Yeovil

On the border of Somerset and Dorset, at the fringes of Hardy Country, Yeovil has managed to escape the preponderance of rugby around Bath and fails to share in Taunton’s worship of cricket. This may be where Ian Botham learned the sport but Somerset haven’t played here since 1978.

Yeovil long opted for football. Glove-makers, railwaymen and military personnel preferred the round-ball game to its oval counterpart or wood against willow.

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Mermaid Hotel/Paul Martin

Flagship club Yeovil Town, though only in the Football League since 2003, have a history dating back more than 120 years and feisty giantkilling tradition since 1949. The sloping pitch that provided yet another layer of FA Cup lore has long gone. The names of Huish and Huish Park – separate grounds, separate locations, one home to Yeovil Town before 1990, the other a post-Hillsborough new-build – confuse first-time visitors. Just as the Tesco hypermarket now standing on the Huish site just west of Yeovil town centre doesn’t lean like the Tower of Pisa, so the pitch at Huish Park, way, way out further west in the Lufton trading estate, is as flat as the proverbial millpond.

The newer stadium, by Houndstone and nowhere near Huish, was, of course, named in honour of the legendary old ground.

Soon after being formed – either as Yeovil FC in 1890 or Yeovil Casuals in 1895, the club itself isn’t quite sure – the football team tried to set up at Huish, on land owned by a local brewery. The Glovers must have been keen, despite the slope, because even after getting a knock-back and continuing to play on a pitch beside Pen Mill train station east of town, they pursued the matter after World War I.

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Pall Tavern/Paul Martin

The brewery duly sold and the club, renamed Yeovil & Petters United, kicked-off the 1920-21 season at Huish. While the club remained non-league, fortunate cup draws, either against local opposition – Bournemouth & Boscombe, Bristol Rovers – or big names like Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday, filled the coffers and helped fund ground improvements.

But not a levelling of the pitch, said to have dipped eight feet from one side to the other. Even dollar-toting US servicemen, keen to improve the field for baseball for war-time recreation, couldn’t persuade Yeovil to yield to reason.

All was forgotten, of course, in the fog of a January afternoon in 1949, when moneyed Sunderland were put to the sword by the home side, then named Yeovil Town and mid-table in the Southern League. Player-manager Alec Stock, a Somerset man, scored one of the goals in a game taken to extra-time. Fuel rationing ruled out replays in the immediate post-war era.

Ironically, the Huish pitch counted against Yeovil when the club pushed for admission to the Football League. Expansion proved impossible, capacity had been reduced to four figures, even for plum cup ties, and the cost of levelling the pitch and rebuilding was outweighed by the value of land so close to town.

The new stadium, Huish Park, opened in 1990 and has hosted league football since 2003. It has also staged a number under-16 and women’s internationals – the ground is now home to Yeovil Town Ladies Football Club, promoted to the top-flight FA WSL 1 in 2016.

For followers of the men’s team, the Huish days are foggy history. League admission, too, has created new conditions. Distances demand a certain kind of loyalty on the part of the Yeovil fan. A round trip to Carlisle is a minimum of 1,100km, the same distance as London to Linz.

Rivalries – with Exeter, say – are relatively fresh. Decades of Southern League dust-ups now count for little. Traditional foes Weymouth, terminus of the train line from Yeovil Pen Mill, no longer lose sleep over a derby-day defeat to The Glovers.

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Yeovil

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Yeovil Pen Mill station: 50.944520, -2.613430
Yeovil Junction station: 50.925105, -2.612536
Yeovil bus station: 50.942218, -2.627578
Yeovil Town/Huish Park: 50.949965, -2.673025
Premier Inn Yeovil Airfield: 50.941776, -2.671519
Premier Inn Yeovil Town Centre: 50.941040, -2.625744
Green Room: 50.941104, -2.631891
Terrace Lodge: 50.941286, -2.624822
Mermaid Hotel: 50.941414, -2.633463
Globe & Crown: 50.940461, -2.632521
The Keep: 50.940655, -2.632639
The Manor: 50.940335, -2.635580
Pen Mill Hotel: 50.944763, -2.615677
The William Dampier: 50.941610, -2.626376
Pall Tavern: 50.942454, -2.631356
The Armoury: 50.943097, -2.635378
Beach Café Bar: 50.942899, -2.634130

Bearings

Yeovil is halfway between the airports of Bristol and Exeter, each 72km (45 miles) away.

