Champions of Somerset. 1896-97

Fred Bond and his committee had been busy during the summer of 1896. Gone were the days when after the last match of the season all shut up shop. Hoardings had been placed on the outside of the ground to stop freeloaders watching matches without paying their 3d or 1d for under sixteens  Although according to a report of the time the playing surface was  still awful . A spectator, calling himself 'Wanderer' commented in the Western Chronicle :

"humps and hollows are visible all over the field, a good rolling is required to make the ground in A1 condition, so take note Mr Secretary " the secretary in question being Fred Bond. 

After the success of the Reserves in the previous season, a concerted effort was being put in to bringing a trophy to the first team, something that had eluded them so far. 

This season would see the club enter a national trophy for the first time, the FA Amatuer Cup. The Somerset league was also being given another go, as well as the Somerset challenge Cup. Mixed in with the odd friendly, it was going to be a busy and ambitious season. Added to this the Reserves and 'B' team were also in action every week. If home the 'B' usually playing at Pen Mill before the first team games. 

A friendly match against a G C Vassall XI was to kick off the season at Pen Mill. Vassall, the hero of the club promising to bring a team made up from the best of Oxford University. A large crowd had gathered on the ropes surrounding the pitch excitedly awaiting for the Varsity boys and Vassall. Unfortunately it was left for eighteen stone forward Bob Wyatt to walk out to announce to all that they hadn't turned up. A First v Reserve match was quickly arranged. The replacement match not to the liking of one of spectator who described as:

"Like watching sheep running around without the shephard" 

Gilbert Claude Vassall 

After a couple of pre-season friendlies against Weymouth and the Royal Artillery (also based in Weymouth) both matches lost, The Casuals hit the ground running in the league with a 5-1 home victory over Wincanton. Aided by a Vassall hat-trick. Even with the positive scoreline the Casuals hard to please fan  'Wanderer' commenting in the Chronicle that

  "the shooting was weak and the forward play needs improvement " 

The team for the opening game :

W. Pittard S. Sugg, E. Davis, Strode-Batten, B Moon, G. C Vassall T. Stone, Leman, H. Arnold, B. Wyatt. 

Pittard coming from Yeovil Baptist FC, the same side that would later have future Yeovil legend, Johnny Hayward in its ranks. 

They obviously took note to 'Wanderer' after the Wincanton match, a hapless Shepton Mallet receiving a 9-0 hammering against the Green and Whites with big Bob Wyatt helping himself to a hatrick. Followed up a week later with a 6-0 home win in a friendly with Sarum Swifts from Salisbury, hat-trick hero this time being Leman. 

On the 17th October, Yeovil made their debut in a national competition when Clifton from Bristol turned up at Pen Mill in the FA Amatuer Cup. Clifton although only been formedthree years previously had a reputation as the best Amatuer sides in Bristol. Just one year later they would play Luton Town in the English Cup the forerunner to the FA Cup. 

They were no match for a machine like Yeovil though who notched up their twenty-fifth goal in four games in a 5-1 victory. Two years later Clifton were disbanded. Turning out for Clifton was Charles Wrexford-Brown. Later, as a Corinthian to captain the England national team and to become Vice-president of the English Football Association before Sir Stanley Rous. 

Charles Wrexford-Brown

Wells became the next lambs to be slaughtered a week later. Wells City at that point being treated with nothing more than pure hatred by Yeovil fans for their record of appealing against any loss against Yeovil with a trip to the Somerset FA attempting to get the result overturned on a trivial technicality. 

They were sent packing back to the Cathedral on the back of a 6-1 hammering. Vassall scoring what was described as the greatest goal ever seen by a Yeovil player. Picking the ball up on the edge of his own penalty area at the Hotel end, he swerved tackle after tackle, beating five players before hitting an unstoppable shot that flew past the  Wells's keeper Laver before  nestling in the Camborne End goal. The reaction of the crowd was "a hurricane of applause and cheers" The disdain for Wells boiling over at one point with referee Mr. Stacey of Street refusing to continue the match if some spectators were not removed from the ground after verbally barracking himself and selected Wells players and officials. 

Weymouth arrived at fortress Pen Mill for the second round of the FA Amatuer Cup. Arriving with a good number of fans. However, Yeovil's reputation, now growing had obviously reached down by the sea. Weymouth had apparently  taken advantage of laxed registration rules for the Amateur Cup and had pulled in the best players Dorset had to offer all to to end the Yeovil advance as the best Amatuer team in the West. The side full of 'ringers' not being warmly welcomed by the over thousand Yeovil fans attending. 

