Notes from a Nomad

Remarkable People, Memorable Events and Fascinating Destinations from Around the World.

17 – Little Old Yeovil – a Love Story. Wembley Stadium London – May 19 2013


7This website is not called Notes from a Nomad by accident as I live a peripatetic life, always moving and belonging nowhere. I am fortunate to have homes and friends in many locations but when  I travel between them I find that  there is no subject that is more useful to break down barriers and reserve and to quickly establish new friends and rapport than …………….football!

One can be in a bar in Thailand, on a raft in the Yukon or chatting to a taxi driver in Cairo and as soon as you are known to be English you will be asked ‘who is your favourite team?’,  and normally on the assumption that the response will be one of the Premiership big boys whose names are now recognisable throughout the world, and especially in the third world! The global penetration of the Premiership as a brand is staggering and I can now see about 30% of Premiership games live in Canada, 40% in the USA and 100% in Thailand!

Yeovil fans respectfully waiting to meet up by the famed Bobby Moore statue - hero and captain of England's 1966 World Cup winning team.

Yeovil fans respectfully waiting to meet up by the famed Bobby Moore statue – hero and captain of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team.

It goes without saying that almost every male in the UK (and indeed most of Europe and South America) has their favourite football club and the criteria which decides which club we all follow is usually decided by one of three factors – one’s home town club, a town where we lived at a formative time of our lives and/or a town we moved to live in. But once we declare an allegiance to a club we are signing up for either a lifelong affair or a lifetime’s servitude ( and usually both at different times!) . It matters not if we attend every game or follow the teams progress from the other side of the world because it is always your team’s results that you search for first on a Saturday (or Sunday!) afternoon.

In my case I grew up in Bournemouth attending my first game at Dean Court in 1959 and I attended home matches regularly until going to university in 1967. During my four years at London University I was always based in North London and attended many of Arsenal’s matches and coincidentally although my father had zero interest in football he did take me to see my first First Division match at Highbury in 1960 – Arsenal vs Birmingham. I was still studying in London and was there when Arsenal clinched the double at their Tottenham rival’s ground in 1971 and Arsenal’s is always the first premiership result that I look for.

But when I am asked who is my favourite team it always involves a lengthy response – and not just because I am verbose but because few Egyptian Taxi Drivers (or German IT workers!) have heard of Yeovil Town!

In 1979 I moved to Templecombe on the Somerset/Dorset border and although the next 20 years was spent developing what was to become a very successful travel business I found myself increasingly making time available to watch my local team – non league Yeovil Town.

The author with daughter Sarah and son David and sports commentator and aficionado John Burgess.

The author with daughter Sarah and son David and sports commentator and aficionado John Burgess.

Now for football enthusiasts Yeovil have always been a well-known team and arguably were Britain’s most famous non-league team due to their exploits in the FA Cup where after making their way through the qualifying rounds to join the competition proper in the first round they subsequently proceeded to eliminate full time professional teams on no fewer than 20 occasions.

In 2003 after 108 years as a non-league team (minor league for North American readers) Yeovil finally secured promotion to the Football League by winning the Conference title in record breaking fashion and I was there at Huish Park for the final day celebrations at the end of the season and in Yeovil’s initial season in the Football League (League 2) despite a valiant end of season victory at Lincoln Yeovil were denied a place in the playoffs on goal difference alone. But that was soon put to right when the following season on May 7 2005, the last day of the season Yeovil secured the League 2 title and automatic promotion to League 1.

Not bad for the smallest town in the UK to be the proud home of a Football League club but most impartial observers and pundits fully expected Yeovil to quickly return to League 2.

And in truth there were many supporters as well as Directors and staff within the club who acknowledged that Yeovil had overachieved and were punching well above their weight but somehow Yeovil managed to retain their place in League 1 not just for one season but for 8 seasons although almost every year they were usually one of the bookmakers favourites to be relegated back to League 2.

