by Richard Brook
It doesn’t matter who you are or who you support, if there is one thing that unites football fan’s up and down the country it is the desire to see the bookmakers proved wrong. During the opening month of the season if there has been one team who’s desire to do just that has shone through it has been Yeovil Town in League 1. At the start of the season, the Glovers were made second favourite for the drop but have instead spent the opening month, at the right end of the division, even briefly topping the table. I caught up with Yeovil centre back, Richard Hinds, ahead of Saturday’s defeat to MK Dons, to get an inside view on the club’s early season success.
At the mid-way point of the 2011-2012 season Yeovil found themselves in real danger of being relegated to League 2. The re-appointment of Gary Johnson, who oversaw the club arguably punching above their weight during his previous stint, came in January with team having amassed just 33 points. Johnson saw them to safety last season but media assessments of expectations for this season remained modest, and survival was listed as the main objective in many previews of the current campaign, even those written by Glovers fans. Johnson has seen his team defying the odds in the opening stages of the season and despite two defeats on the bounce, Yeovil still currently occupy the final League 1 play-off spot.
Hinds, who arrived in February, shortly after Johnson, speaks highly of the Glovers’ boss: “I have really enjoyed playing for the manager. I like the way he plays football. He has got a lot of promotion experience and his teams are always tough to play against. I have had some memorable games against his sides in the past. He is fair, approachable and most importantly an excellent motivator”. The defender was also quick to pay tribute to Yeovil’s assistant manager, Terry Skiverton, who made way from the top job for Johnson, “Terry was formerly also a centre half, so we share common ground and he certainly helps me with my own game. He compliments the manager and together they make an excellent team”.
While noting that he wasn’t at the club prior to Johnson’s appointment, Hinds had the following to say on Johnson turning the club around, “I just think it was down to a new face, with a new energy combined with a couple of new faces and several players coming into form”. The boyhood Sheffield Wednesday fan and former Owls player comments that in his first game for Yeovil they dominated Wednesday, who went on to secure automatic promotion from League 1, and that the Glovers themselves went on a run that almost saw them end up in the play-offs. An unlikely achievement given Johnson’s starting point.
Judging by Hinds’ comments the Yeovil squad are spurred on by the doubts of the bookmakers and others. When asked about the assessment that the club began the season second favourites for relegation, Hinds spoke of being driven to force the doubters to eat their words: “It is a motivating factor, we all know that we are much better than the bookies have suggested and are targeting a finish at the top of the table. We have a squad good enough to do it and it would certainly be nice to prove people wrong”. This determination to disprove the doubters is further on display when I ask Hinds what factors he feels have come together in Yeovil’s fantastic start: “It is down to having a good squad full of quality players who have a will to win. It is however, mainly down to the hard work everyone has put in both off and on the pitch. We have quickly created an excellent team spirit and therefore we have a willingness to work hard for each other. Everyone under-estimates Yeovil so it’s nice walking off the pitch with three points or sitting at the top of the table”. Hinds says that the team spirit of which he speaks was the product of a team bonding week in Wales, white water rafting and the like, which was helpful due to the volume of new arrivals.
Hinds is clearly very taken with quality of the squad that has been assembled for the new season, describing it as smaller but much higher quality and singling out new goalkeeper, Marek Stech for particular praise. The keeper’s arrival from West Ham United being regarded as something of a transfer coup for the Glovers. With Stech being the club’s first permanent number one since 2009 Hinds is keen to stress the importance of the understanding between keeper and defence: “It is vitally important that the keeper and back four remain relatively settled to help create a good understanding. Marek is an outstanding keeper and should certainly be playing at a higher level. He has already proved his worth with several match winning performances”.
Yeovil fans had previously been at odds with the club’s hierarchy over the number of loan signings, but the board have backed the manager with a number of full transfers over the summer, and Hinds is glad to see permanent additions to the team as well. “I think that everyone concerned with the club from supporters to the manager, to the players appreciate having a settled squad. This is not always possible due to financial constraints especially when loan players from premiership clubs cost next to nothing. However it can be very unsettling for a club with no continuity which in turn creates a lack of team spirit”.
Neither club or player are completely against loans however with the additions of Gozie Ugwu from Reading and Rohan Ince from Chelsea. Hinds sees these moves as of benefit to the Premier League youngsters as well as to the club: “I think that young players coming from Premiership clubs are shocked by how tough League 1 is to play in physically, technically and mentally. So they have a great opportunity to learn and get some games on their CV. Both are good young players. They are good athletes, they are big and strong and are good technically. Goz has scored some important goals already, however Rohan has been injured so we are yet to see the form he showed pre-season. ”
Over the summer the Yeovil supporters were delighted with the retention of Ed Upson and Luke Ayling, on new contracts, and the centre back seems equally pleased. “Both are fantastic young players who are going to play at a much higher level, hopefully with Yeovil. They are both massively important to the team as they have a lot of energy and quality going forward. They are also both great lads to have in the changing room… Ed has been dominating games with his excellent passing and dribbling skills. He has also showed he has an eye for goal from free kicks.” It is perhaps unsurprising that Hinds pays such glowing tribute to Upson, despite being a defender Hinds is Yeovil’s joint top scorer at the moment with three goals, and Upson’s deliveries into the box from set pieces are creating opportunities for the Yorkshireman to add to his tally. Hinds is rightfully proud of his record in front of goal this season: “I am really please with all my goals, they have been taken well. Its great being top scorer at the club and totally unexpected but its inspired me to score more goals in the future as its nice to take a bit of the glory for once. Reuben [Reid striker also on three goals] gives me a bit of stick and I think he hopes I don’t score any more! He says he has created them all”.
There seems to be a slight disagreement in the dressing room as regards just how good Hinds is in front of goal with the centre half on the receiving end of some good natured stick from his manager as to his goalscoring prowess that the defender assures me is “to try to get results out of us”. In the meantime team-mate Upson has been comparing Hinds a well known Premier League striker, in relation to a strike that was disallowed against Coventry City. Upson commented, “What about his finish? It was like Michael Owen. I’ve never seen anything like it”. Hinds himself was gutted that the effort was chalked off, “Any top striker would have been proud of it as I turned and struck it outside the box, but the potential winning goal was disallowed and I was devastated”. With his early goal scoring form Hinds target for the season, to get into double figures, though ambitious can not be dismissed. Indeed as he points out he has form for it: “It is a really ambitious target and said a bit tongue in cheek but you have to aim high in order to achieve. I have done it once before at Scunthorpe, so why not again? It is vital that us defenders score goals if we are going to be successful”.
Speaking of the disappointment of losing out against a Bournemouth team who will have been out to impress following the appointment of Harry Redknapp, in an advisory capacity Hinds words were upbeat and everything a Yeovil fan will have wanted to hear. “We are disappointed with our performance against Bournemouth. We have analysed it, looked at what when wrong and are determined to get our game back. We have a tough month against most of the promotion favourites but are really looking forward to it. We have had a good week in training and our confidence is still sky high.”
Hinds and the squad are confident that they can continue to defy the bookies and other commentators who wrote them off before the season had begun: “We are certainly good enough and have a very talented squad but we must continue to work hard. We have had a good start and are all fully expecting to be finishing in the top half of the table, maybe pushing for promotion”. If the rest of Yeovil Town’s squad each has half the confidence and ability to draw inspiration from adversity that Richard Hinds does then it would be foolish to disbelieve him. If Yeovil can keep up their early season form then the bookies could end up with a substantial amount of egg on their collective faces, and who would not love for that to be the case?