Sports

Yeovil Town

I rolled the car along a stretch of black between the glistening artificial green of the training pitch and the two-tone, two-story facade of Huish Park’s main stand.

Yeovil Town’s academy kids (or maybe it was the first team — I couldn’t have known) were being put through their paces behind nothing more secure than wire suited to keep chickens away from a raised bed vegetable garden.

Yeovil Town Football Club

The first spot I chose to park the Prius wasn’t going to work. That slice of gravel belonged to the Yeovil Town manager so I pulled in alongside, got out and stretched a hearty stretch, arms up into the sky like I was in a coffee commercial — the best part of waking up is…visiting another English football ground. I even wore a central casting bedhead beneath my Irish flat cap. Always fully committed to the role. This is what comes after a predawn wake up call in Plymouth followed by a few hours of nonstop driving.

This miniature League Two ground was the penultimate stop on my second English football zigzag pilgrimage of October 2018.

Yeovil Town Football Club, Huish Park, a hanging-on-in League Two side tucked into a sleepy green patch of southwest England.

Yeovil Town Football Club Huish Park

Years earlier, as I was learning to love English football in general and, more specifically, getting misty-eyed over the lure of the FA Cup, I tuned into a 3rd round match set right here in Yeovil. Some would call this magic. In reality, it was simply a happy accident of a multi-million dollar international TV rights package and ping pong balls bouncing some 3,500 miles away.

Manchester United were drawn away to Yeovil Town and the magic of the crazy idea that the most famous club in England could and would have to travel to a ground with a capacity of 5,000 to play a real, meaningful game sealed my fate.

“I would one day visit Yeovil Town,” I told anyone who would listen in my house. My cats, however, didn’t seem impressed with my empty, open ended declaration. Truth is, I had no idea where Yeovil was back then, not exactly, and, other than this team in green in this tiny stadium with trees visible in the open corners, I had no idea what Yeovil was.

Yeovil Town Football Club

And now here I am, parking next to the Yeovil Town manager, if the Yeovil Town manager had been in this early on this fine autumnal Monday morning. And here I am, being the good American with a bit of space left beneath my Marriott Visa credit limit, looking for something green and white with a splash of yellow to buy in the club shop.

“Are you from America?”

I’ve grown to loathe this question when traveling abroad. Decent people will understand why.

“I am.” Two one-bite words said with a mix of pride and apology.

“I love the U.S! I’ve been a few times, to Arizona and the Grand Canyon, San Diego and to New York City too.”

“Oh that’s so cool, those are some great places,” I said, adding that “I love New York too. My daughter and I drive up a lot to see musicals.”

Her eyes lit up.

Yeovil Town Football Club Kit

She stayed behind the glass counter, but continued reaching out to reiterate her love of my country, and specifically of Jersey Boys. She’d seen the Tony Award winning Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons jukebox musical twice already and her son had just bought her a pair of tickets for them to see an upcoming performance in Bristol together. Her words did the twist around the family-room-sized Yeovil Town F.C. shop. Her love of my country, of musicals and of Jersey Boys was matched only by the love she clearly has for her hometown football club. She was lovely and made me smile.

I’d been in her country for 8 days straight at this point and conversations with anyone outside of my own head averaged less than one a day. That’s not good for vitamins or human interaction. It’s my greatest personal failing. Not engaging in or initiating chats with supporters, club employees, or anyone is the biggest regret of my zigzag road trip to bathe in English football culture. To think of the stories missed.

Yeovil Town Football Club Huish Park

Thankfully, this Jersey Boys-loving Yeovil Town club shop employee was talkative and excitable. She may have failings but they are not the same as mine. She pulled me in while I deliberated on the ’17-’18 home or away shorts on clearance.

As I was about to leave with my purchase, after we smiled honest smiles and each said goodbye, she spun around and began to dig something out of a stack of boxes behind the counter. I paused, curious, and in a flash, she produced an old matchday program and handed it to me as a parting gift.

Yeovil Town Football Club Manchester United FA Cup

Wouldn’t ya know it, it was the program from another 3rd round FA Cup tie, the one when Manchester United made a return to Huish Park during their 2017-2018 FA Cup journey. Inside the program was a story about the 2015 match between United and Yeovil Town at that same point in the competition, the one I watched from my home near where Frankie Valli’s story began, the one when my love of English football’s oldest competitive tradition was cemented.

Yeovil Town Football Club Manchester United FA Cup

I should probably talk to people more.

Being alone, even when surrounded by thousands, even when having the time of my life, is becoming a rather unpleasant pursuit.

Yeovil Town Football Club Huish Park Stand

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3 Comments

  1. This post spoke to me in a number of different ways. I’m all too familiar with the idea of being alone in a crowd and feeling the awkward tug-of-war between yearning for human connection and wanting to remain inside my own head. Really nice piece here.

  2. Excellent piece, you write with so much heart!

  3. Oh how this speaks to us introvert/extroverts.

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