Following the departure of talismanic Manager Gary Johnson only a few games into the 2005-06 season the last 8 years have not been easy ones for supporters nor for the club and its Directors, as both attendances and revenues have fallen. Longstanding Chairman John Fry has blamed this on the recession whilst many supporters have argued that the traditional goodwill between the Club and its supporters have been eroded by a lack of open and effective communication and many contradictory statements about the club’s ownership and decision making processes.

But nevertheless the club was generally prudently managed by ‘old school’ owners that seemingly had the club’s best interests at heart despite usually appearing not to have a coherent or logical long term strategy in place. As far as this writer is concerned my biggest criticism of the club during this period was I felt it had a ‘corner shop’ mentality and still maintained a Non – League outlook as in ‘Aren’t we doing well to be here’ rather than ‘What can we do to get to the next level.

Yeovil fans savouring the atmosphere.

Yeovil fans savouring the atmosphere.

But then what do I know about football?

Because on Sunday May 19 I was on my way to Wembley, perhaps the most famous football stadium in the world to watch Yeovil play Brentford in the League One play off final which would send one of these teams into the higher echelons of the English professional game.

Indeed despite my and many other’s criticisms of the club ‘Little old Yeovil’ was just one game away from securing a place in the Championship, the fourth most watched Football League in Europe and just one level below the Premiership and the giants of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.

So what had changed in 2012-13 for Yeovil Town so that I had flown back to the UK from Thailand to watch this momentous game? Almost everyone would agree that January 9 2012 was a key date as far as the rebirth of Yeovil Town’s prospects were concerned as this date marked the surprising return of Gary Johnson to Yeovil Town. Having won the FA Trophy, the Conference Title and the League 2 Title in the four years after being appointed as ‘Gary who?’ in June 2001, he left Yeovil in 2005 as ‘Sir Gary’ (reportedly because he believed that the Club’s ambitions did not match his own) to manage neighbouring Bristol City. Johnson was initially very successful in securing promotion to the Championship and subsequently taking Bristol City to within one game of the Premiership before falling out of favour with a very vocal minority of Bristol City fans and moving on to a less successful period of his career at Peterborough, another club with ambitious owners and Northampton where he was fired in November 2011.


Yeovil fans cheer their team onto the pitch 1.

In January 2012 it was already clear Yeovil were yet again fighting another rear-guard action to survive in League 1 and it seems the owners finally realised what the fans had been saying for years – that the current manager and loyal club stalwart Terry Skiverton was not the right person for the job. The hardworking Skiverton who was the club captain under Johnson, still appeared out of his depth as a Manager and it seemed to be a win win situation for both the club and the currently unemployed Johnson if he returned as Manager. Perhaps surprisingly, or not as it reflected an indication of his respect for his former boss, Skiverton agreed to stay on as Assistant Manager. The appointment paid off as Gary Johnson steered the club out of the relegation zone to a more than respectful end of season 15th place in League 1.

The 2012- 13 season had started well and the club was second in the standings on goal difference alone after four games on September 1 but the club had slipped to 12th position by December 29 and then two events occurred which were to turn the season on its head. Firstly from December 29 to February 16 the team recorded an unbelievable eight victories in a row which propelled the club to second in the standings just one point behind leaders Bournemouth. This was to provide the foundation whereby for the second half of the season Yeovil were well established in the leading group of 8 teams who between them would fight for the two automatic promotion places and the four playoff places for teams who would compete for the third promotion spot.

Yeovil fans cheer their team onto the pitch 2.

Yeovil fans cheer their team onto the pitch 2.

And inseparable to this tremendous run of form was the contribution of goal scorer Paddy Madden who turned out to be the signing of the season – not just for Yeovil but it could be argued, for any team in the UK. The Irishman was initially brought to Yeovil on loan from Carlisle where he was unable to secure a starting spot and became a permanent signing during the January 2013 transfer window and allegedly for a bargain basement £15,000. With 22 goals from 35 starts which secured a place in the playoffs surely Madden was one of the steals of the last decade – anywhere!

