Prentice's years of toil pay off as Shots make it back into big time

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Karl Prentice enjoyed a quiet celebratory glass of wine last night the moment Aldershot Town, the club he helped to re-form from the ashes of Aldershot Football Club in 1992, finally made it into the Football League.

A 1-1 draw at Exeter brought to an end 16 years of blood, sweat, tears. Former QPR midfielder Scott Donnelly cancelled out Adam Stansfield's opener to seal the Blue Square Premiership title. Prentice missed the club's finest hour because of business commitments, but he won't mind that.

The players from Hampshire celebrated with champagne on the St James' Park pitch in front of their 898 travelling fans while the manager, Gary Waddock, made a hasty retreat to the dressing room for his own private celebration. Now they can look forward to welcoming League Two clubs back to their quaint Recreation Ground, a stadium that will open the eyes of many a visitor.

Prentice, one of three original directors who later became chairman for eight seasons until he resigned his post last year, will for ever recall the day that Aldershot died in a high court with debts of less than £100,000 on 30 March 1992. That was five days after 6,000 fans had watched the club play their final league fixture at Cardiff City.

Prentice said: "Nowadays it doesn't seem a lot of money to see a football club close, but I couldn't believe that was the end of the club and I made a promise to myself that I would help bring football back to Aldershot and now they are a League club again it's hard to put into words just how I feel. For me personally it has been a roller-coaster ride and I just hope the people who now run the club can take it further."

It was Terry Owens, former chairman of the "Save the Shots" campaign who later went on to become the club chairman, who organised the very first meeting at Royal Aldershot Officers Club on 22 April 1992 where Aldershot Town was formulated and after a lot of searching were granted a place in the Diadora Isthmian League Third Division – five levels below the Football League. Town, then managed by Steve Wigley staged their first league match against Clapton on 22 August with a 4-2 victory before a season's low gate of 1,493 at a ground that once housed 18,509 fans to see Manchester United in a League Cup tie in 1971.

Wigley's team went on to win back-to-back promotions before George Borg took the club into the Isthmian Premier and his successor Terry Brown led the Shots into the Conference in his first full season.

Waddock had tears in his eyes when he said: "I have won the FA Cup with QPR but this feeling is up with the best of them.

"It's been a roller-coaster of a ride throughout my career but today is absolutely brilliant and I don't know what time we are going to get home because we're going to celebrate into the early hours."

Scorer Donnelly said: "I have not been here long but this means the world to me."