Stevenage revel in their remarkable success
The remarkable, undeniable fact is that Stevenage did not lose a single game throughout their 2010-11 League Two campaign after they had taken the lead.
It was the same story at a windy Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon as the Hertfordshire club became the first team since Exeter in 2009 to complete back-to-back promotions from the Blue Square Bet Premier to League One.
Their performance as they defeated Torquay United 1-0 in front of a sparse but noisy crowd of 11,484 in the League Two play-off final featured many of the qualities that have propelled Stevenage straight out of the fourth tier.
They were well-organised, competitive and determined. There is no such thing for a Stevenage player as a lost cause and they have an admirable togetherness and a team spirit that is formed in part through the long hours they spend every day on the training pitch and in the gym.
"The lads achieve incredible things," said skipper Mark Roberts.
"There is a mentality at the club that I never known before; the players and everyone connected with the club has that X-factor, that special something.
"It comes from the very top, manager Graham Westley, who is the most inspirational and motivated man I have ever met. He drives us every day. All the coaching staff are winners through and through and instil that into the players."
Roberts, a life-long Manchester United supporter who used to have a season ticket in the Stretford End, and makeshift striker Darius Charles exemplified on Saturday what the captain described to me as "the Stevenage Way".
The defender made a series of committed, last-ditch tackles and marshalled his troops with courage as Torquay attacked with spirit and skill in the second half after John Mousinho had put Stevenage ahead with a brilliant low strike.
Roberts, raised in Northwich just down the road from Old Trafford, slumped to his knees at the final whistle, unable to comprehend the scale of his team's achievement. All of his team-mates charged towards their fans but the 27-year-old put his hands on his head before burying his face in his shirt as though attempting to enjoy a private moment in a very public arena.
"I do not mind admitting that there were a few tears," added Roberts. "In the dressing room afterwards there was a mixture of enjoyment and reflection on what we have achieved."
Stevenage were 17th in the table at one point in January and looking an unlikely bet for promotion but the belief within the squad never wavered. Not for a moment did they think that their hopes of winning successive promotions had evaporated.
"We spoke about an incredible promotion," said Charles. "People will now say we have done the impossible but we never had any doubts.
"The gaffer drove his desire and passion into us. As a group we do not just canter, we are all about being progressive and moving forward."
Ealing-born Charles ended last season as a central defender relegated from the Blue Square Bet Premier with Ebbsfleet United. He finished this campaign as a battering ram of a striker who had just claimed the man-of-the-match award in a play-off final to seal promotion to the third tier of English football.
The muscular Charles was everything you could want from a target man on Saturday; bold, brave and committed. With a little more composure he might have scored the goal that his performance deserved. He left the field with a nasty scratch under his right eye, although it turned out that the injury was the consequence of an overly-raucous celebration of the game's only goal.
His story is typical of many of his team-mates. Before moving to Stevenage last summer his career had never really taken shape. During five years at Brentford he had loan spells at Thurrock, Yeading, Staines Town, Crawley Town, Sutton United and Ebbsfleet before he joined the latter on a permanent basis in 2009.
"If you look at the boys, the majority maybe did not make it somewhere else or fit in at another club but the gaffer has brought us all together and instilled a belief that is second to none," added Charles.
"We do not have any barriers. We run through them. That is what we do. Anything is possible."
Roberts struggled to establish himself at Crewe, going out on loan at Southport, Chester, Halifax and Northwich Victoria, where he also had two permanent spells as a player in addition to a spell at Accrington, before moving to Stevenage in 2008.
"There is a certain type of individual who succeeds at Stevenage and if they don't they are very quickly shown the door," added Roberts.
"It is a never-say-die attitude, not just when we play on a Saturday and a Tuesday but every single day, we fight for every inch at training."
Roberts reckons that when other clubs scaled down their training during the poor weather through December and January his team worked extra hard, doubling the intensity of the work they put in.
Stevenage are a club that have their detractors and Westley is not the most popular manager in the Football League. Some say they operate on the edge of the law, that they are strong and physical and are the beast that has overcome beauty to win promotion.
I saw them win at Accrington in the play-off semi-final and again at Old Trafford. There is no doubt that they deserved their victory in both games. They press their opponents and ask questions of their resolve and determination.
It felt slightly strange watching them win promotion at a ground whose owners were down in London for the Champions League final. Stevenage will never have the fame or success of Manchester United but several of their players support the Premier League champions and were pleased the final was at their home rather than at Wembley.
The small crowd did their best to create an atmosphere and I heard somebody joke that they did a better job than 70,000 United fans manage most weeks.
Charles had played at Old Trafford before when he was still at school with Drayton Manor. He scored the winner in that seven-a-side game and is rapidly developing a love for the ground.
Goalkeeper Chris Day once conceded a hat-trick there in a youth game when he was at Spurs. Ryan Giggs, in action against Barca on Saturday evening, scored all of the goals.
Day had relatively few saves to make on Saturday as his team preserved to the very end what I think is their excellent record of not losing after scoring in a league match.
"It is amazing," said the veteran keeper. "It is credit to the guys in front, the way we work in training, and the backroom staff. It is all about detail. We do not sit back when score, we try to stay on the front foot. That is as many secrets as I will give away."
Day appeared out of the dressing room with a red and white jesters hat on his head and a bottle of beer balancing precariously in his shorts. He was everything you might expect of a footballer celebrating promotion.
But when he was asked about the prospects for next season a serious look crossed his face before saying: "The sky is the limit."
The Stevenage way, it seems, is built on their belief that they can do just about anything.