Madden gave Yeovil what every club desperately wants – a striker who can score 20 goals in a season. With such a player a club will rarely be relegated and when playing in tandem with another striker who can be relied upon to contribute 10 -15 goals a season the probability is the club will be challenging for promotion.

Madden could hardly stop scoring and was to win the Golden Boot award as League One’s leading scorer and with the dependable (dare I write journeyman) James Hayter contributing another 14 goals Yeovil had a pair of strikers who could rival the exploits of Phil Jeavons and Bartosz Tarachulski for the first time since the golden League 2 Championship winning season of 2004 -05.

For the second time in 6 years Yeovil have defied the odds and made it to the League 1 playoff finals.

For the second time in 6 years Yeovil have defied the odds and made it to the League 1 playoff finals.

By mid April it was clear that at worst Yeovil were fairly certain to make the playoffs and were not without a chance of gaining automatic promotion as all the leading clubs unexpectedly started dropping points but unfortunately Yeovil were not exempt from inconsistent results either and had to settle for a 4th place finish. An extraordinary achievement considering the club had been one of the favourites for relegation, an average attendance barely nudging 4,000 and what was assumed to be the smallest budget in the division for player’s wages – indeed there were reportedly non-league Conference sides with a bigger budget!

I had rented a small villa in Thailand from late January to May 1 in order to be working on a book and like many Yeovil fans throughout the world I had followed results avidly and with a growing sense of anticipation. The world is now truly a global village thanks to both the internet and affordable air fares and it is as easy to be an exiled Yeovil fan in Cyprus, California and Hong Kong as London, Northampton and Manchester!

After the final game of the regular season it was Doncaster (who had been promoted from the Conference to League 2 together with Yeovil in 2004) and my home town club Bournemouth who gained automatic promotion and Brentford (3rd), Sheffield United (5th) and Swindon (6th) who also made the playoffs with Yeovil. To me as a betting man it was wide open although of course it was Yeovil, considered a ‘fluke’ to have made the playoffs, who were the bookmakers outsiders in a fairly open betting market. I was pleased we had  avoided local rivals Swindon who had recently convincingly beaten Yeovil at Huish Park and was happy to be playing Sheffield United, not so long ago playing in the Premiership,  in the first round of the playoffs, and with the advantage of playing the second leg at home. Sheffield United had a poor record in the playoffs whenever they had qualified over the last 20 years and had recently surprisingly changed their Manager so it could have been a lot worse.

Yeovil skipper Jamie McAllister requires treatment after early action.

Yeovil skipper Jamie McAllister requires treatment after early action.

And by contrast ‘Little old Yeovil’ did have some playoff history and indeed some glorious memories  despite only being members of the Football League for 9 years.

In 2007 when managed by Russell Slade Yeovil had finished 5th in League 1 (the only other time they finished in the top half of League 1!) and had been drawn against former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest who after a period of decline found themselves ignominiously playing in League 1 when they felt their history alone entitled them to a place in the Premiership.

When Yeovil lost the first leg of the two game tie 2-0 at home no one gave them any chance of turning around this deficit for the return game at Nottingham and indeed many Forest fans were already booking hotels for a weekend in London for the 2007 playoff final at Wembley. Like many others I had wondered long and hard about making the long journey to Nottingham with little chance of success but was so glad that I did as I witnessed one of the most extraordinary sporting spectacles I had ever seen as Yeovil defied both the odds and history to secure a 5-2 away victory after extra time against the former champions of Europe to secure a place at Wembley. The words of the TV Commentator when they scored the winning goal ‘They have only gone and done it’ are as famous around Yeovil as Kenneth Wolstenholme’s classic commentary in 1966 ‘They think its all over – it is now’ as Geoff Hurst scored the final goal for England in the 1966 World Cup Final.

Yeovil Fans could not have asked for a better start when Paddy Madden scores after 6 minutes.

Yeovil Fans could not have asked for a better start when Paddy Madden scores after 6 minutes.

