FOR YEARS, Yeovil Town were considered to be one of the top clubs outside of the Football League. With their well-known stadium, Huish – complete with famous slope, and a promising catchment area, they were widely recognised as a League club-in-waiting.
This was largely due to the 1948-49 season, in which Yeovil beat Sunderland in the FA Cup. At the time, the north-easterners were among the top sides in the country and had spent more money than anyone on their team – not for nothing were Sunderland were known as the “Bank of England club”. They included the great Len Shackleton in their ranks.
Yeovil Town’s fortunes changed with the appointment of Alec Stock as player-manager in 1946. An average player, who made just 30 appearances for Queens Park Rangers before the second world war, Stock had the air of a gentleman and was left with a limp after serving in the forces. He was also a progressive coach who often claimed that he invented 4-4-2.
Yeovil finished fourth and eighth in the Southern League their first two post-war seasons. In 1948-49, Stock signed a cluster of new players, most of whom had Football League experience.
Right half Bob Keeton was signed from Torquay United. He was one of the few Yeovil players who didn’t live in the town. Keeton was a commercial traveller, which meant he was always on the road. Centre-half Les Blizzard joined from Bournemouth, but he would go on to make his name with Orient, making well over 200 appearances for the London club. Right winger Billy Hamilton, a Scot, had started out with Hearts before playing for Chester.
Centre forward Eric Bryant, a Brummie, was signed from Mansfield, while inside forward Ray Wright, a Yorkshireman, was secured from Exeter City. On the wing, Jack Hargreaves brought the experience of playing for Leeds United, Bristol City and Reading.
These players joined a squad that had plenty of savvy – Arthur Hickman, a right back, was an excellent dead-ball kicker, Ralph Davis, a glove maker, was a fast full back and was known as “the rabbit”. Nick Collins, Stock’s preferred left half, was a former Crystal Palace player.
Stan Hall was Yeovil’s regular goalkeeper, but he would miss the club’s finest hour. And that came in the FA Cup. Yeovil beat Lovell’s Athletic before reaching the first round against Romford. They won 4-0, the same scoreline when Yeovil disposed of Weymouth in front of 12,000 people. “It’s our year,” quipped Stock as he prepared for a third round tie with Bury.
Yeovil did it again, winning 3-1, setting up a real plum tie with Sunderland. They could have sold-out Huish three times over, but only 17,000 could see the game: “Somerset became the centre of the football world,” said the newsreel. Playing fast, open football, Yeovil took the lead through Stock after 28 minutes, but a mistake by stand-in keeper Dickie Dyke, who had stepped in when Hall was injured in the days leading up to the tie, allowed Jackie Robinson to equalise after 62 minutes. As fog swirled around the ground, extra time was needed (no replays) and Eric Bryant became the hero by scoring the winner for Yeovil.
Yeovil captured the imagination of the British public, but the FA Cup run ended in the next round, Manchester United beating them 8-0 at Maine Road. They had made their mark, however, and they’re still talking about Alec Stock and his enterprising team in Somerset!