The Incider is a cricket website and we try to avoid the often emotional subject of football, but there’s no hiding from Taunton Town’s incredible FA Cup run which takes another turn on Tuesday when the boys take the long trip to Barrow. And we felt we should pay tribute to fellow residents of Taunton and wish them well. Sam Dalling met with Kevin Sturmey to talk about the game and the cup run so far.
Any sportsman knows that feeling. Amateur, professional it doesn’t matter – they all know. Even the lucky ones that get to experience it time after time. They may be able to distinguish it anymore but they get it all the same
It’s that buzz. It’s the feeling which makes the hairs stand-up on the back of your neck. The shiver that runs down your spine and makes you shudder. The one moment that makes all the hardship and toil seem worthwhile.
All those gruelling hours spent honing skills. All those sacrifices made in the pursuit of being better. All those hours spent on the road.
And for those lucky likely lads at Taunton Town FC there is a second such moment in the space of ten days.
Tomorrow they make the gruelling trip to the North West to take on Conference National outfit Barrow AFC. Most on the coach will probably have had to take a couple of days off work. Some may have taken the whole week. But they won’t mind. Not one of them. Not with just 90 minutes standing between them and a place in the FA Cup Second round proper for the first time in the club’s history.
And not with the carrot of a potential trip to Crawley Town or, better still, a plumb tie with fellow Westcountry side Bristol Rovers at the start of December, dangling in front of him.
Despite his side being written off in some quarters, club chairman Kevin Sturmey explained how in preparation for the pilgrimage he has been installing the mantra “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” throughout the club:
“People won’t give us a chance but we can go with confidence,” he said. “Anyone who has been in sport knows how important it is to prepare properly – if you can do that then you’ve always got a chance.
“We’ve been doing everything that we can behind the scenes to make sure the players just have to concentrate on football. We are travelling up on Monday and preparing with a training session. I’m just sorting out the final touches with the hotel and food so that they have nothing to worry about, not even their socks!”
The clash will be Taunton’s ninth so far already in this competition. To make it a perfect ten would be some achievement, and a feather in the cap of all those associated with the Peacocks. But Leigh Robinson’s troops will take heart by the fact that they have already overcome higher ranked opponents twice so far the competition.
Having needed a replay to get past local rivals Tiverton, they then eased past Slimbridge before knocking out Harrow and Richmond Borough FC who ply their trade in the equivalent of one league above Town. Next up it was Vanarama South outfit Hemel Hempstead Town who were dispatched at the second time of asking after a stalemate on a soaking day in Somerset.
And Sturmey spoke with pride about the way both the coaching and playing staff have gone about their business over the last month or so:
“Nobody gave us a chance up there at Hemel in the replay but we surprised them,” he said. “Leigh changed the formation, changed personnel and we really went for them. It was the proverbial game of two halves. First half we were excellent but then it was backs to the wall stuff and they threw everything at us. They hit the post, hit the crossbar, Lloyd Irish was outstanding in goal and somehow they didn’t score.
“Then we took on Barrow and we weren’t overawed. A lot of people said that to me that it was us who looked like a Conference team on the day. Michael Meaker does the coaching research and analysis, and he had it spot on.”
Since upsetting the apple cart in Hemel’s back yard it has been all systems go down at Liseux Way. With a matter of weeks to make preparations for the club’s first appearance in the first round proper since 1981, the Peacocks relied on army cohort of loyal volunteers worked around the clock to make the tie possible. From nowhere there were health and safety checks to be carried out, tickets to shift and a new set of ground regulations to learn.
But no one at the Viridor Stadium shirked away for the challenge. Oh no, instead the rose to it.
