Yeovil Town 2 Morecambe 3 – Saturday 27th March 1998
Colin Lippiatt arrived at Yeovil in 1997, initially as assistant manager to Graham Roberts. Previously, he had been assistant to Geoff Chapple during his very successful reign at Woking which saw them become one of non-league’s top clubs and win the FA Trophy three times. However he chose not to follow Chapple to to Kingstonian and came to Yeovil instead.
Following the infamous ‘faxgate’ scandal early in 1998 Graham Roberts was initially suspended, and eventually sacked. Colin’s first game in permanent charge was an eventful 6-4 defeat at Hayes, and his first home game was the following week, at home to Morecambe.
It was an eventful, if ultimately disappointing game, as Morecambe took a 2-0 lead thanks to some absolutely catastrophic defending, despite being reduced to ten men in the first half. Rallying in the second half, Yeovil brought the score back to 2-2 with goals from Pickard and substitute Sam Winston. However ten-man Morecambe scored another on the break to win 3-2. This was probably largely due to the number of players making their debuts, and the fact that a visibly frustrated Rob Cousins is the only regular member of defence, accompanied by the short-lived Terry Howard and even shorter-lived Colin Omogbehin, in his only appearance for the club. Perhaps due to the chaos in front of him, keeper Tony Pennock also appears to be playing as sweeper, as all three Morecambe goals are scored on the counter-attack.
It was a time of great change for the club. After a very low point in the mid-90’s which saw Yeovil relegated to the Isthmian League amid serious financial problems, Graham Roberts brought hope and entertainment back to Huish Park. Two seasons in the Isthmian League saw Yeovil eventually promoted with 101 points, ahead of rivals (and Roberts’ former club), Enfield. Over 8,000 fans would see the two teams fight it out at Huish Park in March 1997.
Graham Roberts’ teams were entertaining and there were generally a lot of goals when Yeovil played, although perhaps the standards of discipline could have been higher as there were plenty of red cards as well. Some of the older players who had come up with Yeovil from the Isthmian League were often off the pace and not of the standard needed to move the club forward. Indeed Graham Roberts himself often played – and got sent off – in that first season back in the Conference. He could also be a difficult person to get on with and in my personal view it is possible that by 1998 he had come to the end of the line and the Faxgate affair was a convenient reason to dispense with a difficult character with a ready made replacement already at the club. Roberts departed for Chesham United, and took some of those older, London-based players with him. Micky Engwell, Colin Fielder, Graham Kemp and Steve Browne all left at the same time as Roberts or shortly after. All had played in the Isthmian League but were well into their 30’s and perhaps not up to the pace of the Conference.
This left the new manager with a bit of a recruiting problem, and he brought some younger players in as well as some experienced heads that he knew from Woking. In came David Piper, Steve Parmenter and the Morecambe game also marked the debut of a mercurial floppy haired midfielder by the name of Ben Smith, who if memory serves won the man of the match award. Within a couple of weeks, Lippiatt had also recruited Kevan Brown and Steve Thompson, who while not spring chickens had plenty of life in them – many Woking fans were dismayed by the decision to release Brown, and Thommo would play on until 2002. Four of those five players would go on to make major contributions to Yeovil in the coming seasons.
One player who did cause a stir that day was substitute Sam Winston – on loan from Leyton Orient, Winston scored an excellent solo goal to level the scores at 2-2 and would go on to score in all of his first five appearances – four of which were from the substitute’s bench. However he did struggle to make that kind of impact over 90 minutes, and his initial promise was not fulfilled. Although some Yeovil fans were sad to see him leave at the end of the season, concerns over his fitness meant that he never did quite make it at Conference level, although he did go on to play for almost every non-league team in the Greater London area and scored a lot of goals for Boreham Wood in the Isthmian League. His peak was probably scoring twice for Kingstonian in their FA Cup win over Brentford in 2000, but the K’s were relegated that same season.
Colin Lippiatt’s time was marked by an increased professionalism and performances on the pitch, but also strong recruitment. He brought in the aforementioned Smith, Piper, Brown and Thompson, and the following season Jamie Pitman, Murray Fishlock (thanks again for letting us have both of those, Hereford), Matt Hayfield, Adrian Foster and of course in the summer of 1999, a 23-year old defender from Welling United by the name of Terence Skiverton. In 1998/99, Yeovil had their best season in some years, getting as high as 3rd in the Conference as well as going on an entertaining FA Cup run which would see Second Division Northampton despatched and Third Division leaders Cardiff taken to a replay and extra time following an entertaining sold out tie at Ninian Park.
One thing that Lippiatt did hold on to from Graham Roberts’ days was the 3-5-2 formation which was quite common at the time. A typical Lippiatt team would be Rob Cousins, Kevan Brown and Al-James Hannigan (later Skivo) at the back, Piper and Fishlock as wingbacks, then Jamie Pitman, Ben Smith and Matt Hayfield or Steve Stott in midfield, and Patmore up front with Owen Pickard or Adrian Foster. We were not quite top level but were becoming a very, very good side. A 5th placed finish in 1998/99 followed by some strong summer signings in 1999, led to hope of an even higher finish the following season. Expectations came back to earth with a bump with an opening day 5-0 hammering at Scarborough, which saw three up front and Skiverton left on the bench. The team recovered however, and briefly took top spot twice before Christmas.
Unfortunately, there was unrest behind the scenes again as there was pressure to turn the team full-time, which Colin was unable to do due to his other commitments. He hung on for a while, but rumours of full-time status being on the way persisted and the big man finally resigned over the dispute in October 1999. Steve Thompson took over as caretaker manager, until the club finally did turn full time with the arrival of David Webb in March 2000. That change would see another exodus of players, a whole new crop blooded from the youths, and a new era began.
Team that day: Tony Pennock, Rob Cousins, Terry Howard (sub. Tony Pounder), Colin Omogbehin, David Piper, Steve Parmenter, Steve Stott, Colin Fielder (sub. Lee Archer), Ben Smith, Warren Patmore (sub. Sam Winston), Owen Pickard.