Taunton Town Football Club recently lost one of the most iconic characters in its history. Club President Tom Harris passed away at the age of 95 after devoting a massive part of his life to the Peacocks who will always owe Tom an immense debt of gratitude for his unstinting service and dedication for a period of over 60 years.
Our Matchday Secretary Martin Dongworth outlined the huge part Tom has played in the history of the club and touched on other interests away from Wordsworth Drive. “Taunton Town Football Club was reformed after the Second World War in 1947 and at that time there were severe restrictions on how sporting clubs could raise funds” stated Martin, “but a group of supporters spotted a loophole which permitted Supporters Clubs to do so. This led to the founding of Taunton AF Supporters Club which raised thousands of pounds for the parent club until its dissolution in 2001. Along with Secretary Harold Needs, Tom was a pivotal part of the Supporters Club for most of its life taking on the role of Treasurer.
In addition to these duties Tom was elected as one of the inaugural Directors when Taunton Town FC became a limited company in 1981 and Tom was elected as Chairman, a post he held until stepping down in 2010 at which point he became Club President, a role he held until his death. Tom continued to support the club until the end although his health prevented him from coming to as many games as he would like.
As if that was not enough Tom was voted on to the Management Committee of the Western League in 1984 and he remained in that role until Taunton Town were promoted to the Southern League in 2002 which saw the Western League make him a Life Member. Tom and Elsie attended many Western League conventions, continuing to attend after Taunton joined the Southern League, and they were also present at many Southern League weekends. Tom was given a Long Service award by the Southern League and was also a Life Vice President of the Somerset Football Association.
Away from football Tom’s sporting interests were varied but cricket played a major part in his life – he was a wicket keeper for many years although his favourite memory was of a match one Boxing Day when he came on to bowl and took a hat trick. Tom was also a big fan of amateur boxing and snooker was another of his passions.”
On a personal level Martin also shared fond memories of his former chairman, saying:” Tom has been such a vital part of my life for many years, so it is difficult to know where to start.
I first came across Tom in 1979 when I started helping out with the club – I was on the Supporters Club Committee but was then asked to join the parent club committee. I applied to become an inaugural director in 1981 but without success although I was elected to the Board in 1982. I was appointed as Assistant Secretary under Joan Ellis, but Tom was always supportive of my role, and he always offered help and advice when required.
At that time I did not drive so Tom took me to many games, meetings and weekends. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to reciprocate in more recent years. Tom also made sure I had a seat in the director’s box for several big matches over the years, notably the FA Cup First Round tie at Swindon in 1981 and our FA Vase Finals in 1994 and 2001.
It was also an honour and privilege to take Tom to a couple of speedway meetings – one of our favourite riders at the time was the Swede Magnus Zetterstrom, aka Zorro, and it was great when he walked past us at the end of one of the meetings. We were both able to show our appreciation to Zorro, who was very humble, and I know Tom was very pleased to do that. We were also together at a few cricket matches over the years, the highlight being Somerset v Leicestershire in 2005 when South African Graeme Smith scored 311 for Somerset.
As mentioned earlier Tom and I both attended many weekends together with the Western League and Southern League – he was always the best company, along with Elsie and also Joan Ellis and many other people involved with the club who attended the various functions over the years.
One of the most moving memories of Tom was that he took the trouble to attend the funerals of both my parents. He came to Dad’s funeral in 1988 and along with Elsie he also attended Mum’s service in 2016. I am glad you are now at peace and reunited with Elsie. RIP to you both.”
When Tom stood down as Chairman in 2010, he was replaced by current incumbent Kevin Sturmey who provided this heartfelt tribute:
” I first met Tom in the late 70’s as he drove myself and a friend of mine who was a family friend of Tom’s family to the Bath & West Show as he was attending for MAFF his employer. The next occasion I came across him was Tom announcing the team in 1980 when I made my debut for Taunton Town Reserves at 16 years old along with Tony Keitch. I would often see Tom over the next two decades but then got to know him much better after winning a draw to be the main shirt sponsor organised by another Taunton Legend Paul West. The next season after winning the draw I became part time Commercial Manager around my business, little did I know this would lead to me helping Tom with Westy in organising more Commercial revenue for a few years from 2003. I had to try to save my business so had to “walk away” from the Club in 2006 but returned in 2009 with a group of people to help Tom and the Club get through a difficult period after a near relegation from the Southern League.
Tom was so respected that we knew he needed support to help keep the Club going as no one realises until you work behind the scenes how much goes on. A group of us set up a Committee to help Tom and the Club. I became Chairman and Andy Power Secretary, we met every month, but the first priority was to buy a mower as the previous mower was not fully owned by the Club and the grass was six inches long! Every month we met, produced minutes which I then discussed with Tom, so he was fully in the loop as we were set up to help the Club during a difficult time.
A week before the AGM in July 2010 Tom rang me and asked me to pop in to have a chat. That chat was the start of me taking the reigns as Chairman when I was duly elected in July 2010 because Tom had said to me it had taken its toll on him and he needed to step down. In fact, he stepped up as the first thing I did as Chairman was to offer Tom to become our President which he happily accepted. It was a privilege to succeed Tom and someone I looked up to as a proper football man but who also loved virtually all sports, we both shared a passion for football, cricket and horseracing so we were always going to “get on”.
