Yeovil Town 0 Reading 1 (31st August 2013)
I don’t go to that many Reading away games these days, but Yeovil away was one that I definitely keen on doing. Thanks to their FA Cup exploits in the past the club was always in the unusual position of being the most famous obscure team in the country, and their old ground, The Huish, the most well-known ground that nobody had visited nor would be able to picture – other than its infamous slope.
The Huish is gone now, slope and all, buried under a Tesco superstore. The non-league status has been gone for a decade too, but if the club’s character has been formed by being the underdog in the eyes of many, their first season in England’s second tier, where they’ll comfortably be the smallest club, sees a return to tradition.
It is also nice to go to a corner of the country rarely visited on football travels, although the trip down would have been a little more pleasant, and about an hour quicker, if traffic hadn’t been crawling past Stonehenge on the A303. OK, it did save the £8 admission fee, and it was quite dramatic when a couple of Chinooks swooped low over the stones, but it wasn’t worth the three mile tail-back before it, nor the increasing fear of not making it to the game in time for kick-off.
I made it just in time, nipping through the picture-postcard villages of Queen Camel and Marston Magna, and ending up at the back of the away car park, behind the away end. Looking across from there, you got a keen sense of anticipation from being able to see into the ground from here – something you rarely get from modern enclosed grounds.
A quick detour via the unusually pleasant smelling football ground toilets – how long they’d stay that was another matter – and was up the back of the stand to take my seat as the teams came out.
I quite liked Yeovil’s ground. Yes it’s a modern ground and not hugely exciting, and it goes without saying that their old place would have had more character, but is does somehow manage to avoid being dreary.
There’s nothing hugely exciting about the two seated stands, with 2600 fading green seats each in a single tier, but they do show the club’s ambition to open such a ground when it was still in the 5th tier. From the outside at least, the main stand side is more impressive, especially where they’ve hidden the dull metal exterior with giant photographs of previous triumphs.
Both ends are terraced, and are pretty decently sized terraces too. Both were open when the ground originally built, but the home end now has a roof, enclosing that end nicely. The away end is still open, giving the place a bit of an old fashioned feel, where the home fans would be looked after and the away fans given the basics. Supports jut out of the back of the terrace, presumably for future expansion should the need arise.
If championship football and a modern ground give the impression that Yeovil have moved away from their rustic image, the pre-match song brings things back. No rousing rock anthem or neoclassical score backing a scoreboard montage for Yeovil. Instead it’s The Wurzels with their “I was born on a Yeovil Saaa-turday” reworking of Rolf Harris’ Two Little Boys. There may be no slope or clinging Somerset mud any more, but with that song and the home end sponsored by a local cider brewer, you can’t forget where you are.
The Reading fans were out in force, filling the 2000 allocation, although fewer might have gone had they not bought tickets before Tuesday night’s 0-6 cup embarrassment at Peterborough. Managers normally promise there’ll be “a reaction” following such a drubbing, but unfortunately for Reading the reaction appeared to be something akin to shell-shock. A good opening five minute aside, they completely failed to impose themselves on the division’s relegation favourites, displaying a range of unforced errors and misunderstandings that gave hints as to why that 0-6 could have happened.
For much of the game Yeovil were the better team, but it was a game that despite its openness and clear intent of both teams to try to win, also displayed why both teams have struggled to do as well as they’d hoped. The lively pre-match atmosphere became quickly subdued as the low-quality game played out before them.
With Yeovil’s greater willingness to have a shot, it did feel that they’d be more likely to score, just based on the law of averages saying one effort is bound to be decent eventually. With 13 minutes left though, the game turned. Adam Le Fondre got behind the defence and was taking the ball along the byline to the goal when a rather clumsy defender bumped into him and a penalty was awarded. He took and scored the pen himself to give Reading a lead that would require a degree of bias to say was deserved.
With Yeovil facing a 5th straight defeat they threw players forward with diminishing hope rather than any expectation, but even Reading’s so far leaky defence was able to hold out for the first clean sheet of the season.
Being stuck in the car park (seemingly devoid of combine harvesters – brand new or otherwise) for an hour after the game, took the gloss off the victory somewhat, but overall Yeovil’s an interesting place to come for a football day out. Small they may be, and giant-killings will be required on a weekly basis this season, but the place has a bit of character. Just find somewhere else to park, that’s all.