Wells, St Benedicts and the Cowfield. 1890-91

"The field is not far from the old one, but, although it is situate nearer the town and will obviate the necessity of walking over shoe in mud to witness a match which has hitherto been frequently the case, it is not such a good ground as the other. Being very uneven it will necessitate a considerable amount of rolling before it will be at all approaching the suitability of it's predecessor"

Yeovil had changed pitches, which was aptly described as above in the Western Gazette, basically a former cow field that Dr. Aldridge the owner had rented to the club obviously seeing renting a football field as a better income maker than cattle. Glove maker, Mr Thring, the Father of one of the players and the owner of the former pitch at West Hendford had had enough, his complaint of overuse and fencing being torn down to make a home made entrance to the ground was not apparently in the  prior agreement. 

At the AGM in 1890, as always at Mr Maynard's restaurant, a delegation was proposed to be sent to Mr.Thring's home to apologise and renegotiate. It had obviously had been given a short sharp reply, and now Yeovil were starting the 1890-91 season in Dr Aldridge's former cowfield. 

The customary practice match was organised  where the sporting men of the town were invited to 'try-out', which not many seemed to do, however a week later Yeovil found themselves at home to Frome for the first match of the season. A season with a slight difference, the prestigious Somerset Challenge Cup had been entered into, the first competitive matches the club would face. Frome arrived however for a friendly, and were happily despatched back home after a hard working Yeovil team had christened their new field with a 3-0 win, as a fair crowd cheered them on.

Yeovil's opening team for the 1890-91 season being:

Suggs, F.Bond, Hotham, Jones, Jennings, George, Hutchings Corps,Arnold, Walker, Mitchell

Suggs had replaced William Spinks in goal and like Mitchell had been with Yeovil Juniors the previous season at Pen Mill. The Rev. Hotham, now forty-six, and William Bond, were voted as joint captains of the Association team at the AGM. A week later it was Sherborne's turn to run around the cowfield, some of the Sherborne players obviously getting wind of something and not turning up for the match. Additional players were pulled from the rope-lined crowd to fill the vacant Sherborne positions, Yeovil winning 2-0.

On the 11th October 1890, Yeovil turned up in Glastonbury to play St Benedicts. Any worries about the sloping hoofmarked Cowfield in Yeovil, were put away when their eyes caught sight of St Benedict's pitch which was described:

 'unfit for purpose and passing and dribbling impossible for the presence of trees' 

Obviously the saintly boys of St Benedicts were used to using the trees as an aid for passing and despatched Yeovil 4-0!

A season in those days wouldn’t have been a season without a couple of matches against a Kingston School, who were still committed to the Association game, thanks to the Aldridge family in control of school affairs. It has to be said if Yeovil had a cowfield for a pitch then Kingston School had one of the most picturesque around. Set in the school grounds, surrounded by trees with a view of St John's Church as a backdrop.

The playing field at Kingston school in the 1890s

Yeovil made their way up Kingston on 8th November and the picture postcard setting was much to their liking recording a 4-2 win with two goals apiece from new boys Mitchell and Dolbear, Dolbear incidentally making his debut, he however had been one of the players pulled from the crowd to play for Sherborne the previous week.

The strength of the club, as far as players were concerned was evident on December 6th 1890. With either an administrative error, or a show of strength, Yeovil were down to play two teams on the same day,  Bruton Kings School at home and the formidable Street side away.  Although, it would appear using members of the rugby team to help them out, Mr.Baskett, long the Yeovil rugby captain started upfront against Bruton, helping them to a 0-0 draw. Yeovil including the romantical named Valentine Higdon, brother of a Herbert, lost 1-0 at Street.

Christmas came and went and the area was gripped in a cold spell which saw ice and snow for weeks. However come January 1891, Yeovil faced, to that time, the biggest match in its history, against Wells in the Semi-final of the Somerset Challenge Cup. Semi-finalist without a ball being kicked, with two byes! The fact that Yeovil had reached the Semis by default hadn't gone unnoticed in Wells and they unsportingly lodged a complaint that lucky Yeovil should either be removed from the competition or made to play at least one competitive match before facing them. The Somerset FA urgently called a meeting only to wave the Wells protest away - the match would take place.

