In our final pre-season chat, tauntontown.com spoke to Chairman Kevin Sturmey.
When Kevin Sturmey joined the Taunton Town Board in the summer of 2010, the club were in the doldrums; struggling in the League on a poor pitch with decreasing attendances and the backdrop of some major debt. The transformation over those seven years has been remarkable, prompting the Chairman to comment:” I can honestly say the club is in the best position it has ever been in the seven years since I’ve been on board, both on and off the pitch. Leigh and the management team have recruited very well in the summer and I am really looking forward to the season. On the playing side I believe we are stronger than this time last year but that does not guarantee any success as from game one I'm sure every club wants to do well and winning consistently in sport is very hard. However, I have total confidence in the management and playing squad and feel we have as good a chance as any other club to be competing at the top of the league.“ Sturmey is also positive about developments off the pitch as he added:” We continue to build a structure which is a sustainable business and we now have no external debt which is an incredible achievement from where we were seven years ago. We have three areas of the business, namely football, venue and general which allows us to focus on each area separately as football, unless you are incredibly lucky, will never fund itself on an annual basis. We are also adding more new people at Board level and below but as we grow we will always need even more volunteers as we will never be able to function without the goodwill of individuals who give up their own time for the love of their club.”
The 2016-17 season will go down as one of the most memorable in the Peacocks’ history and Kevin would obviously like more of the same in the upcoming campaign. “I want us to win the League, reach the 2nd round proper of the FA Cup and win the FA Trophy so no pressure Leigh!! Seriously, of course I want us to be competing at the top of the league, having been the most consistent team I guess over the last three seasons. Cup runs are great due to the media exposure and finances it can provide but there are about 200 clubs at Step 4 alone who have the same dream as me. It has to be a dream because we all have to remember we have part time players who all work full time, do their gym work and also find time somehow to play football at a very good level. The commitment and sacrifices made last season show what can be achieved but we always have to remember rest and recuperation is as important as training. If you asked the top players to play football after working all day most would not be able to cope so semi-pro footballers in my opinion are the hardest working players in this country. Last year our squad got some recognition nationally which was fully deserved as everyone loves an underdog and their achievements will go down in history as the best ever, so far! I'm greedy for success and personally I will never be satisfied until I feel we have reached the levels I know we can.”
Attendances at the Viridor Stadium have been steadily rising over the past few years as the club have competed at the top end of the league plus the FA Cup success of last season. Sturmey believes interest in the town is definitely on the up, remarking:”The FA Cup run added to our fan base and the number of goals last season highlighted the quality of football we played. At the end of the day, even at our level, we are in the entertainment business and people walking out of the Viridor Stadium excited about what they saw sells it further in to the community. I have never seen so many people wearing claret and blue and Tony Pryce Sports, our retail Partner, sold out of stock on several occasions last season. A personal aim for me is to see more people wearing a Taunton Town shirt than Premier League teams which they may also support as their second team! One thing that will stay with me forever was looking back to the home end from the Barrow end in the FA Cup match to see a packed terrace with a wide range of people loving every minute of the build up to such a great day and I would love to see that more often. We have increased crowd averages each season and in pre-season to have over 2200 people at the Viridor already is a massive achievement.”
The Chairman also enthused about the introduction of the youth development programme. “Starting the JPL teams under the guidance of Paul West and current player Ben Palmer at U12, U13 and U15 level and partnering with Bridgwater and Taunton College will enhance our stature in the community and already the excitement shown at the registration evenings shows the potential in the town which sadly was dormant for too many years. Winning is a big factor at 1st team level as winning consistently increases awareness but at JPL level it will be all about development through to College and University level football and hopefully a pathway to Taunton Town 1st team. Sponsorship also continues to grow with large and small companies and I am already working on season 2018-19 in certain areas as we have agreements in place that companies are very keen to renew. Some companies also wish to invest more in to the club because the Taunton Town brand is now seen as a great place to advertise due to the growth we have seen in all areas.”
