If us Glovers fans had been told at the beginning of last season that the campaign on which we were about to embark was to end our side’s nine-year stay in League One, you could have counted on one hand the number of people who would have had us climbing the pyramid of English football rather than dropping down it.
There were plenty of reasons to believe that last season would be an improvement on the relegation battles that had embodied Yeovil’s fortunes in recent years. Club legend [Sir] Gary Johnson was back in charge for his first full season since returning to the Huish Park dugout, and a strong pre-season that saw the Glovers go unbeaten had raised hopes that a place in the sanctuary of mid-table was more than a slight possibility.
What was to unfold over the next nine months, however, surpassed the hopes and dreams of even the most optimistic of supporters. As a club that became famous in its non-league days for upsetting the applecart on FA Cup afternoons, producing shocks is by no means unprecedented down in South Somerset, but the run which culminated in that astonishing win over Brentford on Wembley’s hallowed turf was – to go against my journalistic principles and churn out an old cliché – the stuff dreams are made of.
Click fast-forward, and just 11 weekends down the line from the most famous win in Yeovil’s 118-year history, it’s now time for us Glovers to begin our latest quest to battle against the odds.
Now none of us are under any illusions as to how tough life in the Championship is going to be. With the smallest population of any club in the division, the smallest ground in the division, and – you guessed it – the smallest budget in the division, to say we’ve been thrown into the lion’s den – as we quite literally will be tomorrow when we travel to Millwall for our first ever match in English football’s second tier – is an enormous understatement.
Fans of other clubs have seen fit to consign us to relegation before a ball has been kicked, and if the bookies are anything to go by, it would appear that our return ticket to League One arrived in the post the day after our Wembley triumph.
However, with no expectation comes no pressure. The majority of people are expecting us to act as this season’s proverbial whipping boys, so there really is nothing to lose by turning up on a Saturday afternoon and attacking the opposition. If we end up losing most of our games by three or four goals and going down with 15 points, we’ve only done what people expect us to do.
In other words, there is virtually no way we can flatter to deceive, which gives us the freedom to go into every game ready to fight and have a real go. There’s a reason why Johnson and Yeovil Town are perfect for each other, and that is because both he and the club share the same philosophy, which is to attack regardless of the opposition. It’s served us well throughout our history, from our early giantkilling days all the way through to our recent meteoric rise through the Football League.
There will be bad days. It’s inevitable given our resources compared to the rest of the division that things won’t always go our way. But by showing the fight and hunger that saw us do so well last season there will be plenty of occasions on which we will surprise, and if the likes of Madden, Stech, Upson, Hayter and co. can show the form that earned us promotion, we have more than a fighting chance of staying up and showing why we deserve a place in the Championship.
The faith that Johnson has in those who won his side promotion can be summed up by the Glovers’ likely starting line-up tomorrow. Nine of the 11 who began the play-off final win over Brentford look set to take the field against Millwall, with only the injured Jamie McAllister and the departed Dan Burn set to be missing from the Yeovil first XI.
The loss of Burn was without question the disappointment of the summer for all Yeovil fans. The centre-back was instrumental in the Glovers’ promotion after joining on loan from Fulham last September, and having scored the second – and ultimately decisive – goal at Wembley, had expressed his wish to return to Huish Park for a second spell this season.
But sadly, money talks in this game, and Birmingham’s higher offer for Burn’s services saw him packed off to St. Andrews by his parent club. All Yeovil fans wish him all the best, but we’d be lying if we said it won’t hurt seeing him line up against us when the Blues make the visit to Huish Park next weekend.
Johnson has moved swiftly to bolster the backline with proven Championship experience. The signings of Alan Tate on loan from Swansea and former Southampton centre-half Danny Seaborne both represent excellent pieces of business, with both men set to make big contributions throughout the coming campaign.
Elsewhere, our transfer policy of taking on young players with plenty to prove – something Johnson jokingly referred to as ‘Gary’s Gambles’ – looks like it could well pay off yet again. Both Sam Hoskins, the diminutive forward signed on a free from Southampton, and midfielder Billy Clifford, a loan arrival from Chelsea, have impressed in pre-season and already look like claiming starting places in the near future, whilst the additions of Liam Davis, Michael Ngoo, Joe Jones and Kieffer Moore have added much needed depth to our ranks.
Take those new arrivals and combine it with what we already have and you have a well-balanced and diverse squad. McAllister and Hayter provide a wealth of Championship experience, whereas Stech and Madden have the raw talent to get to the very top. Add to that the likes of Upson and Joe Edwards, who will be itching to prove they have what it takes to play at this level after being rejected by Championship clubs in the past, the energy that Sam Foley and Kevin Dawson bring to the table, as well as the solidity of Byron Webster and Luke Ayling, and you have a side that really does have a bit of everything.
It’s reasonable to expect that how we begin the season will be crucial in determining how the rest of it pans out. Start well, as we did last year, and get a couple of wins under our belt early on, and the confidence that comes with it will provide the impetus for the players to push on and cause further shocks, but start slowly and the ecstasy at finding ourselves in the second tier will quickly wear off and a long, hard battle against the drop will kick in.
For Yeovil, this season is made up of 46 FA Cup third round ties, something history has shown us to be fairly good at negotiating, and I for one believe that we have the right team to compete with the big guns, the only manager we could never need in Gary Johnson, and the fantastic support needed to get behind the team and act as its 12th man.
And in the face of so many doubters, I expect this campaign to add just the latest chapter to a history based so much on overcoming the odds.
Just one thing’s for certain. Us fans are going to have a blast along the way.
Written by Stephen D’Albiac, We Are Going Up’s Yeovil Town Blogger
Stephen tweets at @sdalbiacf1