Upton Park, Vampires and Harvey Vassall. 1897-98

As one would expect after the success of the previous season, the AGM was full of back slapping, complimentaries and all in all a feeling of job well done. Even more so when Mr.Whittaker the treasurer announced an £11 profit . All was not sugar and spice though, the Chairman of the meeting, Mr. Davis raised the disgraceful language he had heard by team members when the team were in practice, he wished it to be stopped! He also called for the Reserve side to do their bit in promoting their matches as revenue was low for them. Do their bit involved putting up posters in the town advertising matches. 

A Major James Kelly was installed as President of the club, a man with a long distinguished military career who was the Army long range shooting champion. Fifty-six years old and recently retired and respected throughout the town.

The season got underway with the usual round of friendlies, five in total. Starting with a 2-1 home defeat by the strong and talented Weymouth Royal artillery. A team like Weymouth Football club who would be marred with contraversy a few years later when they were caught paying players with 
both teams being kicked out of the Dorset FA. 

Essex Cup holders, Upton Park FC from London paid a visit on the 25th September,as part of their South-West and Channel Islands tour. A fixture that was to become a regular one over the next few years. The 'Parkers' arriving the day before, staying in the Pen Mill and playing the next day. It would seem that on this occasion the beverage delights of the Pen Mill were well and truly supped the night before the game, as by half time Yeovil were 8-0 up, with brothers Gilbert and Spencer Vassall, better known as Harvey, helping themselves to five of the goals. Eventually winning 9-1.

Upton Park - 1897

Chard Swifts arrived a couple of weeks later, in a farce of a game. The Swifts, from the Congregational Church in Chard, ended up in a match was was "too one sided to be considered interesting" ending in a 19-0 result for the Casuals. Vassall helping himself to nine of the goals. At a meeting by the Swifts a day later to explain this embarrassment on the club and to the church, the Swifts Secretary, Mr Longstore, explained he was told that Yeovil would play their Reserve side, so had planned accordingly and took their's. 

Finally, on the second of October, the season proper took hold. Yeovil paying a visit to Radstock to start the defence of their Somerset title. A strong Yeovil side, only coming back with a 1-1 draw, an own goal by the Casuals's Suggs being their downfall. However, an interesting description of an amusing  attempt at goal was included in the match details. 

"Horler (Radstock keeper) fell on the ball and attempts by the Yeovil forwards to roll him and the ball onto the goal were to no avail" 

The team for the opening  league game being:

Hyde, Bond, Suggs, Gleave, Evans, Studley, Stone, Smith, Beare, Vassall , Wyatt 

Hyde replacing the usual keeper Palmer. Beare, Studley and Gleave all former  Congregational Swifts players that were swept up by the formation of the Casuals two years earlier . Highlighting that before the Casuals there was an abundance of talent in the town. 

Wells came to Pen Mill three weeks later, bouyed by the news of a telegram received  from Vassall that because of a train accident, he was stuck in Oxford unable to travel. Wells had the previous season won the Somerset Challenge Cup and with the Casuals as the Somerset League champions, the match took on the identity of a Somerset Charity Shield match. 

Wells prior match confidence was soon put to the sword, after they had taken the lead Yeovil came back to win 3-2 with goals from Stone, Smith and Big Bob Wyatt. The Wells local sports journalist perpentiantly proclaiming that the Casuals were 'not as good as one had been informed"

The week after the Wells match, another trip to Bristol was the offering in the FA Amateur Cup, the nightmare of the 8-0 St George fiasco of the previous season still haunting them. This time Bedminster were the opponents, played at Ashton Gate, Bristol. 

Interestingly, it appears Yeovil taking advantage of the lapsed registration rules in the competition, as Weymouth had done the season before, played a ringer. Sheldon in goal for Yeovil was actually a Wells City player. Obviously approached the week before in the home match against the Cathedral team. In a hotly faught match, Bedminster scored early and whilst Yeovil attacked for most of the remainder of the match an equaliser could not be found. The forwards coming in for heavy criticism afterwards. Bedminster later merging with Bristol City, and still playing at Ashton Gate.

