A cup final, two semi-finals and 96 points in the league.

In most seasons that would be a success, but this was 1997/98 - the year Taunton Town’s bitter rivals Tiverton Town won the treble...

ON paper, 1997/98 was much the same as 1996/97.

Tiverton Town won the Western League Premier Division title ahead of Taunton Town, retained the Les Phillips Cup and also claimed the first of back-to-back FA Vase triumphs at Wembley.

But Taunton were a better side this time around, staying in the title race right through to the end of April, and they were not far off making Wembley themselves.

That the Peacocks reached the FA Vase semi-finals, Somerset Premier Cup semi-finals and Les Phillips Cup final was all the more impressive given that the division’s increase from 18 teams to 20 meant that all sides faced 38 league games rather than 34.

June 1997 saw manager Russell Musker return from his summer holiday at Disneyland Paris - though it would not quite be a fairytale season for his side.

Musker added experience to the squad in utility player Frank Howarth, formerly of Exeter City, and ex-Doncaster Rovers and Torquay United midfielder Sean Joyce.

Midfielder Paul West returned from Wellington, and striker Mark Loram from Mangotsfield United, while centre-back Richard Thompson also came in from Mangotsfield, to add height at the back.

Wing-back Paul Edwards arrived from Tiverton, too, while Martin Underhay left for Bridgwater Town, Kevin Thaws for Paulton Rovers and Tony Fortt for Backwell United.

Robbie Turner was in sensational scoring form in pre-season, scoring six goals against both Sidmouth Town (Taunton won 15-2) and Cheddar (13-0).

The Peacocks lined up in their now customary 3-5-2 as the league season began at home to Odd Down.

West came off the bench to score twice in a 4-1 win, but he was in the headlines for the wrong reasons in Taunton’s next match.

West was sent off for ‘violent conduct’ (an alleged stamp) at Barnstaple Town, and was eventually handed a 35-day ban.

Taunton, Tiverton and Bridgwater all ended August with four wins from four games; Bridgwater would finish the season in an impressive fourth place, one point off third.

New boy Thompson put his height to good use at the other end of the pitch, scoring a hat-trick as the Peacocks opened their FA Cup campaign with victory over Didcot.

Despite their fine start to the season, Musker opted to release goalkeeper Mark Coombe and sign Bath City’s Jason Matthews.

“Mark has been an excellent servant to the club, but Jason is a young lad and, hopefully, has a big future in front of him,” Taunton’s manager said.

Musker also signed attacking midfielder Darren Ward from Backwell, and the FA Cup run continued with a 3-2 win over Southern League side Newport AFC.

Newport had led 2-0 after 20 minutes, only for Taunton to fight back, and they maintained their league form with a 1-0 win away to traditional bogey side Mangotsfield.

They came crashing down to earth on September 24, however, as arch-rivals Tiverton left Wordsworth Drive with a 4-0 win.

All four goals came from Phil Everett, three of them in the first 30 minutes, and the holders had the early initiative in the title race.

October brought an FA Cup third round qualifying tie away to Salisbury City, who were two steps above Taunton in the Non-League pyramid.

A win would have taken the Peacocks a game away from a place in the first round proper, but Salisbury triumphed 3-0.

Dave Puckett, Ian Chalk and John Preston’s goals all came in the first half, and Musker admitted: “You can’t afford to gift sides goals and get away with it.

“The Salisbury lads must have thought it was Christmas and their birthdays all wrapped up into one.”

The FA Cup campaign was over for another year, and so too was Richard Hancox’s time at the club, after an incident at the home match with Bridport.

Hancox made the trip up from Torbay, was told he would be on the bench, so drove straight back to Devon, and that was that.

Quick to act, Musker brought striker Mark Cutler back from Paulton and also signed midfielder Tom Kelly from Ilfracombe Town, while Damon Palfrey was released and eventually joined Minehead.

Cutler scored in his first two games, wins over Chard Town and Barnstaple, then bagged a hat-trick against Keynsham, but a 2-0 midweek defeat at home to Bideford (for whom ex-Taunton player Tim Reynolds netted the opener) was hugely damaging.

It left Taunton just three points ahead of Tiverton, who had three games in hand, and Musker threatened a clear-out.

“I just think I’ve got a funny bunch of players,” he said.

“I thought the players I’ve got were good enough, but they aren’t.

“I hope to bring in new players, not for Saturday but hopefully for the following Saturday.”

November brought the arrival of defender Paul Thorpe, midfielder Ian Bastow and “Devon scoring sensation” Antony Lynch, who had already secured 10 hat-tricks in junior football that season.

Lynch would have to wait his turn, though, as Cutler was in excellent form up front.

He reached 10 goals in his first eight games since returning to the club, scoring twice as Taunton began their FA Vase bid with a 5-1 victory over Hungerford Town.