Looking at the long-term picture, Sturmey will never rest on his laurels as he strives to push the club forward.” We are now seen as a leader in non-league football “, he observed, “often being asked for advice as we have built a sustainable business through adversity and whatever level we reach we will be able to sustain it by not over stretching ourselves. I have always wanted people to respect the work a handful of people do to keep the club moving forward and want people to look forward to their visit to the Viridor Stadium. We treat everyone with respect and expect standards of behaviour to reflect that on and off the pitch as I think our fans in general are some of the most gracious in victory and defeat (usually!) and will always applaud teams off the pitch, win or lose. I want everyone who visits to feel comfortable and one of my aims is to see more families attend matches as we are still very male dominated although it is improving. If we can add more ladies to the number of Under 14's who are now coming it will create a great atmosphere which showed when we hosted three Yeovil Ladies games earlier this year. The JPL squads will also add more families with two more teams starting at U14 and U16 next season.”
He concluded by summarising his ambitions for the club. “Personally I ultimately want us to achieve promotions to the level I know is achievable, develop the stadium over the next 5 - 10 years (we are currently compiling a vision document and also an audio visual of how the Stadium could look) and build something unique - "a football club that is sustainable based on not spending money you haven't got on unsustainable budgets". All this can be achieved if you build something the community and local Council wants to support. Somerset CCC has been a flagship for the town but it is a county club surrounded by Minor Counties so we need to show the Taunton and surrounding public we are serious about going higher but to do that we will need their support to grow each year and to be seen as a valuable community asset.”
In our latest pre-season discussion, tauntontown.com caught up with manager Leigh Robinson.
Clubs at all levels face the annual summer reshuffle of their playing staff and it has been no exception at the Viridor Stadium where some players have moved on to pastures new while others have come on board in the quest to further improve the winning formula. There are seven new additions to the squad and Town boss Leigh Robinson, beginning his sixth season in charge, is satisfied. “I’m pretty pleased”, he commented.” There were improvements that we wanted to make which we have done and with the exception of Matt Buse, we haven't lost anyone that we were really keen to keep. Some of the new signings have looked really good in pre-season, Ryan Brett and Ben Adelsbury in particular, and many of the others have shown real glimpses of quality whilst still finding their way to full match sharpness.“
Whilst the departure of some players over recent seasons has caused initial disappointment amongst fans, the replacements have always proved more than capable of filling the gaps and Robinson believes his current crop is a further improvement on last term. He continued:” The squad is without question stronger than 12 months ago. This time last year the squad was very much about taking a punt on a number of players, some made it and some didn't whereas this year we are that bit more sure about what we have got both on and off the pitch. The squad last year got much stronger as the season went on as we had to reinforce due to having to play so many games and no doubt things will evolve this year too.”
It’s been an eventful five years or so since Robinson took over the Viridor Stadium hot seat in June 2012. Three appearances in the Southern League Play-Offs, three Somerset Premier Cup Final triumphs and that never to be forgotten FA Cup journey last season are among the successes the Peacocks have achieved under his leadership. Many supporters would naturally love a repeat of the FA Cup heroics of 2016-17 but the manager remains guarded. “Anything is possible I guess but we have to look at last year’s cup exploits as a bit of a one off. In reality, maybe only three or four clubs from this level in the whole country reach the FA Cup First Round every season and last year was our year. Whilst it was a wonderful time for everyone involved in the club, created some unforgettable memories and moved the club on leaps and bounds both on and off the pitch, the amount of effort we had to put into the games against Hemel and Barrow (both twice), Hampton and Richmond, and Chelmsford (in the FA Trophy) certainly took its toll on our energy levels come the end of the season. You could see in April that we had an extra 10-12 games in our legs and of course those weren't 10-12 ordinary games with the amount of effort that was put in to keep up with such good sides. I think in reality the league has to be our focus this year so if we could win perhaps two FA Cup and FA Trophy ties that would keep the money coming in whilst allowing us to keep energy levels throughout the season which would be perfect.”
