HAVING only won their place at Southern League Premier level in 2018, Taunton Town came so close to securing back-to-back promotions last season.

The Peacocks finished one point behind champions Weymouth in the sole automatic promotion place, and went out on penalties in the play-offs.

Chairman Kevin Sturmey has often spoken of evolving the club, not making wholesale changes, so would the infrastructure at Taunton have been able to cope with two promotions in as many years, to National League South?

“We would have been ready, though it would have put us under pressure to do certain things,” Sturmey said.

“We would have needed to put in another 120 seats to comply with the National League to compete in the play-offs.

“It would have been the same as doing the new officials’ changing room; we had to do that by March 31 or we could have been relegated, which would have been a bit perverse, but all these things are there for a reason, it’s just that they’ve been there for four or five years and suddenly they’ve got to be done.

“We are ambitious, so yes we would have grabbed it [promotion] with both hands.

“As it’s turned out, it means we’ve got a little bit longer, so we wouldn’t be having to do things during the season, but are able to programme around everything we want to do.

“It’s always hard doing things in the season so from that point of view, yes, we know what we need to do – we want to enclose both ends, we want to put up crush barriers which will help with increasing crowd capacity.

“There’s just simple things we want to do – we want to rebuild the changing rooms over on [the clubhouse side], but that involves selling some land, and we’ve got a very old covenant on the ground so we’re talking to the council about it, and we’ve said ‘you can see what the club can do for the community, so we’d like some support’.”

A cornerstone of the club’s bid to further integrate itself within the community and local business environment is the relationship with Daffodil PR & Communications, the Peacocks’ marketing partner as of October last year.

Mother and daughter Sharon and Livvi Grant came on board to attract new sponsors, increase crowd numbers and drive the club’s vision, and Sturmey is impressed by what they have achieved so far.

He said: “We’re never going to get every councillor’s support or understanding, because some people see the word ‘football’ and think ‘money’, but nothing could be further from the truth at this level.

“We don’t get given anything, so for us we have to show how hard we work.

“We don’t hide away, we’re open for people to come and talk to us, and we make no secret that we’re ambitious and we want to make progress.

“We’ve worked really hard at opening ourselves up as wide as we can, and now that will be fully implemented by Daffodil PR, because they understand about getting us out there.

“We’re looking inside out, and we need people to look outside in – it’s really interesting when you talk to them what they see.”

On Daffodil PR’s suggestion, the club entered the community engagement section of the Taunton Deane Business Awards, and now Sturmey hopes to set up a ‘Taunton Town community group’.

This would aim to get people in possession of certain skills or experience – in planning permission, for example – to meet up around four times a year.

“There’s so many people out there with experience but they don’t necessarily have the time to become a director or a volunteer, but their knowledge would be very useful to us,” explains Sturmey.

“We have to understand that there’s a bigger community than just football, people who might want to support us from a business point of view but have no interest in football, so that’s where we want to get out to those who might want to advertise or do something to raise their own brand awareness.

“We’ve had three cold approaches from companies this year, and I think they will all be coming in at various levels, and we’ve had the biggest sponsorship deal in my time here – it means you’re doing something right, as these companies have people who understand the marketing.”

This is The West Country:

PARTNERS: Sharon and Livvi Grant, of Daffodil PR & Communications, with Taunton player Andrew Neal at the club's recent awards evening. Pic: Colin Andrews

The start of next month will see the club’s ground renamed – a new sponsor coming in to replace Viridor – and that is not the only change fans will see on Wordsworth Drive.

Looking ahead, Sturmey believes that extra seating and improved turnstiles (to allow for supporter segregation) are high priority, while he would also like to add more car parking spaces behind the Invest SouthWest End.

More immediately, the clubhouse bar has been removed, with the whole space to be revamped and ready by July 15 (the date of the club’s AGM).

Sturmey explained: “We outgrew [the bar], basically. Dan [Franklin, bar manager] was saying that after every game, as we got busier, people would poke their head in and think ‘no, too busy’.

“Now the bar is against the back wall, which was the skittles alley; the wall is coming down and we’re going to put a second doorway in.

“It’ll look totally different, with plenty of space, and you can get served on three sides.

“When we built it, it was so we could host conferences in there.

