Yeovil Town 4 Burton Albion 0 – Saturday 6th April 2002

In 2002, the Glovers reached the FA Trophy semi-final for the first time in 30 years, after having two very bad experiences in the early 70’s and then a huge expanse of nothing. For a club who were for a long time one of the biggest in non-league, we had mostly under-performed in the Trophy.

This was a massive match for Yeovil Town, as it brought us within touching distance of winning our first ever silverware in a national competition. The gates were open at 2pm and fans were encouraged to arrive early to build the atmosphere, with local DJs on hand to get everyone going. It was one of the biggest in my lifetime up to that point, aside from perhaps the top of the table clashes with Enfield in 1997 and Rushden in 2001. The atmosphere against Rushden almost exactly a year earlier was much more tense, as even though we could have gone level on points with a game in hand by winning, Rushden still had the upper hand. They had a huge squad where we did not, and when Warren Patmore limped off injured after 20 minutes, that felt like the end of our challenge. By contrast, there were some nerves in 2002 from those who remembered those 70’s games, but apart from that there was a party atmosphere to the whole day. After a very difficult year with changes in manager, players and an atrocious pitch, it finally started to feel like the team was coming together and a promotion challenge could really be on the cards in 02/03.

Nigel Clough’s Burton were running away with the Northern Premier League, but then we had also won the Isthmian with 101 points and experienced the difference in quality between the feeder leagues and the Conference. In the end, pretty much everything went our way. Any nerves were settled early on when Kim Grant flicked in a Lee Johnson free kick after only four minutes. After a couple of solid penalty appeals were turned down for fouls on Stansfield, a slightly less clear cut one was given for a handball after 37 minutes. Way’s penalty was saved, but the referee ordered a re-take for an infringement and Crittenden scored to make it 2-0. With McIndoe adding an excellent third just before half time, Yeovil cruised to victory. The second half was quieter, with Burton shell-shocked and struggling to really create any chances. Although 3-0 was comfortable, the tie was certainly not over, especially if they could grab a consolation and only be chasing 2-0 in the second leg. A fourth would really bury the Brewers which was duly provided when super-sub and local lad Chris Giles bundled home in the 86th minute to surely kill off the tie.

The FA Trophy was introduced in 1969/70, as a way for the country’s non-league clubs to compete for national silverware before there was such a thing as the Conference. Until 1979, the top tier of non-league comprised the Northern Premier, Southern and Isthmian Leagues, and between them they strived to get a member ‘elected’ to the Football League, but only if the existing League clubs elected to evict one of their own members. This was not a common occurrence, especially when those non-league clubs going for election would often split the vote, keeping the old boys’ club of the Football League in tact – Hartlepool were re-elected an incredible 14 times. This closed shop led to the creation of the Conference (formerly Alliance Premier League), to effectively nominate one team every year for election, although it would still be many more years before automatic promotion of even one team happened on a regular basis. Only six clubs were elected between 1958 (creation of the Fourth Division) and automatic promotion in 1987. And at least one of them never won anything at all, but we won’t mention them…

In all fairness Yeovil had a fantastic season in 1970/71. Under player-manager Mike Hughes, the Glovers won the Southern League by two points and in the Third Round of the FA Cup entertained an Arsenal team on their way to winning the double. Yeovil’s run-in involved playing on the 10th, 12th and 13th of April – goalkeeper Tony Clark played 67 times that season. The Glovers were in good form going into the semi-final of the Trophy, and Telford were seen as the weakest team left in the competition. Yeovil had already beaten the Bucks home and away that season, although to be fair they were also beaten finalists the year before. There were some complaints that the neutral venue of West Bromwich Albion’s Hawthornes, being so close to Telford, gave the Shropshire side an unfair advantage, although Yeovil fans did number close to half of the 9,111 attendance. Unfortunately Telford scored early, and even though Bob Moffat equalised, the Bucks re-took the lead before half-time and scored a third in the second half. Many were mystified as to how Yeovil had not really turned up on the big occasion, but it had still been a very good season by any measure.

Sadly, 1971-72 was not so great, despite the club retaining the services of the manager and most of the players. Although Yeovil were not able to reproduce their league form, they did get to the semi-final again, beating league leaders Chelmsford City on the way. This time, the opponents were Northern Premier League leaders Stafford Rangers, with the tie being played at Oxford United’s Manor Ground, with an estimated 3,000 travelling Yeovil fans in a crowd of 6,566. Unfortunately it was to be defeat again, this time even more comprehensively. Once again the Yeovil team were unable to perform on the big occasion, and were 2-0 down inside 15 minutes and 3-0 down at half time, with Stafford adding a fourth immediately after the break. Yeovil finished 7th in the Southern League, and to add insult to injury Hereford were elected to the League on the basis of one FA Cup result, despite not winning anything that or indeed any other season.

Despite the disappointment of two semi-final defeats and two bafflingly poor performances, Yeovil had a very good team around that time, winning the Southern League in 1971 and finishing 2nd in 69/70, 72/73 and 75/76. Many of the club’s highest post-war appearance makers were involved in one or both of those seasons, including Len Harris, Alan Herrity, Ken Thompson, John Clancy, Terry Cotton, Paul Smith, Tony Clark and Stuart Housley, all of whom are in the top 12 of post-war Yeovil Town appearances. The only player of a relatively modern era to make the Top 10 is Terry Skiverton with 382. He only stopped playing when he became manager in 2009 at the age of 33 – had he carried on, he probably could have made it about as far as Terry Cotton in 6th with 415, as he was still playing regularly at the time he took over as manager. Record appearance maker Len Harris was part of the squad but did not start in either semi-final. He played 691 times for the Glovers, a post-war record that will probably never beaten. He left at the end of the 1971/72 season, as did Mike Hughes, to go and manage at Torquay.

