Taunton Town were, in the County Gazette’s words, ‘18 seconds from Wembley glory’ in May 1994. The FA Vase final was the culmination of a season which saw the Peacocks finish as runners-up in three competitions. RICHARD BROWNE goes back 26 years to tell the story...

MAY 7, 1994, was an unforgettable day for 4,000 Taunton Town fans who made the trip to the old Wembley Stadium.

Unfortunately for them, it ended in tears, as Terry Rowles’ side lost the FA Vase final 2-1 to Diss Town, after extra time.

But how did they get there? It’s time to fire up the time machine and set coordinates for the 1993/94 season.

Taunton had won their second Western League title back in 1989/90, under the management of Keith Bowker, but had finished seventh, seventh and fourth in the next three seasons.

In came Rowles, who had masterminded Clevedon Town’s title win the previous campaign, and he quickly set about reshaping the squad.

Out went the likes of Paul Lindo (players’ player of the season in 1992/93), Micky Fallon and Adrian Stagg, to make way for 10 new signings - six of them from Clevedon.

Among those were deadly strike duo John Durham and Andy Perrett, with Durham quickly making his mark by scoring twice in a 4-3 pre-season defeat to First Division side Watford, who were managed by Glenn Roeder.

The Peacocks hit 19 goals in their last four friendly matches, and lined up to face Saltash United on August 21, 1993, with only five players from the previous season - Kevin Maloy, Simon Culliford, Nigel Jarvis, Nigel Pugh and Phil Hunt - in their squad.

Their bid for Western League (then called the Great Mills League) Premier Division glory began well, as two goals in the final 13 minutes earned a 2-1 win at Saltash.

A winning side was beginning to develop. Dave Ewens and Keith Graddon built a formidable centre-back partnership, while Jarvis, Paul West and Derek Fowler shone in midfield.

Durham and Perrett set about terrorising defences, with the latter scoring six in a 12-0 rout of Dawlish United in the FA Cup.

That broke Taunton’s post-war scoring record, but the FA Cup adventure ended at the hands of Beazer Homes League (Southern League) side Weston-super-Mare.

New signings continued to arrive; ex-Bath City player Kevin Thaws soon made his presence felt with a hat-trick at Torrington, while midfielder Russell Musker came in from Saltash, only to suffer from knee and back problems.

Another midfielder, Damon Palfrey, signed from Bideford, while veteran full-back Alan Walsh, formerly of Bristol City, also joined.

The Peacocks began their FA Vase campaign with a preliminary round win over Hellenic League side Moreton - who boasted former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson in their team.

Lawro was 36 by this point, and could do little to stop the visitors winning 2-0, with goals from Jarvis and Fowler.

October 30 brought a first round tie at home to Keynsham Town; Thaws tormented the visitors but it was two goals from Perrett which took the Peacocks into the second round.

Perrett’s predatory instincts helped him net a hat-trick against Exmouth (in the league) and another against Wiltshire County League side Melksham Town (in the Vase), to reach 28 goals from 19 games.

Reg Oram’s record of 67 in a season had stood since the 1950s, but the start of December saw Perrott sitting on 34 from 21 games (after scoring five against Welton Rovers in the Somerset Premier Cup) - and the chase was well and truly on.

That became 39 goals when Perrett bagged a brace in a 2-0 win over Barnstaple Town, in the third round of the Vase.

Barnstaple held their own for an hour as Fowler missed a penalty, but Perrett punished two defensive mistakes to win the game.

Perrett ended 1993 with 41 goals in 24 games, and Taunton were neck-and-neck with arch-rivals Tiverton Town at the top of the league table.

The Peacocks’ FA Vase run almost ended at the fourth round stage, as they were held 1-1 at home by Banstead Athletic - who had made the quarter-finals the previous season - on January 15.

Graddon headed Taunton ahead from West’s cross, but Andy Yetzel levelled with four minutes left; it was the least Banstead deserved, as they also hit the woodwork three times and forced a goal-line clearance from West

The replay took place the following Saturday, and goals from Palfrey and West secured a 2-0 win for Taunton, who faced a 400-mile round trip to Derbyshire in the next round.

Belper United, of the Northern Counties League, were beaten 3-1 as Ewens put in a man-of-the-match display at the back.

It was 1-1 at half-time, as Durham’s opener was cancelled out by a Clive Woolley penalty, but Jarvis and Perrett scored after the break to send their side into the quarter-finals.

