By Thomas Reyer
It has been quite the season so far for Stockton Town Football Club. They began their campaign in quite disastrous fashion, losing nine games consecutively in their first nine league matches. However, fortunes have changed drastically for the Anchors recently. It was Saturday March 25 that saw the club book their place at the national stadium to contest in the FA Vase final for the first time in their history.
Stockton will make the 250-mile trip down to Wembley to face Thatcham Town on Sunday May 20, in a day that truly will be a landmark moment for the Teesside club. Manager Michael Dunwell has worked wonders at the club, successfully orchestrating back-to-back promotions for the Anchors and now steering them to the biggest game in their history at the home of football.
Exclusively speaking to Michael Dunwell about the historic accomplishment, he said:
“Firstly, I still can’t believe what’s happened! It’s an unbelievable achievement by everyone involved at the club.
“They thoroughly deserve it for all the hard work that has gone into this, both on and off the pitch!”
They are the first Teesside team to reach the FA Vase final since Guisborough Town managed the feat back in 1980, where they were defeated. In an attempt to improve attendance and atmosphere, the FA Vase final is contested on the same day as the FA Trophy final. This subsequently means that two sets of fans will fill up Wembley and offer fans the opportunity to see two cup finals in one day. The FA Trophy final sees Brackley Town take on Bromley.
It has been a phenomenal journey for Stockton, who began their cup run with a 2-0 victory away at Whickham in the first round. The luck of the draw was undoubtedly on Stockton’s side, as they drew five home games in a row following the Whickham victory. Wins against Bootle and City of Liverpool in round two and three respectively then ensued and set up a fourth-round tie against West Auckland Town.
The Anchors once again triumphed, defeating their opponents 2-1. The fifth round arrived in February and Stockton made light work of opponents Stourport Swifts, comfortably beating them 3-0. Windsor then made the long journey to Bishopston Road West for the sixth round and once again, Stockton were on great form, defeating the visitors 2-0.
The semi-final draw for the FA Vase produced a mouth-watering local derby between Stockton and Marske United. Both sides compete in the same division and neither outfit had ever even considered the prospect of playing at Wembley Stadium until now.
Marske had already defeated Stockton once in the league this season back in September, winning 3-0 on the Anchor’s home turf. Also, the Seasiders currently occupy fourth position in the league, compared to Stockton in ninth. Incredibly, Marske also has 11 games-in-hand over top of the table Morpeth Town.
Therefore, Stockton understandably entered the tie as underdogs. The first leg of the semi-final was due to be played at the GER Stadium in Marske. However, due to the ‘beast from the east’ weather arriving, Marske’s pitch was simply unplayable, consequently meaning that both legs would now be played in Stockton.
— Chris Conway (@ChrisConway) March 24, 2018
The Anchor’s occupy a 3G, all-weather pitch, so the game was able to go on irrespective of the weather. The all-weather pitch proved to be vital to the tie going ahead, as the weather was almost apocalyptic on the day of the first leg. The snow had fallen heavily all day and did not let up during the game.
However, it did not affect the Stockton players, as they stormed into a two-goal lead in the first half. Marske were unable to reply in the second half and the game ended 2-0. Although they dominated the possession, Marske just did not have the cutting edge needed to find the back of the net.
The second leg was played one week on from the first and it was undeniably the biggest game in both teams’ histories. The weather and playing conditions were significantly better, but it was a nightmare start to the game for the Anchors, who conceded after just eight minutes.
Tensions were eased in the 41st minute when Stockton were awarded a penalty, which Nathan Mulligan expertly smashed home. The Seasiders did manage to respond in the 55th minute to put them 2-1 up on the day, but it wasn’t enough and meant Stockton Town FC would be going to Wembley in the hunt for FA Vase glory.
Stockton captain Adam Nicholson shared his thoughts on the Anchor’s road to Wembley and said:
“It is absolutely unbelievable, a dream come true! We honestly didn’t expect to be anywhere near the final with the quality of some of the teams involved, especially in the northern league!
“We have taken it game by game, we have done it and its amazing. Some professionals don’t get the chance to play at Wembley, so for Stockton Town to be playing there 2 years after being in the Wearside league is phenomenal!”