In recent years, the Football League has witnessed the rapid rise of cup giant killers Yeovil Town. The Somerset club now plies its trade in League One and is determined to prove it is more than just a romantic FA Cup name. Success in the Conference was followed by the League Two championship and a League One playoff final. After coming a whisker away from promotion to the Championship, the Glovers are now looking to a bigger and better future, building on its famous non-league foundation.
Football first came to the Somerset town in 1890 when Yeovil Football Club was formed. The side shared their original home with the local rugby, club playing the different codes on alternating Saturdays before relocating to Pen Mill Athletic Ground.
Here came the birth of the club, as it is known today when the Yeovil Casuals were formed in 1895. There were several more name changes over the years with the renamed Yeovil Town soon being followed by Yeovil and Petters United, due to the amalgamation of the aforementioned with Petters United. Under this name, the club won several titles plying their trade in the local leagues before the First World War broke out.
The start of the FA Cup tradition
After the war football returned to Yeovil and the side competed in the Southern League at their new home, Huish. The club also featured in the FA Cup and it was the 1925/26 season where the love affair with the competition began. Having already defeated Westbury, Clevedon, Waminster and Taunton the Cider Men faced Bournemouth and Boscombe of the Third Division (South). The third qualifying round tie proved to be a tight affair but Yeovil came out 3-2 victors to shock their more esteemed neighbours. The win set up a first round proper tie with Bristol Rovers but, despite defeat, the Glovers had started their cup-fighting tradition.
The remainder of the 1920s was disappointing on and off the pitch as a mixture of lowly finishes was compounded by rejection to the Football League. The 1930s saw Yeovil drop out of the Southern League only to swiftly return by winning the Western League section, with the 1934-35 season proving the most successful to date. Yeovil finished runners-up in the Southern League Cup final and, most strikingly, reached the third round proper of the FA Cup. The giant killing continued with a famous first round victory over Crystal Palace followed up by victory over local rivals Exeter. Eventually, the Glovers went out to Division One outfit Liverpool but the extra finance helped the club.
More FA Cup delight followed in the years to come and, in 1938, the Glovers’ FA Cup run was only thwarted in the third round at Manchester United in front of 49,000 fans. The following season saw Sheffield Wednesday unbelievably held at Hillsborough before the Owls won the replay. War halted the FA Cup habit – but not for long.
Post-war FA Cup heroics
As war ended, the club changed their name once again in 1946 to what we now know as Yeovil Town FC. Two seasons after the renaming of the club and Yeovil were hitting the headlines once again with their cup exploits. Wins over Lovell’s Athletic, Romford and old rivals Weymouth set up a third round proper tie with Second Division side Bury.
In front of over 13,000 fans and the cameras of Gaumont British News, the last remaining non-league side knocked out their league counterparts in a crushing 3-1 win. The victory set up a now famous fourth round tie with Sunderland – the big spending first division side who were one of the finest teams in the land. Over 45,000 ticket applications were received for the 17,000 available as Yeovil’s odds were cut from 5000-1 to a much more reasonable 500-1. With hindsight the bookmakers may have made the odds a little smaller.
After a tough ninety minutes at Huish the Glovers had managed to hold their first division counterparts to a 1-1 draw that resulted in extra time. As Sunderland looked to grab the win, Bryant scored arguably the most famous goal in Yeovil’s history to secure victory for the part-timers. The team made up of glove cutters, clerks, publicans amongst other professions now faced the daunting task of a fifth round trip to cup holders Manchester United. Over 81,000 watched at Maine Road as the Glovers lost 8-0 to end a FA Cup run that still lives long in the memory.
The Glovers’ legendary cup heroics soon had league success to go with it as the side picked up the Southern League crown three times between 1955 and 1973 as well as finishing runners-up twice. During this period, however, there were some unfortunate times as the club applied, and failed, for election to the Football League on numerous occasions, coming closest in 1976 missing out by just a few votes.
After missing out on the Football League, the Cider Men became one of the founder members of the Football Conference when it was formed in 1979as the fifth tier of the English football pyramid. The Glovers battled relegation for several seasons in the newly formed league but ultimately succumb in 1985, as the side dropped down to the Vauxhall Opel League. Following Yeovil’s first relegation in its history, the side finished third, before eventually bouncing back finishing champions in 1988.
