It’s a Thursday evening at Huish Park. Parents are rolling into the gravelled car park to bring their kids to youth team training. The car park’s the same as it’s always been, much like Huish Park itself – but an hour in the company of Darren Sarll, Terry Skiverton and Darren Behcet reveals that things aren’t what they once were at Yeovil Town Football Club.
Sarll, Skiverton and Behcet are open, honest and insightful into the turnaround that’s taken place at Huish Park since Sarll took over as manager last summer.
Sarll, who’s just beaten recent recruit and ex-Oxford City manager Mark Jones at table tennis, has certainly won the fans’ hearts. He’s to the point, makes football simple and it’s getting results. It’s not a culture though. “When people talk about cultures and creating cultures it’s absolute nonsense. It’s just a flash word for saying, ‘why don’t we help each other and work together?’ That’s all a culture is. You stand together, you work hard for each other and you lend a hand where you can.”
While lending a hand may be a necessity because of the Glover’s budgetary constraints, it’s clear that all three are enjoying the graft of getting the club back where it belongs. As Head of the Academy, Skiverton’s role is vital for sustaining the future of the football club. With the appointment of Darren Sarll, the club recruited a manager with proven experience of youth development, something that couldn’t be more valuable to Skiverton. “I’m quite lucky really, I think the manager has done more sessions with the academy than me. Being somebody that’s been heavily involved with development of young players and young talent, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a manager who goes out and takes the under-10s and under-13s.”
The Glovers have quietly put together an experienced coaching team to help provide sustainability at a time when it couldn’t be more crucial.
“We’ve got Mark Jones along with Kevin Hodges who we’ve brought over from Plymouth as the Head of Coaching.” Hodges is no stranger to Yeovil, having joined the club as Steve Thompson’s assistant in 2005 after Gary Johnson left to manage Bristol City.
Skiverton adds: “Along with Darren Behcet I think we’ve got some really good football people and people that have had professional careers.”
“It’s hard work, but you can’t complain that you’re doing both sides of it when the manager’s stood right next to you and he’s doing the sessions and putting the time in as well. Everybody’s come together, were all collaborating and were working hard morning, noon and night.”
The improvement in Yeovil’s academy has culminated in nine players being offered scholarships for next season.
The camaraderie between the three is abundantly clear. Darren Behcet wants two rebounders for goalkeeper training to replace the broken mannequins he’s currently recycling, this is laughed off by Darren Sarll, who banned elastic bands on day one and is quick to add that there are seats newer than Terry Skiverton at Huish Park. Skiverton’s legacy at Huish Park is historic. He’s synonymous with the rise of Yeovil Town, and although he wasn’t involved with the first team at the end of last season, he’s accepting of his responsibility in relegation and explains how difficult it was when Yeovil’s fate was sealed with the 2-2 draw at Northampton.
“We were travelling back [following a 1-0 win for the youth team against Luton] and we were two up and all of a sudden, we were thinking it could be the great escape.”
Behcet adds: “We stopped off at the service station didn’t we? And we got back on and it was 2-2.”
“The feeling for the rest of that journey? I didn’t even speak. I just got in my car and went straight home. It was probably as low as I’ve felt being at Yeovil Town. When the season finished, there was such a big hole with everybody that was gone. In my head, I couldn’t really see where it was going to go,” says Skiverton
In walked Scott Priestnall and Darren Sarll, Skiverton explains: “It just needed something different and I think straight away there was a clear plan, where you go ‘yeah, I can see what you’re doing, I can see where you’re trying to go and it just changed like that.”
What’s the plan? There’s not so much a plan as there is hard work, long hours, fun and most importantly: simplicity. “I think the best coaches and managers keep things really really simple. There’s never doubt, or confusion or grey areas – it’s very clean and clear. So, when Terry talks about a plan, what he’s getting at is that my information’s pretty consistent.” says Sarll.
Alongside the hard work on the training pitch, the club have performed miracles with recruitment. Through a combination of expertise and luck, Sarll – backed by Priestnall – brought in big characters like Luke Wilkinson, Lee Collins, Charlie Lee and Rhys Murphy. Sarll believes Yeovil’s recruitment has been taken for granted.
“When I say even in this league, we’ve got no money…we’ve got no money,” Sarll says with a chuckle. “This club has had to go through the biggest transformation internally with Scott. We’ve done everything with a mid-table budget in the National League and we’ve tried to make the sum of every part greater than its value.
“The recruitment we’ve done; we have either been very very good or very very lucky, probably a little bit of both. To get the players in that we have, for what we pay them, even in this division has been nothing short of a miracle really.”
It’s not just about signing any player though, it’s about the characters who sign.
“It really isn’t that hard if you bring in good characters and good people. When they go down the tunnel, who do you trust with your mortgage? With your life? With your family’s life? It’s a big thing and if you get that trust and you’ve got that character it doesn’t half go a long way.”
“A lot of these players do see life the way I see life, which helps because it means I can get behind their eyes a bit quicker and try and predict what they’re seeing and how they’re feeling. They’re a good group, strong people, strong men.”
Sat in 4th, with nine games left until the National League season ends, Yeovil Town’s future is firmly in the grips of a dedicated, passionate coaching team, who are focussed on getting results and providing Yeovil fans with certainty where last May, there was none.
Out on the training pitch, as the sun begins to set, the kids are taking part in keep-ball sessions. If the goal is to get some of these kids in Yeovil Town’s first team they’ll need to work hard, show character and enjoy themselves in order to make the grade at Huish Park.