Tiverton - who had made the final in 1992/93 - were knocked out by Diss Town (more on them later), while Taunton’s home tie with Newbury Town was rained off and rescheduled for the next Saturday.

Newbury, of the Isthmian League, were coached by ex-Arsenal manager Don Howe, but he could not guide them past the Peacocks, who won 2-0 in front of 1,472 fans at Wordsworth Drive.

Both goals came in the opening 18 minutes, as Fowler scored a penalty after Perrett was fouled by the goalkeeper, and Perrett cracked in a second goal - his 54th of the season.

Unfortunately for Taunton, Perrett picked up a foot injury in that match and missed the 3-1 home defeat to Tiverton, which attracted a crowd of 2,854.

In the Vase, the Peacocks faced a two-legged semi-final with Boston of the United Counties League.

The first leg took place at Wordsworth Drive on March 19, and Taunton won 1-0 in front of a 1,369-strong crowd.

The hosts almost conceded after 56 seconds, but Wayne Morris cleared off the line, and they went up the other end and scored through Durham, who headed in from Palfrey’s cross.

Jarvis hit the post after the break but there were no more goals, and with five minutes left West - who had played brilliantly - picked up a second yellow card.

Even without West, Taunton dominated the second leg in front of 1,785 (and the ITV and Sky cameras) at Tattershall Road the following Saturday.

Perrett’s 58th goal of the season, in the 56th minute, secured a 1-0 win on the day, and a 2-0 victory on aggregate.

Latching onto a ball from Alan Walsh, he rounded the goalkeeper and drove the ball home, to the delight of the 400 travelling fans.

Perrett reached 60 for the season with two against Bristol Manor Farm, two days later, but disaster struck before the crunch meeting with Tiverton on April 13.

Ewens and Perrett were injured, and without them the Peacocks were humbled 5-1 at Ladysmead.

Perrett missed most of April with a knee problem, and his chances of breaking Oram’s record vanished; he would end the season with a - still astonishing - 62-goal haul.

The league was gone, and that meant all the focus was now on the FA Vase final against Norfolk-based Diss Town, of the Jewson League Premier Division (Eastern Counties League).

Somerset County Gazette:

BUILD-UP: The County Gazette produced a 12-page souvenir pull-out ahead of the 1993/94 FA Vase final

Not wanting to risk his star men before the final, Rowles fielded a side featuring West in goal and 48-year-old club legend Tony Payne (alongside his son Andy) against Crediton.

Finally May 7 arrived, and Taunton faced Diss in front of a crowd of 13,450 at Wembley Stadium.

The Peacocks side was: Kevin Maloy, Wayne Morris, Alan Walsh, Dave Ewens, Keith Graddon, Damon Palfrey, Paul West, Derek Fowler, John Durham, Andy Perrett, Nigel Jarvis.

They started well, and went ahead after 12 minutes, as Perrett nodded back West’s long throw in and Fowler (playing with a broken toe) headed home.

But Perrett looked a shadow of his usual self after injury, and was taken off early in the second half.

Former Norwich City man Peter Mendham led the Diss fightback, but with Maloy making several fine saves, it looked like they might be thwarted.

But referee Kelvin Morton played 10 minutes of stoppage time, and the equaliser came nine minutes and 42 seconds into that.

Maloy brought down Steve Miles, and Paul Gibbs scored from the penalty spot.

The momentum was with Diss now, and Mendham scored the winner with eight minutes of extra time left, crashing home after Maloy had saved his initial header.

The trophy went to Diss, but it’s fair to say the Taunton boss was not best pleased with the referee’s generous allocation of injury time.

“We won that game 1-0, only to see it taken away from us,” Rowles thundered.

“When you are playing in a final of this nature, a situation like this is a total mockery.

“It’s not sour grapes. We won that game in the correct time and it’s been taken away from us.”

Somehow the Peacocks had to pick themselves up for the Les Phillips Cup final, against Tiverton at Dawlish, the following weekend.

They could not. Phil Everett and Kevin Smith handed Tiverton - who had gone unbeaten in the league, and finished 16 points clear at the top - a 4-1 win to complete the double.

November 1994 would see Musker - he of the knee and back problems - appointed Taunton manager, and it was he who would end the Peacocks’ wait for Vase glory in 2001.