For the first year of my tenure Tom would attend Board meetings to hand over anything we needed help with, and I think he loved being part of the process without the burden and pressure of being Chairman anymore, not forgetting Elsie who supported me over that first year before finally taking some time off to support the other causes she was involved in. Tom helped guide me and the Board in so many areas and was a constant source of advice and he has helped shape me into the Chairman I am today. I couldn’t have had a better mentor as neither of us have made all the right decisions, but one thing is for sure, Tom always put his heart and soul into Taunton Town. Along with Elsie they kept this Club going for many years, subsidising everything as when there wasn’t enough money the “Bank of Tom and Elsie” provided the extras. Without Tom and Elsie none of the recent achievements would have been possible and we will always continue in that tradition, work hard, never give up and make sacrifices often unseen to aim to be better. Every club goes through difficult times, none of us will ever make every decision correctly but Tom always acted in the best interests of Taunton Town and I have always vowed to give 100% as Tom always did.
In all the years I knew Tom, he never altered, he was as sharp as always and I will miss him dearly. Just having a chat on a matchday or over the phone was always enjoyable as Tom knew, he had intuition, generosity and a level head even when things were not always rosy. He made sacrifices for 29 years as Chairman and I will never understand why Tom and Elsie did not receive National Honours rather than people who are paid very well to do jobs. Everyone here at Taunton is going to miss Tom whether we chatted for 2 minutes or a whole night with him at a Racenight or at a Dinner. He was the most warm and affable man you could wish to meet, and I will miss him at Wordsworth Drive which was his second home. It will never be the same without Tom.
My lasting memory will be having a hug with Tom when we beat Farnborough here in front of 2300 people to win the league, we were both in tears (of joy) because we both knew he started the whole journey and that winning of the League was for Tom. He was proud as President and he was a proud Chairman, and his legacy will never die, his soul will always be with us.
We will all miss him and there will never be another Tom Harris, a hero, a legend but ultimately an absolute Gentleman. Rest in Peace Tom.”
Tom saw countless players and managers come and go over the decades, with one of the most successful being Russell Musker who guided the Peacocks to FA Vase glory in 2001 and promotion to the Southern League a year later. Russell remarked:” I had a brilliant time at Taunton and Tom was like my Grandad. He backed and trusted me with everything, and I hope I was able to repay him. The time at Taunton was the happiest in my career and it was a pleasure that he asked me to manage the club. We had a great relationship both professionally and personally, never having a cross word in 11 years.”
Keith Bowker is a former Western League title-winning manager of the Peacocks and he remarked”: It was a pleasure working with him as manager when he was my chairman. He was not just a chairman but a great friend and a true gentleman. He will always be Mr Taunton Town.”
Another Taunton Town icon is captain of the FA Vase winning side of 2001 Paul West who said:” I’ve known Tom pretty much my whole life. He watched me grow from a young boy into a man. He supported me with fierce loyalty at the toughest times. What a journey we went on. Love you. Westy xx”. Paul has sadly just lost his father Dave and the club send their deepest sympathy to him and his family.
The final tribute comes from another Taunton Town legend, record appearance holder Tony Payne who has worn the claret shirt on more than 1000 occasions. Tony said:” I will remember Tom for how supportive he was as my career started in 1962 – we became like father and son. He will be sadly missed by everyone at TTFC. God bless you Tom, now reunited with Elsie.”
There have been countless other condolences from across the football family and several of these are listed below:
John Pool (former secretary of Clandown and Paulton Rovers, now Toolstation League Chairman)
Extremely sorry to hear of the sad passing of Tom. Whilst not having a lot of contact over the latter years he was a man who I had a total respect for. I will always regard him as a true football friend
Derek Taylor (referees observer, former Toolstation League Director)
Very sad, great football man
Adrian Codling (former referee)
A very sad day for the club and his family. I was always made welcome when I refereed Taunton and that was down to Tom and his organisation
David Mogg (former Taunton Town Assistant Manager)
Very sad news – he was a great chairman and an absolute gentleman
Ian Hill (former TTFC player)
He was Mr Taunton. I remember when I signed for Taunton and met Tom for the first time, he made me very welcome and was always there for advice and help, such a lovely man. My thoughts are with the family at this sad time. You certainly were a Taunton Town legend
Kevin Evans, (former Taunton Town coach)
Sad news, a true football man
Brian Walder, (chairman, Minehead FC)
So sad, a legend for a long long time
Gary Domone (former Taunton Town manager)
True gentleman, true legend, lovely lovely man such sad news. Taunton has lost a great man with a fabulous heart
Jonathan Pike (CEO, Somerset Football Association)
Very sad news, he will be missed by many people across the county, not just in Taunton
Doug Webb (former Chairman, Chippenham Town FC)
We first met when Taunton came back into the Western League. Tom organised his club in the best possible way and I would consider him to be the best Chairman in the Western League. We will always remember you
Phil Hunt (former TTFC player)
Sad news. Taunton legend and a lovely man, have some great memories of my years at the club and Tom was a great part of that
Rob Dray (TTFC Head of Football)
Tom was a lovely man who did so much for the club. I’m so pleased he saw us promoted to the National League. He will be sadly missed
RIP Tom, a Peacocks legend who will never be forgotten.