Yeovil Town 4 Chertsey Town 0 – Saturday 3rd May 1997
Following their move to Huish Park in 1990, Yeovil found themselves in a desperate financial situation. Escalating costs between the time the deal to sell Huish to Tesco had been agreed and the time the new stadium was completed left a severe shortfall, the true extent of which was not known until Gerry Lock departed as Chairman in 1991. Having to reduce costs meant that Yeovil were not able to be competitive in the Conference, although there was a brief renaissance in 1992/93 under player-manager Steve Rutter who took the Glovers to a Third Round FA Cup tie against Arsenal which saved the club financially, and also to fourth in the Conference, the club’s highest ever finish until Colin Addison’s run in 2001. While the FA Cup run enabled the club to survive off the pitch, the stress of managing an ageing squad under such difficult conditions caused Rutter to step down the following season. This led to the return of Brian Hall, whose second spell as manager was not a happy one, leading to some unpleasant scenes on match days.
Hall was sacked in January 1995 and eventually replaced by former Spurs, Chelsea and Rangers player Graham Roberts, who at the age of 35 was playing for Conference side Stevenage. He was initially restricted from playing for his new club as Stevenage retained his player registration and were demanding an extortionate fee for it. Roberts was unable to save the club from relegation but his recruitment was part of a longer term plan as he immediately began a process of moving on some of the older players and bringing in his own team. In contrast to the cautious approach of Brian Hall, Roberts’ aim was to play energetic football and score lots of goals to bring the crowds back, as they dropped well under 1500 as the club unsuccessfully fought relegation.
Relegated to the south-east dominated Isthmian League – then sponsored by the unfortunately named ICIS sportswear company – by the start of the the 1995-96 season only one player from Brian Hall’s tenure remained, and that was defender Chris White. Players like Paul Wilson, Mickey Spencer and Andy Wallace were all gone. In came a lot of players with connections to the south east such as Mickey Engwell, Graham Kemp and Steve Browne. Two of Roberts’ first signings in the Isthmian League era would in time become legends for the club – goalkeeper Tony Pennock and striker Warren Patmore, who would go on to score 140 goals between 1995 and 2001. In Roberts’ first season he also signed Giuliano Grazioli, who scored 16 goals in 13 games on loan from Peterborough. Yeovil’s form stuttered in the middle of the season but they ended strongly, finishing fourth with 80 points. Crowds had also increased significantly, from 1500 at the start of the season to well over 2000 and for some games pushing 3000 by the end, as entertaining football and plenty of goals were back on the menu.
The last game of the season was a spicy affair marred by crowd violence, as the Glovers lost 1-0 at home to Enfield. Enfield were in a title fight with Hayes and thought they had won, but a late goal from Hayes ensured the West London club won the title by a goal difference of 1.
The following season, the core of the team remained and to them was added among others Paul Turner, Tony Pounder and Lee Harvey. We were also able to take advantage of Bath’s own financial worries by poaching Jerry Gill and Rob Cousins from them. Bryan Moore stepped down and was replaced by John Fry, who had recently sold his business interests and been serving as a board member and chief executive for several years. Fry’s focus was to consolidate the club financially off the pitch, to enable the team to move forward on it. At the time some fans mocked Fry’s ‘five year plan’, but to be fair he took over in 1996, and the team were promoted for the first time in its history in 2003, coming very close in 2001 and winning the FA Trophy in 2002, so he wasn’t actually that far out.
There is not much footage of that season, but one video that does exist is the 3-0 win over Kingstonian, including a long range goal from Gill and a superb lob from Warren Patmore.
The title quickly became a two horse race between Yeovil and Enfield, and the London side drew first blood with a 3-0 win at Southbury Road in November. With the two teams neck and neck, Yeovil made the crucial signing of Howard Forinton in January. Having been released by Oxford United, the 21-year old striker had only been at rivals Oxford City since the start of the season, but had done enough to convince the manager to splash out a then-club record fee of £17,500 for him. It was without doubt Forinton’s 26 goals in 24 games that fired Yeovil towards the title, and to demonstrate that his debut goal was the winner in a 1-0 win over Hitchin.
The Glovers only lost one league game after the signing of Forinton, but there was still the matter of Enfield to overcome. As the season wore on, it became clear that the game between the clubs at Huish Park on 25th March 1997 would be a vital one. A bumper crowd of around 5,000 was expected, but what was not expected was that 10,000 people would turn up, forcing a delay to kick-off and the gates being closed with some season ticket holders locked out. The stewards had to improvise, with the Enfield fans being moved along the away terrace to accommodate more home fans, resulting in a recorded attendance of 8,007. The atmosphere was electric, particularly when Yeovil got off to an unbelievable start, taking a 2-0 lead inside the first ten minutes with goals from Engwell and Turner. The visitors did come back into it, and thanks to a very dubious penalty were level at 2-2 at half time. Yeovil did have chances in the second half, but overall the game was high on atmosphere but low on quality, and it ended 2-2. This was one game that Forinton didn’t score in, not aided by the fact that due to defensive injuries, Patmore had to play at centre half while Forinton was partnered up front by Dean Birkby.
The club was understandably caught out by 10,000 people wanting to watch a league match in the sixth tier of English football, but learned from that and went on to take a very cautious approach towards all-ticket matches which would ensure the same issue would not happen again.
With Enfield safely negotiated, it was just a case of Yeovil holding their nerve for the remaining ten games. Forinton and Patmore kept banging in the goals, as the Glovers went on a run of six consecutive wins to put them in with a chance of securing the title away at Essex side Heybridge Swifts. They were followed by an HTV camera crew and several hundred away fans with red flares, although they were all disappointed as the game ended 0-0. They would have to do it all again a few days later, making an almost identical journey to Bromley the following Tuesday night. This time the Glovers got over the line, with two more goals from Forinton giving them a 2-1 win, securing the league title with a game to go.
The season ended up with a party atmosphere, as over 6,000 turned up to celebrate promotion with a 4-0 win over relegated Chertsey, the goals coming from Forinton (twice), Turner, and the unusual sight of Tony Pennock stepping up to take a penalty! It wasn’t the only penalty Pennock would take, as he also took one in the successful shoot-out against West Auckland in the FA Cup in 1998.
The club ended the season with some more silverware, in the Somerset Premier Cup against Bristol City. The win was sealed by goals from departing heroes Gill and Forinton, who had been sold for a combined £100,000 to Birmingham City. From memory Forinton’s goal was a rocket into the top corner which deservedly capped his Yeovil career of 26 goals in 24 games, but as that game was not recorded it can only live in the memory. Forinton’s career was beset by injury, but he would return on two occasions as the Glovers pushed for promotion – unsuccessfully in 2001, but then successfully in 2002.
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