THE Czech city of Most is an unlikely place to seek salvation. Wedged between the Ore mountains and a maze of swampland, its famed Bohemian architecture was razed to the ground by the communist government of the 1960s.
In its place were built row upon row of Panelaks, the ubiquitous Eastern bloc concrete tower, and an abundance of lignite mines that turned Most into the most polluted place in Czechoslovakia. Glamorous it ain’t.
But for Yeovil defender Byron Webster, this bleak outpost was the place where he reconnected with football, the place where he realised his talent and saw a future in the game.
Which was all a far cry from early 2007 when, at the age of 19, Webster had become so disillusioned under York boss Billy McEwan that he quit the club and contemplated giving up football.
“I was playing first-team football for York at 17,” explains Webster. “It was all I’d ever known and it had all come so fast. I was confident, happy.
“But then the new manager came in and we didn’t get on at all. He absolutely destroyed me mentally.
“It affected me big time – I really fell out of love with football. I went from living the dream to hating every day. I totally lost interest.
“I was ready to quit the game completely, go to uni or work. It took my dad to stop me. He was on at me all the time to keep my foot in the football world, and that’s why I played part-time for Whitby and Harrogate.”
And Webster senior’s belligerence paid off when an agent representing Czech top flight outfit FK SIAD Most rang his home in Selby.
“I was actually on holiday in Mexico when I got a call from my dad,” he says. “He said an agent had been in touch and that there was a chance for me to play in the Czech Republic.
“I was 19-20 with no real plans. Football was just an interest, not a career. I had nothing to lose and I just thought: ‘Why not?’ So I landed in England on the Thursday night and on Saturday morning I flew out for a trial. They liked me, and I eventually signed a three-year contract.
“It was brilliant out there. I stayed for two years, really enjoyed my football. I had the usual problem – training lasted for a couple hours and then you were sat there bored all day.
“But luckily for me, the common language was English, so that made it a lot easier to settle in.
“There were Brazilians, an Argentinian lad, a Kenyan, a lot of French boys. We all took Czech lessons together – it was compulsory for the foreign players.
“I still speak a little bit with Marek (Stech, Yeovil’s Czech goalkeeper). It’s mainly swearwords and the odd little thing like ‘man on’, ‘right’ and ‘left’.
“But I wouldn’t ever try to hold a conversation – I can understand a lot more than I can speak!”
Webster was subsequently signed by Doncaster and spent two seasons in the Championship before moving to Yeovil and winning the League One play-offs. Now he hopes his unconventional route can be an inspiration to others.
“When you get those days where you aren’t enjoying football, or maybe you want to get away, don’t just quit,” he says. “Look at other avenues, like playing part-time or going abroad. They may seem difficult, but those are the things that really made me love the game again.”
Mind you, it must have been tough to love the game much this season. Having won their first match at Millwall, the Glovers required 12 attempts to win another, a 3-1 victory over big-spending Forest at Huish Park last weekend in which Webster scored the vital third.
Of course, their struggles must be put into context. A Non-League club for all but the last ten of their 118-year existence, the Glovers are one of the smallest sides ever to grace the Championship, with a ground to match.
Manager Gary Johnson has an annual playing budget of around £1m. QPR, relegated from the Premier League last season, scrape by on £40m. Those are the odds that Yeovil are facing in their first-ever season at Championship level.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that we’ve got the lowest budget in the division,” adds Webster. “But we’ve also got a great group of lads who want to progress themselves.
“The fans down here are always talking about: ‘Little old Yeovil playing in the Championship’, and for them it probably feels like the Premier League.
“Maybe that’s the perception from the outside too. If so, it can only work in our favour. If the bigger teams come to our place and underestimate us, that’s great. There’s no pressure on us, but the motivation comes from wanting to be successful and prove people wrong.”
And Webster believes that has largely been the case, with a 4-1 thrashing at Middlesbrough the only serious pounding they’ve suffered.
“They taught us a lesson that day,” he admits. “But apart from that, we’ve played QPR and only lost to a late penalty. Reading was the same. We’ve been in all the games – it’s just about putting the ball in the back of the net.
“We had a meeting recently – the gaffer said that we’d be having one every ten games to discuss what we’d learned – and that was one of the things that came out of it.
“When chances come, you have to put them away. I know that sounds easy, but in League One, League Two, you can miss a couple and still get chances to score. In the Championship your opponents are too disciplined and organised.
“And it’s not just the strikers, either. Our gaffer’s been on at all the defenders that they need to be chipping in with goals, so me and Shane Duffy need to get going.
“But we’re happy with the start. Remember, a lot of our lads have never played Championship. They’ve had to learn fast, but those ten to12 games will have done them no end of good. Now we can really kick on.”
GOAL THAT ALMOST LOST ME A BEST PAL
WHEN Byron Webster scored a controversial late equaliser against Birmingham in August, it didn’t just spark a debate about sportsmanship – it nearly cost the Yeovil defender one of his best mates.
The Glovers were trailing 2-1 in the dying seconds of a Capital One Cup tie at Huish Park when Brum defender Dan Burn went down injured.
Blues keeper Colin Doyle kicked the ball out to allow treatment but instead of returning it, Webster hooked into an empty net to make it 2-2 and take the game to extra time.
Though Yeovil ultimately lost on penalties, Blues manager Lee Clark was furious at the perceived lack of sportsmanship – as was Burn, who last season partnered Webster at the heart of Yeovil’s back four.
“We’re still good mates,” laughs Webster. “But he didn’t speak to me for a week or so after that!
“It was a strange situation. I was getting orders barked from the side. And it was the culmination of a few things that happened before the game – teams taking the lead against us then wasting time.
“A lot of teams do it and it’s clever play – maybe we should try to kill the game off and take our time. But it was winding us up.
“Would I do it again? Maybe not. I got a lot of stick. There again, if it was a World Cup final and we had a chance to win, I think I’d kick it in. Until you’re there, you just don’t know.”