Up at 6am. Not wake up, mind. I’ve been awake since 3.30, partly because of the heat, mostly because this is Yeovil’s biggest day yet and I can’t wait for the match. I’ve been so keyed up for this moment that yesterday I woke up shouting “today’s the day” and was bitterly disappointed when I realised that it was only Friday.
Leave the house at 7 to pick up the coach from Huish Park at 7.30. The car park is awash with green and white. Smiling faces, waving flags, a carnival atmosphere almost like the Trophy Final last year. That feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since then.
We hit the motorway and race towards Bristol, laughing at the 20-mile jam edging slowly towards the West Country. Sitting in the back of the coach there’s a lovely breeze from the open skylight, but the people in the front are sweltering. It’s going to be another scorcher.
Two of our “choirmasters” are painting each other’s faces green and white. The young lad sitting next to me asks if he can have his face painted too. He’s with his grandad, so his mum won’t find out. As he turns the fresh-faced boy into a painted warrior, the “choirmaster” explains that today is a momentous occasion, the pinnacle of 108 years of history. “You’ve got to sing your heart out today”, he says, “for the generations of supporters who have gone before. We’re all privileged to be sharing this moment, and one day you’ll be proud to tell your grandchildren I WAS THERE”. Our part of the coach goes completely quiet for a minute as those words sink in. It finally hits me that we really have made it into the League, and I’m not the only one with ‘something in my eye’ all of a sudden. We remember Brian Kynaston, a life-long supporter who died under tragic circumstances in the middle of last season, and we know how much he would have enjoyed this trip. This one’s for you, Brian, and all the other Glovers that have gone before.
Suddenly everyone is singing ‘We love you Yeovil’ at the tops of their voices. We’re on the radio ! We’re singing and then a few seconds later we hear ourselves from the coach’s speakers. We sound good ! Someone from one of our other coaches is also on the air, and there’s some friendly banter between the groups.
The journey goes smoothly until the Chester turnoff. Gridlock. We pull off onto the A54 and travel via Knutsford and a seemingly endless series of motorway junctions, until finally we see the sign we’ve all been waiting for - Rochdale. We’re here !
The coach unloads us outside the ground at 1.30, and we’re pleasantly surprised to find a non-segregated pub in the car park. Unfortunately it’s packed, so we decide to go into the ground and savour the atmosphere. Nice stadium, about the same size as ours. We’ve got one whole side rather than an end, directly opposite the players’ tunnel. Green and white fills the stand, and I have to say that I now like the new hooped strip.
I buy two programmes, just in case I lose one. After all, this will be a collector’s item - Yeovil’s first-ever League game. They’re only £2.20, and are actually quite interesting to read, as opposed to some Conference programmes which are just, well, boring. And guess what happens ? I lose both programmes on the way home.
Another pleasant surprise awaits - the pie shop sells beer. Canned, maybe, but it’s cold and hits the spot. Wish we had something similar at Huish….
I find a seat at the very top of the stand. It’s nearly full already and it’s only 2.30. I get the impression that we actually outnumber the home crowd. Full marks to the supporters groups for arranging transport for so many people.
The singing is already at fever pitch, but when our lads come out the noise rises to a deafening crescendo. The whistle blows, and we’re finally playing League football.
For the first 15 minutes or so the lads are edgy and disjointed, but who can blame them ? I’m only a supporter and I’m a bag of nerves ! Rochdale push the ball about nicely, causing us a few tense moments, but then GJ’s coaching takes hold and Yeovil start playing again. The ref is better than most Conference officials we’ve had and keeps the game mostly rolling, but both linesmen are slow and hesitant and absolutely hopeless with offsides. Rochdale’s 9 and 7 are speedy, skilful players and Lockwood and O’Brien have outstanding games in coping with them. 27 gets chants of ‘she fell over’ every time he gets the ball, after some amusing play-acting early on.
