The continued miraculous rise of Yeovil the Wonder Club – opposition profile
Friday, 20th Sep 2013 02:17 by Clive Whittingham
A Conference side a decade ago, Yeovil are now mixing it with the big boys in the Championship thanks to two miraculous spells under the management of Gary Johnson.
The quest to find an acceptable pre-match drinking establishment in the city of Liverpool was a long, arduous and ultimately unsuccessful stress for your intrepid team of LoftforWords reprobates during a two year stay in the Premier League. Four times we went, four times we failed, and ultimately it was one of the many reasons we decided we're probably best of out of the "best league in the world" for a little while.
Who would have thought finding a pub offering decent food – i.e. a breakfast with sausages made to a recipe that includes less than 60% cigarette ash – as well as the live lunchtime football in a city as steeped in drinking and footballing tradition as Liverpool could be such an almighty ball ache? Waiting for a takeaway pizza in a theme bar done up to look like the inside of a pirate ship, where only one member of staff (who didn't start until 18.00) had received "television remote control training" and could therefore put the evening game on, was probably a low point. That or the bloke with a cardboard box tucked under his arm wandering around tables asking if we were "alright for shampoo".
It was in our final forlorn attempt, on the last day of last season, that we stumbled into Jamie Carragher's bar. Surely, for all that's good in the world, straight talking Jamie would know how to set up a decent football pub.
Well, actually, no he doesn't.
Built like an air raid shelter, with a thick black walls and a ceiling five and a half feet off the floor, the place is ostensibly a children's party venue. More televisions than even your average Liverpool lock up garage could proffer line the walls from floor to ceiling, showing either music videos or highlights of old Liverpool games. The music of Smiley Virus and one of either The Wanted/One Direction/Busted/McFly (not my specialist subject) assaults the ears at a volume that makes conversation impossible and necessitates the chef loudly blowing a referees whistle to make the waiting staff aware that some more battery farmed chicken has come out of the friar. It's not a place to be with a hangover.
It was in this prestigious venue last May that we grumpily took in what the media would have you believe is a minor footballing miracle – the promotion of Yeovil Town into the second tier of English football for the very first time. It's an English version of Castel Di Sangro's mid-1990s rise into Italy 's Serie B, and that was so unlikely they wrote one of the finest football books ever penned about it. When QPR came here in 1988, Yeovil were plying their trade in the Southern League. The R’s have been once since, for a typical Football League Trophy 3-0 capitulation, and although that was only a decade ago Yeovil were a Conference side at the time. And yet here they are.
The Glovers beat Brentford at Wembley in their play-off final and thank God in heaven they did. As someone who has never enjoyed the hype and hostility of a derby game – recent humiliations of the racists down the road excepted of course – the idea of Brentford flying out of the traps all organisation, tactics and talented young players to face my QPR side in its present, recovering but still sickly, state while people queue up to tell me how well run the Bees are compared to Rangers these days thrills me about as much as the nagging thought that I left the iron on this morning. A trip down to Dorset on the Ninky Nonk to face Yeovil Town appeals a great deal more.
On arrival QPR will find a team in the relegation zone, which is where they are universally expected to finish, but one managed by Gary Johnson and therefore to be written off only after very careful consideration. Johnson, once manager of the Latvian national team during which his son Lee lobbied the old QPR.org message board to try and garner support for his father to get the often vacant position at Loftus Road, is one of those Paul Jewell-type managers who either fits at a club and excels or does not and does not and rarely anything in between.
He built his reputation in this country hauling Yeovil out of non-league into the Football League in the first place, and having gone onto rescue Bristol City from seemingly certain relegation into the bottom division he then got them to within a tightly fought play off final defeat by Hull of promotion to the Premier League. But when the passage of time saw his spell at Ashton Gate go stale, subsequent spells at Northampton and Peterborough, where Aidy Boothroyd and Darren Ferguson have succeeded, went surprisingly badly. That's left him rebuilding his reputation back at Huish Park – and he's certainly done that so far.
His talent, both at Yeovil and Bristol City, has been taking players who have done little elsewhere and turning them into stars. At Ashton Gate, Marvin Elliott looked like the Championship's outstanding midfielder for a period despite never really excelling previously at Millwall, or at City since Johnson left. Last season Yeovil were fired into the second tier partly thanks to 24 goals from striker Paddy Madden, who'd been allowed to leave Carlisle United first on loan and then for a small fee after a mediocre spell. FourFourTwo, rather knee-jerkingly (if that's a term) subsequently named him in their top 25 players outside the Premier League. From what I did see of Yeovil last season the man who made them tick was lanky yet cultured central midfield player Ed Upson, himself released on a free transfer having graduated from the Ipswich Town academy system.
It will surely take all of Johnson's shrewdness and eye for a player to maintain a position at this level for more than one season, but as Scunthorpe United (similar recent history, support, ground, town) have shown it's not impossible, and when Johnson fits at a club everything has a habit of clicking perfectly into place. Dangerous opponents for a side like QPR, who will be odds on to win and pilloried if they don't
Thanks to two Yeovil fans we managed to snare from The Twitter this morning we’re back to the original format for the interview this week. We thank Kurtis West and Tom Kuff for their input and wish them the best for the rest of the season.
