The Battle of Pen Mill
Back in February 1896, Yeovil, or as they were known then, Yeovil Casuals, were settling into their new home at Pen Mill, behind the Pen Mill Hotel. The 'stadium' wasn't much then, roped off and planks to stand on, apart from an enclosure for the prawn sandwich brigade. You could even forfeit paying by standing on the corner of Lyde and Sherborne Road and watch the match over the wall! Something the club countered a year later by putting boards up.
However, even with those basic facilities, crowds of over 1000 were the not uncommon for some Somerset League games , which was the main league the 'Casuals' were competing in, against the likes of Wells City, Wincanton and the real big boys of the league, Street FC.
However, quickly the 'Casuals' formed a rivalry with a team in North Somerset, Radstock FC.
Now, the rivalry was seemed to be based on class, Radstock pulling players from the local coal mines and the working mens clubs. They were the definition of the 'working man's game'. The Casuals most definitely were not!
The Casuals, were formed from the more classy element of Yeovil. They had players such as Gilbert Claude Vassall, an Oxford blue, a real intellectual, Vassall was also one of the greatest amatuer sportsmen in the country, even playing County cricket for Somerset. In fact it could be argued he was the greatest player in Yeovil's history. He even got a call upto the full England squad! Vassall was the star player and adored by the Pen Mill faithful.
Radstock arrived at Pen Mill station, for a Somerset Senior cup tie, on the 24th February 1896. A match that was the Casuals only chance of silverware that year. Proudly and full of confidence, Radstock took the short two minute walk up the road to the Pen Mill Hotel, led by their captain William Hyman, the Uncle of Ernest Hyman, who tragically in 1927 whilst playing for Yeovil, would lose his life after injuries sustained in a match with Taunton.
Now, Radstock were good, very good in fact, steely and quick and after the referee Mr Praeter from Shepton Mallet, had blown his whistle to start Radstock were out of the blocks and up and at Yeovil. Before long Yeovil found themselves one down from a great shot from Strawbridge. The locals were not happy as the upstarts from 'up North' attacked again and again and the Casuals 'give and take' style was found to be totally ineffective against the tough tactics of Radstock.
Soon, the locals had more to moan about. As with a call of 'hands' Radstock were given a free kick just outside the area at the Camborne End, Wyman stepped up and within a flash it was nestling in the back of the net! At 2-0 the locals, who like today, loved a moan, started to get restless as Mr Praeter blew his long whistle to signal the players to 'suck lemons' for half time.
In those days at half time , the landlord of the Pen Mill, Mr Bennett kindly set up a table of beer at the 'Hotel End' for the locals to quench their hoarse throats, one could say they had it better than present day Glovers fans!
After lemons were sucked and the men, and dare say the odd woman also, at the match had refreshed themselves with a pint or two . The second half started. And a whole new ball game evolved. Yeovil, obviously full of vitamin C and kicking down the Pen Mill slope , attacked Radstock again and again, with the darling of the planks, Vassall tearing Radstock apart. Soon, the 'give and take' took affect as Yeovil scored with a great shot from who else, Vassall.
Now Radstock were on the back foot, they knew they were in a hard battle with their adversaries, who depended on their fitness from training sessions once a week in a field at East Coker.
Then the moment came, the spark that started as was described later by a local policeman as "an area in complete uproar"
Yeovil, were on the charge, cheered on by the crowd, along the Lyde Road side. It was only a matter of time before the 'Green and Whites' equalled the score and obviously go on to win. Davis, the Casuals main centre forward decided to have a shot, hard and straight, however the Radstock keeper, Horler was right behind it and caught it tight in his grasp . Davis was not beaten though, and continued his run and with what was seen as fair and game, shouldered barged Horler and the ball, into the goal at the Camborne end! 'Goal' went up the shout, as fans and players celebrated their great comeback, obviously with great aplomb!
Mr Praeter the ref, decided that Davis's action on scoring was ungentlemanly and chalked the goal off! Which caused what can only be described today as 'absolute scenes' as the fans and players venged pure anger at Praeter! He was not finished though, if he had a back pocket, he would have gone for it, and he completed the action by sending Davis from the field as a result of his actions in scoring!
It's not recorded what happened for the rest of the game, apart from the fans 'hooted' Mr Praeter, obviously Victorian for questioning his parentage and kit colour.
The match finished, Radstock had had the audacity to beat the Pen Mill heroes, 2-1, and took away the Casuals one chance of a cup to display in their new surroundings!
Step forward one, William Cooper, who infamously can lay claim to be Yeovil's first football hooligan. Described as a youth and a labourer, Cooper and his friends which numbered plenty, waited outside the Pen Mill Hotel for the emergence of the Radstock team and Mr Praeter. The latter, was now seeking refuge inside the sanctuary of the hotel. Stones were thrown at the Radstock players. Then they were separated, chased into local shops and attacked as Cooper now "with removed coat wanting to fight all and sundry along with his chums" One can summise, that the fatherless adjudicater from Shepton Mallet, being his main foe!
Police reinforcements were called and the Radstock team were escorted along with Mr Praeter down the sloping road to the station. The two minute walk up it earlier now feeling a damn sight longer as the baying mob followed them down. The upline platform at Pen Mill was cleared as the Radstock men and Mr Praeter were locked in a carriage for their own protection.
The aftermath was that Yeovil were fined by the Somerset FA, Davis and another player warned of their future behaviour. As for William Cooper, he recieved a £5 fine, a small fortune, and bound over to keep the peace. Yeovil were instructed to place posters around the ground warning supporters of their conduct and lanquage.
The Casuals did win Silverware that year though, in the form of the Somerset Junior Cup won by the reserves celebrated with 'a cup clearly filled with alcoholic beverage'
Two weeks later, Radstock's captain William Hyman returned to Pen Mill to play in a Somerset v Devon County match in front of 2000 fans.
.... What a brave man!
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