TAUNTON Town and Kevin Sturmey have come a long, long way together, but he believes this is only the start for the Peacocks.

When I spoke to him, the club chairman and head groundsman was preparing the Viridor Stadium pitch for life in Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division South, Taunton having earned promotion as champions last season.

He says you need to be brave “to do something different”, a policy which applies as much to his overall management of the club as it does to the pitch the team play on.

Already it’s come from a “concrete block” to a pitch that has received praise from players past and present, but there’s more still to be done.

Sturmey said: “We took quite a risk in taking 100 to 150 tonnes of sand off and re-levelling the lowest point of the pitch, and it’s quite a short space of time to be ready for the season.

“It’s quite soft, but it’s going to be, as it takes time to bed in.

“But we don’t have the resources to re-lay an £800,000 pitch.

“I would love to have a hybrid pitch, but we don’t really have £800,000 sat around – that’s a lot of years’ playing budget!”

A successful team also needs supporters coming to watch them week in, week out, and Sturmey is very aware of that challenge.

He said: “We have to understand the world we’re in, and it’s very different with technology and social media, which is so prevalent in younger people’s lives.

“Anyone under 25 is going to be used to technology, and we have to engage with our younger fans and try to make the experience of coming to a match enjoyable.”

As well as younger fans, the Peacocks are eager to engage the entire community – including potential sponsors – and their recent FA Cup first round exploits and title win have not gone unnoticed.

“Success opens up more doors for sponsors, definitely,” said Sturmey.

“Our main shirt sponsor started coming down to games last year, brought his kids and they loved it.

“When you talk to people like that, who maybe haven’t been much before, they still want to invest in the club because they see what we’re trying to achieve and they’re comfortable here.”

Somerset County Gazette:

PITCH PERFECT: The Viridor Stadium pitch in June.

Given his ambitious nature, and the club appearing to dovetail on and off the pitch, I asked Sturmey whether he believed the Peacocks could achieve back-to-back promotions.

“We’re not a club that goes out talking themselves up and saying what we’re going to do,” he replied.

“We do our talking out there [on the pitch] and behind the scenes.

“None of us are going to say ‘we’re going to win the league next year’, but our aim in the league is to reach the playoffs and be competitive.

“And, of course, everyone’s dream every year is an FA Cup run, and next year my dream is the second round of the FA Cup.

“That would be a remarkable achievement, but we were there only two seasons ago, and we go in one round later now.

“We have to have ambition; I think we proved last season in winning the league like we did and keeping the squad together that the players believe that we can be competitive.

“I’m never satisfied. Whatever we reach, I want to go for a little bit more.

“I don’t want us to be an OK team in an OK league, I want to drive the club forward.

“That’s down to everyone – the fans, sponsors, players, management, the board and volunteers – being desperate for success.”

He added: “But we have to do it in the right way as well.

“I’m a great believer in being gracious in victory and defeat; you’re only as good as your last performance.

“Some clubs over-celebrate, and I think ‘that’s going to come back and haunt you’.

“When we lost to Tavistock last year I think they were a bit shocked by how well received they were by our fans.

“You just have to accept that sometimes, on the day, teams will play better than you, or they put the ball in the net [better].”

Of course, Taunton are not only about the first team, and in looking to the future they are also building a youth section.

Last season the Peacocks entered teams into JPL (Junior Premier League) competition, and Sturmey is pleased with the outcome.

He said: “The JPL set-up is thriving, and we have teams from Under-11 to Under-16 level – two at Under-14, so we have seven teams.

“That then feeds Bridgwater & Taunton College, our educational partner, and I think university football will get off the ground in the next season or so.

Paul West, our head of development, has got his own soccer coaching business for four- to 11-year-olds – so there’s a complete pathway there for kids to be involved in football.

“The great thing with the JPL is that there’s also a training squad, so it’s not win at all costs, which so many clubs and coaches have.

“They think it’s great to win 15-0, but it’s not, because you’re not developing your team or the other team, or creating anything for the future.

“With a training squad, if players aren’t quite good enough or confident enough for the match squad, they can go down that route and develop as players and people.

“Through that system the aim is eventually to produce our own players and have a conveyor belt,” he added.

“If they go off, like Tom Stone to Bridgwater Town this season, that may be what’s best for their development.

“If we were to get up to Step 2, then it would be difficult for an 18-year-old to go straight into the team, because if they were that talented then they’d be at a pro club already.

“That’s not to say they wouldn’t get a chance in the first team, but they might just need to find the right route to play.

“It’s not only physical, it’s mental as well, as players can lose confidence very quickly; some might thrive [in the first team], others go back in their shell.”

Taunton do not have Under-18 or Under-21 sides, or a reserve team, so instead they have a partnership with Bridgwater & Taunton College (BTC).

As Sturmey explains: “Youth teams didn’t really work for us, because it was competing with college football.

“Virtually all the lads go to college now, so it was a no-brainer to do what we’ve done.

“We could have worked with other clubs, but it would have benefited them more than us, but I think the system we’ve got now is great.

“We had 220 kids turn up for trials, which also builds us more in the community, as those kids have got families who will hopefully want to support us, as well as seeing their lads and lasses play at a higher level of football.”

And Sturmey is optimistic that the relationship with BTC can continue to grow.

