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Ian Ridley: Non-League’s money men must build a legacy, not just a play thing

Pic: Edmund Boyden

Good evening, I’m from Essex, in case you couldn’t tell. My given name is Dickie, I come from Billericay, And I’m doing very well.

WELL, in the words of Ian Dury’s classic song, Billericay were doing very well until midweek when those resilient lads from the estimable Dulwich Hamlet overturned a result from a few days earlier and won at New Lodge in another twist to the Ryman Premier League promotion tale.

Thanks to owner Glenn Tamplin’s money-bearing arrival, Ricay have gatecrashed the play-off party, and following Saturday’s 2-0 win against Leiston, now sit just two points outside the top five despite being so far adrift for so long.

Even if they don’t go up this year, though, you suspect the bookmakers will have them as immediate favourites to win the title next season.

Naturally, there will be resentment among other clubs. There always is when a sugar daddy turns up and creates such a buzz that a few hundred through the gate turn into 1,302 for the Hamlet return – 2,805 having been at Champion Hill for the meeting between the two clubs four days earlier.

The one-man funding model has a long and mixed history at all levels of the game.

Sledgehammer

My own experience was at Weymouth when chairman, and we had dragged the club up by its bootstraps off the field, Steve Claridge doing it on the field, when a hotelier named Martyn Harrison appeared and made it plain he could manage the rest without us.

He didn’t want steady progression, but instead a quick bang for his buck. Three million quid later – and two heady seasons of promotion from Conference South and up to third place in the Conference – he had had enough.

It had cost him more than money. Sadly, his health failed. The club, it is fair to suggest, took ten years to recover and even now is wary of overstretching itself, as it treads water in Evo-Stik Southern Premier.

That was then… Now, owner Tamplin has installed himself as manager at Billericay as well and recruited some big hitters.

Billy Bricknell returned from Chelmsford City while a transfer fee of £24,000 – unheard of these days at Step 3 – secured Jake Robinson from Hemel Hempstead.

Former Premier League players Paul Konchesky and Jamie O’Hara will also be on a pretty penny as reports suggest the wage bill is reaching Martyn Harrison proportions in headier days of £20,000 a week.

Now, Mr Tamplin is free to do with his money what he wishes. The dream of moving up the Pyramid should never be taken away from any aspiring club. There are ways and means, however…

I would suggest that too many, like Martyn Harrison, do it the wrong way. He threw too much money at it unnecessarily. It was a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

I maintain that had he taken the advice of experience, Weymouth would still have got there, just a little more slowly but certainly more sustainably. There is no point overspending for promotion when money can be utilised better later.

Infrastructure

Often when I see clubs begging for money to improve their grounds to avoid being kicked out of a league, I roll my eyes.

Frequently, they have spent big on a playing budget to get them up, but failed to budget for infrastructure. Then come the pleas of poverty.

The opposite of the quick-fix crew, to me, has been Andy Pilley at Fleetwood Town. He has been in it for the long haul and also built up the remarkable infrastructure around the club.

Astonishingly, Fleetwood – the club that provided a stepping stone for Jamie Vardy – have won six promotions, starting with the North West Counties League, in Pilley’s 14 years at the club and now stand on the brink of the Championship.

This is a club that went bust twice and were denied a promotion initially under Pilley due to a ground that was not good enough. He went and built a new stand within a couple of years.

A couple of hundred people have become a Cod Army of 3,000. Next season more will come should a rebuilt Highbury be hosting such mighty giants as Sunderland, Aston Villa and Wolves.

The lessons for the Glenn Tamplins of Non-League, where Financial Fair Play is not embedded in regulations?

Build steadily rather than hurriedly – and a club and ground as well as a team. Don’t grow bored and poor too soon. And leave a legacy.

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