The 2000/01 season saw Leeds United reach the Champions League semi-finals (yes, really) and Taunton Town end their wait to secure the FA Vase. The Peacocks sealed a hat-trick of league titles, and plans were afoot to go into the Southern League...

AT LAST!

Taunton Town finally got the FA Vase monkey off their back on May 6, 2001, having been runners-up in 1994 and endured a series of near-misses in between.

It was just reward for the hard work of chairman Tom Harris and manager Russell Musker, and the launchpad that sent them into the Southern League, their natural destination after three years of Western League dominance.

Not that things were so easy for them in 2000/01, as Chippenham Town made it a proper battle and only finished two points behind.

If we rewind to June 2000, we see another rebuilding job undertaken by Musker, as goalkeeper Mark Coombe, defenders Jeremy Christopher, Paul Edwards and Richard Thompson, and forward Mark Loram all departed.

Loram did not want to travel as much, and though he would be back, he did not have such a prominent role this season.

In came former Plymouth Argyle, Torquay United and Yeovil Town midfielder Leon Hapgood, as well as Derek Fields and the returning Ian Bastow.

Taunton had won their first six league matches in 1999/2000 season, but this time they were held at home by Paulton Rovers.

Paulton went 2-0 up, but substitutes Hapgood and Fields scored to rescue a point on the opening day.

Perhaps the Peacocks were unsettled by the number of goalkeepers who went in and out of the squad - Ian Baker (from Clyst Rovers), Scott Legg (Torquay United), Ken Veysey, Jason Matthews, Lee Ayres and Ryan Draper (Ilfracombe Town).

Musker was also without the services of influential midfielder Chris Myers, who required reconstructive knee surgery and would be sidelined for the season.

Even so, Taunton won their next four games - thanks in no small part to goals from the ever-menacing striking partnership of Ellis Laight and Antony Lynch.

They were dumped out of the FA Cup in the preliminary round, though, as they went down 4-1 away to Gloucester side Tuffley Rovers.

Musker was forced to field a patched-up side that day, with Fields, Darren Cann, Ian Down and Ben Rowe all falling victim to various injuries during September.

The Taunton boss lost his assistant as well, Derek Fowler quitting due to increased work commitments.

Former Hibernian player Tom Kelly stepped up to take on the role, and Musker plugged a hole in the defence by signing Darren Hawkings from Barnstaple Town.

Hawkings scored the winner on his debut, against Melksham Town, while Lynch continued to score for fun - netting four against Odd Down and three against Westbury United three days later!

Midfielder Alan Chapman arrived from Torrington, while keeper Legg - having lost his place to Draper - left for Bideford.

With the injury crisis starting to abate, the Peacocks stretched their winning league run to 11 - Lynch scoring four as relegation-bound Minehead Town were thumped 8-1 - while Odd Down went down 8-0 in the Les Phillips Cup.

The wheels came off at the end of October, though, as Taunton lost 2-1 at home to Bridport and followed that with a 3-1 defeat at Yeovil Town Reserves.

After the Bridport loss - the Peacocks’ first home league defeat in more than two years - Musker admitted: “We were useless and the players know it. Our attitude was wrong.

“I don’t know why but it was a poor performance against a side we should have beaten easily.”

Lynch missed the game at Yeovil, and Musker described his side as “scared”.

“In the space of a week we’ve gone from being a side looking almost unbeatable at this level to being a side scared.

“Hopefully the lads snap out of it as quickly as they got into it.”

Yeovil and Chippenham were both looking threatening at this point, and to make matters worse it looked like star striker Lynch was on his way out.

Taunton accepted an offer from Forest Green Rovers for the player (valued at £30,000), but Lynch turned down Rovers’ terms, and he was offered a trial by Nottingham Forest - only for his knee injury to prevent him going.

November brought the start of the Peacocks’ FA Vase campaign, and Laight’s hat-trick helped them rout Street 9-0 in the second round.

Fit-again Lynch scored twice in that game, got another as Conference leaders Yeovil Town were beaten 2-0 in the Somerset Premier Cup, and bagged four in a 6-0 thrashing of Elmore at the start of December.

Revenge was the mission when the Peacocks travelled to Diss Town - who had beaten them in the 1994 Vase final - and they won 3-2 to exorcise those demons.

Lynch scored the opener in the 68th minute, but Sam Banya forced extra time and then made it 2-1.

Musker pushed centre-back Hawkings up front, and he duly equalised, before Kelly got the winner with a chip from the edge of the area.

A 4-2 victory at Bridgwater Town saw Taunton end 2000 with 41 points (13 wins, two draws and two defeats), ahead of Yeovil (33 points from 16 games) and Chippenham (30 points from 14 games).

Chippenham added more spice to the title race by beating the leaders 5-3 on January 6.

