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The Non-League Football Paper

How Stockton Town’s helter-skelter journey has led to three games from Wembley

By Mark Carruthers

Three years ago, Stockton Town were battling it out at Step 7 alongside the likes of Cleator Moor Celtic, Richmond Town and Annfield Plain in the Wearside League.

Since then they have secured consecutive promotions into the Northern League’s top-tier and now sit just three wins away from a date at Wembley in the FA Vase Finals.

The Anchors entertain Midland League club Stourport Swifts next weekend, having already beaten the likes of Bootle, City of Liverpool and two-time finalists West Auckland to reach the last 16 of the competition.

Progress since their Wearside League has been significant and the journey has brought moments of doubt for club chairman Martin Hillerby.

Ahead of their historic Vase tie, he said: “It hasn’t just been the journey itself, it’s been the highs and lows we have come through to get here.

“The disappointments of failed ground inspections and the success of promotions, it’s been helter-skelter to be honest. There were moments of doubt when you question yourself.

“The management team and players stuck with us and they gave me a boost because they believed what I was saying it would come off.

“It’s been a team effort.”

Stability is at the heart of everything at Stockton Town. Five members of their first-team squad have made over 150 appearances for the club. Another five should surpass that milestone by the end of the season.

Manager Michael Dunwell was promoted from his position as a coach under former boss Steve Gill and Hillerby sees the Anchors’ progression as an evolution, not the revolution that many expected following promotion into the Northern League.

“Our mantra has always been to be a stable football club,” he added. “The management team have bought into that and they appreciate that it will evolve, any football club does that.

“There was never a need to have a revolution after promotion, the players appreciate that they have been given a chance here.

“It ties everybody together, they want to be here and want to be part of the club.

“The club can go as far as the people of Stockton want it to go. We have a huge range of sponsors involved at the club now, the business community have backed us.

“The crowds are building and the feel-good factor around the club is incredible.People are starting to realise what is happening here.”

Hillerby’s attention turns to the Vase tie against Stourport Swifts and his mood turns from pride to disbelief.

The Anchors have gone further than former winners Morpeth Town, former Northern League champions Shildon and the much-fancied North Shields in only their second ever run in the Vase.

Only Stockton and local-neighbours Marske United remain in the competition from the Northern League.

“A remarkable achievement” says Hillerby. “You look and think ‘wow, we are in the last 16 of the Vase’.

“Us, Stockton Town, you have to pinch yourself and think just how far this could go really.

“We have a tough game, without a doubt, but we believe we have a chance. With our current form, with players we trust, we have to believe.

“It’s a remarkable achievement so let’s see where this journey takes us”

Stockton Town’s journey goes on, but could it wind its way to Wembley in May?

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