Fleetwood’s defeat of Yeovil Town was the fourth time in six seasons that the Glovers, now an established football league club, had lost in the FA Cup to a side from the non-league. Supporters from Somerset brought up on the club’s rich history of ‘Giantkilling’ with a little help from their famous sloping pitch are now all too familiar with the gut wrenching feeling of being humbled. Fans of the 20 Football League clubs knocked out by Yeovil when they were in the non-league could quite easily argue ‘what goes around comes around’. What makes it even more painful is the latest exit from the cup is set against the backdrop of widespread supporter discontent with those ‘in charge’ of the club.
Despite playing at the highest level the club has been, crowds are down nearly 50% from what now seem like the heady days in the first half of the last decade. Gary Johnson, or Sir Gary Johnson as he’s known in these parts, led the club up from the Conference, before clinching the League 2 title. Johnson’s assistant Steve Thompson took his place once GJ moved onto bigger and better things at Bristol City, before Russell Slade took charge. Slade took the club to within 90 minutes of Championship football, losing at the new Wembley to Blackpool, who would go on to play in the Premiership. However ridiculous as it sounds now, comparing the sides before that final in terms of average attendances, players, general ambition and finances there was little to choose between the pair – who knows what might have happened if Yeovil had overcome Blackpool that day?
As it was the club has been on a downward spiral ever since led, or shall I say misled, by the chairman John Fry and Chief Executive Martyn Starnes. Blocking any potential investment from local businessmen the pair have had to rely on the finances of (the true definition of the words silent partner) Norman Hayward. The trio soon fell out with the manager Russell Slade and forced him out - unbelievably after four straight wins. They even managed to spectacularly mishandle that, resulting in a hefty compensation payout to Slade. Needless to say the club, not the trio concerned, have had to take the financial hit of that decision with the club now beholden to Hayward through a loan of over a quarter of a million. Hayward who has never made any public comment on his involvement and his motivations for being involved at YTFC would obviously like this money back at some point. This has led to the ‘talented’ trio to concoct a plan that has seen the football clubs assets taken from the club and moved into a holding company owned by, you guessed it, Fry and Hayward. Such a move has inevitably caused problems at pretty much every club that has split their assets and this rightly caused concern amongst supporters, a fear exacerbated by the non-existent information coming out of the club. This situation has not been helped one bit by a complicit local media, ignorant of many of its readers genuine concerns. Supporters were effectively told to “pipe down, all is well leave the professionals to it” – all the while forgetting that constant mismanagement over years had led many fans to fail to believe anything they’ve said. The esteemed Chairman even quoted Dads Army by saying “Don’t Panic” in an attempt to pacify the supporters, unsurprisingly he didn’t see the irony in that statement.
When words like “asset splitting”, “holding companies” and “brand” are used in association with a small club like Yeovil Town you know the game has gone to pot
Not that any was needed but further proof that those in charge clearly have no idea what they were doing was given when they announced an investment with Blue Sky International. The American company promised an investment of £1.25m of which £750,000 was to pay for new Astroturf pitches and £500,000 was to cover 10 years of pre-season tours over to America. What good a club, who fail to market even remotely effectively in it’s own back yard, could do by going to the US, or what an American company wanted with a lower league football club with an average attendance of just over 3,000 could do with the club in the US was anyone’s guess. A few simple Google searches revealed that Hank (or as he’s known in the states as Henry) Julicher the owner of BSI was perhaps not a man to be taken seriously or respected. The collapse of a similar deal BSI had with Port Vale amidst fierce accusations has only further concerned supporters about the viability of the deal with the Yanks.
Amongst all this nonsense they have announced a development scheme (on the land which is now owned by the holding company) which was initially trumpeted as retail development to finance a new stand at a decaying Huish Park. This has since changed to a full-on supermarket being built in an area of town where traffic problems are already ridiculous, and plans for a new stand and facilities for supporters have appeared to take a back seat. The trio have tried to reassure fans by saying that such things will be dealt with in a subsequent phase, but most fans are beyond sceptical about whether there will be any money left in the pot, once the ‘loan’ to Hayward has been repaid.
The culture of ineptitude sweeping the club has essentially left Yeovil as poor on it as it off the field. The people that still bother to turn up to Huish Park spend little money on the 'extras' due to the woeful catering and poor facilities that see the supporters having to drink poorly kept lager in a mouldy marquee. Needless to say the men in charge have the free rein of a sizable bar in their ivory tower in the main stand. All this leads to a budget for players that has decreased dramatically. As a result the manager Terry Skiverton has had to deal with a now annual turnover of players and short term contracts and endless loans are doing nothing to create a sprit on the pitch to make up for the shortfall off it.
Supporters who haven’t already found other things to do on a Saturday afternoon are increasingly exasperated with goings on. A few, myself included, decided enough was enough and have set up a supporters group, We Want Our Yeovil Town Back. A survey which was solely promoted on social media and the internet (the complicit local press not keen to upset the apple cart) received near on 300 detailed and passionate responses. The overwhelming majority were, alas, highly critical of the club and the latest spineless capitulation in the FA Cup appears to have further solidified the support against the regime and this could be a crucial moment.
Len Shackleton The Clown Prince of Football in the 40s/50s famously titled a chapter in his autobiography “What the Average Director Knows About Football” and left the page blank, sadly it seems little has changed, in fact it's only got worse. Recent times have seen a shift in football supporters across the country take a stand, groups like The Spirit of Shankly, the Green and Gold campaign and the likes of Blue Union at Everton have shown that it can even happen at the top level of the game. The success of fan owned clubs like AFC Wimbledon, AFC Telford and Exeter City have also shown that us mere supporters can actually do a decent job of a running a football club. When words like “asset splitting”, “holding companies” and “brand” are used in association with a small club like Yeovil Town you know the game has gone to pot. As always though it’s the supporters who are left to deal with the consequences but the clowns in charge at any club, including Yeovil, underestimate us at their peril.
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