Yeovil Town Football Club have somehow gone from the second tier of English football to the sixth tier in the space of just 9 years.
They have gone from playing the likes of Newcastle and Leeds to getting ready to travel to the likes of Dulwich Hamlet and Welling United. This remarkable fall of grace has been sad to see, but where has it all gone wrong?
Mismanagement both on and off the field, ownership problems and poor performances have all contributed to the decline. In this article, we look at this overall sorry state of affairs that the club has found itself in.
The early 2000s: Performing above expectations
In the early 2000s, Yeovil Town FC were impressing in the lower leagues, which eventually led to them to winning the Conference National in the 2002-03 season.
The club became well-known across British households after playing Premier League giants Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup.
They won the League Two title in 2004-05. In the 2006-07 season, Yeovil beat Nottingham Forest in a two-legged match to make it to the final of the Playoffs. While they lost the final to Blackpool, it gave them plenty of hope going forward.
However, it took a few more years before they were able to finally make it out of League One. In the 2012-13 season they managed to beat Sheffield United and then Brentford to win the Playoffs, earning them promotion to the second tier of British football for the first ever time.
2013: Promotion to the Championship
The club were certainly punching above their weight – with their home Huish Park being under 10,000 in capacity. They also entered the Championship with a very low budget. They spent under £100,000 in the summer. Despite this, they had plenty of hope.
They won their first match in the league 1-0, further raising excitement. But as the season progressed, Yeovil couldn’t avoid a relegation scrap.
Sadly, but as most predicted would happen, Yeovil were relegated straight away. While there were very few that were surprised by this, what happened next would shock so many.
Plummeting down the leagues
The very next season ended up in another relegation happening. Successive relegations are rare in football. Despite a glamour tie with Manchester United in the FA Cup, the season was an enormous failure.
From the 2015-16 season, the slump slowed for a few years. However, things would only get worse. In the 2018-19 season, Yeovil were relegated from League Two, resulting in them dropping into non-league football.
There was high hope that the club would bounce back quickly. But this was far from the case. After a few years in the National League, Yeovil were relegated in the 2022-23 season.
The relegation was met with huge disappointment among fans and anger towards the owners. Many were left wondering just how Yeovil had got to this point.
One of the biggest issues facing Yeovil in recent years are ownership problems. While fans often moan about their owners, Yeovil fans have very real reasons to complain.
Businessman Scott Priestnall has attracted much of the ire from fans. Priestnall took over the club after they dropped into the National League in 2019.
Priestnall was at the helm as the club’s stadium Huish Park was sold to South Somerset District Council in 2022 for £2.8million. This resulted in the club then leasing back their home ground.
This deal proved very controversial among fans. Priestnall justified the sale as a way of paying off losses incurred during Covid-19 and investing in the playing squad.
An open letter to Priestnall was published in November 2022 – with fans going on record to express their concern and dissatisfaction with the way that the club was operating. Finance, concerns over the stadium infrastructure and a lack of communication were all cited as particular problems.
Even as we speak, it isn’t entirely clear over who actually owns the club. In March 2023, a consortium named SU Glovers announced that they had taken over the club. However, at the time of writing, Priestnall remains chairman.
The consortium – fronted by Matt Uggla and former rugby international Paul Sackey – have said they see themselves as “custodians” – and are determined to take Yeovil back to their better times.
Going further back, former chairman John Fry was criticised for not investing in the playing squad over a period of many years. He was also blasted by many for not communicating with the fans.
He commented after their first relegation – from the Championship in 2014 – that he believed the promotion was the beginning of the end for the club.
The players are also not exempt from criticism. Too many short-term loans, a high turnover of players and some playing without any passion all contributed to the club’s freefall.
The loss of club captain Lee Collins in 2021 – after he took his own life – was a tragic moment for the club. It seemed to have a very negative impact on his fellow players. Collins was one of the club’s best players at the time, before tragically passing away.
Moreover, successive managers were unable to arrest the decline. Gary Johnson was instrumental for the club, but a host of poor appointments didn’t help throughout the years.
It has been a galling period for fans of Yeovil. They were treated to some excellent years, but it has all been going wrong for them in recent years.
The club is a big part of the local area. Yeovil is a town of around 50,000 people. The club is one of the few “big” clubs in the area, so it attracts a lot of support from locals.
For the first time since the late 1990s, Yeovil Town will be playing in the sixth tier next season. While no one would have seen this coming when the club hit lofty heights in 2014 – this is the reality they are in.
With ownership problems hopefully behind them, Yeovil will hope that they will start to rise the leagues again. This could yet be the start of a great comeback.