Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
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.
Flagship club Yeovil Town, though only in the Football League from 2003 to 2019, 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.
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 hosted League football until 2019. It has also staged a number under-16 and women’s internationals – the ground was also home to Yeovil Town Ladies Football Club, promoted to the top-flight FA WSL 1 in 2016. Sadly, the same year as the men’s team dropped into the National League, the women’s one collapsed, and has since merged with Bridgwater.
For nearly two decades, including a brief foray in the Championship in 2013-14, the Huish days were foggy history for Yeovil Town. Admission to the National League still demands a certain kind of loyalty on the part of the Yeovil fan. A round trip to Grimsby is a minimum of 800km.
Rivalries – with Exeter, say – are now a thing of the past. Decades of Southern League dust-ups have been revived. In October 2021, traditional foes Weymouth, terminus of the train line from Yeovil Pen Mill, suffered a dramatic derby-day defeat to the Glovers, involving a 94th-minute equaliser by the visitors to Huish Park, a penalty shoot-out win for the hosts and police on horseback breaking up fan trouble. Then again, this all took place in the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup – and Yeovil have a tradition to preserve.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
There’s no direct transport to Yeovil from either. The Bristol Airport Flyer bus (£8 single/£13 return) runs every 20mins to stop 8/9 at Bristol Temple Meads train station (journey time 20mins), from where a train runs to Yeovil Pen Mill (£20 single, 1hr 30mins) every 2hrs – or change at Salisbury (£40 single to Yeovil, whole journey, 2hrs 15mins).
A train from Exeter St David’s runs hourly to Yeovil Junction (£12 single, journey time 1hr).
From London Waterloo direct to Yeovil Junction, it’s 2hr 20mins, singles around £30. From Paddington, you have to change at least once for Yeovil Pen Mill. There are no direct services from Birmingham or Manchester either – most require at least one change, usually at Basingstoke, and advance singles run to £100 and above.
Yeovil Pen Mill station is east of town, walkable to the centre, Yeovil Junction is stuck out two miles south. The stadium is even further away, three miles north-west of town. Bizarrely, trains hardly run between the two stations at weekends. South West Coaches bus 68 runs hourly (until 6pm, not Sun) from Yeovil Junction to Yeovil bus station in town.
The bus station is at the east of the town centre, and most local services call at the central hub of The Borough.
Based in town, Yeovil Radio Cabs (01935 426 666) offers discount return fares to/from several airports. From Bristol or Exeter, one way, it’s £90.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
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 and the largest pub in town, named after the locally born buccaneer who reached the coast of Australia a century before Cook. Plans are afoot to create a roof terrace.
Prime spot for football-watching in town is the Pall Tavern on Silver Street, done out with random scarves from around Europe.
Also a hotel (see below), the Globe & Crown on South Street 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’s just over the ring road from the Beehive Inn, a cosy, community pub with TV sport, a pool table, a play area for kids and a roaring log fire. Decent ales, too.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the ground and around town
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 Yeovil Town Centre accommodation – though there is free parking and a restaurant at the Houndstone branch.
Even closer to Yeovil bus station, the two-star Terrace Lodge provides simple, clean and convenient digs.
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.
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 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 pub/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. It’s a decent bar, too, with European lagers and a decent kitchen offering a happy medium between pub grub and gastro.