TEN years ago Stockton Town did not have a senior team, it was a club that had been focused on its youth set up since forming in 1979 as Hartburn Juniors, yet tomorrow they play at the home of football in a cup final.

The FA Vase final at Wembley with Thatcham Town comes following a glorious period featuring back-to-back promotions and four Wearside League titles in a row, despite only creating a senior team at the beginning of the 2009-10 season.

That was when they entered the second division of the Teesside League and lost their first match to St Mary’s College.

They have come a long way since then, but do not suggest to their chairman, Martin Hillerby, that Stockton’s success has happened overnight.

“That has happened over the past ten years and has led to what looks like a rapid rise of the first team,” he says.

“What’s happened is a consequence of all the hard work that has gone in for years.”

Bucking the trend of successful Northern League sides in recent years, they have not thrown money at players either, and are understandably proud to have nurtured around half of their current squad through their strong youth section.

“We’ll only be as strong as long we keep our youth teams strong,” added Hillerby. “This year alone the under-13s, 16s and 18s were all in the County Cup final.

“Most of our junior teams are in the first division and challenging for the title in their age group, so that’s key to us.

“How many other non-league clubs would spend the money we have spent on a football development officer for the last ten years?

“It’s to ensure that youths come into the club at under-7, to ensure the managers and coaches are developed, to ensure the teams develop and that we do everything correctly.

“We’ve got to be a community club. If you look at your first-team squad, 70 per cent of them at Wembley will have come through our junior ranks. All but two of 24 players and management actually live in Stockton.

“That last ten years work is what’s got us where we are today.”