Robinson has never been one to make rash predictions and his hopes for the new campaign are eminently sensible. “They’re the same as every year, to win as many games as possible and see where it takes us. As a manager you can make yourself look really foolish at this time of year if you start banding about massive promises as you literally never know what is around the corner. You never quite know the strength of the other sides at this time of year, whether they'll get stronger or weaker during the season, how many injuries you’ll get or any other number of factors so it really is about taking a month to month view. The only other big hope that I have is that our attendances either grow or stay at the same level as this was the most noticeable thing after the cup run last year that we were getting 500 people to league games which is tremendous at this level. Our support was great last year in terms of numbers and this is a big part of growing the club.”
Success on the pitch has to be mirrored by progress off it and Leigh feels the club are in great shape on both fronts. “Things are going really well. Of course we'd liked to have been promoted in any of the last three years that we've been in the play-offs but the margins are so small when your season comes down to one or two games. In the first year when we lost at Stratford, we did amazingly well to even reach the play-offs as that squad wasn't ready for promotion. We lost to the better team on the day and across the season at Banbury and last year we were dead on our feet. That said, I know Kevin would have taken FA Cup First Round over promotion if offered it as it’s literally the Holy Grail in non-league terms and the long term benefits are there for all to see.”
Robinson is fully aware that the necessary infrastructure off the pitch is also vital for the club to develop. He concluded:” Off the pitch things are going fantastically too. When I became manager here five years ago the struggle to get commercial partners and sponsors on board was massive. Nowadays we have local businesses falling over themselves to partner with us, the attendances have doubled, new people like Zeppi have come on board to take social media to the next level, we have the new partnership with Bridgwater and Taunton College and financially we are a whole lot more less 'hand to mouth' than even two years ago. We now have a club that the people of Taunton want to support and get involved in, and this in turn attracts players which is a great combination for future growth.”
Our final pre-season interview will be online very soon.
Town completed their pre-season schedule of friendlies with a 4-0 victory at Bovey Tracey yesterday evening (8th August). Several chances had gone begging for the Peacocks in the first half before Lewis Powell broke the deadlock five minutes before the break, turning in the box to fire home off a defender after Matt Wright had flicked on Lloyd Irish's free kick downfield. Arran Pugh's header hit the crossbar when play resumed after the break but a second goal soon arrived on 49 minutes through Ross Staley who collected the ball to drive home a 25 yard shot. Town continued to create openings and added a third on 75 minutes when Powell scored a penalty after he had been hauled down by the home keeper. Matt Wright rounded off the scoring five minutes from time when he headed home Ollie Chamberlain's right wing cross. Match report can be viewed HERE. Neither of our club photographers were able to attend the game but some photos are available on supporter Martin Bamforth's site HERE.
Reaction - manager Leigh Robinson remarked:" A satisfactory night's work in terms of getting a few goals on the board and a clean sheet with a pretty bare squad on the night due to injury and unavailability. Arguably we should have scored more with better finishing but I'd much rather save a bit of that for Saturday when it really matters. Personally I'm pleased that the friendlies are now done and we can look forward to the proper games and I'm sure the players are too."
The Peacocks finish their pre-season campaign with a trip to Bovey Tracey tomorrow evening (8th August), kick-off 7.45pm. The meeting will be Town’s seventh warm-up match and gives them a final opportunity of doing any fine tuning in a game situation ahead of their Evo-Stik League opener at Cirencester Town this Saturday. Town have lost four of their six friendlies played including their most recent outing against Bristol City but the display last Friday was positive and they will hope to build on that in tomorrow’s game against the Peninsula League Division One East side. It will be Town’s third visit to Mill Marsh Park in recent years, having played there in pre-season games in 2012 and 2014, winning on both occasions 6-0 and 3-0 respectively.
Town will not have a full complement available for the game. Chris McGrath and Ben Palmer remain on the injured list while Pierce Mitchell has work commitments. Matt Villis and Ollie Chamberlain both return to the squad though after being rested for the Bristol City match with niggles.
