they knew there was a purpose to everything we did and that’s why they applied themselves so well.
“They were good times but I must admit that seeing young players make the grade in a very, very competitive industry gives me almost as much satisfaction as those honours we won because I wanted to leave a legacy.”