The meteoric rise of a non-league club in this day and age often goes hand-in-hand with substantial financial backing.
Not in the case of Stockton Town.
Founded as Hartburn Juniors in 1979 to give more youngsters a chance to play football, the club changed its name in 2003 before making the jump into senior football in 2009 after being left frustrated at their talented youth players moving onto other non-league outfits.
- Stockton Town v Thatcham Town
- Wembley Stadium
- 12.15pm, Sunday 20 May, 2018
- Non-League Finals Day
- By Charlie Peat
“It’s taken a while to get my head around it because we’ve literally come from nothing,” he said.
“When I started at the club everyone was getting changed in the back of a car in the car park. We were just a youth side; we had to carry out our goals and set up the pitches.
“We’re now playing in a major national final as an established senior side and I have no doubt that it’ll be quite emotional on the day.”
But the journey, like any fairy-tale, has not been without it’s hiccups.
Having waltzed to the Wearside League title twice, including an impressive 104-point haul in 2014, Stockton Town applied for Northern League status the same year only to be turned away due to their facilities.
The Anchors won the league for a third time in 2015 and despite preparing work for a new stadium, the club lost a legal battle to complete the construction of the ground and could not move up the non-league pyramid. Hillerby admits he hit rock bottom.
“I had to sit down with the management and players and tell them that it’s happened again. I had to look these guys in the eye and tell them the bad news.
“I told them that if they wanted to walk away and play at a higher level they could with my blessing.
“Every last one of them stuck by us and said if we believed it could be done then they’ll stay around and give it another year.
“At that point I spoke to Stockton Sixth Form College to help us try and develop our facilities. They agreed to help
“We got funding from Sport England and the Football Foundation via Football Stadia Improvement Fund and within nine months we had a new stadium and we won the league for a fourth time. It’s a story of highs and lows but I cannot thank the college, the local authority and the governing bodies enough.”
Since opening their new ground, Bishopton Road West, in April 2016, Stockton have been able to showcase their superb academy products and a first trip to the Home of Football caps off an incredible journey.
More than 80 per cent of the current squad have come through the Stockton Town academy, something the chairman is keen to celebrate.
The electrical engineer said: “Our success is all done by what we raise ourselves, people’s good will and the fact that Stockton people want to play for Stockton Town.
“That’s the real incredible story behind this. We’ve made huge progress in the last three or four years.
“We’ve already made a statement this year but we don’t want to stop. We’re ambitious and we want to push on. A cup win would raise the profile of the club around the country.”
Route to the final
Life in the Buildbase FA Vase began in the second round qualifying for Stockton on September 23, 2017, when they downed Consett 4-3 in extra-time.
Victories over Wichkham, Bootle, City of Liverpool and West Auckland Town put The Anchors in the last 16 where they beat Stourport Swifts 3-0.
Windsor were despatched in the last eight before Stockton overcame Northern League Division One winners Marske United 3-2 on aggregate to make the final in only their second ever appearance in the competition.