We arrive at 1998/99, and while Manchester United were winning a historic treble, Taunton Town secured their own title triumph.

The Peacocks overpowered the holders, Tiverton Town, with strikers Ellis Laight and Antony Lynch in sensational form.

TAUNTON Town had come close in four separate competitions in 1997/98, but they finished with nothing as arch rivals Tiverton Town won the treble.

The Peacocks made no mistake in 1998/99, as they reclaimed the Western League title from Tiverton - who had the consolation of a second successive FA Vase triumph.

Crucial in Taunton’s success were young strikers Ellis Laight and Antony Lynch, with a third ‘L’ - Mark Loram - also impressive.

Lynch had made a positive impact the previous season, and - much like Dwight Yorke coming in to partner Andy Cole at Old Trafford - the addition of Laight proved to be the final piece in the title-winning jigsaw.

Lynch had been spotted scoring for fun in Devon junior football in 1997, and Laight was brought in from Dorchester Town in June 1998.

Manager Russell Musker - who knew his side needed to score more goals if they were to overhaul Tiverton this year - said: “Ellis was unlucky with injuries last season. He was playing in the first team when he was first injured.

“Then he fought his way back into the first team, only to be injured again. He is now fully fit again and raring to go.”

Laight was joined by former Dundee United, Exeter City and Torquay United midfielder Chris Myers, as well as wing-back Tony Fortt, who rejoined the club after a year playing cricket and football in Australia.

There were departures, too, with the previous season’s top scorer Mark Cutler moving to Tiverton.

Musker was clearly confident in the abilities of his remaining forwards, though, saying: “With four strikers on our books I could not guarantee Mark a regular first team place.”

Taunton travelled to Melksham Town for their league opener on August 15, but it wasn’t entirely clear how much of a squad they would bring with them.

Centre-backs Dave Ewens and Richard Thompson were both injury doubts, while Darren Cann, Alex Crook and Ian Down all left for ambitious First Division side Minehead.

The trio helped Minehead win promotion, while Musker soon had replacements - defender Andy Stevens (from Barnstaple Town) and midfielder Scott Kaasikmae.

Melksham were beaten 3-1, with two goals from Laight and one from Lynch, but the new strikeforce weren’t done there.

Four days later they eviscerated Bideford 10-1, thanks to six goals from Lynch and four from Laight!

Lynch would end August with 15 goals in just five games, and it was perhaps just as well, because Taunton lost goalkeeper Jason Matthews to Salisbury City and midfielder Ian Bastow to a local side in Torquay.

Musker was unimpressed. “The cash incentives being offered by some clubs are ridiculous,” he said.

“In Ian Bastow’s case he is better off financially with his new club - and he does not have to move out of Torquay.

“How can I compete with that? I accept players moving to bigger clubs as in Jason Matthews’ case, but it is very difficult to accept players moving to smaller clubs.”

Matthews was replaced by Torrington keeper David Penberthy, who was injured in a dramatic match at home to Mangotsfield United.

Assistant manager Derek Fowler went in goal with Taunton 2-1 down, as the game headed into 15 minutes of stoppage time.

Lynch levelled in the 96th minute, and Loram curled in a 104th-minute free-kick to win the game 3-2.

Paul West returned from Bridgwater Town, and a settled side was finally beginning to form.

With Penberthy in goal, centre-back Thompson was joined in the back three by converted midfielders West and ex-Hibernian and Exeter City player Tom Kelly.

Fowler and Paul Edwards (or sometimes Fortt) provided width at wing-back, while Myers and Martin Parker ran the centre of midfield.

Loram, up to now a striker, was in a slightly withdrawn role behind the two frontmen, Laight and Lynch.

Taunton won their first eight league games, while Tiverton (who had gone unbeaten in the league the year before) lost to both Backwell United and Chippenham Town in September, handing the Peacocks the early initiative.

Musker’s men went one round better in the FA Cup than the season before, reaching the fourth qualifying round thanks to wins over Bournemouth (not that one - the Wessex League one), Cinderford Town and Kettering Town.

Loram bagged a hat-trick against Bournemouth, and another against Kettering, who were sixth in the Conference at the time.

Kettering led 2-1 at Wordsworth Drive, but Loram made it 3-2, and after the visitors had levelled from the spot, Loram’s third goal won it in the 94th minute.

October also saw Taunton move four points clear of Tiverton, thanks to a 1-0 win in the first of that season’s four meetings.

Captain Kelly netted the only goal on 53 minutes, with a free-kick from wide out which deceived the defence and goalkeeper Paul Edwards.

