We arrive at 1995/96, the year of Kevin Keegan’s ‘I will love it if we beat them, love it’ rant.

It didn’t end well for Newcastle but, down in the South West, Taunton Town had the beating of rivals Tiverton in that season’s Western League title race.

RUSSELL Musker’s first full season in charge of Taunton Town ended with the Peacocks claiming the 1995/96 Western League Premier Division title.

This was victory against the odds: Taunton had finished a massive 30 points behind 1994/95 champions Tiverton Town; the Peacocks side which had reached the 1994 FA Vase final had largely broken up; and Musker was beset by striking problems all season.

The goalscoring void was filled by two players who played in defence and central midfield, rather than up front - Derek Fowler (23 goals) and Keith Graddon (19).

Musker had planned to sign two strikers from 1994/95 runners-up Elmore (who ultimately finished third from bottom in 1995/96).

But Gareth Morgan and Mark Loram were handed year-long bans from playing in the Western League, following trouble at the league’s annual convention in May.

That meant Musker had to look elsewhere, and he snapped up highly-rated young striker Mark Cutler from Bristol Manor Farm.

Former Plymouth Argyle defender Adrian Burrows came in from Saltash United, and midfielder Ian Down from Bodmin, but key players departed, too.

Centre-backs Dave Ewens and Greg Taylor left for Mangotsfield United, where they linked up with ex-Taunton manager Terry Rowles and old team-mates Stuart Minall, Andy Perrett and Wayne Morris.

More signings arrived in July 1995, with goalkeeper Mark Coombe (who had been on the books of Bristol City and Torquay United) coming in from Elmore and displacing Kevin Maloy between the posts; utility player Nigel Pugh returned, from Liskeard, while Tony Fortt (Bristol Manor Farm) and Steve Kidd (Elmore) also joined.

But the break-up of the Vase final side continued, as Damon Palfrey quit to join rivals Tiverton and Paul West made the step up to Southern League side Weston-super-Mare.

Aiming to “break Tiverton’s monopoly on the league”, Musker added a crucial piece in the jigsaw with the signing of Tiv Lowe, who had taken charge of Yeovil Town for a short spell the previous season but was persuaded to come on board at Wordsworth Drive.

Following their pre-season friendlies, Musker told the County Gazette: “Our build-up to the season has gone better than I expected.

“I’ve now had a good look at everyone and I think we’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

“The main thing is to get off to a good start. Winning becomes a habit.”

The Peacocks did indeed get off to a good start, winning 5-0 at home to Crediton United.

Cutler destroyed the visitors with four goals in the first half, but the striker then suffered knee ligament damage in the 1-1 draw at Barnstaple Town.

Cutler would be sidelined for much of the season, so was unable to build on his flying start, and Taunton were reliant on the intelligence and pinpoint set-piece deliveries of midfielder Lowe, as they won four of their first five games.

Musker signed Saltash frontman Simon O’Brien and Elmore defender Darren Cann, as well as bringing back West - who had not settled at Weston - and Kevin Thaws.

But O’Brien and Trace Norton laboured up front in a 0-0 draw at home to with Bideford, who then knocked Taunton out of the FA Cup.

Ahead of the trip to Tiverton on September 30, Musker brought in two new attackers - Darren Tilley from Mangotsfield and Russell Wilson from Budleigh Salterton.

Tiverton led Taunton by five points (having played a game more) going into the match, but it was the Peacocks who took the bragging rights with a 2-0 win at Ladysmead, where Tivvy had not lost a league match in three years!

Coombe made three outstanding saves in the first 15 minutes as the hosts started well, but on 30 minutes Fortt was brought down in the box and assistant manager Fowler converted the penalty; substitute Tilley set up the second, picking out Fortt to seal the win.

October was a difficult month for Taunton, as successive 1-1 draws allowed Tiverton to make up ground, and they suffered their first defeat of the season away to Mangotsfield, with Minall scoring the only goal of the game against his former side.

Player-manager Musker was stretchered off with torn ankle ligaments and announced his retirement from playing at the age of 33.

The title race was tight - Taunton had 25 points from 12 games, Mangotsfield 23 from 10 and Tiverton 22 from nine - and the Peacocks still lacked punch up front.

They reacted well to the Mangotsfield defeat, though, beating Barnstaple 7-3 with five different players scoring.

Fowler and Graddon had 10 goals each by the start of November, while Musker continued to sign strikers - Ben Rowe coming in from Tiverton.