Bedminster FC in 1897, the year they defeated Yeovil in the FA Amatuer Cup. 
After the exit from the national Cup, the usual series of friendlies over took proceedings. Swindon Town Reserves brought a strong team to Pen Mill winning 2-1. Then Yeovil decided day trips to West Somerset would be nice, as they travelled first to Minehead and secondly to Watchet, Watchet being seen as the premier team in that area. Casuals were too strong for Minehead but encountered a 3-2 defeat on Watchet's St Decuman's pitch. 

Paulton Rovers had started to get themselves a bit of a reputation. They'd been hauled before the Somerset Football committee twice already during the season. Before  the Casuals visited them in early December 1897, they had had a number of players suspended after threatening a referee in November against Midsomer Norton. Also warned regarding the conduct of their boisterous spectators. Yeovil turned up late to Paulton's Winterfield ground. A pitch which had happy memories for Yeovil, after being crowned Somerset Senior league winners there just eight months previously. Yeovil went into the last five minutes of the match 2-1 up, only for the 'miners' team to equalise. As the match had started late the match was being played in near darkness at this stage. The referee refused to continue, as such little time remained, one also expects worrying about getting the last train back home to Wells. 

Paulton immediately tried to get the game replayed by appealing to the Somerset Committee at Evercreech, where they were based. Paulton's previous misdemeanors going against them as the FA threw out their appeal.

Boxing day 1897 saw the Casuals take on the wonderfully named Old Plymouthians and Mannameadians, a club still in existence. They hardly wetted the appetite for the growing football public of Yeovil, a sparse crowd watching a 4-0 win for the Casuals. 

Paulton Rovers, tails between their legs, turned up on the 8th January 1898. Laying second jointly with Yeovil. Vassall, who had unfortunately been unable so far to take part in League matches because of his studies, made his first league appearance of the season helping Yeovil send North Somerset's best back home in a 5-1 hammering. Goals from Beare, Bob Bob Wyatt, and a hat-trick  from Smith. Smith a former Yeovil Rovers player was making a name for himself upfront. A name that obviously had reached Minehead, they came to Pen Mill at the end of January. 

The match with Minehead, who had arrived with only nine men, on the 29th January 1898, started like all others, fast and furious with Yeovil taking a commanding 2-0 lead at half time. The Minehead captain Pulsford, had obtained the rage of the Casuals's fans though with some reckless tackling, especially against Smith the Yeovil forward, something the referee had not dealt with.

Into the last ten minutes of the match and Yeovil already five nil up, Pulsford and Smith clashed with the Minehead captain laying a right hander on the Yeovil forward. The already angry crowd turned into a baying mob, as they stormed the pitch wanting to lynch West Somerset' finest player. Mr. Davis, the referee having no choice but to dismiss the Minehead captain. Resulting in his teammates adopting the 'one out all out'  method and proceeded to leave the field, only to be forced back on to finish the game. 

Pulled up to appear before the Somerset FA, Pulsford gave evidence that he was punched first by Smith, the FA kicking the can down the road and requested more evidence. Case dropped! 

The extent of the rise of Yeovil Casuals in both playing ability and spectator appeal were in evidence in February. The Pen Mill stadium, still just a roped off pitch was chosen for the prestigious Somerset v Dorset County match. Over 1100 paid to see a Somerset side with three Yeovil players involved  (Palmer, Suggs and Wyatt) beat their county neighbours 2-1, Big Bob, scoring which was greeted by 'deafining cheers heard all over the town' 

The season in the league was moving along nicely. Yeovil sitting top in February with Street, in their new Victoria ground, hot behind them.  Confidence was high of retaining the Somerset Senior league, reinforced when a trip to the old eneny Wells saw a Yeovil win 3-2. Yeovil leading 3-0 at one stage. The Wells journalist who had earlier questioned Yeovil's ability, described this win as "one of luck and undeserving" 

Street away was coming up, but before then Yeovil had a tricky Somerset Challenge Cup tie away to Taunton. Tommy Stone the hero of Paulton the season before, would not be taking part though. In an over robust practice session, Tommy had broken his leg and would be out for the rest of the season. 

Either through over confidence or wanting to rest players, Yeovil turned up at Taunton's Wellington Road ground with a mixture of reserves and third team players. Something that displeased the Yeovil fans, who made up the majority of the crowd, taking advantage of a 'football special'. The scratch Yeovil side happy to escape with a 1-1 draw, earning a replay back at Pen Mill a week later. 