The general consensus is that Yeovil getting promoted to this level is a minor miracle - is that how you see it? Did last season come as a surprise? What do you put the success down to?
Kurtis: I suppose many fans away from the club do see it as a 'minor miracle', little old Yeovil who ten years ago were in the Conference are now fighting it out with ex-giants. I suppose if you had asked me ten years ago I would have laughed at you but if you asked me at the start of last season, that is a different story. Ever since Gary Johnson came back in 2012 there has been a very positive feel to the club - we trust Gary and he trusts us and I think that is an important thing if you want success. So if I had to pick who the success was down to I would say Gary Johnson, the backroom staff and of course the players. Everyone at the club deserves credit for this great achievement.
Tom: I think not just to us, but to the whole footballing community it was a surprise. We were favourites to go down at the start of the 2012/13 season, so anything but we would have taken at the start. I think the turning point was the signing of Paddy Madden. He came in, and straight away you could see he was a confidence player. Johnson bought him in, and I think the change of squad/staff/team/environment gave him everything he needed to hit form…and boy didn’t he!
Gary Johnson has had a few failures on his CV lately, but seems to always do well at Yeovil, why is he so successful at your club?
Tom: I don’t know, I don’t think anybody does. He just seems to fit the boot. I think the success he bought to the club, i.e. bringing us into the Football League, which none of us ever thought we’d see, and then gaining promotion from League 2 to League 1, just lives on in the memory. He knows the fans, and we feel we can trust him and what he aims to do and where he wants to take the club.
Kurtis: When Gary first game back I was happy as he led the club to the Football League, however it was pretty noticeable that he had a couple failures with Northampton and Peterborough. At the start some fans may have been unhappy about him returning because he’d originally left us for local rivals Bristol City. However it was probably the best thing that has ever happened to the club. The fans love him and he always brings in the right players - he very rarely will sign a player who isn’t hard working or doesn't match the style of the club. The players he brings in will run their arses off for 90 minutes. Everything just seems to click here for Gary, the fans love him, he brings in gems of players normally on the free or a very minimal fee and he knows propel trust him and this club and I think that helps immensely.
What players were brought in to strengthen the team during the summer and how have they settled in?
Tom: We bought back, very controversially, Andrew Williams close to the end of the transfer window. The decision had an extremely mixed reception because he left Yeovil in the summer of 2012 to go to Swindon Town who were ‘apparently’ going treble he’s wage (who’d blame him). Also at the time, arguably, Swindon Town had a better chance of pushing for promotion than us. So we have Andy Williams back whose running into channels and bringing players into game, is the best I’ve ever seen at Huish Park. Johnson also bought into two wide men, Joe Ralls on loan from Cardiff and Joel Grant who previously played at Wycombe Wanderers. Both good wingmen, very different. Joel is very quick and likes to beat defenders as to Joe Ralls would prefer to cut inside and find men to link up with up the top.
Kurtis: Obviously after being promoted to the Championship, we needed experienced but quality players to come in as this division is a huge step up from League One. From day one after promotion, Gary said everyone who got us up will have their chance so we have not lost any key players, however we did miss out on Dan Burn who was here last season on loan from Fulham but is now with Birmingham. To fill his spot we brought in Danny Seabourne. He has settled in very well next to Byron Webster and they look like a very good partnership.
We brought in a couple of younger players such as Joey Jones and Nana who have yet to play and a player signed on the same day as Jones was Joel Grant, a quick lively winger in from Wycombe on a free. He has started our last few games and has the ability to run at defences, however I do think he lacks a final ball. We also brought in a non-league striker called Kieffer Moore from Dorchester who is a very tall player standing at 6 foot 6. He hasn't really had much playing time but seems to have fitted in well with the lads.
Now on to loan signings, Michael Ngoo, Joe Ralls, Wayne Hennessey, Andy Williams and Liam Fontaine. All have done relatively well for us however Ngoo can sometimes be a little lazy but definitely has some talent. Joe Ralls is a good little player on loan from Cardiff, he works hard and has great technical ability. Hennessey has looked ok, maybe a little dodgy in a few places but I can definitely see why Wolves rate him highly. Andy Williams is an old boy and has fitted in well up front and has really done quite well. Liam Fontaine is defensive cover but will play against you guys due to Byron Webster’s suspension. Overall I am happy with the signings and keeping our players who got here and they have all played very well.
Who are the players to watch/star men in the team? Where/who are the weak links?
Kurtis: Seven games into the season and a striker is yet to score for us so we don't really have a star striker at the moment. I would say Ed Upson, central midfield, on his day can be one of the best in the division: great vision, hard working and has got a great strike on him. He has performed very well this season and I hope to see more. I would say our defence is the strongest part of our team, we look very solid at the back and although we have only kept a single clean sheet, we have been done by a couple of very soft decisions against big clubs. However our star man in defence is out at the moment so this could change. I think our weak link at the moment is our attack, they have yet to score a goal and haven't really put there shooting boots on yet. We hope when Madden gets back he can recapture his old form.
