Darlaston Town triumph a perfect tribute to lost friend Leon Taylor

Darlaston Town boss Dean Gill is immensely proud of his ‘amazing’ squad after fighting through the trauma of losing a team-mate and winning promotion.

Darlaston Town celebrate their play-off final triumph   Picture: Button Oak Photography
Darlaston Town celebrate their play-off final triumph Picture: Button Oak Photography

Last November, Darlaston were dealt an unimaginable blow as striker Leon Taylor, aged 36, suddenly passed away after being taken ill while at the Paycare Ground.

The several months since have been anything but straightforward for Gill and his players, with the team understandably taking an extended break while supporting and raising funds for Taylor’s family.

However, they have displayed remarkable character and, ultimately, succeeded in their quest to reach the Midland Premier.

Darlaston beat Stapenhill 2-1 in the Midland One play-off final last Saturday, on a day filled with both tears of happiness over the magnitude of what they had achieved and sadness Taylor was not there to celebrate with them.

“Make no bones about it, the pressure was on,” explained Gill.

“After winning the semi-final against Dudley Town on Tuesday, the following few days were the worst. The pressure was ridiculous. The tension was palpable as we were just so close.

“When we lost Leon, we sat down and refocused on what we wanted to do. We had some objectives.

Leon Taylor, who passed away last November

“We wanted to win as many games as we could, as we were behind on games.

“We wanted to get into the play-offs, which we did. We wanted to finish as high as the club had ever finished in the league, and we managed that. And we wanted to get promoted, which we did.

“To do what I said after 15 games of the season, when Leon passed, we then only lost one of the last 20.

“The magnitude of what the players have done, I don’t know anybody else who could’ve done it. I had several lads with Leon as he was passing.

“For them to come back and do what they’ve done, I just think it’s beyond football. It’s an amazing mental fortitude they have.

“To get over the line, it was meant to be. Nobody should underestimate what these young lads have done, because a lot of them are young lads.

“The lads gave it everything they had. We trained Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and played Saturdays. We did all we could. There were a lot of tears of joy, and a lot of tears of sadness – remembering Leon.”

As alluded to by Gill, the squad is made up largely of players in their early 20s. The late Taylor, who was a popular figure across the Midlands non-league scene, was someone they looked up to.

“Leon was a big confidant for myself. I miss him tremendously,” said Gill. “Leon going was a loss to everybody. Those experiences in life do certain things for certain people, and it absolutely made the lads grow up.”

Promotion was sealed in dramatic style as Kieran Miller smacked in a 96th-minute winner from 30 yards, securing step five football for the first time in Darlaston’s long history.

Darlaston Town celebrate their play-off final triumph Picture: Button Oak Photography

“They haven’t run off from the responsibility. They’ve accepted it,” added Gill. “I know it’s football, but what my lads have done is amazing.

“Young men watching their friend pass is no joke. They didn’t look for excuses. They’re a brilliant bunch of boys and promotion is fully deserved.”

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