Injuries and suspensions forced Musker to field new boys Jamie Impey and Neil Prettyjohns in defence, and they had a torrid time.

The home side led 4-1 heading into injury time, and Fields and Kelly’s late goals were not enough.

An unimpressed Musker said: “We’ve conceded the fifth most goals in the division, and for a team that is top of the table, that is not good enough.”

Yet that would be his side’s last league defeat of the season, as they won 18 and drew two of their 20 remaining games.

Odd Down were handed another pasting, 7-0 this time, in between Taunton victories in the fourth and fifth rounds of the Vase.

Brockenhurst were beaten 4-1, thanks to a brace apiece from Lynch and Laight, but the fifth-round tie at home to Arlesey Town (Vase winners in 1995) was much tighter.

Hawkings put the hosts ahead, but Dave Kitson equalised and Taunton captain Paul West was sent off for a two-footed challenge.

Against the odds, and the run of play, the home side won it in the 91st minute, as Laight scrambled the ball home.

Lynch spent February on the sidelines, after almost losing a hand in an incident at work, but the Peacocks did not need his help to eviscerate Odd Down (again).

Ex-Tiverton defender Darren Tallon scored twice on his debut, but Musker admitted that he had “no satisfaction” from the 11-0 win.

“It was dull and boring, and this is why we need to move up,” he said.

(Taunton were getting the required funds in place to bring Wordsworth Drive up to Southern League standard, and promotion was secured at the end of the 2002/03 season.)

Bristol City knocked the Peacocks out of the Premier Cup for the second consecutive season, thanks to four goals in the first half, but Lynch was back for the Vase quarter-final at home to Tooting & Mitcham United.

Lynch hit the ground running, scoring twice, and Laight made it 3-0 towards the end.

The Les Phillips Cup run came to an end at the hands of Welton Rovers, but Taunton had bigger fish to fry - a two-legged semi-final against North West Counties side Clitheroe, who had beaten Chippenham in the quarters.

This is The West Country:

WHAT A RESULT: Taunton Town goal celebrations in the 5-0 win over Clitheroe

The first leg was at Wordsworth Drive, and 1,563 fans watched the Peacocks blow Clitheroe away with five goals in 31 first-half minutes.

Fields got the opener, Kelly doubled the lead with a delicious 25-yard volley, and the assistant manager scored again from close range.

The hosts weren’t done there; Bastow netted the fourth and Lynch headed in for 5-0.

“I thought our first half showing produced the best 45 minutes of football I’ve seen from the lads since I became manager,” Musker purred.

“We were lethal in front of goal.”

Five goals down, Clitheroe came flying out of the traps in the return leg, going 3-0 up inside 20 minutes.

West and Fields pulled it back to 3-2 before half-time, Mark Aspinall’s second of the afternoon made it 4-2, but Martin Parker got Taunton’s third to kill the tie (which finished 8-4 on aggregate).

Away from the Vase, 12 straight league wins gave the Peacocks a 19-point lead as April dawned (albeit having played five more games than Chippenham).

That became 15 in a row when Bridgwater were beaten 1-0 (Hapgood scoring), and a 1-1 draw with Chippenham (Hapgood scoring again) meant that three more wins would secure a third straight title.

Those wins were duly secured, with a Hapgood hat-trick sealing a 3-1 victory over Yeovil Reserves on the final day.

But the league title was always going to be secondary to the Vase final; after all the years of chasing a place at Wembley, the national stadium’s renovation meant that the 2001 final took place at Villa Park.

Their opponents were Berkhamsted Town, who had beaten Bedlington Terriers 5-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals, and a crowd of 8,439 made the trip.

Draper was in goal for Taunton, behind a defence of Cann, Hawkings and West; wing-backs Chapman and Down flanked Bastow, Fields and Kelly in midfield, with Laight and Lynch up front.

The Peacocks had lost their previous 18 cup finals and they began nervously here; Draper made two fine saves and Andy Mullins hit the post for Berkhamsted.

Then came one of the finest sentences in the County Gazette’s history: “Taunton’s fortunes really began to change after the appearance of a male streaker in the 26th minute.”

The delay allowed Taunton to settle and three minutes later Lynch picked out an unmarked Fields, who scored at the second attempt.

In first-half injury time, Aston 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!

Local lad West, the team’s captain, said afterwards: “Most kids have David Beckham as their idol - my hero was Tony Payne, who played 1,000 games for the club.

“I’ll never play that many but I try to emulate what he did.

“It [the streaker] changed the game. We didn’t get the luck in 1994 but this time we did.

“We had a collection in the changing room to help pay his fine!”

The town welcomed their heroes home with an open top bus parade, and a civic reception hosted by the mayor, Cllr Tony Floyd.

After a decade of trying, Taunton had finally reached their promised land.