Tom: Ed Upson - arguably our best central midfielder. He’s our engine, up and down. Picks the ball up and looks to play out wide and find his wingmen. On Ed’s day he is capable of finding the pass to set anyone up perfectly. Also, takes a cracking free kick as we have seen numerous of times - most recent being a corker against Birmingham City in the cup.
As I mentioned in the previous question, Andy Williams running off the ball is just amazing to watch. Paddy has struggled to find his shooting boots this season. He is out injured at the moment but is currently making a speedy recovery. He tweeted before the international break that he’s going back home to Ireland to find his shooting boots, so if he makes a sub appearance, be worried.
How have you performed so far this season?
Tom: I know it’s easy to hide away from the truth and make excuses but I really do believe we have been unlucky. I would say we have only been outplayed in one game which was Derby at home, and they really were a country mile ahead of us on the day. In our other games I would say we have more than matched our opposition. We managed to get a point at Hillsborough last Saturday. I think the fact we were all pretty gutted to come away with one point, considering we had ten men for 50 minutes really does say something about how far we have come. We took the lead at Ipswich on Tuesday, but didn’t manage to see the game out and came away with no points. I think that’s something that comes with experience at this level and something that the boys need to get to grips with.
Kurtis: Although it doesn't look like we are doing well, we are performing brilliantly, the team seems to have bonded well but we are not getting the results and we need to start being clinical if we are going to win matches. We play nice football and hopefully that will help us stay up and maybe people will be able to see that we deserve to be here. It will be a long hard season but as long as we don't change our style, I think we could be ok
Is this season simply about surviving in the league for Yeovil and do you think you'll manage it?
Kurtis: I have to be honest and say yes, we are the smallest club to ever be in the Championship and staying up would be one of the biggest achievements ever by the club. However I think the team will want more than that and will want a mid-table finish. I think the players will have to think like that, they have to be ambitious. Do I think we will do it? If we play how we have been and become more clinical, I am confident we can do it. Biased? Probably.
Tom: In my opinion, it is just surviving this season. It’s about coming to grips with the difference in standard and ability from League 1 to the Championship. For the supporters, you just have to enjoy it. We will take some whacks, we know that, but it’s just a year to be proud of being a Yeovil Town supporter. Seeing teams such as QPR, Reading, Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Bolton, Ipswich and Middlesbrough play at Huish Park in a competitive match. Re-wind the clock 11 years to the 2002/03 season; we were playing teams such as Telford, Forest Green Rovers, Nuneaton Town, Kettering Town and Woking. All in competitive league ties which I think really does show how much of an amazing job we have done and how far we have come.
What the hell happened with that Birmingham cup tie, and would you have let them equalise if it had been your decision?
Tom: Haha! Well Dan Burn, the Birmingham centre back (our centre back in the playoff winning team at Wembley) went down ‘injured’ in the ninety fourth minute so the Birmingham goalkeeper who had possession of the ball at that time kicked it out for a throw in. When Burn had received treatment, and the game was ready to start again, we took the throw in, which fell to our centre back Byron Webster, who decided to chip the keeper with a finish that any top pro striker would have been happy with. Now then, obviously there is an un-written rule that any team put in that circumstance should give the ball back, but it is not a necessity. Obviously the Birmingham team/staff/fans were outraged that we decided to score and not play the ball back to them. So this sent the tie into extra time which Yeovil then took the lead in with a thunderbolt from our right back, which happened to be his first goal for the club.
At the start of the second half in extra time, Johnson had seemingly told the players to let the Birmingham centre forward Novak to walk the ball into net, making up for the goal we scored. The tie went on to penalties and Birmingham City won.
Now, here’s my view. After Byron chipped there goalkeeper, you either do one of two things. You either let Birmingham walk the ball in straight away which would cancel out our ‘bad act of sportsmanship’ or you don’t do anything. You should not, in my view, let them score after we have taken the lead in the match, and 15 minutes later! You either do it straight away, or not at all.
Kurtis: That was the most entertaining game I have ever been to watch. Byron probably shouldn't have done it but what a finish! We scored three spectacular goals in that game and Luke Ayling broke his goal duck after 140+ appearances for the club. If it was my decision I probably would have given them a goal but I would of done it straight away instead of waiting.
Links >>> http://www.ytfc.net/>Official website >>> http://www.yeovilexpress.co.uk/>Yeovil Express local newspaper >>> http://www.fansnetwork.co.uk/football/queensparkrangers/news/32763/lfw-travel-gu Travel Guide >>> http://www.tgr2.co.uk/>The Green Room forum >>> http://www.ciderspace.co.uk/>Ciderspace, main fan site and forum >>> http://www.yeovil.vitalfootball.co.uk/forum/category-view.asp>Vital Yeovil
Tweet @loftforwords, @tomcuff, @WestyYTFC
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