Nowadays, there seems to be a stigma attached to playing for Yeovil Town FC. Not so many years ago we had made history by getting promoted into the second tier of English football and now, we are stuck down there in the basement, just above the relegation zone in League two and risking a fall from grace if we are made to exit the football league. Of course, the players who are there now and a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. And the really ugly. But I thought I’d take a little bit of time away from the doom and gloom to celebrate some players who not only graced the great Huish Park at some point, but who are now playing at a much higher level and achieving much greater things than they ever could at Yeovil. Here are six players who show that Somerset isn’t full of just dire football and a lack of passion (although, admittedly, things are on the change now).
Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace)
During Yeovil’s ill fated Championship season, we had quite a few player on loan who tried their utmost to keep us in the league. When Marek Stech- our star goalkeeper- became injured, we were forced to take a goalkeeper on loan, and they had mixed results. Sam Johnstone joined us from Manchester United, where he broke his finger in training and player one game being recalled due to the aforementioned injury. Then Stuart Taylor joined us from Reading, where he successfully played in one match- a mid season friendly against the Latvian national team- before mysteriously being called back to his team in what has likely gone down in history as being one of the most pointless signings ever.
However, after that mess, we were honoured to see Wayne Hennessey join us on loan. He was the Welsh first choice ‘keeper and, before Wolverhampton Wandered had plummeted to League One, he had been a goalkeeper plying his trade in the Premier League- and making some pretty amazing saves whilst he was at it. His loan stay was only for a few months, but he became a cult hero in that time, saving a couple of penalties and genuinely looking like the difference between victory and defeat in so many games. In fact, had the general team been better equipped for survival at that level, he could’ve set some sort of record when it came to clean sheets. As it happened, even a talented keeper such as him couldn’t keep us up, but he showed on a daily basis just why he was such a good goalkeeper.
The season after that, he was signed by Crystal Palace, who are now in the top ten in the Premier League. He plays every week. Now, I’m not saying that playing for Yeovil got him noticed, but when you consider the form he was in, it probably didn’t do his reputation any harm. He currently plays every game for his team, as well as for his country, and he probably wishes he was back in Yeovil. He is, to be fair, one of the few star players who has come down here and had nothing but good things to say about our tinpot club.
Andros Townsend is pretty much a household name (in football households, anyhow) since his England appearances and starry performances for his club Tottenham on the European stage. However, in the not too distant past, he was a young player desperate to eek out a living as a footballer. And so, Tottenham sent him to Yeovil as a teenager.
We were a high-flying, consistently effective league one side at the time, and Townsend- despite his young age- had impressed for the Spurs reserves. And it was a match made in heaven: Townsend was a pacy winger with a mean shot, and Yeovil were the kind of team that could offer him regular first team matches of a suitably challenging level. He wasn’t going to be outclassed, but he was was certainly going to learn a lot about men’s football.
Even at the time, it was apparent to everyone that Townsend was a good player. His initial signing resulted in raised eyebrows, because he was barely out of school and nobody had heard of him, but those doubters were quickly silenced by his consistent performances. After just a few months, his loan deal ran out, and a few seasons later, he was joining QPR on loan in the Premier League. After that, Tottenham took a chance on him, and he found himself walking out in an England shirt to represent his country. And let’s not forget the absolute peach of a goal he scored in just his second England appearance against Poland. The goalkeeper had no chance and, in fact, I doubt that Superman would’ve got a hand to the ball. His chances are Tottenham this season have been sparse, and there is talk of him moving to another team, but all of that wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t achieved the sort of performances he had for our beloved green army.
A special mention should go to Ryan Mason, too, who joined us on loan from Spurs, too. He is now an England international and a regular player for Tottenham, although he was just a young lad when he joined us. However, his loan deal was a lot shorter and his development definitely happened in later seasons (he was a little ‘rough and ready’ when he came to Yeovil), which is why he only earns himself a paragraph.
Asmir started his professional career at Portsmouth and, although they have since fallen, they were a Premier League side at around this time. And a pretty decent one at that. Asmir joined Yeovil on loan in a time when we had a real problem with signing permanent keepers, and he immediately impressed, looking assured at set pieces and able to command the defenders in front of him despite his young age. It was clear to all that he talent beyond his years.
In fact, Begovic was so good that, the following season, we took him on loan again, and we were beginning to wonder why such a decent goalkeeper wasn’t being given game time by his parent club. Of course, Portsmouth were in bad financial trouble, although this was all very secretive at the time. Begovic returned to his parent club and then found himself being sold to Stoke, who were in their infancy as a Premier League established club, but were looking for consistent and affordable players in their bid to stay in the league.
