Yeovil look to Gall's goals to illuminate League entrance

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The Independent Football

Mark Kelly, the chairman of the Yeovil Town Independent Supporters' Club, does not even bother to inquire who is on the end of the line. "Is that Mark?" asks the umpteenth caller of the week. "We're full. I can't do it. I'm not being funny," Kelly replies. Then just in case the call might not be about the hottest ticket in town - an absurd proposition - he asks: "You want to go to Rochdale on Saturday, right?"

Most callers do. So does most of the town, apparently. There has been talk of little else for weeks. Yeovil, the first club from Somerset to play in the Football League, open their inaugural Third Division campaign this weekend at Spotland. Some 2,000 fans will be heading north to see them. All the coaches booked by Kelly are full. They - and a convoy of cars and minibuses, if not the odd tractor - will start their journey north at 7.30am. The road to the big time beckons.

"I've been watching them all my life," says Kelly, "and promotion to the League is well overdue. We've got the facilities. We've got the players. We've got the right manager. We've had a great pre-season. It's a big chance for us now we're up. I'm not being funny, I think we'll finish in the play-offs."

Expectations have been getting greater by the day. Yeovil won the Conference by 17 points last season. They did it playing an attractive passing game that their manager, Gary Johnson, has promised to retain. The results in their warm-up matches have been nothing short of remarkable. Brentford were dispatched 2-0 before a 4-4 draw with Preston, a 2-1 win over Premiership newcomers Wolves and then a 2-1 win against Brighton.

"I'm not being funny," says Kelly with an enthusiasm only enhanced by his local burr. "But Kevin Gall [a 21-year-old Welsh striker who spent three teenage years with Newcastle] could probably run 100 metres in 10 seconds. And he's scored about nine goals already in pre-season." He pauses. "Bristol Rovers discarded him. They were playing him as a winger!" From Kelly's tone, this is evidently as ridiculous as someone not wanting to spend Saturday in Rochdale.

Gall's name keeps cropping up. Adrian Hopper, Yeovil's press officer, picks him out as someone to watch. So does Terry Skiverton, the club captain, who will miss the first few games as he recovers from a fracture in his foot. "Kevin's been the star," says Skiverton. "But then Adam Lockwood [a 21-year-old defender and former academy scholar at Leeds] has been excellent too. And big Hugo is already showing he's going to be a presence."

Big Hugo, for the record, is Hugo Rodrigues, a Portuguese central defender who was signed last month on a one-year deal. He really is big, 6ft 8in, making him the tallest man in professional football in England this season. Skiverton and Kelly both wryly note he should be good in the air.

"Actually," says Skiverton, "I could go round every single player and say you should look out for them, we've got a lot of decent players." Among them are Gavin Williams, a creative midfielder, Kirk Jackson, a forward who finished as the runner-up in the Golden Boot race in the Conference last season, and Abdel El Kholti, a French-born Moroccan left-sided midfielder.

"I'm not being funny," says Kelly of the latter. "But perhaps because he's continental he's not so used to tracking back, which he needs to do in our 3-5-2. But he's unpredictable to play against. And he's very quick."

Yeovil's ascent to the promised land has been anything but quick, although they have had their share of moments. Arguably the most notable came in 1949, when they beat Sunderland in the fourth round of the FA Cup before losing to Manchester United in front of 81,565 at Maine Road. (Old Trafford was still out of action because of war damage).

They have also reached the first round proper of the Cup on more than 40 occasions. But neither those adventures nor various dalliances in and out of the Conference since the late 1970s compare to actually making it to the League. Huish Park is not so much buzzing as bursting with anticipation.

"We've doubled our season ticket sales to 2,000," says Hopper. "My main job at the moment is manage the expectations, try to keep them realistic. But we've got a sensible manager, very steady. Gary's great quality is that he just takes things 10 games at a time."

Such temperance has clearly worked for Johnson, the well-travelled former Latvia manager, who has been in his present job for two years. Twice before - at Cambridge and Watford - he has been part of managerial teams who have won consecutive promotions. Kelly and others think he can do it again. And they are not being funny.