Despite the famous 1-0 victory over first division table topping Sunderland in 1949 and all the success achieved by Gary Johnson in his first tenure with the club there is little doubt that the unbelievable victory over Nottingham Forest in 2007 was the finest result in Yeovil’s proud history. Despite a history of causing unexpected upsets no one saw the victory at Notts Forest coming and despite a tepid performance against Premiership bound Blackpool in the playoff final at Wembley in 2007, Yeovil had nothing to fear from the playoffs – it was a very open contest.

My dilemma was at what point to return to the UK as I had scheduled some eye surgery in Thailand for early May and I decided to proceed with the surgery on the assumption I could watch the first round of the playoffs on Thai TV and then return in time for the Wembley final – and if Yeovil failed to get to Wembley I planned to cycle from Reading to Bristol along the Kennet and Avon canal with a group of friends.

However whilst Thailand is soccer mad and shows virtually every Premiership game live on TV it was not so easy to find the League One playoffs and so I had to follow the first leg at Sheffield via Twitter and internet commentary and a 1-0 loss was certainly not the end of the world. A marginal advantage to Sheffield but certainly all to play for in the return leg at Yeovil before a sell out crowd (8,152!) and clearly the first goal was going to be crucial. An early goal to Yeovil would surely give them a massive advantage and put the pressure on Sheffield but conversely an early goal by the Blades could kill off the tie and take the wind out of Yeovil’s sails.8

Everyone is happy with a two goal lead at half time.

Everyone is happy with a two goal lead at half time.

I found myself on the beautiful island of Ko Chang near the Thai Cambodian border and again none of the TV channels I could access were showing the game so I went to a local cafe with wi fi and tried to tune in to the radio commentaries on Five Live or Somerset Sound but due to rights restrictions the transmissions were blocked so I was resigned to following the game via the internet and regretting I had not changed my flights to return home and watch the game live. And then I remembered that my Ipad had Apples brilliant Facetime application and if our elder daughter Sarah at home in the UK put her Ipad in front of our TV with the game live on Sky she could ‘stream’ the match live for me to watch at my pavement café on Ko Chang. Thank you Apple – the picture was as clear as a bell and there was zero doubt I was the only person in Eastern Thailand watching Yeovil vs Sheffield United live! However my heart was in my mouth when the picture occasionally froze with the ball heading goal ward!

And it could not have been scripted better.

It was Yeovil who scored a great opening goal in the 6th minute courtesy of Kevin Dawson neatly turning in an Ed Upson pass and despite Sheffield United coming back strongly and having the best of the latter portions of the first half it was Yeovil who maintained their advantage at the interval and Yeovil who made and squandered the better chances in the second half, most of them falling to and inexplicably being missed by Paddy Madden who finally made up for his transgressions by turning from goalscorer to goal provider with a delightful cross that Ed Upson headed home with just 6 minutes remaining.

I am sure my roar of approval could be heard in Bangkok! This barely gave Sheffield United time to respond and despite several minutes of Extra Time it was to no avail. The Blade’s abysmal record in the playoffs continued as they were consigned to another season in League 1 and it was Yeovil who were heading to Wembley.

Somehow Yeovil hang on to secure their most important victory in their 113 year history and the rival players shake hands at the end of a competitive game.

Somehow Yeovil hang on to secure their most important victory in their 113 year history and the rival players shake hands at the end of a competitive game.

And this all explains how I found myself outside Wembley at midday on Sunday May 19 for what was Yeovil’s last game of the season and my first!

I was a long way from Thailand, and for sure Wembley and its immediate surroundings are a lot less attractive than Ko Chang, but I would not want to have been anywhere else in the world. As it was I had probably made a journey further than anyone else in the world to see Yeovil in an important game and not for the first time as my journey from Everest Base Camp to Yeovil in April 2004 had been parlayed into a book ‘Around the World with Yeovil Town’ chronicling Yeovil’s championship winning 2004 – 05 season. (Author’s plug- the title is still available on Amazon folks!)

