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|FA Cup first qualifying round: Billericay Town v Didcot Town|
|Venue: AGP Arena Date: 2 September Kick-off: 12:30 BST|
|Coverage: Live across BBC Sport’s digital platforms|
A weekly wage bill of £20,000, a battalion of former Premier League players and an owner who has made himself manager and films team-talks for social media.
Billericay Town are not your average non-league club – and Glenn Tamplin is not your average manager.
Tamplin motivates his players by getting them to sing R Kelly’s ‘The World’s Greatest’ before every match. He has also introduced a lion-themed home dressing room to inspire his team.
The flamboyant multi-millionaire, raised on a Dagenham council estate and now worth around £30m after setting up his own steel business from scratch, has pumped more than £2m into Billericay since buying the Essex part-timers nine months ago.
On Saturday, Pennant, a finalist with Stoke City in 2011, will play in the FA Cup first qualifying round for his new seventh-tier club against Didcot Town (12:30 BST) – a match you can watch live across BBC Sport’s digital platforms.
Tamplin’s short reign has not been without controversy, while Billericay have become the team every non-league club wants to beat.
“I will get League Two in five years, I’ll have a bet with any man in the world,” said 45-year-old Tamplin. “But why can’t this club go all the way? Why can’t we have 25,000 and be in the Premier League like Bournemouth in 10 years time? Who’s stopping us?”
‘No player is on more than £1,000-a-week’
Tamplin paid £120,000 for a 95% stake in the Isthmian Premier Division outfit last December after a failed attempt to acquire National League Dagenham & Redbridge.
Life at the club nicknamed Ricay has not been the same since.
Gates have rocketed from 211 12 months ago to 4,582 for a pre-season friendly against West Ham’s Under-23 side last month, while season ticket sales are somewhere between 700-800.
Crowds are not the only thing on the increase at the renovated AGP Arena – so too is the wage bill.
Former Charlton and Leicester full-back Konchesky, who played two games for England, was the first of four high-profile signings. He was swiftly followed through the dressing room door in March by 30-year-old ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Jamie O’Hara.
Since then Tamplin has tempted winger Pennant, a Champions League finalist with Liverpool in 2007, and 32-year-old full-back Kevin Foley, who had three seasons in the Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers between 2009-12, to join.
The arrival of the quartet – 745 Premier League appearances between them – led to reports that Billericay’s weekly wage bill is more than £30,000 and players are being paid 10-times-plus more than their rivals.
“I had seven or eight ex-Premier League players come to me – some asking for £5,000-a-week, some wanting £1,500. I can tell you now, the most any of our players earn is £1,000-a-week,” Tamplin told BBC Sport.
“There are others on £300. The weekly wage bill is around £20,000 but that includes all the coaching staff.
“My players have big hearts, they’re humble and they are here for the right reasons.”
|FA Cup first qualifying round in numbers|
|66,000 – number of fans who have watched the first two qualifying rounds of this season’s FA Cup.||232 – number of teams taking part in the first qualifying round.|
|£3,000 – amount of money winning teams receive at this stage of the competition.||72 seventh-tier clubs enter at this stage and join 160 winning teams from the preliminary round.|
‘I’ll sack myself if we don’t win promotion’
Billericay were mid-table when Tamplin bought the club.
“The facilities were falling down, there weren’t many coming to watch, and people thought I was mad,” he said.
Within three months, and despite no previous football managerial experience, he had appointed himself interim boss after Craig Edwards, the highly-respected manager in charge for the past seven years, resigned citing “broken promises”.
Six months on, Tamplin remains manager.
“I went looking for a new manager but some of those I spoke to thought they were about to win the lottery,” he said. “I know how to manage people because that’s what I have done all through my working life.
“If we don’t win the league this season, I will step down as manager.”
Billericay, who finished eighth in 2016-17, are top of the the table after winning four of the opening five games. Their one defeat was at home to Kingstonian, managed by former Ricay boss Edwards.
‘I won’t make the same mistake again’
Tamplin’s short reign has not been without controversy.
He reacted badly to criticism of the newly designed home dressing room, which have pictures of lions spray painted on to the walls alongside motivational messages.
In response to photographs posted on Twitter by Tamplin, a fan wrote: “Stop the world, I want to get off.” Tamplin replied with: “Tall building or fast train fella…just jump if you had enough.”
“I hugely regret that tweet,” the father-of-five added.
“When I sent it one of the family dogs had just died in front of the children. I have lots of people who troll me and my family every single day. But there are no excuses. I make more mistakes than anyone, but I won’t make the same mistake again.”
Critics claim Billericay are a ‘circus’ under Tamplin, while a recent editorial in The Non-League Paper argued for and against the entrepreneur.
“There is nothing wrong with having a vision, which Tamplin unquestionably has, and if the owner of a football club wishes to spend his own money, that’s his prerogative,” it said, adding: “The painted murals in and around the ground, the pre-match singing and war cries – all posted on social media by Tamplin himself for the world to see. It’s taking the gloss off what the players and the football club are really about.”
Personal torment, charity & street pastors
Tamplin launched his AGP Steel business in a small yard with a handful of staff in 2002 after taking out a bank loan for £50,000. He now lives in a £12m mansion and owns eight sports cars.
“When I first started work, I remember getting a K Reg Ford Orion Ghia, it was the best car of my life,” he added.
“Then I upgraded to a Mercedes, then as I started my own business it went to Bentleys, then it went to Ferraris, now it’s collectable cars.
“What I’m trying to say is as you grow your targets get greater.”
Yet the pressure of building a company took its toll and, a few years ago, Tamplin became severely depressed.
“I tried to take my own life, I was in the devil’s pit. I was working between 15 and 17 hours a day, I had overheads and pressure was building at work,” he explained.
Tamplin has since become a born-again Christian and has the inspirational quote ‘I thought about quitting until I realised who was watching’ tattooed on his body as a reminder of that dark chapter in his life.
“My children, my family, depend on me. I’m the king of the jungle in their eyes,” he said. “The biggest influence in my life? God.”
Tamplin, who has spent around £1m upgrading Billericay’s ground, says he is trying to galvanise the local community.
He’s introduced street pastors to home games so fans can talk over problems, while Billericay’s ground has 50 seats for disabled children, who receive free admission, food and drink.
Recently, Billericay named a new stand after young football fan Harry Parker, who has a rare form of cerebral palsy.
Tamplin donated £45,000 towards the cost of an operation to help the seven-year-old walk again.
When Billericay missed out on promotion last season, they were taunted by opposition fans with chants of “what a waste of money”.
When the full-time whistle sounded after a 5-0 win at Thurrock on Monday, up went the chant again.
This time, it was Tamplin who was leading it – a tongue-in-cheek response to the criticism he and his club have received.
Love it or loathe it, it is impossible to ignore the noise coming out of Billericay Town.
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