SHEFFIELD UNITED: Gary Johnson wants to put Yeovil on the map

Happy: Yeovil Town's Gary Johnson is looking to the future
Happy: Yeovil Town's Gary Johnson is looking to the future
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SOMETHING is stirring in the sleepy backwaters of Somerset.

The county might be better known for cider and cricket rather than footballing success but, if Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson gets his way, then this picturesque slice of middle England will soon become a prominent destination on the League One map.

Perennial slow starters turned early pace setters, Sheffield United’s opponents tomorrow might have endured a downturn in fortune of late.

But nestling comfortably in mid-table despite three straight defeats, the change in culture Johnson has introduced behind the scenes is already paying dividends.

“We had a few too many loans last season and didn’t want to rely on them again,” he told The Star earlier this week. “We wanted to have a stronger group right from the start.

“So, with that in mind, we issued a May deadline for people to commit themselves to us. That included those who were already here and those we were looking to bring in.

“It enabled us to have pretty much everything sorted out by the time we reported back for training and, as a result, do better quality work.”

Taking charge of Yeovil presents a geographical as well as financial challenge.

If Roy Keane thought it was difficult to sell Sunderland’s charms to the wives and girlfriends of prospective new signings then the midfield terrier turned television pundit should spare a thought for his colleague at Huish Park.

Johnson, who readily admits Yeovil’s budget is dwarfed by the vast majority of their divisional rivals, revealed the region’s sedate social scene prompted him to carve a niche in the transfer market.

“We try and give players a chance who are either right at the start of their careers or who might have lost their way a little bit.

“There aren’t many footballers who come from this area and often we find the families of the lads we do bring in prefer to stay in the big cities.

“But it’s a wonderful place to live and we tell them that we can give them an opportunity that perhaps they might not get elsewhere.”

Typically, though, one of the game’s most upbeat characters views Yeovil’s isolated position as a positive too.

“We can be a bit of a trailblazer down here,” he said. “There are plenty of houses in this part of the world. There’s just a bit more space between them.

“Joking aside, when we’ve done well in the past the whole community has rallied behind us and that’s a great thing to be a part of.

“We don’t have anyone else right on our doorstep so there’s a real sense of identity and belonging.”

Johnson, who led Yeovil to FA Trophy, Conference and then League Two success before joining Bristol City in 2005, returned for a second spell earlier this year when Terry Skiverton relinquished the reins.

The 56-year-old, who duly averted the threat of relegation, insisted his predecessor and former captain remained on staff.

It was a partnership most commentators felt was doomed to failure but which has proven remarkably resolute with Yeovil winning 11 of their last 25 fixtures.

“Terry did a wonderful job of keeping Yeovil in this division and I wanted him on board,” Johnson said. “When I came in we sat down and talked about things for about four hours and I was delighted that he wanted to stay.

“Listen, I know it can be awkward when you go from being a number one to a number two. The last thing you want to do is become part of what we call the ‘BBC Brigade’ - bibs, balls and cones - so I made it clear to Terry he’d have much more input than that.

“I value him very highly.”