There’s no direct transport to Yeovil from either. For Bristol, book online (£24) for a bus from the airport to Bristol Temple Meads station (30min journey time) then train to Yeovil Pen Mill (1hr 30min). This connection is every 2hrs – the train alone (around £20 online) is otherwise hourly.

A train from Exeter St David’s runs hourly to Yeovil Junction (around £20 online, journey time 1hr).

From London, it’s 2hr 15min, online tickets around £20, either Paddington-Yeovil Pen Mill or Waterloo-Yeovil Junction, which often has £12 offers. There are no direct services from Birmingham or Manchester – most require a change at Basingstoke.

By adding a Yeovil Plusbus supplement of £2.80 onto your ticket allows you day-long use of the town’s buses, provided by a confusing array of companies.

Between Yeovil’s two stations (£2.50, 12min journey time), trains run every 30min. Pen Mill east of town is walkable to the centre, Yeovil Junction is stuck out two miles south. The stadium is even further away, three miles north-west of town.

From each station, South West Coaches bus No.68 runs half-hourly Mon-Sat daytimes into Yeovil bus station in town, also connecting the two rail stops.

The bus station is at the east of the town centre, with services running to the stadium at Houndstone.

The other main bus company is First Somerset – there are several other local ones. Sunday services tend to be infrequent at very best.

Based in town, Yeovil Radio Cabs (01935 426 666) offers discount return fares to/from several airports.

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Globe & Crown/Paul Martin

Bed

Discover South Somerset has a modest database of guest accommodation.

The only hotel within walking distance of the stadium is the Premier Inn Yeovil Airfield, which describes itself as ‘halfway between London and Cornwall’. Unless you’re a really big fan of retail parks or have some burning necessity to sleep near(ish) Huish Park, you’re better off staying at Premier Inn’s more recently opened Yeovil Town Centre accommodation – though there is free parking and a restaurant at the Houndstone branch.

The most stylish place in town is the family-run Green Room, modern, comfortable lodgings and top-notch dining in a 16th-century property, with free parking.

Close to Yeovil bus station, the two-star Terrace Lodge provides simple, clean and convenient digs. On the High Street, the Mermaid Hotel comprises 14 equally straightforward, en-suite rooms, and a bar and restaurant popular in their own right.

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The Manor/Paul Martin

A convivial option on parallel South Street, the mid-range Globe & Crown is a popular choice for private functions, with free parking at the back, a restaurant menu dominated by burgers, steaks and pizzas and a busy, sport-friendly bar.

Across the road, The Keep appeals to a more discerning visitor, boutique accommodation of rooms and apartments ranged around a suitably imposing building, full breakfast included in the reasonable rates.

At that end of town, just outside the centre, The Manor matches contemporary comforts with its historic, 18th-century surroundings, 42 en-suite rooms complemented by an equally traditional restaurant.

Beside the train station of the same name, the Pen Mill Hotel is a friendly, homely establishment run by a dog-loving couple, a ‘Somerset breakfast’ included in the rate.

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Pall Tavern/Paul Martin

Beer

Yeovil contains a little hub of bars, clubs and mainly restaurants between the bus station and the Cineworld multiplex, the late-night drinkeries dotted where Middle Street meets Stars Lane.

Close by, The William Dampier is Yeovil’s Wetherspoons, named after the locally born buccaneer who reached the coast of Australia a century before Cook.

Prime spot for football-watching in town is the Pall Tavern on Silver Street, done out in random scarves from around Europe.

Also a hotel (see Bed), the Globe & Crown features a traditional bar usually busy with non-guests, sport reliably broadcast around a polished, dark-wood interior.

There’s more TV football at The Armoury, as well as cask ales, live music, pool, table football and, of all things, skittles. Close to The Glovers’ former home of Huish, it rubs shoulders with the more clubby Beach Café Bar, which shows major games as part of its party-centric agenda.


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