That was the overriding emotion of U18s coach Marc Nash after Blyth Spartans’ excellent FA Youth Cup campaign came to an end at Salford City.
Wins against Darlington, Billingham Town, Gateshead and AFC Fylde saw the young Spartans create history by reaching the First Round Proper.
The challenge of League Two academy Salford proved a step too far, but that doesn’t take away what was a fabulous achievement.
Nash explained: “This was our fifth game in the competition and we’ve played some decent sides on the way. Fylde in the last round was fantastic. It’s just worked out really well. We’ve had four ties at home where overall there’s nearly been 1,000 people coming to watch us, giving the lads that big-game experience.
“The goal was to get to the First Round Proper and play at a league ground – and we did that, so they’ve had that experience as well.
“Nobody can take that away from the lads now. Hopefully they’ve laid the tracks for next year’s group. The challenge is set now.
“The first years get another crack at it, the second years take it away and they’ll not forget it. The achievement of getting to the First Round Proper will sit right up there with me as a coach, even with the experience in football I’ve had.
“Taking this group of players on this journey has been a pleasure. They really are a fantastic group and they set high expectations of themselves.
“I think a lot of them will go on to play a very good standard of football because they’ve got all the tools – they’re good players but have great attitudes.
“Once they shake the disappointment of tonight off, hopefully they’ll sit back and be proud. I feel very proud.
“For me, It’s about learning and development but at the same time, they’ve achieved an absolutely class standard.”
Captain Matthew Dopson said: “Overall, I’m proud of the lads for how far we got. We didn’t give up until the end. We battled all the way and got to where we wanted to be. There were plenty of standout moments but the penalty shootout win over Gateshead stands out for me."