Those We Have Lost: Huish, Yeovil Town
As you can see, I have taken the opportunity to give this place a lick of paint ahead of some changes that we are planning to make for the start of the new season. Hopefully everything should work properly – feel free to let me know if you come across any glaring errors! This morning, meanwhile, we are returning to the subject of the lost football grounds of Britain, and we are indebted to Martin Baker from Ciderspace for this article on the subject of Yeovil Town’s former home, Huish.
Before Yeovil Town moved to their current edge-of-town stadium at Huish Park in 1990, they occupied a town centre ground simply called Huish. This wasn’t the club’s original setting, but it was the location where the majority of their football had been played – spending 70 years there, whilst their reputation and standing in non-league football grew, largely thanks to their giantkilling exploits. The name of the ground was borrowed from the name of a suburb in the town – you’ll find numerous parts of Somerset carry the Huish (or similar) monicker, which in Old English referred to a group of houses, or a household. The land was originally owned by the Brutton’s Brewery, and on August 28th 1920, the new stadium was opened by their Reserve side, who played Christchurch in a Dorset League match. At that time, the only actual development at the ground was a 300-seater stand that had been moved from the club’s previous Pen Mill land – that stand was soon extended, to include dressing rooms and additional capacity.
Mention Huish to any old-timers and one of the first things that they would speak of was the slope: “Have you still got your sloping pitch?” is a common question asked to many a Glovers fan when they bump into opposition supporters at away matches. Exactly how big the slope was is now steeped in folklore. The more conservative estimates were of a six foot side-to-side drop, whilst others recorded it at eight foot when measured from corner-to-corner. Yeovil Town’s most famous manager, Alec Stock, who went on to an impressive managerial career with QPR and Fulham, was aware of the myth that surrounded the slope and the opportunities for mind games with the opposition, and so was happy to see the newspapers exaggerate it ahead of FA Cup matches during his time at Huish in the late 1940s. By the time the media had filed their reports, that slope had grown to fourteen foot!
Perhaps it was a good thing that the club never accepted the American Army’s offer to level the pitch during the Second World War, so that the Yanks could play baseball on it, whilst the ground was being used as an ammunition dump. The slope was part of the club’s own secret weapon – both physical as corners were floated in from the top corner, and psychological, when teams knew they would have to deal with the difficult environment that only the home side truly knew how to play. Huish’s most famous moment came on January 29th, 1949 as the club’s growing reputation as FA Cup giantkillers was crystalised. A total of 17,123 spectators – a club attendance record that is unlikely to ever be broken – crammed in to watch Yeovil Town beat Sunderland in the Fourth Round of the competition. At that time, the Mackems were known as the ‘Bank of England’ side because of the money they had spent to assemble their squad – this was the equivalent of a non-league side knocking out Chelsea or Manchester City. Suddenly the whole country knew about Yeovil Town and their ground, with the national press out in force.
The cup run allowed for a succession of ground improvements to be carried out – previous banks of earth and railway sleepers were replaced during the early 1950s by concrete terracing as the old cover at the Queen Street End of the ground was removed, and the terrace fitted with concrete steps. The same was done at the Brutton’s (Brewery) End, and then the North Terrace – which as a side terrace had covering put on it, with the two ends behind the goals now open. Back in those days, it cost just over £5,000 to turn the three parts of the ground from earth into concrete.
In 1962, the Huish ground as most people would remember it, was formed as the original Pen Mill stand was demolished, and a 2,000 seater Main Stand was built in its place. Costing £60,000 to build, it gave the club new dressing rooms, plus an upstairs boardroom, and a long bar for supporters to drink in, and where the club held dances and bingo nights. The bar soon became one of the hubs of the town, with the ground on the west end of the town centre, and the additional income began to give the club payback for that investment. Give or take a crush barrier or a set of segregation fences, that was pretty much how Huish remained for its next 28 years. With the club still not achieving their dream of Football League membership, despite many election campaigns, the facilities at Huish were largely good enough for the club, even if gradual safety restrictions pulled the official ground capacity down to around 10,000 in its later years. Its last capacity attendance came in January 1988, when Queens Park Rangers came down for an FA Cup Third Round match, and 9,717 spectators watched a 0-3 defeat against a top flight side.
By then, plans were afoot. The slope that the club had refused to level during the War was by now one of the barriers to promotion to the Football League – now becoming an automatic right, with the archaic election system being ended during the 1980s. Furthermore, the Main Stand was starting to develop rust in its supports that gave the club the dilemma of whether to pay the high maintenance costs of keeping Huish alive, or whether to sell up and move to another site. On March 21st 1989, the club finally got planning permission for an out of town stadium, on land previously used by the Houndstone Army Camp, and just over a year later, a home match against Telford United on May 5th 1990 brought the curtain down on 70 years worth of memories.
The bulldozers moved in, and what was Huish football ground became a Tesco supermarket, and Yeovil moved out to Houndstone, with the old ground’s name partially retained in its Huish Park monicker. For several years after, a weathercock on top of the Tesco building clock tower showed a metal design where small figures of footballers could be viewed – the only sign left of the old ground’s location. Even that has gone now, but it was salvaged and away fans visiting the Copse Road end of Huish Park will find it fixed to the exterior of that terrace. Various other bits of Huish were transferred to other grounds – the turnstiles ended up at Exmouth Town – but the majority of it ended up as rubble.
Yeovil Town have of course moved on and flourished at their new ground – although not without drama, as the complications of land valuations and construction prices around 1990 financially crippled the club during the move, with the club almost going bankrupt three years after the move, as the size of the debts incurred began to spiral out of control. Huish though, is a ground that many supporters still talk about with great sentimentality – it had great character to it, unlike many of the identikit grounds that sprung up around the early 1990s, of which Huish Park is undoubtedly one. I may not have seen it in 21 years, but I still have every little detail of it remains etched into my memory.
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