Our opponents were Brentford from West London and indeed almost in the shadows of Wembley so their fans certainly did not have far to travel! Brentford had disposed of (as far as I was concerned) the best avoided Swindon Town in the other two legged playoff semi-final and I was more than happy with this – Brentford had missed a penalty in the final minute of their final game of the season which would have given them automatic promotion and I felt ‘if only’ or ‘so near but so far’ thoughts were always likely to surface if Brentford got behind and this would then be to Yeovil’s advantage.

The Yeovil team are presented with the Play off trophy after securing a place in the Championship - the fourth most attended league in Europe! Ten years ago the team was competing in  Non League football!

The Yeovil team are presented with the Play off trophy after securing a place in the Championship – the fourth most attended league in Europe! Ten years ago the team was competing in Non League football!

I just hoped that this time Yeovil turned up and did themselves justice because in their previous Wembley appearance 6 years earlier after the famous victory over Notts Forest it had all been a bit of an anti-climax as Yeovil were never in the game losing 2-0 to an impressive and in form Blackpool side who were on course to securing a place in the Premiership three years later in 2010. Brentford were certainly no Blackpool nor in such a rich vein of form and as I told all and sundry ‘Surely its our turn’ as I had noticed that despite winning the 2005 League 1 title we were the only one of the four promoted teams that year not to have been subsequently promoted to reach the Championship.

Both Southend and Scunthorpe had been promoted to the Championship whilst Swansea had just completed their second season in the Premiership with some distinction having just won the League Cup and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Even Doncaster who emerged from the Conference very much in our wake in 2003 to join the Football League have just sealed their second promotion to the Championship this season. However the warning was also clear to see – of the four only Swansea have not returned to League 1!

Like most gamblers I was desperately looking for omens to justify my hopes but history will always link Yeovil with Doncaster, Scunthorpe, Swansea and Southend and there would be a nice sense of ‘closing the circle’ if like them we cold finally match their achievements and also reach the Championship.

All the Yeovil fans stay to watch the presentation and salute their team.

All the Yeovil fans stay to watch the presentation and salute their team.

After a morning meeting at Ealing and subsequent lift to Wembley I, like most of the other 60,000 supporters who were meeting others, had also arranged to meet our son David and daughter Sarah at the Bobby Moore statue and there finally appeared to be almost as many fans bedecked in Green as in the red of Brentford. I am not sure if I had ever previously attended a Yeovil game with David and I reminded Sarah that the last time she had watched Yeovil was when she about three years old and had missed both goals when she had to pee. I would happily settle for two goals today!

I had also got a ticket for John Burgess of East Coker to sit with us. John is a very positive and larger than life extrovert usually working as a freelance sports commentator for a number of Asian and New Zealand Broadcasting companies. I had met John several years earlier when he approached Casterbridge Tours on behalf of a Thai school that he represented and our paths had almost crossed 8 months earlier when I passed through Yekaterinburg (Russia’s fourth largest city located in the Urals) on the Trans Siberian Express where he had been commentating on the Asian Table Tennis Championships just 24 hours earlier. John had got a lift up with my former colleague and die hard Southampton fan Tony Browne who promptly celebrated our reunion by dropping my ipad and breaking the screen when taking some pictures of our group! Tony was sitting with some Rotary friends from Sherborne so we arranged to meet him afterwards and meanwhile we made our way to our seats but not before bumping into a few familiar faces from Somerset once we were inside the Stadium.

I always feel that the new Wembley is much more impressive inside than outside and we enjoyed the preliminaries together with almost 30,000 Yeovil supporters almost all bedecked in green and white at our end of the stadium and as we all prepared for the kick off I thought to myself ‘We have a real chance of winning this and going up’ and once the game started my thoughts were soon vindicated when Paddy Madden ended his 5 game goalless drought with a goal of exquisite quality after just 6 minutes. The ball broke to him fortuitously outside the penalty area and on full stretch he caressed the ball first touch with the outside of his toes into the top left corner of the goal. It was a goal that had class written all over it and would have been outstanding if scored by Lionel Messi himself and it underlined the blindingly obvious – the man is a natural goal scorer and destined for a big future. Yeovil were well on top and although Brentford started to come back into the game a second Yeovil goal from a Dan Burn header following a corner just before half time meant that we went into half time with a two goal advantage. We all initially thought James Hayter had got a touch on the ball but it was Burn’s goal for sure.