In the 30 years since their last appearance against Stafford Rangers, the Glovers only even reached the Quarter Final once, losing to Macclesfield in 1992. After those two semi-finals, there followed four successive first-round exits. In the 29 competitions between semi-final appearances, Yeovil were knocked out in the first round or earlier (qualifying rounds) 15 times. The Glovers were knocked out in first round replays three years in row in the 90’s – Bath in 1996 (ouch), Hayes after a second replay in 1997, and Yeading in 1998. Yeading is just up the road from Hayes, in fact the two clubs merged to become Hayes & Yeading in 2007. Yeovil had a diabolical record in cups against Hayes, being knocked out of four cups by them between 1996 and 2001.

At the time of the 2002 semi, Burton were in the process of running away with the Northern Premier League and would face Yeovil again in the Conference the following season. They had also knocked the Glovers out of the same competition in the 5th Round the previous year. Although the Brewers were not hugely impressive on the day, Yeovil were on a very poor run of form as they had lost top spot in the Conference to Rushden a few days before, and were in the middle of a run of six games without a win as it was becoming clear that their promotion hopes were slipping away. They did regain some fighting spirit at the end of the season, but February and March were definitely the lowest point of that season. Burton won 2-1, with an injury-time Andy Lindegaard goal being no more than a consolation.

Fast forward one year, and the situation was very different. Following the departure of manager Colin Addison as well as top players such as Warren Patmore, Tony Pennock and Ben Smith, it looked like all the good work had been undone. When Gary Johnson came in, it took time to turn the ship around, as we lost our first game at home to Northwich and found ourselves in mid-table at the end of October. The new gaffer had a plan though, and although he had to plug the obvious gaps with players he already knew, he also took his time to make the right signings, bringing in Adam Lockwood, Adam Stansfield and Kim Grant during the season. It took the team some time to bed into Johnson’s expectations, not helped by a succession of injuries in defence and the mire that was the Huish Park pitch. There were some positive signs though, as a 1-0 win at Margate in November signalled the beginning of a run of 20 league and cup matches undefeated which ran until the beginning of March. It was not perfect, but it was a sign that Gary Johnson had a vision – the team generally kept the ball down and scored a lot of goals, often deploying an extra man behind the strikers as an additional attacking threat.

The line-up of the first Burton match was what was probably Johnson’s first choice that season – Weale, Lockwood, Tonkin, Skiverton, Pluck, Way, Johnson, Crittenden, McIndoe, Grant, Stansfield. Interestingly, this game in April was the first time this XI had actually all started at the same time. Stansfield, Lockwood and Grant all arrived mid-season. By the time Stansfield arrived, both Skiverton and Way were long-term absentees. When Skiverton returned in February, Pluck was injured; Lockwood and Grant also missed a few games, and McIndoe missed much of March due to being sent off against Hereford. The semi-final was Darren Way’s first game back in a run that would keep him in the team until the end of the season, and Pluck, Lockwood and Grant had also overcome their injury niggles. You could argue that Carl Alford was first choice over Grant, but that would not change the fact that absences in the rest of the team meant that Gary Johnson’s first choice XI was not all available at the same time until April. Although Alford scored 13 goals in the season, he also seemed to miss as many chances as he created, hitting the woodwork more times than I can remember any player doing. When fit, Grant formed a very productive relationship with Adam Stansfield – Stanno’s hot streak of eight goals in eight games, also grabbing five assists, came with Grant alongside him. Running in behind defences, Stansfield needed someone to create chances for him, whereas Alford would tend more to take those chances for himself. At the time of the first Burton game, Alford was still serving his suspension after getting sent off in the previous round against Northwich. Alford did play in the second leg, as Grant had to withdraw with a hamstring strain.

Despite taking a 4-0 lead into the second leg, on the Sunday morning after the game Yeovil fans were queuing from 8am to grab the last remaining tickets for the party to come at Eton Park, even though the game was to be shown live on Sky. The Glovers lost 2-1, with Carl Alford’s goal well and truly ending any fightback, but Yeovil actually played very well on a difficult bobbly surface, they created a lot of chances which probably would have been buried a bit more clinically had the tie still been alive.

Despite losing on the day, the final whistle triggered mass partying on the away terrace and the celebrations which went on for a very long time. Finally, after 30 years of disappointment and the heartbreak of 2001 which many of the players on the pitch had also gone through, we were just one game away from winning a major national competition for the first time in our history.

It might be easy to forget with everything that has come since – winning the Conference, winning League Two, two Wembley finals and Championship football, that the FA Trophy was the one that came first, and at the time we partied like we had never done before because we had no idea the amount of success that was going to come later.

 

Team that day: Chris Weale, Adam Lockwood, Anthony Tonkin, Terry Skiverton, Colin Pluck, Darren Way, Lee Johnson, Nick Crittenden, Michael McIndoe, Kim Grant (sub. Chris Giles, 79), Adam Stansfield. Subs not used: Jon Sheffield, Tom White, Roy O’Brien, Olivier Brassart

 


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