A LEAFY town in south Somerset. An unfashionable football club which would prompt scoffing among many. A huge prize at stake. Yeovil Town aren’t exactly synonymous with Wembley success, but they could provide Jamie McAllister with the crowning moment of his career this weekend.
The former Hearts and Livingston defender is Yeovil’s captain as they prepare to face Brentford in Sunday’s League One play-off final at British football’s most iconic venue. Even though the population of Yeovil is around 40,000, more than 60,000 tickets have been sold as the public get behind their clubs. McAllister is mindful of the expectations but also knows the fickle nature of cup final-type football.
He scored at Hampden Park as Livingston won the 2004 Scottish League Cup in one of his career highlights. Four years later, he was left distraught all summer after losing at Wembley with Bristol City in a play-off for a place in the cash-laden Premier League. At 35, having played for Scotland and thrived at a good level in England for the last seven years, taking Yeovil into the Championship would be McAllister’s finest hour. He is consumed by the mere thought of it.
“I’d say it would top everything,” McAllister told the Evening News. “I’ve been capped for my country, which was a proud moment for me. To win a trophy at Hampden and score in a cup final was brilliant. To win the play-off final, be the captain and go up those steps to lift the trophy and get into the Championship would be the crowning moment of my career.
“This game is up there with anything I’ve done. I played in a few finals with Aberdeen and lost in the Scottish Cup and League Cup. I missed out on the Scottish Cup final with Hearts in 2006 because I wasn’t in the squad that day. Livingston was an amazing experience, scoring in the final and winning. This feels like that year all over again at Yeovil – a small club getting to a final.
“This time I’m captain and the chance to lift that trophy and be a winner at Wembley is all I’ve been dreaming about. Everyone wants to be captain and get to lift trophies in football. For the last couple of nights, that’s all I can think about is getting up there to lift that cup. I’m struggling to sleep.”
The seeds of McAllister’s success in England were actually sewn at Tynecastle during that 2005/06 campaign. Even though he played a bit-part role in a memorable campaign for Hearts, one observer took a keen interest. Gary Johnson identified McAllister’s potential whilst watching his son, Lee, play during his brief stay in Gorgie. Johnson agreed a deal to take McAllister to Bristol City at the end of that season and is now manager of Yeovil Town for the second time.
“He came up to see his son a few times and he was looking for a left-back,” explained McAllister. “He asked about me but I’d just signed a new two-year deal at Hearts. The last few months of that season when we finished second and won the Scottish Cup, I was on the bench a lot and not playing much. By the summer I was looking to get away and I wanted to just cancel my two-year contract. Bristol City and the gaffer were still asking about me and luckily enough we got a deal done.
“Gary’s been a great manager for me, he’s got the best out of me. He knows how I work and I know how he works. We’re both hungry and ambitious people so our relationship has worked well. Moving to England has been great for me. The first year at Bristol City we were in League One and we finished second and got promoted. The following year were finished fourth in the Championship and made the play-off final.”
However, that day ended as one of the worst of McAllister’s life – an experience which will drive him on this weekend. “We lost 1-0 to Hull and I was devastated. It ruined my summer, probably the worst feeling I’ve had after any football game. Wembley is a great venue and a great occasion, but only if you win the game. I was totally distraught because it was everything we’d worked for all season. To be so close to the Premier League and then to lose was just terrible.
“I know what it’s like to lose at Wembley so this time I want to go and win it. It’s been a great year for the club, working on a small budget with a small following. We get crowds of 4000-5000 each week. We’ve over-achieved but we’re at the last hurdle now and we want to win the last game.”