A week later, the club  realising that taking a scratch side to junior club Taunton was not the best idea it had had in its short history, decided to pull out the big guns. Vassall was called upon along with his younger brother Harvey. Just turned nineteen years old, studying at Charterhouse and considered an even better prospect than his now famous brother. 

Taunton on the other hand inexplicably decided to weaken their side from a week earlier by leaving their best three players at home. Thankfully, there was to be no repeat of a week earlier, as Yeovil romped home 8-1. The Vassall brothers picking up five between them. The result putting Yeovil  into a semi-final at home to Radstock a month later 

Street were waiting for the match that although wouldn't decide the League it would give the winners a definite advantage. Yeovil missing the Vassall bothers and two others were forced to field an understrength team. It showed, Street out played, out fault and out muscled Yeovil for the full ninety mins. Winning 6-0, in front of the largest attendance Street had ever seen for an association football match. 

The Somerset Challenge Cup appeared to be the last hope of any silverwear ending up at the Pen Mill. Yeovil fans obviously thought so as over 1000 turned up on a bitterly cold windy day to watch the Casuals take on Radstock in the Semi-final. Again, through injuries a substandard side came running out of the hotel to take on the miners from North Somerset. 

The match though was a foregone conclusion Radstock, bottom of the league to take on Casuals, still top, with Street on level points but games in hand. The match was a disaster for the club, Radstock were 2-0 up in twenty minutes. They shut up shop, hoofing the ball into touch at every given chance to hold onto their lead. It worked Radstock winning 2-1. A result that was celebrated in the miners clubs of North Somerset long into the night. 

With that, any success seemed over, although Street were still to come to Pen Mill, even a win would still mean only an outside chance of being crowned Somerset champions again. 

The preparations for the Street match could not have been more ill-conceived. The day before a match had been organised with a touring North London side, The Crouch End Vampires. The 'Vamps' turned up, again staying at Pen Mill, like Upton Park had earlier in the season. It would seem they kept to bottles of pop as they beat the Casuals 5-0 the next day. The Vampires checked out of the Pen Mill Hotel and Street football club checked in. Leaving nothing to chance they stayed the night at the Pen Mill Hotel, fresh for the match the next day. 

Over 2000 turned up at the Pen Mill ground the next day, many from Street. Yeovil, incredibly not showing any signs of tiredness after the 'Vampires' match, started fast. Within ten minutes, Vassall was brought down in the box at the Camborne End. Vassall, the darling of Pen Mill, one of the most famous names in English football, a man who could break a post with a shot, stepped up to take it. He missed! 

Unperturbed, Yeovil had Street on the back foot and fifteen minutes before halftime, Beare sent the ball into the net with a blistering shot. Sending the crowd celebrating as " as if the fate of empires depended on it" 

The scored stayed that way at half time, as the men in the crowd quickly found the beer and cider table behind the Hotel end, to quench their hoarse throats. 

Street had the advantage of the slope and the wind in the second half. They took full advantage of it. Yeovil defended like trojans, captained by Fred Bond. It was all to be of no avail though. Street scoring two in five minutes late in the second half. The season was over! Street, although not yet sure of the league however those fans knew that they  had taken the crown from Yeovil. 

The season slowly came to end, a trip to a Midsomer Norton being the last league game. A  match played with no enthusiasm and a substandard team ending in an embarrassing 4-0 defeat.

Yeovil had ended second though, five points behind Street, a position that would have been celebrated just two years before. Now seen as failure! 

The disappointment of the season paled into insignificance in May. Harvey Vassall, a player who at just nineteen years of age, had played for the Casuals during the season, scoring regularly, was taken ill. 

Whilst playing cricket at Hardington Mandeville, he took what was described as a 'shivering fit' and collapsed. He was attended by a doctor and removed from the field. Later being transfered to the Doctor's home as his condition became worse.

He sadly never recovered and passed away two days later. The club, the fans and the whole of Yeovil went into mourning for this young twenty year old lad, graced with such footballing talents, now struck down so young. He is buried in St Mary's churchyard in Hardington Mandeville, his home village. 

The grave of Spencer Harvey Vassell at St Mary's Church in Hardington Mandeville

Yeovil Casuals were growing though. Bond and his committee wanted to expand further than the Somerset borders which would also increase revenue. He had a plan! 

Happy days! 

* for more seasons and stories check the archive 


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