A first half penalty was sufficient for a Bristol City XI to gain a 1-0 victory over the Peacocks in their final home friendly yesterday evening (4th August). It was a much improved performance from Town in a game in which both sides played some attractive football although clearcut chances remained elusive until the visitors took the lead after 27 minutes when Arran Pugh tripped Diego de Girolamo and the City striker got to his feet to convert the spot kick. City had several more attempts before the break but Town enjoyed an upturn in the second half as they pressurised the Robins' defence. Ryan Brett had a goal disallowed while a series of corners failed to yield an equaliser Town's efforts deserved. Town now have one more warm-up game at Bovey Tracey on Tuesday before the big Evo-Stik League kick off at Cirencester Town next Saturday. Match report can be viewed HERE and match photos from club photographers Tim Norbury and Colin Andrews can be viewed HERE and HERE.
Reaction - manager Leigh Robinson said:" I thought it was a really good game to watch and a brilliant test for our lads who I thought acquitted themselves magnificently. City played a really strong side which made it a good occasion and passed the ball really well. Whilst in these games it's mainly all about survival, we were determined to show our own ability on the ball when we had it and I thought the players did that and on another night we might have nicked a goal or two as we had some decent half chances. Defensively I was happy with our efforts; to not concede from open play to such a strong team shows really good application and concentration. As a team and as individuals we gained an awful lot from last night so big thanks to Lee Johnson for coming down with the side that he did, particularly on the eve of their first league game."
It’s the final home pre-season friendly for the Peacocks when they entertain a Bristol City XI tomorrow evening (4th August), kick-off 7.45pm. With the Robins commencing their Championship campaign against Barnsley on Saturday, the team that travels to the Viridor Stadium will be based on their Under 23 squad which will still provide a challenging evening for Town who have so far won just once in their five friendlies, a 3-1 victory at Willand last Friday. Town's most recent outing saw them lose at Bridgwater on Tuesday while the Robins U23 side were in action the following evening when they beat the Peacocks’ opening day opponents Cirencester Town in the final of the Gloucestershire Cup.
Manager Leigh Robinson said:” It’ll be a really tough test tomorrow as City U23’s have had some good results this pre-season and scored plenty of goals but it’s a fitness and footballing test that I’m sure everyone will be keen to meet head on.” Ben Palmer and Chris McGrath remain on the injured list while Matt Villis is also rested as a precaution due to a minor back strain. In addition the fitness of Owen Irish and Ollie Chamberlain will have to be assessed as both have niggles and could be doubtful.
In the third of our catch-ups ahead of the new season, tauntontown.com spoke to Lloyd Irish.
Since goalkeeper Lloyd Irish made his debut for the Peacocks back in 2008, he has gone on to play more than 200 games for the club in two spells. Season 2016-17 was certainly one to remember for the popular keeper, sharing in the success of the team but also memorable on a personal level after he won the Players’ Player of the Year award for the second time in a row plus coming out on top of the terrace poll to win Supporters’ Player of the Year. To cap it all, Irish was ever-present between the sticks for the second successive season, an achievement which gives him great satisfaction. He remarked:” It's something I'm very proud of. I've not actually missed a game since I came back to Taunton in November 2014 so it's probably 150 games I'd say so I'd love to keep that going for as long as possible. It can be hard to get motivated for fixtures such as Bideford away in the League Cup last season but the fact that the youth lads are there to try and impress means it's not fair to just not show interest. I enjoy the Somerset Cup because it means a lot to the supporters and it's a good chance to win some silverware.”
With new faces on board at the Viridor Stadium, Irish is optimistic about the new campaign. “The squad this season is even stronger than last”, he said, “all of the new lads have strengthened the squad and added something to the dressing room. We had a team bonding day recently and they'll all fit in nicely here. We all like a laugh and so do they and the fact that they already know some of the squad from Truro is great.”
