It seems like so very long ago that Sarah Wiltshire was racing up the left flank, cutting in and lobbing the goalkeeper from 25-yards for Yeovil Town. In reality, it’s been two years since the nippy attacker left the Glovers for good (taking her trademark chips with her), her pregnancy and subsequent birth making it all too hard to commute down to the west country for training and matches. The 2017 Spring Series was a swan song from the Welsh international.
Wiltshire was a crucial part of Yeovil’s successful 2016 season that saw the Somerset team earn promotion to the Women’s Super League. And when she stepped away from the team, slowly baking the bun in her proverbial oven, the side suddenly started to sag. From looking like they’d run away with the title, the west country side looked beatable. Securing the league title on goal difference alone, Yeovil made their way up, reaching a long leg over the growing chasm between the Women’s Championship (then WSL 2) and WSL (1).
Just make it rain, Jamie
Then things started to go downhill. The Spring Series (theoretically) served as a wake-up call, the team from the southwest only managing one point in their eight outings. The losses not so much the problem as much as the nature of them, the mistakes obvious and shocking, the performances way down.
From then on, things only go worse for Yeovil, the team losing more key players, the performances a concern, neither goals nor points showing up until the very end of the season. Yeovil Town’s ABU (Achieve by Unity) undone by Chelsea and Manchester City’s ABBA (Money, money, money).
At the end of the 2017-18 season, Yeovil had two points and a goal difference of -52; the Glovers rock-bottom of the table, 12 points adrift from Everton in ninth. In a normal world, the team would have been relegated and with good reason, however, The FA’s tinkering gave the Somerset side a reprieve. And this is where things get complicated.
Had the Glovers been relegated at the end of the 2017-18 season, they would have gone down as a casualty of the system, like the Doncaster Belles before them; a team unable to cope with the next level. A side that willingly took the step up only to realise they were actually standing on fun house steps and were slowly doing the splits in mid-air as the gap widened. But the league restructure and rebrand gave Yeovil a second chance at the top flight, social media warriors and journalists having already jumped on the, “How dare the FA even dream of relegating this team” ship.
The argument made time and again simply that Yeovil rightfully earned promotion to the top tier and should be allowed to compete in it – footballing merit not as decisive to the FA as having a juiced bank account when acquiring a licence to WSL or the Championship. Let’s be real, if you don’t follow English woso, your reaction to the title of, “We need to talk about Yeovil” was probably, “Who?” or, “That’s an unusual name.” Of course, the team don’t have a huge bank balance, their men’s side currently play in League Two (tier four) and are relegation-threatened themselves.
It’s going down, I’m yelling timber
The neutrals want Yeovil to succeed. We know they’re a humble team and let’s be honest, we get a burst of schadenfreude when a little team beat a big team. We want to see them rock up to the CFA and stun Man City for near-perverse reasons but, the Yeovil ship is a sinking one. There is no question the team have improved this season, manager Lee Burch is one of the more underrated ones in the country, his team aren’t world beaters but with more time and money would be able to fight for safety each season.
But time has run out for Yeovil, the team docked ten points by the FA for their financial woes – which is very, very kind of the association who forced all WSL teams to convert to a full-time set up. Without the points adjustment they would be sat on seven points (two points shy of Everton) with a goal difference of -38 (after 17 matches), a clear improvement from last season.
Yes, the FA have left their grubby fingerprints all over Yeovil and their demise but, and we don’t say this enough, Yeovil aren’t good enough for the top tier. Had they achieved promotion in 2015 instead of 2016, and kept the squad together, had Wiltshire not become a mother, had they had a chance to compete in the weaker WSL 1… They earned their promotion to WSL, but they’ve earned their relegation too. It’s not fun and it’s not pleasant for the players or those associated with the club but there comes a point when we have to be honest about things.
On paper, Yeovil’s loss to Reading on Wednesday night was a harsh one, the hosts with only 6% less possession than their opposition and ten shots to the Royals’ 12, yet the 5-0 scoreline tells a different story. Yes, Reading were ruthless, the win a salve for a frustrating shoot-out loss to West Ham in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday, but Yeovil were still wasteful when in. The score flatters Reading but it’s a harsh reminder of what the Glovers have been up against, they have improved but not enough, their relegation confirmed but that is football.
The final joke that Yeovil’s relegation was confirmed that same night that Manchester United (operating in a full-time capacity in a part-time league) officially confirmed their promotion to WSL. The two teams, ships in the night, perfectly juxtaposed. This is women’s football in England. Money might not be able to buy you love but silverware always has a price.