NON-LEAGUE FINALS DAY: To get to the Final will be the biggest game in the club’s history by a country mile, says Thatcham Town boss Danny Robinson

Saturday 19th May 2018

THATCHAM TOWN have been in existence for 124 years but is now fast approaching by far the biggest game in its history.

The Berkshire club take to the Wembley turf on Non-League Finals Day tomorrow to face the Northern League’s Stockton Town in a huge Buildbase FA Vase Final.

Cup fever has most definitely taken hold of the town, population 26,000, with attendances growing throughout the Vase rounds and now with almost 5,000 fans expected at Wembley.

Even the town mayor, Ellen Crumly, has extended her tenure by a day to attend the showpiece final.

As well as having tomorrow to look forward to, Thatcham have won promotion, topping the Hellenic League on goal difference and earning elevation to the Southern League West.

“To get promoted was always the main aim for us,” Kingfishers manager Danny Robinson told www.thefa.com.

“Then with the Vase it’s just see how far you get, to get to the Final will be the biggest game in the club’s history by a country mile.

“The squad’s brilliant, we trained this week at the Madejski stadium. Reading were brilliant to let us have that and all the lads are bouncing, they can’t wait.

“Seventeen of them have got one of the most memorable days in their lives really, let alone football.

“Around the town you see scarves, flags and everything, it’s surreal.

“You walk to get a pint of milk in the shop and you’re getting asked questions and everyone’s talking about Wembley, it’s absolutely amazing!

“Thatcham’s only really a dot on the map and to generate almost 5,000 supporters going up is phenomenal.”

Robinson has been in sole charge of the team for a year and a half, with things coming together this season to produce a 40-game unbeaten run.

Thatcham also possess one of the most prolific strikers in the country – Shane Cooper-Clark – whose 61 goals this term have been a useful factor in the club’s push for a historic double.

Robinson added: “He’s [Cooper-Clark] fully fit and he looked even better in training, I won’t ever tell him that to his face!

“He’s a threat but he’s a wonderful kid as well, he’s down to earth, there’s no heirs or graces about him, what you see is what you get and he’s a pleasure to work with.

“We’ve actually had two cup finals over the last few weeks which we’ve lost.

“It’s human nature and the players are just focused on one of the biggest games of their lives so I can take that one on the chin, as long as we win on Sunday!”

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.

Five league titles and now a Buildbase FA Vase final against Thatcham Town have followed – it’s no surprise chairman Martin Hillerby finds it difficult to comprehend how far The Anchors have come.

“It’s taken a while to get my head around it because we’ve literally come from nothing,” Mr Hillerby told www.thefa.com.

“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.

Mr 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.”

Articles originally published on www.thefa.com

Buy your tickets for Non-League Finals Day here:  https://ticketingcontent.thefa.com/NLFD%202018

Stockton Town  v  Thatcham Town
The Buildbase FA Vase Final
Sunday 20 May 2018
Kick Off 12:15pm
at Wembley Stadium, Wembley, Middlesex HA9 0WS

Brackley Town  v  Bromley
The Buildbase FA Trophy Final
Sunday 20 May 2018
Kick Off 4:15pm
at Wembley Stadium, Wembley, Middlesex HA9 0WS


 




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