IT was the streaker wot won it.

Well, he certainly played a part, as Taunton Town ended their wait to win the FA Vase on May 6, 2001.

Paul West had played for the club since he was 15 years old, and had his taste of cup final heartache when the Peacocks reached Wembley in 1994.

Diss Town won 2-1 after extra time to claim the Vase that day, leaving Taunton to endure years of near-misses in the competition.

“For the club it had become a bit of an obsession,” said West, looking back on the Peacocks’ eventual triumph 20 years ago.

“I was more desperate to go up a level [to the Southern League], having won all the [Western] league titles we had.

“I felt [it could be their year to win the Vase] every year, when we got to the quarter and semi-finals, and it was more bad luck that we didn’t.

“So then it was getting to the point where I felt I might never win it!”

The journey to Villa Park - the venue for that season’s final, due to Wembley being rebuilt - began on November 11, 2000, when Ellis Laight’s hat-trick led the Peacocks to a 9-0 hammering of Street in the second round.

Revenge was gained for the 1994 final defeat when Diss Town were beaten 3-2 after extra time in December, and that was followed by wins against Brockenhurst (4-1) and Arlesey Town (2-1).

Two goals from Antony Lynch helped see off Tooting & Mitcham United 3-0 in the last eight, and set up a two-legged semi-final against Clitheroe in March.

The North West Counties side were blown away in front of 1,563 fans at Wordsworth Drive, where Taunton scored five goals in 31 first-half minutes, courtesy of Derek Fields, Tom Kelly (2), Ian Bastow and Lynch.

The second leg, at Clitheroe, saw the hosts race into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes.

“That was the only time I felt we might not win it that year,” West said.

“They must have had about 20 ball boys around the pitch, so the ball came back in as soon as it went out, and we were caught napping.

“I swapped positions with Tom Kelly, to get more legs in midfield, and I got a goal back.”

Fields and Martin Parker also scored as the game finished 4-3, sending Taunton through to the final, 8-4 on aggregate.

And so to Villa Park.

West said the players were “properly looked after” by the club, with accommodation at a country club and tickets to the Aston Villa versus Coventry City match on the Saturday.

Twenty-four hours later it was Taunton and Berkhamsted Town’s turn to take the field; their opponents had beaten Bedlington Terriers 5-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals.

The Peacocks team - Ryan Draper in goal, behind a defence of Darren Cann, Darren Hawkings and West, wing-backs Alan Chapman and Ian Down, a midfield of Bastow, Fields and Kelly, and Laight and Lynch up front - started nervously in front of a crowd of 8,439.

Perhaps it was that Taunton had lost their previous 18 cup finals... whatever it was, Draper was forced into making two fine saves and Andy Mullins hit the post for Berkhamsted.

But then, in the 26th minute, a male streaker appeared on the pitch, and the delay gave the Peacocks “time to breathe”, in West’s words.

West, a Taunton boy through and through, actually knew the streaker - and the team had a collection in the changing room to help pay his fine after the match!

Now settled, it only took another three minutes for Lynch to pick out an unmarked Fields, who scored at the second attempt.

Then, in first-half injury time, Villa fan Laight beat a defender before tucking the ball home for 2-0.

After the break, Laight hit the crossbar, before Berkhamsted got one back from the penalty spot, Paul Lowe scoring after a West handball on 73 minutes.

The Peacocks stood firm, though, and finally they could celebrate victory in a cup final - at the 19th attempt!

Reflecting on the outcome of the match, West - the Taunton captain at Villa Park - said: “That team was actually one of Russell Musker’s weaker teams technically, but it was built to win the Vase.

“We had a team that was as strong as steel, with hard players, technical players and two phenomenal players up front - Ellis and Lynchy.

“I didn’t feel like we would lose that final... we always felt we could outscore teams."

Somerset County Gazette:

PARADE: Taunton Town's players on the open top bus

Having claimed the silverware at last, West and his team-mates headed back to Taunton, where they were treated to an open top bus parade and a civic reception hosted by the mayor, Cllr Tony Floyd, on the Tuesday.

“The celebrations in Taunton were pretty special,” said West.

“For a local boy winning the trophy was a massive thing, having been with Taunton since I was 15.

“I had two young girls at the time, I hadn’t seen them all weekend, and it was great to have them there for the bus parade.”