In order to capitalise on their recent headline grabbing it was vital that punters came away from the Barrow clash beaming about their entire experience. And it was a case of mission accomplished on that front and Sturmey is hopeful that all the hard work will come to fruition further down the line:
“Everyone was just keen to do whatever was needed,” he explained. “We had to start dealing with Football Liaison Officers and trading standards – Yeovil Town were very helpful to us in that respect. Obviously you have to do new things and that can be difficult. For example our whole ground is licensed – we are relaxed with alcohol and people respect that. But at the Barrow game we had to black out the windows and make sure people can’t see the pitch from anywhere serving alcohol.
“Then there was Alan Slade our finance director works for free and he headed up the ticket side of things and did a fantastic job. These were big challenges, but I think we got everything right. People got people in quickly and were able to get easy access to food and drink. We overdid it on stewards to run smoothly wanting people to walk out being positive. In the past that hasn’t happened. That is all part of the experience and I think the vast majority of people came away with positive things to say.”
With all this recent success it would be easy to forget that things were not quite looking so rosy as little as twelve months ago. Despite a strong season on the playing front – Taunton were agonisingly denied the chance of promotion when they lost the play off final back last Summer – the club was in dire financial straits.
The prize money for a third place finish in the league was a paltry £750, and the club failed to make progress in any of the key cup competitions. To make matters worse the 2001 FA Vase Champions endured a nightmare winter when the pitch was flooded meaning they were without a home game for over a month. The money dried up and things got so bad that the chairman himself was forced to dip into his own pocket to cover club bills.
But everything looks much brighter now, with another cup victory over Bishops Cleeve in the FA Trophy on Saturday netting the Peacocks a cool £3,000 to add to their already significant FA Cup windfall.
The former Taunton Cricket Club skipper and current Peacocks Chairman was keen to emphasise the importance of investing this year’s takings to create a sustainable future for the club and outlined how the significance of the philosophy of Robinson and Meaker to putting this into practice:
“We had a good season last year but when you break it down we won nothing £750 in prize money for finishing 3rd – that doesn’t seem to be a fair reward,” he explained. “The money we have won this year will allow us to invest in facilities and hopefully generate more income. We’ve got great general business model here which makes a good profit, and this helps subsidise the football. But we certainly won’t be throwing huge money at new players – we will never do that.
“Leigh is fantastic and understands that in the real world there isn’t a magic money tree and he always tries to do things the right way. We were let own by a few leading up to the last few games and so Leigh and Meaks changed it up this year by making the players really earn their place in the side. It could have backfired but everyone we have is more than good enough to play at this level. It’s just that a lot don’t have the mentally or desire or the awareness to make the necessary sacrifices, but this year we have that and are reaping the rewards.”
With all the focus on cup competitions, it would be easy to forget that climbing the football pyramid is the club’s ultimate ambition. Currently occupying a spot in English football’s eight tier promotion has to be the ultimate goal come the end of the season. With former football league giants Hereford making light work of all that is put before them it looks increasingly likely that this would involve another play off campaign were it to happen this time around. And after a couple of near misses in the past decade the six time Western League Champions currently sit in the wrong half of the Evo Stik Southern League Division One South & West with a 15 point gap opening up between them and the top five.
However, such has been the success of the Peacock’s cup exploits that they have as many as five games in hand on a lot of the sides around them and few would bet against them carrying on their fine cup form into the league. But rather than settle for one promotion, Sturmey has bigger fish to fry and outlined his dream of league football one day coming to Somerset’s county town:
“Our ambition is the Vanarama National League and then ultimately league football,” he stated before adding, “we could have sold another 1000 tickets the Barrow game and if you can get the success you have to make sure people can get something to eat and drink easily. We have something to be proud of and need to build on that.
“That involves getting the people of the town and the local authorities to support us. Football is and always will be the biggest sport in the world and we need to tap into that. We know Taunton is a big enough town to substantiate a higher level of football and we’ve got a great family spirit fans are close to ourselves. There are no airs and graces at the club. I get on the terraces with fans and will be on the singing with them at Barrow.
“Football at this level is about getting on a tractor and getting your hands dirty and football could really put the town on the map!”