Saturday, 25 May 2013

They've Only Gone And Done It...

That's a famous phrase among Yeovil fans - "They've Only Gone And Done It" - uttered by a commentator as Marcus Stewart heads home and brings the play off semi final between Yeovil and Nottingham Forest to 3-3 on aggregate in 2007. Yeovil won 5-4 on aggregate after extra time to set up a tie with Blackpool at Wembley Stadium. As it had only very recently opened, thousands and thousands of Yeovil fans flocked to the New Wembley, more as a day trip than anything. No one expected us to beat Blackpool, did they? It was just a day out - we'd had our final up at Forest and anything other than that was a bonus. Unfortunately, it seemed to be how the squad were thinking too. Long story short - we were garbage. The disjointed fans couldn't get a song going, and on the pitch was even worse. 

So when Yeovil Town finished in the playoffs at the end of this season, what were the thoughts of the Yeovil faithful? Another day out? Another day trip to London where the result didn't matter? Absolutely not - and the main reason for this change is one man - Gary Johnson. 

Gary Johnson came back to Yeovil Town in January 2012 after seven seasons away. When it was announced that he was taking over at the helm, everything changed. The mentality, the belief, the camaraderie, and more importantly the results. We had struggled for several seasons under Terry Skiverton, but the wonderful club man stepped down to be Gary's assistant and what a decision that turned out to be!

The Sheffield United away game kicked off our playoff campaign, and although we were 1-0 down by the end, no one really believed it was over. Sure, there was some negativity - its hard to remove that from Yeovil fans after several seasons of languishing in the bottom 6 or 7 places of the league. But no one genuinely thought the tie was over. We'd played reasonably well, most certainly not outplayed, and the atmosphere had been outstanding. Taking just a 1-0 deficit back to Huish Park meant all we had to do was score 2 goals in front of our home crowd - an almost sellout home crowd at that. 

At home, we outplayed Sheffield United for large parts of the game, with Kevin Dawson leveling the game on aggregate only six minutes into the game, but this is Yeovil Town - we don't do things easily. A nervy 80 odd minutes ensued until Ed Upson's towering header sent the home stands into absolute pandemonium and sealed the Glovers fate - we were off to Wembley again! The pitch invasion said it all - this meant so much to the Yeovil fans and this time, we were NOT going to let it pass us by.

Almost as soon as the final whistle had been blown at Huish Park, speculation about Wembley and the club's plans were rife. It emerged that there were going to be designated "singers blocks" so all those who wanted to start and carry on a chant would be surrounded by like-minded individuals. Nothing against the "glory hunters" but their presence at the 2007 final made us look like complete amateurs. Not this time! We had two season ticket holders primed and ready to order the 16 tickets we needed all together as soon as the season ticket priorities were on sale. And we got them, in block 112, right in the middle of the singers!

Those two weeks between the Sheffield United games and the final were just absolute agony. Every day seemed to drag - no matter how busy I was at work - and Sunday the 19th of May just couldn't come round quickly enough. We arranged travel plans, speculated on the squad and injuries, and even started (in our minds at least) thinking about what teams we might be playing next season if we did it. This was definitely different to 2007 - I don't remember even glancing at the Championship sides to see what might have been. 

The day finally came around and I was nervous. So so nervous. "In Gary We Trust" as so many Yeovil fans cite - but now this was down to those 11 men of the field. Those 11 men that over the season Gary had moulded and shaped and sculpted into a team of enormous team spirit and confidence. But while I was nervous, I was confident, which is a strange set of emotions to have. On the train into Waterloo from Farnborough (engineering works on the Aldershot line) I went from ecstatic and excited to subdued and nervy in split seconds. It finally felt real, as we were on that train into the Capital. This really was it, today.

We headed to The Torch, the designated Yeovil pub for the day and in spite of massive queues, we finally got drinks. I got two pints of cider and I barely even remember drinking them; they certainly didn't do their intended job of fending off the sick feeling of nerves. We downed our drinks and walked up the famous Wembley Way with that imposing arch bearing down on us. And now I really felt sick. We found our seats and met up with our fellow Yeovil faithful and watched the pre-match build up. Those 45 minutes or so just flew by - I can barely remember them (and my memory isn't great even at the best of times...) but I do remember belting out Yeovil True - the club's song released for the FA Cup tie against Liverpool - at the absolute top of my lungs. 

The game? Well, what can I say about the game! We'd played Brentford twice during the season but that had no bearing on today. They were going to be dangerous and we were going to be a danger to ourselves, I could just feel that right at the start. But Yeovil started so brightly and you could see we were confident, and well up for the game. In only the first few minutes an injury to Captain Jamie McAllister (which transpired after the game to be a broken nose!) stopped play and we had a moment to take a breath and look around. We were at Wembley Stadium; 17k+ Yeovil fans all singing and shouting together and within touching distance of the second tier of English football. Unreal!

The wonderkid that is Paddy Madden hit home on six minutes with an absolutely beautiful strike - well worthy of any goal of the month competition - and set us up nicely for our one minute of "There's Only One Adam Stansfield". Stanno was a Yeovil player between 2001-2004 and sadly passed away in August 2010 after a battle with cancer. Stanno was instrumental in our rise up the leagues, with the catalyst being the winning of the FA Trophy. It was well observed, and respected, and we sang our hearts out for the full minute. In fairness, we sang our hearts out for 96 minutes, even more if you count before the game. The atmopshere was unbelievable - getting everyone together who wanted to belt out chants at the top of their voices was a great move by the club and I think it really raised the game of the lads on the pitch. Brentford were unnervingly quiet. 

Just before half time, Dan Burn fired a shot at goal that seemed to travel through several bodies and James Hayter claimed he got the final touch as the ball hit the back of the net -  but it was definitely Dan Burn's goal having watched the replays - and that took us to 2-0 up at half time. But, what have I said before? This is Yeovil Town! We do NOT do things the easy way. At the start of the second half Brentford were sprightly, resurgent, and dangerous. Several shots in quick succession and then, 51 minutes into the game they got their goal. It was only from a few yards out but it was powerful and beat the Yeovil goalkeeper Marek Stech. A very, very tense 40-odd minutes ensued and Brentford kept on pressing. We were really holding on by the end, especially with the 6 minutes added time that felt like eternity. But the final whistle eventually came and absolute followed as we'd actually done it, we'd really done it, YEOVIL WERE A CHAMPIONSHIP SIDE!! 

The celebrations on the pitch were fantastic, Gary Johnson got absolutely soaked with champagne and the ice bucket that was up-ended over his head. Terry Skiverton came over to the fans, pulling at and kissing the Yeovil badge on his shirt with a passion that's so rare. We all hugged, jumped, punched the air and screamed at the top of our lungs together as the trophy was presented and held aloft. We'd only gone and done it!! I never wanted to leave my seat - I could have stayed there forever - but as the players made their way down the tunnel we started to funnel out of the stadium and into the concourse to chants of "we are going up!". No, we aren't going up, WE HAVE GONE UP! 

After the game I felt almost deflated - the tension and euphoria of the day had just hit me so hard. The train journey back was quiet and reflective, but once I got home and saw the goals on Sky Sports News and had a few drinks with my husband, it started to hit me and started to sink in - Yeovil Town FC, non league just 10 years ago, are now in The Championship; and with an amazing season ahead of us...

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