By Matt Badcock
THE FIRST thing to say about Billericay Town is, whatever your taste, the murals that adorn the back of the new stand, the changing rooms and tunnel area, are artistically impressive.
The second thing is that the place has been completely and undeniably transformed in a short space of time.
New terracing and seating has leapt up, the pitch is immaculate, the food and drink stalls improved and an area behind one stand is being hurriedly prepared for a 3G facility and parking.
The Essex club has generated more column inches and social media posts than any other Non-League outfit in a long time because of one man, millionaire owner Glenn Tamplin.
The local businessman has poured £2 million into the club since taking over partway through last season, installed himself as manager, caused controversy with outrageous postings on Twitter, and upset a lot of people doing it.
The singing, the team-talks, the flash cars, the big-name ex-Premier League signings, the wages, the bold predictions to reach the Football League.
But he has, so far, done everything he said he would. Even if there is just 18 months left on the lease and, he says, the council are ignoring their attempts to discuss renewing. So what is behind the caricature that has got everyone in Non-League football talking? Inside his office he’s welcoming, introduces his wife Bliss and son Archie, gestures grandly, is raw, funny, direct, honest, openly says how his mistakes saw some of his companies go bust, and is clearly passionate about what he’s doing.
“What frustrates me is this gets so much more than my money,” he says, a few hours before they maintain their lead at the top of the Bostik?Premier after beating Brightlingsea Regent. “It gets every minute of my time. It gets all of my heart, all of my passion. It gets every bit of me. Money is the last thing it gets. The last thing.
“And it’s the easiest thing to give. It would be easier for you to get £5 out of your pocket now and give it to someone than an hour of your time. This is where people get me wrong. I give people and this club my time. That’s nothing to do with money.”
The office we sit in has had a similar redesign to the changing rooms. Tamplin gives a guided tour of the lions on the wall behind his desk, who represent him and his family.
“You look around this room now and people will say, ‘Oh, it’s a circus’. Well, no, this isn’t a circus,” he says. “If you look at it, this behind you here is my family. That’s me, the king of the jungle, this is my lioness Bliss, these are my kids – I have a tattoo on my arm here of lions and tigers. It basically says I thought about quitting before I realised who was watching.
“When, ten years ago, I was in a bad place and I tried to take my life three times, I had a four-year-old boy, Archie, and a one-year-old girl, Gracie. There was a slogan that had a lion sitting there with a cub looking at him saying, ‘Daddy, help, help’. It was, ‘I thought about quitting until I realised who was watching me’. I realised my cubs needed me.”
Tamplin, 45, says there’s lots of things people have wrong with him. He explains how he grew up on a council estate with no father, how he found his first bride-to-be having an affair with her boss two weeks before their wedding and how that led to throwing himself into business.
Ultimately, ten years later, he burnt out and couldn’t cope until he lifted himself from the ‘devil’s pit’ with the help of faith and Christianity.
“All I’m saying is, my life has not been a bed of roses,” he says. “All I’m doing when I come to this football club is say, ‘Here’s all of me. But with me comes my past, my beliefs, comes what I believe we all need to know, comes total transparency. You’re going to get all of me’.
“That’s why everybody knows my story. Why do I tell people my story? Because we have pastors here to help people. I believe it is my purpose to help people in the Billericay community. Help people get well, help people with issues.
“Winning the league and taking this club up is something I want to do – but that’s as well as helping the community. If you said I had to pick between the two, I don’t know which one I would pick. Because if we win all the leagues and go up to League Two, but I haven’t helped anyone in the community, then I would say I’ve failed.”
Tamplin accepts he has made misjudgements on Twitter and his suggestion for his “haters” to get in touch with one of a number of mental health or drug addiction charities – for which he apologised – is a contradiction to the good work he appears to be doing.
He’s funded an operation for a young boy called Harry Parker to walk again. A team of six street pastors will be at games – they plan between them to come to games at all levels of the club – to offer support for anyone who may need it.
Phil Norton, Lead Street Pastor, says: “We’re building relationships at the moment, letting people know who we are and what we’re about and, most importantly, who we’re not. What we aren’t is local Christian people evangelising or coming with a very heavy Christian message.
“We’re actually saying, ‘This is who we are, this is what we believe and, within that, can we offer you some pastoral needs. How are you getting on in life? What are you going through? Are you going through a bereavement, through a mental health crisis, drink or drug addictions?’ These are the people we can help and maybe steer into some counselling or whatever is appropriate. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Even Tamplin’s biggest critics will admit it’s commendable. While some welcome his involvement, many believe his ego rules. Tamplin says he’s turned down documentaries on his family, has stopped all interviews at his mansion because the story was going too far away from Billericay Town, but says he had to make a splash early.