Weymouth, ringers or not were still no match for the Yeovil machine, goals from Bond (Pen) and Big Bob Wyatt in the first half being enough to send them back on the down train with nothing more than laughter from the Yeovil gathering. 

Weymouth shirt from 1895 

The third round of the Amateur Cup though was a trip too far. A visit to Bristol St George on the 21st November 1886. It is not recorded why, but Yeovil sent a sub-standard side to Bristol, a few first teamers mixed with reserve players. It showed, St George, cheered on by a thousand "intimidating and unpleasant Bristolians" took Yeovil apart sending them back with an eight-nil defeat. Bristol St George are still playing to this day under the name Bristol Roman Glass, and can lay claim to be the oldest football in Bristol formed in 1872.

Two weeks later, the interest in the Somerset Challenge Cup ended in the first round at Paulton with the North Somerset side recording a 1-0 victory. Allowing Yeovil to use the old adage ' to concentrate on the league' a league where they had entered January 1897 still unbeaten in. 

William Hymen brought his Radstock team to Pen Mill on the 2nd January 1897, nearly a year after the infamous Battle of Pen Mill match involving the two teams . Radstock second in the league, the main threat to Yeovil's Somerset championship ambitions. A hard fault game saw Vassall score for Yeovil but it was not enough as Radstock drained out a 1-1 draw by 'never endingly kicking to touch'. Thankfully the scenes of a year before were not repeated. 

February was a proud one for the fledgling club, in only its second season, the Somerset FA decreed that the club was to hold the lucrative Somerset v Dorset match. The pride doubled when Yeovil's Palmer, Suggs and Wyatt were included in the side. All helping the thousand Somerset fans in the ground go delirious as Somerset best their neighbours 2-1.

Yeovil entered March still unbeaten but still Radstock breathing down their neck. Street, a team slowly on the wain after being Somerset's best club, showing Yeovil they could still do it by inflicting Yeovil's first defeat 4-1. A result that I'm sure that gave Yeovil fans a sleepless weekend,as they were to play Radstock away a week later. Yeovil held on in North Somerset though and played a hard game that they should have won but relieved to avoid defeat and coming back to Pen Mill with a 0-0 draw. 

However, Paulton Rovers were also on a great run and third in the league. It would all come down to the final Yeovil match away at Paulton's, Winterfield ground. A win for Paulton would hand the trophy to Radstock. A Yeovil win would give the club it's first ever trophy and more importantly, heighten them to the best Association football club in Somerset.  A draw would see a playoff between Radstock and Yeovil for the championship. 

Many Yeovilians had made the train journey to Paulton, as a large crowd gathered for the encounter. Radstock fans also making the short journey to hopefully see their boys crowned champions after finishing runners-up the year before. 

With so much resting on the match, the Somerset FA had employed a referee from London to govern the game. Unheard of before. The match was tense, as to be expected. Paulton having the upper hand in the first half but at 'lemons' the score stayed at 0-0. The second half was much the same, no doubt the nervousness of one mistake costing all being at the forefront of the Yeovil players. The match entered the last ten minutes, Yeovil made a counter attack, Tommy Stone, a player who had been in and out of the side for the last couple of seasons, picked the ball up, drove forward and from distance tried his luck. The ball sailed into the net! Sending players, fans and officials into ecstacy. The Casuals held out for the last ten minutes, I'm sure kicking the ball all the way to Radstock to waste time. It was over, the London referee blew his final whistle. 

Yeovil Casuals, Somerset Senior League Champions 1896-97

The scenes on returning to Yeovil on the 7.20pm down train, were the like of which the town had never seen before. With Cup in hand the team were pulled by 'brake' to the Borough with brass band accompaniment, where an estimated 3000 people of the town had gathered. Its worth bearing in mind that the population was only 9000! Speeches were made and then the team retired to the Half Moon Hotel. Yeovil Town football club has had many successes over the years, however you sense that no success was greeted with so much joy in the town as this one. 

The achievement was nothing short of miracalous. In the space of eighteen months, Yeovil had gone from a mediocre side, playing on a glass strewn, bog of a pitch in front of a few hundred. Now, they were Somerset champions, their own ground which although rented, was void of any other sport, crowds had risen to over a thousand and rising. All down to one man Frederick J Bond a local farmer, a half back, the Captain,  the Secretary, and still only twenty-three years old. 

Happy days! 

* for more seasons and stories check the archive 


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