LUKE Ballinger has stepped out before a full house at Wembley already this season, but says even that unforgettable experience would be bettered if Melksham Town reach the FA Vase final in May.

Town's player-assistant manager was honoured at the national stadium back in November when he collected a golden cap to mark 100 appearances for the England futsal team during the Three Lions’ friendly with Brazil.

And he could make a return trip sooner than expected, with Melksham just three matches away from achieving the dream of every non-league club in the land ahead of tomorrow’s home quarter-final showdown with Thatcham Town.

“It was nice touch but, if I’m honest, if we were to get to Wembley in the FA Vase then that would top it,” said Ballinger.

“It’s football and not futsal and of course as a player you would always want to actually play at Wembley, even if it is 10-15,000 people in the crowd as opposed to 90,000.

“At the start of the season it seemed a long way away but the closer you get, the more you start to think about it.

“I actually dreamt about us getting there the other day, that’s how sad I am,” he joked.

While Ballinger has allowed himself to contemplate the ultimate prize, he knows only too well that a below-par display from the hosts against in-form Thatcham tomorrow could see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity disappear.

He warned: “It’s the quarter-finals of the FA Vase and if you don’t turn up on the day then you’ll be out. Thatcham will be saying exactly the same thing.

“It’s the biggest cup the football club gets to play in. We’re never going to win the FA Cup so this is the one and we have put ourselves into the last eight.

“If we can get to the last four then that would be unbelievable.

“We’ve got to relish it because, if we don’t turn up, then it is something we could regret for the rest of our lives.”

Ballinger, who turns 30 next week, was suspended for Melksham’s 2-1 win over Tring in the fifth round and joined manager Kieran Baggs in the dugout.

With his three-match ban now served, he is itching to be in the thick of the action against Thatcham and believes his previous big-match experience could prove an asset with a gate in the region of 2,000 expected at the Oakfields Stadium.

He said: “I always want to be playing. I’ve played in play-off finals in front of 3,000 at Gloucester and 2,000 at Merthyr when I was with Paulton Rovers and those are the sort of days you can draw upon.

“The likes of [Dave] Thompson and [Mike] Perrott have experienced that too and it’s very different having a couple of thousand there if you’re not used to it.

“Thatcham will be looking to quieten our crowd early on and I’d say they are favourites as they have won 20 on the spin,” he added.

“But I do fancy us and there would be no better way to end that run than in a big game like this.”