(PICTURES: Tim Norbury & Colin Andrews)
Leigh Robinson never stopped believing Taunton Town would finally achieve promotion from the Evo-Stik South West – and now they’ve done it in double quick time this season!
The long-standing boss has guided the Peacocks to become the first team across Steps 1 to 4 to win promotion, and clinched the title on Saturday, having suffered play-off agony on the last three occasions.
Taunton were beaten by eventual winners Tiverton in last year’s semi-finals – their second defeat at the first hurdle following disappointment in 2014/15 – 12 months after they’d lost out in the final to Banbury.
But Robinson vowed his team would bounce back and last weekend they wrapped up promotion with seven games to spare.
“We had a fantastic season last year, getting to the FA Cup first round and then missing out in the play-offs,” Robinson told The NLP. “We really felt something was building and that we could have a good push this year.
“The play-offs are won and lost on the tiniest of margins, it’s either your time or not. We made a few required changes and we’ve never looked back.
“We’ve got the bonus of being promoted ahead of next season’s restructuring which will mean a lot less travelling than if we had gone up before.”
In his sixth year in charge, Robinson has seen Taunton lose just once this season with them currently on a 28-game unbeaten run.
But the former Wellington and Bridgwater manager was quick to pass the credit on to the club’s hardworking band of volunteers, and in particular chairman Kevin Sturmey.
“He [Sturmey] works his fingers to the bone,” added Robinson. “It’s been fantastic to see the club grow over the years with everyone helping out.
“Hopefully that can continue. The Southern Premier isn’t the Holy Grail for us, my job now is to keep us working towards the next success.”
Sturmey, who is also the club’s groundsman, amongst other voluntary roles, believes there is plenty more to come from Taunton.
“Maybe it wasn’t our time last year, with the way it’s gone this season,” he said. “We’ve never tried to be a flash in the pan, we’ve done things gradually. We were in major debt in 2010, then in 2011 the club house burnt down.
“We’ve added new people at board level and we’re always looking to move forward. Personally, I’m never satisfied, I always want better. But even when things have been tough it’s still been enjoyable.
If there was ever an example of a chairman getting his hands dirty, then Sturmey is the textbook definition.
Taunton may still be waiting for promotion had he, and other volunteers, not worked tirelessly to get last week’s game on.
“Everyone mucks in together,” he added. “There’s no prawn sandwiches here. People buy into that hard work when they see it; the players, the management and the fans, who are great. Sitting on the mower or the tractor doing the pitch has probably kept my sanity.
“It was a monumental effort to get the game on last weekend. We borrowed two water removals from two cricket clubs.
“We were doing synchronised water removing, I was trying to pump it away but the pump kept cutting out and then kicking in, meaning I’d get soaked in muddy water. I looked like I had just walked out of the swamp.
“I’m not one to really show my emotions but at the end of it all, after a really tough day and when we had won promotion, I must admit I did.”
Tauton Town were so focused on clinching the title, they didn’t even celebrate earning promotion last Saturday!
Striker and captain Matt Wright inspired his side to a turnaround win over Kidlington to send them into the Evo-Stik South Premier for the first time in their history.
But instead of raising a glass to their success, it was an early night for the players and staff ahead of an Easter Monday fixture at Bideford.
Wright told The NLP: “We’re all friends. It’s a big group of mates, really, and we hate losing. Even when we’ve drawn games the atmosphere in the changing room has been horrendous.
“The lads keep their standards so high. None of us went out last Saturday, we knew we had a game on the Monday and we wanted to win the title.
“We owed the fans one after losing to our rivals in the play-offs last season.”
A crucial moment in Taunton’s season was a shock FA Cup defeat.
Wright, who scored the winner against Bideford, explained: “At the start of the season we were scraping wins, we weren’t playing well. From the outside, it looked like we were flying.
“We came unstuck in the Cup against Tavistock, who are two or three leagues below us. They battered us. We signed Dan Sullivan from them, and me and him have formed a good partnership up front.
“That was a turning point when we knew we had to be better.
“We’ve been grinding out results. Last season we blew away a lot of teams, this year we’ve won by one or two goals. We find a way to win.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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