As part of our HITC Sport 92 series, Vincent Ralph looks at the growing success of Yeovil Town and the man responsible for it.
This was almost a story about giant-killing.
It was almost a story about a club who, during their non-league days, defeated 20 Football League teams in the FA Cup.
When I considered all the possible stories about Yeovil Town, their outstanding cup exploits seemed the most obvious tale to recount, and the one their fans would be most proud of. And then a Yeovil fan told me otherwise.
He told me to write about Gary Johnson.
It was under Johnson that the club finally achieved promotion to the Football League in 2003, 108 years after they were founded. And it is under the same man that they now sit fifth in League One, four points from top spot and the most in-form team in the division.
Yeovil’s history as a non-league side is full of fleeting fairytales, and yet the club missed out time and again on a place in the Football League.
Between 1955 and 1973, they won the Southern Football League on three occasions and were runners-up twice. But each time their application for promotion was denied during the voting process.
Until 1987, the Football League was something of a VIP area, with the bottom four clubs applying for re-election and almost always achieving it.
In 1979, Yeovil were founder members of the Football Conference, and a series of relegations and promotions followed. For a team who had showed over decades that they could match some of the biggest clubs in the country on their day, their everyday was spent in the first and second tiers of non-league football.
Catalysts are rarely noticed until their impact is measured. Thus Gary Johnson’s appointment as manager in 2001 couldn’t possibly have been seen at the time as a defining moment.
And yet he would go on to win the FA Trophy in his first season in charge, before sealing the Holy Grail of Football League promotion as champions the following year.
Yeovil would win the Conference by a record 17 points, accumulating 95 points in total and scoring 100 goals in the process.
After over a century as a non-league club, suddenly they were in the third-tier of English football. But success breeds problems of a different kind, and Johnson would leave the following season to take over at Bristol City.
Aside from a fifth-place finish in 2007, the club spent the following years in the bottom half of the division, but after a particularly poor start to last season, Johnson returned. And it is with him at the helm that the club now sits near the top of the closest league in the country.
With only five points separating first and sixth positions, fifth-placed Yeovil will hope that a continued good run of form will see them secure a place in the Championship.
It would be a success worthy of so much more than a trophy, as in less than a decade, a club who fought so long for a Football League place would be just one step away from the top flight.
For a team averaging gates of around 4,000 – in a league that contains the likes of Sheffield United and MK Dons – Yeovil’s current success is extremely impressive. And wherever they end the season, it is clear they have the perfect man for the job.
Some managers move from club to club, succeeding or not, famous more for themselves than their surroundings. But just a few fit one club perfectly. Gary Johnson is one of them.
image: © yellowbookltd