Once promoted, the Glovers fought it out in the Conference finishing fourth in 1994, their best finish at that time. Winning the Bob Lord Challenge Trophy in 1990 was one of the high points of the decade but, in the mid-nineties, the heavily in debt Yeovil were relegated to the Isthmian League (ICIS). As they always had done, Yeovil fought back against the obstacles and were promoted back to the Conference in 1997 stronger than ever, having won the ICIS by a record number of points.
The Gary Johnson era
In June 2001, the former Latvian national manager Gary Johnson was named as manager of Yeovil and, during his four years in charge, oversaw a transformation. In his first season, he led the Glovers to the FA Umbro Trophy and his side defeated Stevenage Borough at Villa Park. The club’s first major trophy in their history was followed the next season by promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history. An historic season saw the Glovers amass a massive 95 points, remaining unbeaten at Huish Park.
Johnson’s magic soon proved to work in the Football League too, as a fantastic effort saw the newly promoted side finish eighth in Division Three in their first season. The side also played Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup that season but could not muster their giant killing past. The side only missed out on the playoffs that first season by just four goals but, in the season that followed, Yeovil made no mistake in the renamed League Two. The hard-working, passing side that Johnson had put together saw the Glovers romp to the title in what proved to be a momentous season.
Moving on up – League One
Yeovil’s first season in League One was abruptly taken off track as Gary Johnson left for Bristol City in September. After having previously turned down the managerial positions at Derby County and Plymouth Argyle, he left to be replaced by second-in-command Steve Thompson with Kevin Hodges appointed as his number two. Despite the early season disruption, the side consolidated their position in the division with a comfortable 15th place finish and, at the end of the season, Russell Slade was named as his full time replacement.
Slade brought in several new faces for the start of the 2006-07 season and, by late September, had reached second place – their highest ever league position. The good form continued as Yeovil finished the season in fifth place to set up a playoff semi-final with former European champions Nottingham Forest. The first leg saw Forest grab a 2-0 win at Huish Park giving the Glovers a mountain to climb in the second leg the following week. What was to follow brought back the giant killing memories. Yeovil won the second leg 5-2 at the City Ground after extra time, giving them a chance of reaching the Championship for the first time. The playoff final saw them meet Blackpool at Wembley but the 30,000 travelling fans went home disappointed as they went down 2-0.
After the playoff final defeat, several important players left this season but Slade moved quickly to bolster his squad’s promotion chances. The pre-season signings of Marc Bircham, Lloyd Owusu and Gary Dempsey as well as several key loan signings have put the Glovers in a strong position to push for promotion once more.
The club is still in a period of transition and looking to the future. John Fry now owns the club after he bought all of Dave Webb’s shares, the former chairman, and there has been mention of improving the ground. The club currently trains at Huish Park but is building new training facilities at nearby village in Kingsbury Episcopi. The future seems bright in Somerset.
- Football League Two – Champions (2004-05)
- FA Trophy – Winners (2001-02)
- Football Conference– Champions (2002-03) Runners-up (2000-01)
- Isthmian League – Champions (1987-88, 1996-97), Runners-up (1985-86, 1986-87)
- Southern League – Champions (1954-55, 1963-64, 1970-71), Runners-up (1969-70, 1972-73, 1975-76)
- Southern League – Western Division Champions (1923-24, 1931-32, 1934-35)
- Western League – Champions (1921-22, 1924-25, 1929-30, 1934-35) Runners-up (1930-31, 1931-32, 1937-38, 1938-39)
- Most Overall Appearances: Len Harris (691)
- Most League Goals: Dave Taylor (285)
- Longest Serving Player: Len Harris, 14 years (1958-72)
- Longest Serving Manager: Billy Kingdon, 8 years (1938-46)
- Record League Victories: 10-0 (v Kidderminster Harriers, Southern League, 27 December 1955); 10-0 (v Bedford Town, Southern League, 4 March 1961)
- Record Defeat: 0-8 (v Manchester United, FA Cup, 5th Round, 12 February 1949)
- Record Attendance (Huish): 16,318 (v Sunderland, 29 January 1949, FA Cup, Fourth Round)
- Record Attendance (Huish Park): 9,348 (v Liverpool, 4 January 2004, FA Cup, Third Round)
- Highest League Finish: 5th League 1, 2006/07 season