“We had no idea how much we’d grow; at that stage we had no money and we were doing deals left, right and centre to generate some more money.

“It was right at that time, 2011 or 2012, but it’s not right now, and if we can generate, say, an extra 100 drinks, that will pay for it over the season.

“We’ve got good crowds and we want to encourage them to spend money and feel comfortable here.”

Sturmey has previously described the financial picture of non-league football as ‘hand to mouth’ – but have the new sponsors and bigger crowds improved the situation for Taunton?

“It’s always hand to mouth, simply because you don’t have a consistent cash flow – that’s always going to be the biggest problem,” Sturmey said.

“Cup runs are great, but they can distort your Saturdays; you want your cups because they generate more money, but I think our income from league matches increased by about 60 per cent last year.

“The cups are a one-off, and sometimes you get those bonuses, but to increase the league money through the gate... I think some of that is keeping the entry at £10, £8 and £5 and Under-14s free, but it’s offering good value for money.

“You’ll always increase your crowds in a town like Taunton when you’re doing well, the Vase years will tell you that.

“Billericay away [in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round], we had about 100 go and the atmosphere was incredible – probably the best support I’ve heard.

“The away support, that’s what we want at home, because it’s become a bit of a fortress, and if you’ve got noise from 700 or so, it makes a massive difference to the players.

“I hope this year to sell match and ball sponsorships, and entertain the sponsors in what is currently the boardroom, to be called the Peacock Club, with free food and drink, and a place where they can entertain people – I think that’s really important for the next stage of our development.

“Our match income has grown dramatically, but we need it to keep growing.

“The first draft of the accounts that I’ve just seen, there’s certain things you look for... it’s always nice to make a profit two years out of three, and get promoted and finish second.”

Success off the pitch and winning on it go hand in hand of course – hence the steadily growing crowds, attracted to watch a team on the up.

And to keep winning, head of football Rob Dray has to keep investing in shaping his squad; Naby Diallo, Josh Grant, Jamie Price and Jamie Grant have all come in to bolster the existing playing group.

Sturmey said: “Rob and I, we’ve probably spoken every day this summer.

“There’s so many players wanting to come here, which is great, but it’s also silly season when players are trying to get more than they would perhaps accept.

“That’s understandable, it’s a market and there’s a little bit of cat and mouse.

“Some clubs will offer a lot of money now, but as I often say, they haven’t paid anybody anything until August, and until the money’s in your hand you haven’t actually earned anything.

“Jamie Price and Jamie Short possibly underachieved when they were here before, though they’ve always been good players.

“I think the key now is how fit our players are, the fitness levels are unbelievable.

“Jamie Price looks fitter; when he left us he was struggling a bit with a knee injury.

“The difference now is that he’s desperate to play for us.

“Before, our goals were perhaps a bit lower – when we won the Somerset Premier Cup for the first time, that was a massive achievement for us.

“Now it’s not, it’s fourth or even fifth choice. We want to do well in the league, whereas in those days we didn’t envisage winning leagues, and if we snuck into the play-offs that was great. We weren’t quite there on and off the pitch.

“Now the team are so fit, so [Price and Short] realise there’s no divine right to be in the 11 – only Lloyd Irish is really guaranteed his place. Everybody else has to fight for it.

“But both are adaptable, very talented and Jamie Price in particular could have played at a much higher level, perhaps had a professional career.

“We’ve had good reports on Josh Grant and seen he’s a good player, while Naby Diallo has a fantastic reputation at this level.

“All four players we’ve signed so far can play in different positions, and they want to be here, which is half the battle.”

Sturmey estimates that the club’s playing budget is in the top eight of the clubs in Southern League Premier South, but how they use it will no doubt be key in sustaining success.

“Rob could have signed more players, he’s had to turn some away, but we’ve got to get those that really want to be here,” Sturmey said.

“Our budget is a good budget but it’s not one of the top ones... I would say top six to eight [in the division], though you don’t always know because we do a total budget which includes the management, whereas other clubs have player and management budgets separately.

“We prefer it that way because it allows Rob to go after a certain player, and we can tweak the budget, and as head of football it allows him to do what he needs to do – if he felt he needed to bring in a coach to work with the strikers, for example, he’s got that facility through controlling the whole budget and by being flexible.”