Barrie Smith feels his dream trip to Wembley will be “payback” for sticking by South Shields during two of the toughest years in the club’s history.
Smith remained with the Mariners when they were forced to relocate to Peterlee in 2013 and had to slash their budget.
The club was in the doldrums, but Smith stayed in the hope, rather than expectation, that better days lay ahead.
The long-serving midfielder is now feeling the rewards for that loyalty.
The Mariners’ remarkable turnaround in fortunes reached another new height on Saturday when they qualified for the final of the FA Vase.
Smith came on as a late substitute at a packed Mariners Park as Shields defeated Coleshill Town 4-0, completing a 6-1 aggregate win in the semi-final.
It was an emotional day for all connected with the club, few more so than the midfielder.
He said: “It might be a bit of payback for me sticking with the club when it went to Peterlee.
“Some people who left might regret it now.
“The two years in Peterlee were tough but I’m very glad I stayed. I stuck by them and I’m absolutely over the moon with what we’ve gone on to achieve.”
Shields can now look forward to a trip to Wembley on May 21, when they will take on Cleethorpes Town.
Smith added: “It’s unbelievable.
“It’ll probably take a couple of days to sink in, but you just dream of things like this.
“Wembley is the best stadium in England.
“As a kid, that’s where you want to play.
“Some of the lads here have done it and some haven’t, even Julio Arca. I’m over the moon for the likes of him.”
The Mariners Park attendance record was broken again on Saturday as 3,464 fans packed into the ground.
It’s all a far cry from those Peterlee days.
Smith said: “I never even believed we’d be back in this ground, never mind being there and playing in front of 3,500 people.
“I’m over the moon for the fans, because the support we get home and away is absolutely unbelievable.
“I’m pleased they’re going to have a great time, as well as us.”