The Peacocks’ FA Cup success last year coupled with the disappointment in the play-offs drives Irish’s ambitions for the upcoming season. He revealed:” I guess my personal hopes will be the same as for the team really as we all play for one reason and that's to be successful, you can't be successful without the other 15 lads but ultimately we have to get promoted this year. The club is going in the right direction behind the scenes and so it's time for us to step up and do it on the pitch. We have been unlucky the past few seasons but with the league structure this season and the squad we have, anything but promotion is a definite fail. It would be incredible to repeat our FA Cup journey though, that's something I'll remember for the rest of my life and it was great to give the supporters those memories too. I'd like to also wish Matt Wright good luck in his first season as captain. From what I've seen in pre-season I know he will do a great job!”
What about his long term plans? “I'd love to finish my career at Taunton Town,” Lloyd remarked, “ I still have 10 years left if I can keep myself in good shape and make sure I'm still enjoying it then there's no reason it's not possible. I'm very lucky to have such a great goalkeeper coach in Paul Edwards and training is always fun. Eddie’s now a good friend of mine too. As a club there is no reason why we can't fly through the leagues, but it's one step at a time. Let's start with promotion this year, and go from there. We're very fortunate to have such loyal supporters and they also deserve this. It would be great to keep the attendances rising too."
Another viewpoint will be coming soon.
The Peacocks suffered their third pre-season defeat with a 2-1 reverse at Bridgwater Town yesterday evening (1st August). Both sides had sights of goal in the early stages but it was the hosts who made a breakthrough after 16 minutes, defensive sloppiness enabling Mark Armstrong to get free in the box and Syd Camper was on the end of his cross to convert from close range. Town were soon back on terms four minutes later through Ben Adelsbury who curled home a great free kick from the edge of the area (as pictured), leaving the game all square at the break. The deciding goal came five minutes into the second half after Lloyd Irish had upended Camper in the box and Callum Ham steered home the penalty. Hardly any chances of note were created at either end for the rest of the game which became increasingly ill-tempered. The Peacocks now have two friendlies left in which to get their act together starting with Friday's game against Bristol City. Match report can be viewed HERE and match photos from club photographer Colin Andrews can be viewed HERE.
Reaction - manager Leigh Robinson commented:" We picked this game as we wanted to play a match in less than ideal conditions and as far removed from a nice comfy home game as possible and that's what we got. I thought we struggled badly on the pitch which made passing or running with the ball really tricky but we're going to come across that during the season so whilst we need to improve in such conditions, it was useful to get that experience. I'm not concerned by the result as we would have done things a whole lot differently in terms of personnel and formation if it was a game we had to win and certainly wouldn't have got caught on the ball twice for the goals but it's pre-season and all part of learning before the real stuff starts."
Town continue their pre-season schedule with a visit to neighbours Bridgwater Town tomorrow evening (1st August), kick-off 7.45pm. The game will be the Peacocks’ fifth friendly of the summer and follows their 3-1 victory at Willand Rovers last Friday, their first win in pre-season. The Robins will begin life in the Western League this coming season after relegation from the Southern League and have already played seven warm-up games ahead of their opening fixture at home to Keynsham Town this weekend in the FA Cup. They have had a mixed bag of results in the friendlies, their most recent ending in a 2-1 defeat at Chard Town on Saturday.
The Peacocks will be strengthened by the return of several players who missed the Willand outing including centre half Owen Irish who has yet to feature in pre-season due to a broken toe. Lewis Powell, Matt Wright and Pierce Mitchell are also back in the squad. However Ben Palmer and Chris McGrath are both still out injured. Manager Leigh Robinson remarked:” We’re back up to a more normal complement of players tomorrow and going into the final three friendlies it’s the time where the fight for places starts to kick in. Many of the lads will feel much better after 90 minutes at Willand on Friday so we’re looking for quite a few to push on from here starting tomorrow night.”
The draw for the 1st Round of the BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup (Southern League Cup) was released today and the Peacocks were handed a repeat of the tie they faced at the same stage last year with a trip to divisional rivals Bideford. The game is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 3rd October, kick-off 7.45pm.