Even so, Musker reckoned he had 11 players unavailable for the match at Chippenham Town, with West unable to play due to a contractual dispute with Weston.

Eventually the FA fined Weston £50 and warned them about their future conduct, releasing West to play for Taunton for the first time in eight weeks.

Things were improving on the pitch, too, as the Peacocks scored five in the last 20 minutes to batter Backwell United and, with Tiverton losing at home to Bideford, they led the holders by 11 points (albeit having played four more games).

A Fowler hat-trick rescued Taunton from exiting the FA Vase at the first hurdle, at home to Bracknell Town, and Graddon’s 14th of the season won them the replay.

Somerset County Gazette:

GOAL-GETTER: Keith Graddon

A seventh straight win, 3-0 over Westbury United (with Lowe involved in all three goals) gave Taunton 43 points from 18 games at the start of December; Tiverton had 35 from 16 and Mangotsfield 33 from 14.

The leaders would not have the distraction of the Les Phillips Cup, either, as their bid to make a third straight final ended in unfortunate circumstances.

The Peacocks fielded new boy Rowe against Elmore, unaware that he had played for Tiverton in the previous round.

The club was duly thrown out of the competition and fined £100, but there was better news as midfielder Palfrey returned from Tiverton.

“Technically he’s the best player in the league,” said Musker.

“I must now have the strongest squad in the league and people are already writing off the others.

“But there’s still a lot of football remaining.”

As 1996 dawned, Taunton (52 points from 21 games) held a 10-point lead at the top, after 10 straight league wins.

Another cup competition fell by the wayside, with the Peacocks losing 4-1 away to United Counties League leaders Raunds United in the fourth round of the FA Vase.

Keeper Coombe came down with pneumonia on the eve of the match, so Reserve team player-manager Neil Whisler was thrown in.

It was 1-1 at half-time, but two freak goals - a 30-yard cross-shot that floated over Whisler and a Cann own goal - proved fatal.

Poor weather in February meant that Taunton went 20 days without a game, and Tiverton closed the gap at the top to four points, having played a game more.

The Peacocks made it to 15 league wins in a row against Bridport, but after another spell without a game they fell short of equalling the club record (16 straight league wins) - drawing 0-0 at Paulton Rovers.

“I know we’ve not played for a while but the fact is we were awful,” said Musker.

The manager was not helped by Lowe and West both being ruled out for the rest of the season, both with knee ligament damage.

Taunton endured a spell of six-and-a-half hours without a goal, which included a goalless draw at home to Tiverton and 1-0 defeat to Brislington in the Somerset Premier Cup semi-finals.

The Tiverton match drew a crowd of 1,303 to Wordsworth Drive, where the visitors played the better football but almost lost at the death, with Palfrey hitting the post in stoppage time.

Stalemate against their nearest rivals left Taunton six points clear at the summit, having played one game more, and Musker finally got his man when ex-QPR, Exeter City and Torquay United striker Loram signed at the end of March.

His year-long ban had been lifted by the league, and Musker said: “Having Mark in the side will make all the difference.

“He has had his problems in the past and this is why he is not playing at a higher level.”

There were no off-field problems in sight as Loram scored inside two minutes in a 2-1 win away to Torrington, who had moved up to third in the table.

Elsewhere, former Taunton striker Perrett did his old team a favour by scoring in Mangotsfield’s 2-0 victory over Tiverton.

Rowles’ side were not out of the title race yet - 22 points behind Taunton with seven games in hand - but their primary focus was the Vase, as they reached the semi-finals before being knocked out by Lancashire side Clitheroe.

Somerset County Gazette:

MR RELIABLE: Taunton top scorer Derek Fowler

The Peacocks extended their unbeaten league run to 21 games with wins against Backwell and Frome Town, but they had to wait for the title as Tiverton came from 3-1 down to win 5-3 at Barnstaple.

The championship was secured the following Saturday, with a 2-0 win over Brislington.

Fowler missed a penalty, but Graddon settled nerves two minutes before half-time, and the returning Cutler scored with an overhead kick after the break.

A delighted Musker praised his players, saying: “I think every one of them is a credit to the club.

“We started this season with few of last season’s team. And we had quite a few problems, particularly with injuries, along the way.

“But their attitude has been great. They have all worked hard and have done everything I’ve asked of them.

“There’s no other non-league club I would rather be with.

“These are exciting times for the club - there’s a real buzz about the place and so much potential.”

Taunton had knocked Tiverton off their perch, and the rest of the 1990s would be dominated by their chasing each other for honours.