Two years ago, retinal screener Michael Arthur was playing in goal for Stockton FC in front of “30 people and two dogs”.
The opportunity to play at Wembley in front of as many as 40,000 people – and broadcast live on TV – “still hasn’t sunk in”.
Over the last couple of years, the club has gone from strength to strength, with Michael playing a huge part in the team’s journey.
It culminated in a dramatic semi-final of the FA Vase with a 3-2 aggregate win over Marske United, which included a fantastic top corner save by Michael in the closing minutes of the second leg of the match.
Now they will face Thatcham Town on Sunday 20 May at 12.15pm.
He said: “Two years ago we were playing on a rundown local field in front of 30 people and two dogs. Now we’re off to Wembley. It’s remarkable really. The scenes we saw after the semi-final, with fans running on the pitch and everyone celebrating were amazing, I never thought I’d see anything like it.
“I can’t believe I’ll get the chance to sing the national anthem at our country’s stadium. We’ve come so far I sometimes can’t believe it, we just never know when we’re beaten. This is all down to the hard work of everyone at the club.”
Michael is a screener/grader in the trust’s diabetic eye screening programme at Lawson Street Health Centre in Stockton.
When he isn’t caring for patients, he’s balancing his hours between spending as much time as possible with his partner and his young daughter, while also keeping his commitments with Stockton FC.
Over the last two seasons, Michael has been a significant part in the club’s meteoric rise, winning promotion back to the Northern League Division 1 and also claiming silverware in the FA Sunday Cup last year.
The club started this season in difficult circumstances – losing their first nine games. Since then they have turned their fortunes around and gone on a fantastic run of form, something which has taken them right up the league and into a major cup final.
The club have already sold more than 6,000 tickets – an incredible achievement considering their average home attendance is 222!
Michael added: “Everyone around the club is working ridiculously hard to prepare us.
“They’re also helping our families get down for the match so we can make a weekend of it.
“Middlesbrough Football Club have even offered to do a scouting report on the opposition – it’s fantastic to get support from them.”
Michael has been the talk of the whole department.
Michael added: “It’s all I’ve been talking about the last few weeks. I’d like to thank the whole team for all their support during the last few months.
“My manager Sue has allowed me to work more flexibly so I can make club training sessions, this all makes it better to prepare for matches.”
Sue Pott, the service’s programme lead, has been doing all she can to help Michael prepare for the big match.
She said: “We are all really proud of him.
“Michael has to keep his eye on the ball in this day job – juggling both this and his football duties has not been easy. We have tried to help him by allowing him flexible working hours.
“We will all certainly be watching the game on TV and cheering him on.”
The match will be shown live on BT Sport 1.