Yeovil Fans salute their team.

Yeovil Fans salute their team.

Yeovil fans could hardly believe it – two goals up and 45 minutes from the Championship. It was actually going to happen but was it? Just minutes into the second half and Brentford scored and all of a sudden it was a different game with Brentford enjoying all the possession and making attack after attack. There was a growing sense of unease spreading amongst the Yeovil supporters as in ‘so near but so far’ as there was a growing sense of inevitability that if Brentford scored again to level the game they would certainly go on and win it. Too many times this season Yeovil had failed to hang on to leads.

‘’30 minutes from the Championship’ John reminded me after an hours play and 5 minutes later it was ’25 minutes from the Championship’. And still wave upon wave of Brentford attacks and at times it seemed as if all that stood between Yeovil and certain defeat were the two stalwart  Yeovil centre halves Bryon Webster and Dan Burns who heroically headed clear ball after ball played down the middle. By the time we had got to ‘Five minutes to the Championship Michael’ I was watching and willing the second hand on my watch sweep around before the agony was prolonged by another six minutes of extra time until with just 30 seconds left and Yeovil playing the ball towards the corner I actually relaxed and though ‘My God we have actually held out and are going to be playing in the Championship next season against the likes of QPR, Reading, Wigan, Bolton, Blackburn and Birmingham.

The players celebrate before delirious fans.

The players celebrate before delirious fans.

I had tears in my eyes and it seemed many Yeovil supporters were like me perhaps too stunned to celebrate. Had the second smallest town in the UK to host a League club just secured a place in the second highest division of English football? Had the team with one of the smallest budgets in the Football League just defied the odds and logic to secure a place in the Championship? And with an average home attendance this season of under 4,000!

The scoreboard flashed ‘Congratulations Yeovil’ and Yeovil’s Czeck goalkeeper Marek Stech, outstanding all season, received the honours as Man of the Match for a great second half display when he made several outstanding saves and together with Dan Burn and Bryon Webster was largely responsible for keeping Brentford at bay.

The players, coaching squad and Gary Johnson were clearly delighted making a long half lap of honour in front of their supporters after collecting their medals and the trophy. Gary Johnson was obviously overjoyed and one could not help but feel pleased for his support team who also had close and longstanding connections with the club.

Terry Skiverton , Captain under Johnson as a player and who had played over 350 games for Yeovil and was unfairly appointed as a Manager before he was ready in February 2009 after the departure of Russell Slade in what was commonly seen as a penny pinching appointment. Skivvo clearly lacked the experience to be thrown in at the deep end as a player manager but three years later he had loyally swallowed his pride when his former mentor was appointed and agreed to serve as an assistant under Gary Johnson and I suspect at some point in the future he may be given a second opportunity to manage if not this club then certainly another.

Coach Darren Way played a vital role as a midfield terrier in the Gary Johnson teams that progressed from the Conference to League 1 before being transferred to Swansea and after returning to the club on loan had been fortunate to survive a road accident although his playing career was sadly terminated. The club had loyally found a position for him on Skiverton’s coaching staff and now he was also dancing around the pitch, very much part of the club’s brightest day.

I have heard many Manager’s comment ‘ If your nerves can take the strain of a lottery then undoubtedly the best way to secure promotion is via the playoffs with a spectacular Wembley finale’ but unfortunately only one team of the four will triumph in the playoffs so of course automatic promotion is every team’s ambition. But if the more ‘boring’ option of finishing first or second is not achieved it cannot be denied that to secure promotion through winning a playoff final at Wembley will be a unique highlight of most player’s career and a once in a lifetime experience for most supporters. And who could have possibly seen that the second coming of Gary Johnson would yield such spectacular results.