Cutler got two more as Isthmian League side Hemel Hempstead were seen off in the next round - taking him to 16 goals in 11 games! - and it seemed like the competition for places between Cutler, Loram and Lynch was driving their performances.

Lynch scored twice on his full debut for the Peacocks, against Brislington, and Musker said of the 21-year-old: “If this was no flash in the pan, he could have a big future, and it puts pressure on the other strikers.”

A Christmas stuffing of Bridgwater (4-0) on December 27 left Taunton on 16 wins and 48 points from 18 games (Tiverton had 15 wins and 45 points from 15) going into 1998.

Somerset County Gazette:

IN CHARGE: Taunton manager Russell Musker (left) and his assistant Derek Fowler

A run of 13 straight wins, including a 6-1 thumping of Chard and 5-2 win over Kent side Herne Bay in the Vase, kept Taunton in the hunt, but they were disappointed to then draw 1-1 at home to Westbury United, especially as the same day saw Tiverton fail to win for the first time - drawing at Bridgwater.

Bastow’s brace secured a 2-0 win away to North Counties side North Ferriby United (the previous season’s beaten finalists) which took the Peacocks into the Vase quarter-finals, and Cutler scored twice as Cornish side Porthleven were beaten 2-0 in front of a crowd of 1,804 at Wordsworth Drive.

The semi-final draw kept Taunton and Tiverton apart, raising hopes of an all-Western League final.

The Peacocks were denied a place in the Somerset Premier Cup final, losing 5-4 on penalties against Clevedon Town, but they reached the last four of the Les Phillips Cup by beating Paulton.

Then it was all about the Vase, and a two-legged tie with Northern League side Tow Law Town.

The first leg at Wordsworth Drive on March 14 attracted 1,596 spectators, and they enjoyed a classic.

Cutler put the hosts ahead after five minutes, Glen Moan equalised, and Cutler scored again from 20 yards to make it 2-1 at half-time.

Then it went very wrong, as Michael Bailey, Darren Derwent and Trevor Leadler all scored in a 20-minute spell to make it 4-2 to the visitors.

Taunton hit back with two goals in the last seven minutes, from Thompson and West, but it was advantage Tow Law after the 4-4 draw.

Musker was not pleased, saying: “If you’re going to go to Wembley you have to do your job. We had people who didn’t do their jobs.

“I was bitterly disappointed with a lot of things, certainly the defending. We gave away three goals from set-pieces.”

The Peacocks travelled up to the North East for the second leg on March 21, and went down 1-0 on Tow Law’s sloping pitch at the Ironworks Road ground.

The visitors dominated the first half but failed to take their chances, and Jarrod Suddick scored the only goal of the game with 11 minutes left.

“It’s probably the worst day of my life,” reflected Musker, without understatement.

March also saw Taunton’s bid to move to a new ground on Blackbrook Way - which was also to incorporate an athletics track - hit by the rejection of a bid for £2.6 million from the National Lottery sports fund.

Musker’s men had to play a frankly ridiculous 11 matches during April, and were without top scorer Cutler, who had knee ligament damage.

Cue Lynch, who scored in five consecutive games, with the only goal in a 1-0 win at Bridgwater (on a bitterly cold day that kept the crowd down to 600) and four against Elmore two days later.

Lynch’s goals kept Taunton clinging on in the title race, but draws with Chippenham Town and Mangotsfield meant that Tiverton could wrap it up with victory over their rivals at Ladysmead on April 23.

That they did, winning 2-1 with goals from Steve Daly and Everett.

Tiverton finished the league unbeaten (scoring 154 goals, conceding just 20 and amassing 110 points) and then beat Tow Law at Wembley, becoming the first Western League club to win the Vase.

All that was left to play was the Les Phillips Cup final at Huish Park in Yeovil, which proved a neat summary of the season as a whole.

Taunton made Tiverton work for it, but the Devon side triumphed 3-2 to end the season as treble winners.

Dave Leonard put the champions ahead, Kevin Smith made it 2-0, and Cutler saw a penalty saved.

In the second half, which featured two 15-minute delays caused by floodlight failure, Martin Parker pulled one back from the spot but Smith’s second made it 3-1.

Derek Fowler netted late on but it was Tiverton’s day - and season.

Taunton had performed well, though, and Musker was well aware of that when he said: “[Tiverton] deserved to win the championship, especially when you consider they did it without losing a match.

“I don’t think there is a massive gulf between them and us. With the number of points we had, we would have won any other league.

“I know where our weaknesses lie and that’s something to work on for next season.”

Musker’s side had scored 107 goals in the league, with Cutler netting 28 in 34 full appearances and Loram 26 in 53.

Young Lynch had helped himself to 16 in 17 full appearances - and there was much, much more still to come from him.