Of course, he immediately won a place in the team, and he slowly grew to earn himself a mighty reputation. Some of the best teams in the world came to fear his presence and he was rightly regarded as one of the best keepers in the Premier League and thus, by extension, the world. Chelsea put in a huge bid for him, and he now tends to their goal, competing for a place with the equally excellent Thibault Courtois. Some will argue that joining Chelsea helps nothing but his pay check, as he cannot guarantee regular first team appearances, although when you stop and realise that he spent a large chunk of his early years on loan with us, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride that we had such a world class player grace our pitch.
There seems to be a link between Tottenham youth players and Yeovil and, in fact, by the time Caulker had come along, you get the feeling that Tottenham were just sending us their young players in the hope we’d continue to send them back as stars. This was once again the case with Steven Caulker, who joined us as a teenager to help bolster up our leaky (and undermanned) defence.
He was just a teenager, still a few years away from his 20th birthday, and yet he was a real leader at the back. He was always there to make a crucial header or to execute a perfectly timed tackle to dispossess the opposition, and he wasn’t afraid to get into the other box to try and get himself a goal or two. Although his first few games were luke warm, he eventually grew into a star- albeit one that we still weren’t totally convinced about.
However, four or five games into his loan spell, he started to show just why Tottenham had hyped him up so much. They hadn’t been lying: he was a revelation at the back and his presence helped turned a lacklustre defence into a mediocre one and then, as time went on, into a genuinely good one. His loan spell was only a few months, but even when he returned to his parent club, his influence lasted throughout the season. The defence seemed a lot better even when he was no longer there.
Caulker played a season or two as a regular Tottenham player, before they rather oddly sold him to Cardiff. Cardiff were relegated, and he moved to QPR, although they suffered the same fate. He is still, technically, a QPR player, although he spent the first half of the season on loan at Southampton, albeit only playing a handful of games. And he was useless for them. His career, sadly, has gone off the rails slightly. However, he still holds that rare record of scoring on his England debut, and he’d better enjoy that moment- it is questionable as to whether he’ll ever be able to regain the form that made him an international call up again.
Marc Wilson only made two appearances for Yeovil, because they took him on loan for only a month as a utility player, which meant that he was going to be asked to play in a whole load of positions, none of which he was particularly a natural in. He joined us from Portsmouth, who had gained a good reputation from us thanks to Asmir Begovic, but he didn’t quite impress as much as his former team mate.
Then again, when you’re only given two games to do so, it is rather hard to make an impression. The general consensus seemed to be that he showed the potential to be a decent footballer but that his performances for Yeovil had just been a bit ‘meh’. Average, consistent, but not exactly anything that would set the world on fire. Of course, Portsmouth would later sell him to Stoke, where he would still be with his former team mate, Begovic, and as of writing this he is still a Stoke player. Oh, and he’s also an international player for the Republic of Ireland, with his appearances breaking into double figures: that’s a pretty impressive feat.
He is the perfect utility man, too, capable of playing anywhere along the back four, as well as in a central midfield role. His versatility has meant that he has played an awful lot of football, but has never quite been able to hold on a permanent position, which has made it hard for him to grow into a gifted natural. However, he came to Yeovil and he’s now a successful footballer so- two games or not- we were glad to have him.
Joining us in that now infamous Championship season, Shane Duffy was a centre back from Everton who, like John Lundstram who also joined us on loan at the same time, had been floating on the edges of the first team squad for quite a while. However, he knew that in order to get a place in the team, he needed to be playing regular football, and so he joined Yeovil on a season long loan that saw him become one of our most favoured players.
Confident on the ball and much more experienced that most loan players tended to be when they joined our club, he worked tirelessly alongside Byron Webster to give our defence a fighting chance in the league. Ultimately we went down, but that was through no fault of Duffy, or indeed any individual player. In fact, Duffy has every reason to be proud- his performances had been a key part in Yeovil’s defiant season and he was a firm fans’ favourites. Quite rightly, too.
Had Yeovil achieved the seemingly impossible and stayed in the league, he might’ve signed for us, because he openly stated that he loved the South West, the town and the fans, but it was clear upon our relegation that he wanted to break into the Everton team. Of course, that never happened, as Everton changed managers from David Moyes (who had always liked Duffy’s playing style) to Roberto Martinez (who preferred a more ‘continental’ style of defending which wasn’t in keeping with Duffy’s) and so he was promptly sold to Blackburn, where he now makes regular appearances at Championship level. But his season at Yeovil certainly made people notice him, and he is now an Irish international and the former captain of the Ireland Under 21 team. That’s pretty good.
And, obviously, as an Everton and Yeovil fan, it was the perfect situation for me. I got to witness a player who played for both the teams I loved. And boy did he play well throughout a tough, but historic, season.
So there you have it. If you want to give your youth players a fighting chance, then make sure you give them a loan spell at Yeovil. Sure, we’ve had more loan disasters in recent years than we have loan successes, but come on, give us a chance here. With things as they are, we need all the help we can get!