The victorious team makes a lap of honour before their fans.

The victorious team makes a lap of honour before their fans.

Players and coaching staff together, everyone was clearly delighted and revelling in the crowds jubilation. There were almost 30,000 supporters applauding their team and the population of Yeovil?…………….just 40,000!

What was that someone said about ‘will the last person out of Yeovil please turn the lights out’!

Sarah and David left for a train back to Somerset and to his London flat respectively as I made a note that next time I needed a big result from Yeovil to make sure I went with both of them – clearly a winning combination! John and I met up with Tony who was driving John back to the West Country. ‘Amazing’ said Tony who I had to pressurise to attend (after all Southampton were playing at home!) ‘but I think they will struggle to stay up next year.’

But that was a debate for another day. I was just pleased that there was no extra time so I was under no pressure to get to London City airport for my flight to my home in Switzerland and as I waited at Wembley Park for a tube to take me back into central London the realisation of what Yeovil had done sank home – with average attendances of less than 4,000, income of circa £2m and the smallest budget for playing staff in the League Yeovil had somehow within 11 years of joining the Football League graduated to the second highest tier in English Football where they will be playing the likes of Leicester, QPR, Derby, Ipswich, Reading, Wigan, Bolton, Charlton and Middlesborough who were all recently playing in the Prewmiership whilst such famous and historic clubs as Wolverhampton, Preston, Coventry, Sheffield United and nearby Bristol City will be found below us in League 1.

For achieving the seemingly impossible 10  years after he had guided Yeovil into the Football League charismatic manager 'Sir' Gary Johnson will henceforth be known as 'Magic' Johnson!

For achieving the seemingly impossible 10 years after he had guided Yeovil into the Football League charismatic manager ‘Sir’ Gary Johnson will henceforth be known as ‘Magic’ Johnson!

The much maligned owners who have (justifiably at times in my opinion) taken so much flak and criticism in recent years (including from myself!) should also be congratulated because whether by luck or judgement they had achieved the impossible and now faced a completely new set of problems and challenges, not least the upgrading of facilities if the club is to last for much longer than one season in the Championship. And although a higher level of TV funding will result from the club’s new Championship status Yeovil still desperately needs new investment and revenue streams but it is doubtful if any new investors will ever emerge unless the current owners are willing to sacrifice equity and the ownership of the stadium and surrounding training pitch is returned to the Club.

As I made my way back to Central London I also hoped that we would now see the end of the ‘aren’t we doing well to still be in the Football League’ mentality. I felt that that this attitude has bedevilled our club over the last 10 years because what I describe as a ‘corner shop’ mentality is easily interpreted as slack of ambition. We had now visited the playoffs twice and to date disposed of Notts Forest and Sheffield Utd and clubs don’t come any bigger than them at this level. We had also secured a place on merit in the Championship and we all know Yeovil has a small economic base to draw upon but let’s not use that as an excuse or offer our opponents an advantage by mentally doffing our hat all the time. I do appreciate that this status as a perennial underdog can be a useful motivating tool and indeed I have titled this piece ‘Little Old Yeovil’ after the disparaging Banner that Yeovil fans successfully smuggled into Wembley rather than pay the £1500 fee quoted by the authorities in the days before the game.

Terry Skiverton has had a 15 year association with Yeovil as Player, Captain, Player - Manager, Manager and now as Assistant Manager. Goalkeeper Marek Stech was Yeovil's hero for defying Brentford in the second half with a fine string of saves.

Terry Skiverton has had a 15 year association with Yeovil as Player, Captain, Player – Manager, Manager and now as Assistant Manager. Goalkeeper Marek Stech was Yeovil’s hero for defying Brentford in the second half with a fine string of saves.

