In our final Taunton Town season review, club chairman Kevin Sturmey reflects on a busy year on and off the pitch.

THE 2016/17 season, marked by the historic FA Cup run, has been another step forward for Taunton Town.

There was a bittersweet ending to the campaign, as a playoff semi-final defeat ended their promotion hopes, but they did win a fifth Somerset Premier Cup title.

Reflecting on a memorable season, chairman Kevin Sturmey said: “Although we are all disappointed with how it’s finished league-wise, I don’t think you can be disappointed for too long when you analyse it as a whole.

“The cup run is, in my opinion, the equivalent of winning four leagues and cups – the exposure we’ve received and what we’ve built within the community, you can’t get that by winning a league.”

The cup match at home to Barrow, which finished 2-2, is a contender for Sturmey’s proudest day at the club.

He said: “It could have gone better – we could have won! – but the whole day just flowed. There was a lot of work that went into that.

“Apart from the final result, if you were writing the script that’s the one you would have written. And 2,300 people in… we’d like to get that every week!”

The cup run brought in money and prestige, more sponsors have come on board, and the club has further cultivated its relationships with Bridgwater & Taunton College and University Centre Somerset.

The chairman said: “Personally I’m never satisfied – whatever we do, I want to improve on it.

“I think that off and on the pitch we have a really good team ethic – there’s a great deal of respect between the playing side and the management, all the volunteers and everyone connected to the club.

"We’ve made strides, but it’s been a year-on-year progression as opposed to a flash in the pan. You can throw money at things and get short-term success, but we’re looking at gaining sustainable success, and that’s been happening for the last six or seven years.

“I think if we’d gone up two years ago, we might have struggled with the team we had – we weren’t quite ready, there’s much more depth in this squad, and obviously we’re always looking at adding players.”

“We do have to work with a small squad – the difference this year was the cup runs. 

“Usually we’d have to release players to bring the budget down, but this year we could maintain a slightly increased budget and we knew we needed a bigger squad for an increased period of time.”

He added that it was a ‘no-brainer’ to retain manager Leigh Robinson for another season.

“We’ve re-appointed Leigh on a one-year rolling agreement for the last three years now, before the season ends … there are some people who have criticised that, said he should be sacked, which I find staggering.

“Leigh’s always looking forward, as we are as a club, and he’s been planning for next season for some time now.

“I think if a club like us sacked Leigh after his achievements, I certainly wouldn’t be involved in sport. 

“It’s part-time football, and people are working their football commitments around their job. 

“Most people won’t know that Leigh could go and get a much higher paid job, but he’s got a great relationship with his employer, and his boss supports him in his football.

“And I’m sure that’s the same with a lot of the players – you do need that support of your boss and your family if you’re going to be successful, because the commitment is huge.”

He added: “If there’s uncertainty in football it’s always the manager’s fault – I don’t personally agree with that. 

“The manager can set his team up, the coaches can set the team up, but ultimately they’re human beings and they make mistakes – whether they’re England internationals or Southern League footballers, and that’s why we all love football because it’s so unpredictable.

“From my point of view it’s a no-brainer – Leigh has made progression every year. He’s probably one of the quietest managers, but also one of the most focused.

“The professionalism I try to bring, he has that and I know he has the ability to manage at a higher level – and we hope that it’s going to be with us, [as we have] the plans in place for one level, two levels higher.

"If we run our business well we’ll hopefully have a bit more money and can sign an extra player or a slightly better player.”

Speaking of the future, Sturmey was pleased that the Somerset Premier Cup gave youngsters Rhys Ford, Billy Greene, Charlie Melvin-Sparks, Tom Stone and Kye Toogood opportunities to play with experienced first-teamers.

The club’s partnerships with Bridgwater & Taunton College and University Centre Somerset, as well as starting Junior Premier League teams, have the aim of creating a pathway for young players, and keep people in football longer.

Sturmey said: “You get so many kids dropping out of football between the ages of 16 and 21. 

“You have to work with partners, and off the pitch we’ve built partnerships with various organisations – in my opinion that’s the way forward. 

“We share resources, but you’ve also got to have a common goal, which is trying to improve the amount of players coming through. 

“Anything that keeps kids, men, ladies playing sport for longer is the way forward, because 11-a-side football is dying as a sport on Saturdays and Sundays, which is really sad, so we’ve got to do something to try and keep them playing. 

“Ladies football at the top level is very, very good. 

“We’ve been given a taste of that [Spring Series at the Viridor], and we also have to look at the bigger picture. 

“Everyone’s capable of playing football, or sport, and if you keep working hard you can make it. 

“Ollie Chamberlain and Ben Palmer are examples of local lads who’ve done that.

“People say it’d be nice to see a team of local lads – you’ll never see that in my opinion,” he added. 

“It would take 20 years, and you can’t drop your standards, so as far as I’m concerned players can come from Timbuktu if they’re proud to wear the Taunton badge.

“But it would be nice to have a pathway so that more get an opportunity – once they have their chance, they have to make the sacrifices, and once you get to a certain standard you have to maintain that standard.

“This year I think the players we’ve signed are extremely focused individuals, not only good footballers, and they’ve made massive sacrifices to play for the club.”