Huish Athletic Ground – not the most inspiring of names you might say, but a unique and special place nonetheless. The home of Yeovil Town for seventy years, this small stadium in Somerset played host to one of the FA Cup’s most famous giant-killings.
Yeovil & Petters United, as they were then called, played the first competitive game at Huish in 1920. Slanting six feet along the halfway line and eight feet from corner to corner, the ground soon became renowned for its distinctive sloping pitch.
“It was ridiculous, teams absolutely hated playing us there,” says former Yeovil Town defender Neil Coates. “Unusually the slope was side to side so you couldn’t play your normal game. We used the top wings to our advantage – the number of goals we scored directly from crosses was incredible.”
The ground’s most memorable moment came on 29 January 1949, when Yeovil Town of the Southern League beat First Division side Sunderland 2-1 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. It marked the largest attendance ever at Huish, with a total of 17,123 spectators cramming in to watch the match. Dubbed the ‘Bank of England’ for the large amounts of money they’d spent, a Sunderland team featuring Britain’s most expensive player – Len Shackleton – were unable to avoid arguably the competition’s greatest ever upset.
In 1963 a £60,000 main stand was built just in time for an FA Cup second round tie with Crystal Palace. Yeovil won the game 3-1. As well as the stand, the multi-thousand pound project also resulted in new changing rooms, an upstairs boardroom and a long bar for supporters to drink in. Within a few weeks, the clubhouse became the social hub of the town.
Pat Rice and George Graham arrived at Huish in the early seventies with Arsenal in another notable FA Cup match. With the original game postponed due to snow, the Gunners eventually ran out 3-0 winners in the rearranged fixture in front of a crowd of 14,500.
Coates insists his fondest memories of the ground will always be the spectators who packed the terraces week in, week out. “For such a small stadium the atmosphere was unbelievable. Supporters used to stand right behind the goal we were attacking and do everything to get behind us. It might be little old Yeovil but I can’t stress enough how amazing the fans were.”
1990 marked the end of football at Huish, with a match against Telford United on 5 May bringing an unforgettable seventy years of action to a close. Yeovil moved to a new stadium just out of town, and the old Huish Athletic Ground became a Tesco supermarket.