In the days ahead Yeovil fans were to fully appreciate the implications of the result – for the first time in over 100 years we had already qualified for the 3rd round of next seasons FA Cup as Championship and Premiership clubs receive byes to the 3rd round. Yeovil (population 40,000) were now officially the leading club in the West of England as Bristol City (Population 1m and the US’s 8th biggest city) for whose greener pastures Gary Johnson had departed in 2005 had this season been relegated from the Championship to League 1 – who was it who said ‘what goes around comes around!’

In due course I was to read many amusing comments on the Bristol City fans website either congratulating or disparaging Yeovil for their success and many fans regretted that Johnson (’The best manager we ever had’ according to some posts) had been forced out of the club. Perhaps the most amusing comment was from some wag who had posted ‘I wish that we had a Manager who can motivate his players to perform like Yeovil did at Wembley! Wait a minute – we did!’

Meanwhile  ‘Sir’ Gary Johnson will bedestined to be forever remembered as ‘Magic’ Johnson after successfully (should that be miraculously) taking Yeovil on another unprecedented fairy tale journey during his second sojurn in charge.

Stunned Yeovil fans make an orderly departure from Wembley Stadium - the Mecca of English football. No one can quite believe what has happened to 'Little old Yeovil'.

Stunned Yeovil fans make an orderly departure from Wembley Stadium – the Mecca of English football. No one can quite believe what has happened to ‘Little old Yeovil’.

As I flew to Switzerland later that evening I sat next to a Bradford City supporter who had flown to London from his home in Basel to watch his team triumph over Northampton the preceding day at Wembley. We both agreed that if Gary Johnson could wheel, deal and motivate his players to avoid relegation in the forthcoming season it would be as big a success as achieving promotion to the Championship in the first place! And if Yeovil can defy the odds and establish themselves in the Championship as they somehow managed to do for 8 years in League 1 then maybe I would not have to spend so much time explaining to Taxi drivers around the world the who and where about ‘Yo Vill Town’ Football Club

And sure enough after landing at Basel Airport the first thing my taxi driver said was ‘Ah you are English. Which team do you support?………………….!


I would be wrong for me not to declare an interest or two regarding the above article. Between 2002 and 2010 I made three approaches to acquire a minority or majority shareholding in Yeovil Town football Club. The first was never passed on to the Board of Directors for consideration, the second in 2006 led to a lengthy public debate of claims and counter claims and the 3rd received a response from the CEO that the current shareholders had exciting plans for the future of the club and no plans to sell.

A day Yeovil fans will never forget!

A day Yeovil fans will never forget!

In 2005 The History Press in Stroud published my book ‘Around the World with Yeovil Town’ which fortuitously coincided with Yeovil’s League 2 Championship winning season and sold about a thousand copies. I plan to write a follow up ‘Forever’s Team’ which plans to re- interview and review the subsequent careers of the 25 players, Coach, Manager and Chairman that were responsible for Yeovil’s initial triumph in the Football League and whose names are forever immortalised in the hearts of all Yeovil supporters.

I was inspired to write this article when I found myself in Desolation Sound about 150 miles north of Vancouver in beautiful BC, Canada during the summer of 2013. By coincidence I was in the neighbouring Princess Louisa inlet 9 years ago, also on a chartered power boat, when I wrote the opening chapter of ‘Around the World with Yeovil Town’. There seemed certain symmetry in writing about Yeovil again in the same region!

Yeovil are of course the bookmaker’s favourites to be immediately relegated back to the Championship and the author of course let his money follow his heart taking even money that Yeovil will not be relegated and (a ridiculous) 9/1 that Yeovil would finish in the top half of the Championship. I have always been a dreamer and crazier things have happened – after all aren’t Yeovil now playing in the same league as QPR, Bolton and Birmingham City!

© Michael Bromfield 2014

3 thoughts on “17 – Little Old Yeovil – a Love Story. Wembley Stadium London – May 19 2013

  1. ,I like it, we are fans of Sassuolo

  2. Pingback: 26 – Meetings in Unlikely Places – Coincidence or Fate? – November 28 2014 | Notes from a Nomad

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