Conference leaders Cheltenham Town stood between the Peacocks and a place in the first round proper of the FA Cup, and the hosts led 2-0 inside 30 minutes.

The underdogs hit back, with Myers and Fowler making it 2-2, but Cheltenham won it 3-2 thanks to Jason Eaton’s goal.

Disheartened? No. Taunton won their next six games 6-0, 3-0, 6-0, 4-1, 4-0 and 4-0.

It was ‘Taunton past’ versus ‘Taunton present’ when Paulton Rovers visited at the end of November, but former Peacocks Andy Perrett and Kevin Thaws were outgunned by Laight and Lynch in a 4-0 home win.

December brought a ridiculous 8-4 win at Bridgwater in the Somerset Premier Cup, as Ewens and Parker grabbed a hat-trick apiece.

Lynch and Laight traded hat-tricks as Keynsham (8-0) and Brislington (3-1) were beaten, and Bridgwater were defeated again, 1-0 this time, thanks to Parker’s 65th-minute shot.

It meant that the Peacocks entered 1999 with 16 wins and two draws from 18 league games, and a six-point lead over Tiverton (with a game in hand).

Somerset County Gazette:

SQUAD: Taunton Town players in 1998/99

Taunton’s hopes to winning four trophies were dashed by Melksham in the Les Phillips Cup, but they safely progressed to the FA Vase quarter-finals.

Lynch’s 75th-minute winner saw off Harlow Town (who had Wayne Cort - brother of Wimbledon and Newcastle striker Carl - up front) in the fourth round, and they beat another Isthmian League side, Northwood Town, 5-2 to make the last eight.

Lynch, Parker and Laight secured a 3-1 win over Lymington & New Milton (from Hampshire), taking their side into the Vase semi-finals for a second successive year.

This time they were paired with Vase holders Tiverton, whose grip on the league title was further dislodged by Taunton’s 2-1 win at Ladysmead on February 27.

Laight put the visitors ahead, Kevin Nancekivell levelled, and West’s deflected shot decided it.

The Peacocks were nine points clear at the top, and moved into the Premier Cup final thanks to Laight’s hat-trick against Street.

But March 1999 was all about the two-legged Vase semi-final between the Devon and Somerset rivals.

The first leg was played at Wordsworth Drive and attracted a crowd of 3,284 - a ground record.

Taunton were at full strength but were stunned by the away side, 3-0.

Having failed to score in only one game out of 40 up to this point, the hosts never recovered from conceding twice in the first 12 minutes.

Phil Everett headed Tiverton ahead, Peter Varley made it 2-0, and Nancekivell’s third goal with 10 minutes left all but killed the tie.

An understandably disappointed Musker said: “We were awful... we just never got going.

“Their first goal knocked the stuffing out of us and it was a shock we never really recovered from.

“Their second goal was a killer and we lost heart after that. We laid down and died.

“Most of what I said [in the dressing room afterwards] would be unprintable but the players had to be told.”

Come the second leg, Laight scored just before half-time to give Taunton hope.

But goalkeeper Penberthy conceded two second-half penalties, both converted by Steve Daley, giving Tiverton a 5-1 aggregate victory.

Poor Elmore felt the full force of the Taunton backlash, going down 10-0, with Lynch scoring four and Penberthy rounding off the scoring with a late penalty.

Taunton limped into April with injured midfielders Myers and Parker among seven regulars missing, and Bridport handed them their first league defeat.

But after a Bank Holiday Monday victory over Bridgwater, Taunton needed four more wins to secure the title.

Calne Town were beaten 7-0, Melksham 6-0 and Bristol Manor Farm 3-1, and it was party time on April 24, as Chippenham were defeated 4-2 at Wordsworth Drive.

Laight passed the 50-goal mark with a hat-trick, and Musker said: “We’ve had a great season and the fans have been magnificent.

“It was brilliant to win the championship at home.

“The lads wanted the cup to be presented at Taunton because the fans have been tremendous.”

The Peacocks fell short of making it a double-winning season, as their sixth Somerset Premier Cup final ended with a sixth defeat.

It was 2-2 after 90 minutes against Southern League side Clevedon Town, and a 120th-minute header from Paul Thorpe made it 3-3, forcing a penalty shootout.

Myers saw his spot-kick saved, and Clevedon won it 5-4.

Still, there were many reasons to be cheerful as 1998/99 ended; Taunton had finished 11 points clear at the top of the league, scoring 134 goals in 38 games (Laight with 56 of those and Lynch 51) and conceding just 33.

They elected against promotion to the Southern League, and with Tiverton - who had beaten Bedlington Terriers at Wembley to retain the Vase - going up instead, Taunton looked set to dominate the Western League for the immediate future.