I could see the floodlights from my back garden. I saw them every single day as a kid when I walked to my primary school; the gate was directly opposite the ground’s main stand. It was the first football ground I was ever taken to. I remember the flashes of memory of the famous old stadium that will always stay with me.
The huge green pitch sloping wildly from one side to the other, the wooden stand that always felt like it was teetering on the verge of collapse (and where my brother once ate so many Chewits he was sick into the hood of a man who had the misfortune to be sat in front of him), and the wire mesh encasing the tunnel that my heroes would run out from. Huish (pronounced HEW-ISH and most definitely not HWISH) was the home of Yeovil Town, and a constant throughout my early childhood.
But then one day we all sat down at the school assembly, and the head teacher said: “We’re all going to be moving to a brand new school next year—isn’t that exciting?” They were knocking ours down to build a supermarket. My immediate reaction was “How are they going to squeeze a supermarket next to the football ground?” But then the penny dropped, and I knew the bloody football ground was going too. I was only eight; the world was all sweetness and light. I’d never experienced such crushing news or such deep emotional loss. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it but accept the harsh realities of life laid bare.
The first game of the 89/90 season was the beginning of the end, as the players ran out of the tunnel, I clocked the new kit. This was the late 80s. Yeovil Town were non-league. All-singing, all-dancing kit launches were at least a decade (and a few divisions higher) away. It was beautiful: white with a lovely green V-neck and green cuffs at the end of long sleeves. The shiny white piping so typical of football shirts of the time gleamed in the August sun. The iconic deep red Bass logo reminded me straight away of the pump clips from the bar my grandad, my dad, and all his mates would drink pre, during, and post-match in the main stand bar. Even then, at such a young age, and this might have been early-onset football geekiness, I noticed there was something on the right breast side of the shirt. But what was it? In those days you were able to go down the steps from wooden benches of the main stand to the small terrace below. I needed to get a closer look. My grandad wouldn’t let me of course, gave me a Polo and told me to just enjoy the match. As it neared its conclusion, I raced down the steps as the knackered amateurs headed to the tunnel and zoomed in on my target.
I could see ‘THE GLOVERS’ writ large. ‘Hang on, is that a pair of gloves? It is! It’s a pair of leather gloves like my grandma has.” And the words ‘1920 HUISH 1990’ underneath them. For a youngster brought up on the basics of non-league football, this was almost sorcery, an extravagance very rarely seen in sleepy Somerset.
I wanted that shirt from that moment, but this being Yeovil Town, and maybe because the shirt was made by ‘Triangle Sports’, kids versions weren’t readily available. I pined for it all season, and as the final match drew closer, I hatched a plan to ask one of the players to have his after the game. It wouldn’t fit me, of course, but I just had to have it.
As the final whistle blew for the final time at a stadium I still ache for, I sprinted onto the sloping pitch with the rest of the fans and, unsurprisingly, player after player said no. They were part of history; they weren’t just going to give it away to a little kid like me. Before I could get too angry or get my dad to ‘persuade’ them, the flags above the main stand were lowered for the last time and some bloke with a trumpet played ‘The Last Post’ and I cried, along with my grandad and my dad and pretty much everyone else stood on that infamous pitch.
By the time we moved into the new stadium a few months later, the fickle youngster in me had already moved to the next kit—a lovely green and white stripe number with an embroidered badge—and, as we now had a brand-new stadium, we had a proper club shop that sold kids shirts, so I got it. As the years progressed, we moved to green with white sleeves, all green and then, inexplicably, green and white hoops. But nothing has ever matched the simplicity and the importance of the one kit I’d assumed I’d never get.
But then one day, over two decades after that season, after refreshing the Classic Football Shirts website for the thousandth time, there it was. In all its glory. And in my size. I couldn’t have got the card out quick enough. It was £100, mind, but had appreciated like a fine wine. To me, it will always be the greatest ever football shirt for everything it meant then and for what it signifies now: Don’t sell your amazing old ground, the heartbeat of the town centre, to a supermarket for a few quid, because things will never quite be the same again...
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