Promotional placards were placed in the town, for the match on the 10th January 1891. With continuous heavy snow falling a day or so before the big day. The ever prepared Mr Walker, the club secretary organised work parties with barrows and shovels to clear the pitch, in preparation for the battle ahead. The placards had obviously worked as a large crowd had paid their threepence and lined the cold ropes in excited anticipation and to see their boys send the Cathedral lads back home with a defeat.

They waited long though, while the Yeovil supporters's feet turned blue with the cold the Wells players were tucked up in their homes, slippers off and feet toasting in front of their warm fires! Angry worded telegrams were quickly despatched, only to get a reply from the Wells secretary that explained that because of the snow all around his team took it upon themselves not to travel to a match that was clearly going to be postponed!

Yeovil, as expected were furious, not withstanding that Wells had tried to get Yeovil removed from the competition, now they'd not even bothered to arrive for the match of the season . Immediately a letter was despatched  to the Somerset FA, based at the Railway Hotel in Evercreech. Wells, should be immediately dismissed from the competition was Yeovil's urgent request. Not something the placid minding FA agreed with and ordered the match to be played later that month.

Come the 31st January 1891, Wells, by now a swear word in the town, duly appeared as did the large crowd again at the cowfield. One can sense that even 130 years later, the Yeovil fans were slightly hostile to a team that had done everything possible to deny Yeovil a match and a place in the final!

A halfpenny was borrowed from the crowd, which was the custom, and Wells won the toss and chose to play down the cowfield slope. Something they failed to take advantage off, and at half-time, it was all level after a hard fought half at 0-0. Unfortunately, Yeovil couldn't take advantage of the slope either and by the end of the match, Wells were triumphant by two goals to nil, both scored in the last ten minutes

The much loved Rev Hotham, forever the gentleman called for three cheers for the Wells team, only to be met with boos and 'hoots' by some boys in the crowd, which didn't go down well with the match official and the now celebrating Wells contingent.

The Wells local press, obviously ignoring Wells own misdemeanors, described the ground as bad, the Yeovil populalace as disgraceful and the match as one that Wells would have won by a much bigger margin if it wasn't for a Yeovil keeper Luggs - it was Suggs.

That was that, with Cup fever over Yeovil returned until the end of the season to the norm of meaningless friendlies against the likes of Chard Grammer and Kingston School (Past and Present). Defensively they were becoming a force and after the Wells match didn't concede for five games. Giving Street, considered the best team in Somerset a 3-0 defeat and sending them home "with their tails between their legs" as one ecstatic Yeovil fan put it on the day. The season came to a close though at where else but Kingston again, against the Past and Present pupils in a game that recieved little interest from both fans and players - Yeovil lost 4-1.

On the 21st April 1891, the ever busy Three Choughs Hotel again became the venue for the distinguished Yeovil football club Annual club dinner. Chaired by a gentleman that could best be described as a 'bit of a character', Mr. Levy Beer, a Vice-president of the club.

Levy, had only been residing in Yeovil for six years, however he had truly made his name known around town. A bit of a politician who hated party politics he campaigned independently to get himself elected onto the town council under the slogan "No water - vote Beer'. It could be said he had more of a passing interest in the location of the Yeovil  pitch. He was buying up fields and property in that undeveloped  area. Later, buying land around Horsey Lane and developing the area that is now known as Beer street. He also had been know to have major slanging matches with the Mayor, ex-Yeovil president Dr. Colmer who was also in attendance.

Levy Beer. Vice-president in 1890-91

The dinner, passed with its usual round of toast to all and sundry and treasurer Mr Blake reported a balance of £10,12s,2d. Amongst the expenditure, £2,5s for footballs and £5 rent for the Cowfield. As, those gathered quenched their first with toast after toast, it was decided by vote that a cricket team would be started to add to the now growing Rugby and Association sections.

All was looking rosy, the following season would see the Association club step up another gear. More about that next time!

Happy days!

* for more seasons and stories check the archive 


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