Yeovil 1 Telford 0 – Saturday 5th May 1990
On 5th May 1990, Yeovil played their last game at the old Huish ground with a 1-0 win over Telford in what was then called (and is still by some) the GM Vauxhall Conference. The Glovers finished 7th that season, and under manager Brian Hall contained such well known names as Mickey Spencer, Mark Shail, Paul Wilson and Andy Wallace. The last goal at Huish was scored in that game by Neil Cordice with an excellent volley. Yeovil were able to celebrate with a trophy which was presented on the final day, having beaten Kidderminster over two legs in the Bob Lord Trophy, also known as the Conference League Cup. The competition was axed in 2001 but the trophy itself, which resembles the FA Cup, is currently awarded to the winners of the Conference Play-Off Final.
Huish was not the first home of Yeovil Town, as the Glovers moved to the town centre ground from Pen Mill in 1920. Also known as the Huish Athletic Ground, it was home to tennis in the summer and greyhound racing until the late 1940’s. The club brought with it the main stand from Pen Mill, with the rest of the ground being flat until the Queen’s Street terrace was constructed in 1923, and the following year the Brutton’s End terrace was added. The Queen Street terrace was originally covered, and indeed split due to the weight of fans standing on it during an FA Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday in 1939. After the war, more developments were made with the terrace roof being removed and a cover put over the North Terrace. Work on that terrace along with the installation of floodlights was completed in 1954.
It does seem that many of the earlier ground developments were made in advance of big FA Cup ties, including Bristol Rovers in 1924, Liverpool in 1935 and Crystal Palace in 1963 which saw the completion of a new grandstand. The building housing the main stand also housed a supporter’s bar and boardroom. In addition was the unusual sight of the ‘Director’s Box’ which stood in the corner next to the Queen Street terrace from 1935 until 1983. The highest attendance at Huish was of course 17,123 against Sunderland in 1949, surpassing the 14,329 against Sheffield Wednesday ten years earlier. Over the years the stadium capacity was reduced as more safety measures were introduced and 9,717 against then top-flight QPR in 1988 was also a sell-out.
Discussions began to move to an out of town location at Houndstone as early as 1985. The prospect of levelling the sloping pitch had been raised many times in the past and been deemed too expensive, although it later become one of the main things Yeovil were known for. However as Football League ground regulations were increased it became a barrier for Yeovil’s hopes of promotion. In addition the deteriorating main stand was facing costly repairs and the location of the ground, with a dual carriageway running behind the Queen Street end since the late 1960’s, meant that developing the ground to meet Football League requirements would be costly if not impossible.
It was decided under Chairman Gerry Lock that if the Glovers were to be promoted, they would need to move. The sale of Huish for £2.8 million was agreed and construction at Houndstone began, but was delayed by a public enquiry that lasted from 1987 to 1989. Despite hoping to move in the summer of 1986, construction did not begin until 1990. In that time, escalating costs would see expenditure on the new facilities far outstrip income from the sale of the old ground. This left the club with a looming financial crisis which would not come to light until some time afterwards. Initial plans were for both terraces to be covered, but these had to be scrapped to reduce costs. In the end, the home terrace was eventually extended and covered in 2001, at a cost of around £1 million while the away terrace remains uncovered.
Crowds did not increase enormously after the move beyond the initial surge – the average league crowd in Yeovil’s last three seasons at Huish was around the 2300 mark, although this was an improvement over the severe doldrums of the early and mid 1980’s when it was nearer 1100. The average in the first season at Huish Park was 2639, followed by 2103 and back up to 2615 in 92/93. The only season that has seen average crowds below 2000 was during relegation in 1994/95, which could not be said for the old ground.
The extent of the financial problems did not come to light until after Gerry Lock, who had overseen the move, was removed as chairman in 1991. Under new Chairman Bryan Moore the extent of the financial situation became known, with debts of between £500,000 and £750,000. Assets had to be sold, with the irony that the construction of a stadium which would enable Yeovil to take part in the Football League had led to a team less able to achieve it as assets were sold and costs reduced. Collection buckets at Huish Park became a common sight from 1991. There was an unexpected temporary reprieve under player-manager Steve Rutter, as the Glovers finished 4th in the Conference in 1992/93 and secured a home FA Cup tie against Arsenal which arguably secured Yeovil’s future off the pitch. Indeed, although Conference finishes were mediocre apart from that season – 14th, 15th, 21st and then 22nd – it was FA Cup runs that kept us going, with bumper crowds against Walsall (1991), Fulham (1993), and old rivals Hereford (1992) which boosted the finances.
However on the pitch, the reprieve was temporary due to the financial situation and the Glovers were unable to compete as they finished 21st and then 22nd and were relegated to the Isthmian League in 1995. Bryan Moore stepped down as Chairman, and was replaced by John Fry, with Graham Roberts being appointed as the new manager after an unsuccessful second spell from Brian Hall, the man who had been in charge five years earlier when the club moved to Huish Park.
After two years in the Isthmian League, the good times eventually did return, as under Graham Roberts Yeovil won the Isthmian League with 101 points, enjoying an epic tussle with Enfield including the memorable 2-2 draw in front of 8,008, before beating Chertsey 4-1 on the last day to be presented with the championship trophy. On 16 August 1997, the Glovers celebrated their return to the Conference with a 2-1 win over Stevenage Borough with goals from Owen Pickard and Warren Patmore, as Yeovil’s drive towards the Football League began again.
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