Northwich Victoria 0 Yeovil Town 2 – Saturday 16th March 2002
The FA Trophy Quarter Final in 2002 was a hugely significant match for Yeovil Town. Despite our pedigree as a non-league team and the record-breaking number of wins against Football League teams in the FA Cup, Yeovil had not reached the semi-finals of the FA Trophy since back to back appearances in 1971 and 72. They had only reached the Quarter Final once since, losing at home to Macclesfield in 1992.
My first experience watching Yeovil in the FA Trophy was a dismal 89th minute 1-0 defeat at Isthmian League Yeading in 1998. The 286 people present on that West London trading estate is almost certainly the lowest crowd to ever watch Yeovil in a Trophy match. Following that was another last minute defeat at eventual winners Kingstonian in 1999, and a pretty spineless home defeat to the same team a year later – 1-0 again, but not in the last minute this time. Kingstonian would go on to win the final at Wembley for the second year in a row, beating Yeovil on the way both times. In 1998/99, we had set a Conference record of only two away defeats in a season, matched by Gary Johnson’s team in 2001/02. The Glovers had actually not lost away all season until losing their unbeaten record at Barrow the week before the Trophy tie.
In 2000/01, the FA Trophy games came after Christmas when the Glovers were really struggling for form after a 100% home run had seen us clear at the top of the Conference. A very narrow 2-1 win after going a goal down saw us squeak past minnows Bath, followed by a 4-2 win at Emley despite having Tony Pennock sent off. The 5th round tie was away at Northern Premier League Burton, putting in what was one of the worst performances I saw that season, deservedly going 2-0 down before a 90th minute Andy Lindegaard goal which was not much of a consolation. The Burton match came in the middle of a six match winless run which saw Rushden go top of the Conference and title hopes begin to fade away, it was a very dark time.
Cut to a year later, and despite all the upheaval in between, things were looking much brighter – after a mixed start, Gary Johnson’s team were coming together and were up to 2nd in the Conference after an unbeaten run of 18 league and cup matches. Star of the show was obviously Adam Stansfield, whose scoring prowess gave the team a huge confidence boost having scored 11 goals in 11 games and five goals already in the Trophy, scoring in every round.
After casting aside local side Tiverton, strong Conference opponents in Doncaster and previous holders Canvey Island, the Glovers were drawn away at Northwich Victoria. Always a difficult place to go, Northwich were a founder member of the Conference in 1979, then known as the Alliance Premier League, and were one of only three teams who had been ever present, the other two being Telford and Kettering. Northwich’s home, Drill Field, is thought to have been the oldest ground in the world to be in continuous use, having hosted football since 1875. 2001/02 would actually be the last year that Northwich played at Drill Field – at the end of the 2002 season, they ground-shared with rivals Witton Albion, while their new stadium was being built. They moved to the new Victoria Stadium in 2005, which was also home for a time to Manchester United’s reserves. The new stadium was only a few hundred metres from Witton’s ground. In 2012, the club were evicted from the stadium after it was sold to a neighbouring chemical company, and were forced to share at Stafford Rangers some 40 miles away. This was also during a time of financial problems and several relegations which saw a breakaway club, 1874 Northwich, formed by supporters. Northwich Victoria still exist, and are back to sharing with Witton Albion, but currently lie below 1974 Northwich in the non-league pyramid.
Drill Field had a traditional non-league style grandstand on one side and the relatively new covered Dane Bank terrace opposite, with both ends open. The Dane Bank offered a superb view, and housed around 800 or so travelling Yeovil fans on the day. The Dane Bank would follow the Vics to their new Victoria Stadium in 2005, and when that was demolished in 2012, was re-purposed and transported to Broadhusrt Park, the home of FC United of Manchester.
Yeovil went into the game with a back three of White, Skiverton and Pluck, with Anthony Tonkin at left wing back in place of the suspended Michael McIndoe who had been sent off against Hereford. Replacing the injured Darren Way was a rare outing in midfield for Roy O’Brien, who was also joined by Frenchman Olivier Brassart alongside the usual Lee Johnson. Carl Alford started up front with the on-fire Adam Stansfield. The Vics boasted a similar striker in Gregg Blundell, who had scored a spectacular goal in the opening-day 3-2 win at Huish Park in Gary Johnson’s first game, and got himself sent off for over-celebrating into the bargain. The reverse fixture had gone Yeovil’s way, with the Glovers winning 3-1 at Drill Field in November, with Adam Stansfield getting his first goal for the club.
At this point in the season, Yeovil were scoring a lot of goals, but conceding a lot as well. They had not kept a single clean sheet at home in the league so far. However they had won nine and drawn three of their 12 games since Christmas, and were unbeaten in 18 games, scoring 34 and conceding 16. However this game was surprisingly comfortable as the Glovers absolutely dominated the first half, going close several times and hitting the woodwork before Adam Stansfield converted a Tonkin cross to make it 1-0 on 35 minutes. Right on half time, a Lee Johnson free kick beat everyone and was bundled home by Carl Alford from close range. 2-0 at half time, and Yeovil were in command.
At half time, Stansfield was replaced by Chris Giles as he had taken a knock. The second half was much more controlled, as the Glovers dictated the pace and Roy O’Brien in particular was absolutely superb, breaking up opposition play. Vics manager Jimmy Quinn brought himself on with about 20 minutes to go, but his plans for a comeback were scuppered just minutes later. Vics midfielder Val Owen clattered Carl Alford on the touchline, right in front of the dugouts. Alford appeared to retaliate and both players were sent off as there is reportedly fighting in the tunnel as the players depart. This took any remaining sting out of the game, as Yeovil were able to play out time. Giles struggled to lead the line on his own, but Gary Johnson brought on Lockwood to play five at the back and there was nowhere for Northwich to go. It was a very significant game that Yeovil were completely up for, and although it didn’t take the shine off the day, Northwich barely turned up – much like we had against Kingstonian in 2000 and Burton in 2001! The Glovers were in top form, had a settled side, and steamed in to the FA Trophy Semi-Final to face Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion.
Team that day: Chris Weale, Tom White, Terry Skiverton, Colin Pluck, Anthony Tonkin, Nick Crittenden, Roy O’Brien (sub. Adam Lockwood, 75), Lee Johnson, Olivier Brassart (sub Andy Lindegaard, 77), Carl Alford (sent off, 79), Adam Stansfield (sub. Chris Giles, 46). Subs not used: Jon Sheffield, Darren Way