“We’re going to give more opportunities to the college players this season, probably playing a development side in the Southern League Cup and the Somerset Premier Cup, in the early rounds,” he said.

“The lads acquitted themselves really well last year against Weston, and there’s always going to be first team squad members who need minutes, but there’s no point in having that link if we’re not going to give the lads an opportunity.

“It’s going to be hard to get them into the league squad, so it makes sense to play them in the cups.

“And you never know, someone may come out of that.

“But first and foremost, college football is their priority.”

When it comes to women’s football, again Taunton no longer have a ladies side, and Sturmey is not planning to change that.

Ash Rangers, Bishops Lydeard and Wellington all run women’s teams, while Women’s Super League side Yeovil Town Ladies train at BTC.

Yeovil also played several games at the Viridor Stadium last season, although they have announced that Dorchester Town will be their base for the upcoming campaign.

Sturmey said: “With ladies football, obviously Bishops Lydeard Ladies have got a great set-up, as do Yeovil Ladies.

“We don’t see ourselves setting up our own ladies system, because there are two very good set-ups close by, and we don’t want to impinge on those.

“Maybe we can work with them more in the future.

“We had a good relationship with Yeovil Ladies last season and helped them where we can, though we’re not quite sure what will happen this season.”

Somerset County Gazette:

SUPPORT: Taunton Town are looking for further engagement with the Taunton community.

Another relationship which Sturmey is keen to cultivate is one with Somerset County Cricket Club.

He recently met their CEO Andrew Cornish, and so I asked what he hoped to get out of working with the cricket club.

“I’m not sure really [what can be achieved], but if you don’t talk then you never know,” Sturmey said.

“We got on really well, Andrew’s a nice guy.

“We’ve had links with Somerset before, holding football matches for beneficiaries and things like that.

“I don’t think the sports should be closed off.

“Cricket’s going through a difficult time at the moment with everything apart from T20, though Somerset do buck the trend on support in the County Championship.

“In general, Test matches and four-day cricket, even 50-over cricket, are struggling – T20 has saved it but killed it at the same time.

“We’re going to try and meet regularly and see if we’ve got some common ground, with the rugby club, too.”

Clearly Sturmey hopes to boost the three clubs, and the local sporting community – and also Taunton as a whole.

He said: “Maybe all three of us could work together on something, even just a dinner with some cricket, football and rugby speakers.

“A big event like that... Taunton as a town needs a bit of vision and trying something new.

“We need to do things to get people to talk Taunton up, as it’s easy to talk Taunton down, though we’re not unique with the problems we see in the town centre at the moment.

“That’s not to say we can’t be unique in our thinking. If you don’t communicate then you’re never going to achieve anything or change things.

“It’s very easy for people to sit in their ivory towers and say ‘it’s disgusting’ or ‘things aren’t happening in Taunton’.

“I believe that using sport we can break down barriers and improve our communities, whether that’s clubs working together or thrashing out ideas with the council.

“I’m a great believer in a blank piece of paper and a pen; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you do need to keep fine-tuning it.

“I think between us, probably still the three biggest sports in the world, we can perhaps achieve things or people could even come to us for some guidance.

“In the private sector we always have to find new ways of making money – we don’t get handouts from the FA or Southern League, we have to pay to be part of those.

“There’s a uniqueness about sport, and if we can put our brains together, we may come up with things, we may not, but if we don’t communicate then nothing will happen.”

This summer saw Taunton unveil plans for the future of the Viridor Stadium, getting it ship-shape for the Southern League Premier and beyond.

Sturmey is eager to modernise, starting with the changing rooms and turnstiles – segregation of supporters being necessary if Taunton went up another level.

He wants to add more parking spaces, and also more seating in the Tom Harris Stand, which is to be renamed following a sponsors’ draw (club president Harris having given his blessing).

And Sturmey wants to work with the council and local community to make more use of the adjacent Hamilton Park, potentially for grass and 3G training facilities.

All in all, it’s clear that Sturmey sees the club’s future being on Wordsworth Drive.

He said: “Any club that tries to move now, they would find it very difficult unless they have the support of their local authority and major funding from sporting bodies.

“That’s because the land values now are nothing like what they were, in comparative terms to what you would need [money to move].

“We would probably need to sell this [the Viridor Stadium land] for £10 million... but it’s not going to be worth £10 million unless we can magic up another 20 acres.

“When the rugby club moved, that was probably the last time – in the late 1990s, early 2000s – when you could.

“So we don’t think it’s worth it, as we think we would need about £7.5 million to build a modern version of what we’ve got.

“And where you move to, you’ve got the infrastructure costs, which people often don’t think of – you’ve got to get there before you can build anything.

“When you build new, you’ve got to have everything up to date, like car parks, so I see us here [for the future].”

He added: “If you look at the history, if we were going to do something it would probably have to be a multi-sport venue, so football, cricket and rugby all together with their own facilities in that area.

“Perhaps Firepool would have been ideal for that, if someone had had that vision in the late 90s, but – back then – retail was still OK.

“We don’t see moving as an option. You never say never, because that would be silly, but I don’t think we’d have anywhere near enough money.

“So we’ve got to try and develop the Viridor Stadium, and perhaps secure some more land close by.”