As players are subbed they receive a standing ovation, and the new player is welcomed with rapturous applause. I hope they know how much we admire all of them. Each supporter has a personal favourite player, but collectively we love them all. This family feeling is so strong and warm today that I want all of us to run on the pitch and have a group hug.
We’re singing constantly. ‘Hey Gary Johnson’ is a favourite, and full credit to the man for always responding, no matter how intensely he’s following the game.
When Kevin Gall hits the net with a beautiful strike just before the half hour the Yeovil stand erupts. I’ve never heard such a noise, even at Villa Park. And the person Gally runs to to celebrate his goal with is GJ. What do you say now, Mr Graydon ? Just before half time Rochdale equalise with a superb goal in a rare lapse of concentration by the Glovers. I grudgingly concede that 1-1 is about fair.
At half time there is a presentation for some Yeovil supporters who have cycled up to Rochdale to raise money for charity. What a fantastic effort - they must have ridden nearly 300 miles. Is it my imagination or are they slightly bow-legged ? Maybe we’ll find them holding on to one of our coaches on the way home.
The second half is Yeovil’s, and increasingly so towards the end. There’s some lovely football by both sides, but the green and white tide overwhelms the blues. Johno’s cheeky quick free kick has echoes of Donnie written all over it, and Gally’s 2nd goal is made and generously given by Jacko. Nice team work, guys.
Some amusement is provided by a Rochdale supporter who throws the ball at Wealey twice. It appears to take a dozen stewards to eject him, and he was royally waved off by the whole Yeovil stand.
The atmosphere is electric. Every one of us is playing on that pitch. I’m willing those legs on, helping the midfield plan their next move, watching the linesman for offside. And mostly waiting for that final whistle.
There it is ! It’s over ! We’ve won ! The man next to me is crying and hugs me saying “Please tell me I’m not dreaming”. I’m hoarse with singing but manage a few more verses before I slump in my seat, exhausted.
The celebrations go on for ages as the players and staff come over to applaud us. Hugo is in his element, encouraging us on and we obliging with chants of “Hugo, Hugo”, crashing like waves against the stand opposite us and echoing back across an empty stadium now that the Dales have gone.
Finally the players go back to the changing room. The buzz subsides as the faithful leave. I don’t want to go, today is so special. We came here as new boys, we’ll leave as seasoned campaigners. We’ve made our mark on League football. Right now we are the only League club EVER with an unbeaten record.
The local police perform a miracle in getting us out. It’s like the Parting of the Blue Sea. One minute there’s a dozen coaches in the car park, the next the whole of Rochdale appears to be brought to a stop to let us out through red lights, across roundabouts and onto the motorway within a few minutes. Thanks guys !
The coach is quiet on the way back. Some people are sleeping, others are savouring the moment. There’s a quiet satisfaction in the air. The talk of celebrating in a night club changes to murdering a cup of tea at home. The young lad with a painted face tells us that he will be on TV twice - “Sunday Soccer” tomorrow and “On the Ball” next Saturday. Hope your mum’s not watching.
One of the “choirmasters” asks me when I last saw Yeovil lose. I say against Taunton in the SPC. Nah, a match that matters he says. After some time I mistakenly say Cheltenham in the FA Cup. The “choirmaster” corrects me - Burscough in the FA Trophy. OK, smart ass, what about the last Conference game we lost ? Nobody can remember. I look in my copy of ‘Yeovil Till I Die’ ( an excellent read, by the way ) and am staggered to find that it was Boxing Day last year against the Gumps. It reminds me that we went half a season without losing a Conference game. Amazing. I wonder whether we’re becoming so used to winning that we just take it for granted, and realise even more what a wonderful football machine Sir Gary has built.
Two last moments from the day. The Bristol Rovers team coach overtakes us in that painfully slow way that coaches and lorries have. The players are treated to a rousing chorus of ‘Going down, going down, going down’. The look on their faces says it all - they believe in Yeovil as much as we do.
And finally, we are overtaken by the Yeovil team coach. We all stand to attention, cheer and clap. Our boys look knackered but respond with smiles and cheery waves. It really doesn’t get much better than this.