“I guess it’s that story, ‘sex sells’,” he says. “I had to get this club up and running quick. I had to get some attention. You won’t create attention with a Ford Focus. You will with Ferraris and Lamborghinis. So they have to go up, the house has to go up, the ego side of me has to go up so people say, ‘Look at this character!’ That’s the thing that creates attention first.
“It’s a bit like you’re going to read a story in the paper about Beckham having an affair first before a little story about a kid having an operation. I need to create attention. So I need to have the Ferraris, the house, how much money is going into the club.
“But I have a plan. That was the start of my plan. Now the real Glenn comes out. Now you see what we do with charities and with people’s time. I’ve got, on this phone, 75 people, who have contacted me direct on twitter that I’m sponsoring and helping. They’ve got gambling, drinking, drug addictions. I send them all personal programmes. I’ve had 75 people come to me and I’ve replied to every single one. I do so much behind the scenes, but people don’t see that.”
Tamplin says the profile will only increase if they go up the leagues and admits he’s already knocked back offers from people wanting to buy stakes in the club. He highlights how attendances have rocketed in a short space of time – they now average 1,200 at home – and says he’s still in first gear.
Tamplin knows Fleetwood Town owner Andy Pilley well and has leant on him for advice and guidance. Pilley told him to build a team for each level, but his plan is different.
“People think this is a circus, but this is what I’m saying about a plan,” he says. “The £25,000-a-week wages it is now is going to be the same next year. And it’s going to be the same the year after. Even for the National League it’s going to be the same. By the time it gets to the National League it’s going to be a smaller wage.
“I had to create a reason to come to this football club early doors. Why wait until the National League to get fans, to get this attention? The only way I could do it was with special players with special talents that cost a bit more money, but it’s a bit like I’ve bought something to grow in to.
“In three years’ time it will still be the same. People think it’s going to go 20 grand, 40 grand, 60 grand, no stability, no sustainability, this club is going to go skint. No, I’m not that stupid.
“I will do my boots year one. Year two we will break even. Year three we’re going to make money. We’ve got John Salako coming on board as director of football now. We’ve got seven or eight directors from local businesses, big hitters, coming on board. All bringing different ways and solutions to make money.
“We’re doing a three-day festival in May that will bring a quarter-of-a-million into the club. There’s so much going on behind the club.
“I’m bringing business people in to make this a business. So what you haven’t seen yet is the business side of Billericay Town. If you think the club has been big, wait until you see what I’m bringing as a business.
“This time next year, if I get run over by a bus, this club will be able to run itself. That’s the biggest thing. Because Billericay Town Football Club is bigger than the Tamplins. That’s what I’m aware of and what people need to be aware of.”
But what if that happens now?
“If I get knocked down by a bus this year, the club is in trouble,” he says. “But after this year it’s going to be fine. I’ve got Paul Webster, who was a director at Chelmsford, running the team. We’re running at a loss of about £15,000-a-week, roughly. We’ve got a plan that in four months that will be down to £8,000-a-week.
“Once we put down the 3G pitch out the back we’ll be making more money than we’re losing because so many people will want to hire it out seven days a week, 16 hours a day.
“I’m doing so much behind the scenes as a businessman, as a business to make this a sustainable club. We’ve got two halls now and a restaurant. It looks like we’ve done a deal where we’ve rented both halls out five days of the week, morning and night.
“People are judging me as this man who’s throwing loads of money at a toy. This ain’t a toy. This is going to be a Non-League club, not for long a Non-League club, but a Non-League club that makes money.”
A charge against him is he’s ruining Non-League football. Tamplin, who played for Barking and Barkingside, feels he’s brightened the place up with an injection of some much-needed character.
“I like the honesty of Non-League football,” he says. “I like the fact families can’t afford forty or fifty quid, or to eat a stale pie. We’re West Ham fans. My wife, sitting here during this interview, and I and our kids, we go to West Ham. We’ve got blokes next to us effing and blinding, our kids don’t feel comfortable!
“So I like the fact you can come in and there’s no aggravation. OK, there’s a bit of swearing but you don’t see my fans effing and blinding. I like the honesty, the affordability. If I’d suddenly made tickets £20, a tenner for kids, a fiver for a pint and a fiver for a pie, then I’d be ruining Non-League football.
“But let’s get this right. The ticket prices are the same, the drink prices are the same, the food prices are the same, but I’ve stuck £2m of my own money in. I’m not asking for a penny back – so am I ruining Non-League football? No way.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday!