For the past 30 years non-league football has undergone a stark culture shock. With the colossal influx of money and ease of access to the top divisions, the days of the football club as a shining beacon for the local community are fading, with the majority of football loving locals preferring the comfort of the sofa to catch their sporting fix. No club is safe from this paradigm shift. Billericay, a pillar of the non-league game felt the effects like all others. However, Billericay are one of the lucky ones, seeing both sides of football’s silver coin.
Billericay Town F.C. is a club steeped in a history of success with few clubs displaying periods of such dominance as the Blues in the 70s. The club won the league and cup double in 1969-70 and 1970-71, before founding the Essex Senior League and either winning or coming second in the following 5 seasons. Billericay then moved again in 1977, winning the famous Athenian league on their first and second attempt. These league successes however are dwarfed by “the Ricay’s” performances in the FA Vase, the premier competition for all non-league clubs. After the trophy’s formation in 1974, replacing the FA Amateur Cup, Billericay won 3 of the first 5 competitions, beating the world’s oldest club Sheffield in 1977. The Blues striker Doug Young became the only player to ever score a hat-trick in the final of the competition under the twin towers of the old Wembley stadium.
In sport as in life, however, all good things must come to an end. Billericay Town, as so often happens in non-league, came crashing down to earth, sleepwalking into dormancy as a yo-yo club from 1985 to 2015.
In 2016, following periods of economic uncertainty, the club was handed a lifeline when it was taken over by a living caricature of the stereotypical Essex businessman, Glenn Tamplin. Tamplin epitomises the rough and ready entrepreneur, building up a company from his garden to a multi-million pound business through any means necessary. These means have included almost £500,00 in unpaid tax and dumping 6000 tonnes of waste with a company linked to a crime boss, ultimately leading to his business’ liquidation in 2017. Tamplin’s Controversies extend beyond the company, suggesting “haters” jump in front of trains, being investigated by the police for “gangster threats” and, perhaps worst of all, forcing his players to sing R Kelley’s “I’m the world’s greatest” before a cup final.
While not to everyone’s taste, nobody can deny the improvement Tamplin has made to the club. Having injected over £2 million in funds on a new stadium, (complete with unique mural) and funding the signings of ex-international and premier league players like Paul Konchesky, Jermaine Pennant and Jamie O’Hara the club has been completely transformed under the ownership and management of Tamplin. Following his acquisition of the club they have made the FA Cup first round twice and been promoted to the National League South, two leagues off the professional game.
Following a 2-2 draw with Oxford City on 14th September 2019, Glenn Tamplin dismissed manager Harry Wheeler for the third time, with Jamie O’Hara taking charge. The cause? Allegedly a lack of playing time that his 16 year old son, Archie Tamplin, was getting up top for the Blues (Wheeler was preferring 400 appearance holder and former Lincoln legend Matt Rhead upfront). This dismissal was followed by an announcement that he would be stepping down as owner and director of Billericay Town.
Yesterday it was announced that Glenn Tamplin has bought Isthmian North club Romford, announcing on twitter that he will take them to the football league. Within 24 hours he has sacked the entire staff, appointing himself as manager, and brought in 15 new players. Given his history with Billericay, responses from fans so far has been muted, unsure whether Tamplin’s acquisition will sacrifice the club’s culture for results.
Billericay currently sit 11th in the National League South, not having won a game in the league since 31st August, prior to Tamplin’s departure. This downward trajectory following the removal of financial backing is a common trend in the non-league game, with owners buying clubs as a status symbol, without a concrete sustainability strategy. You would hope that a club as historic as Billericay find a way to stabilise, however without a new wealthy backer coming in, you have to assume a continued struggle is imminent given their reported £25,000 weekly wage packet.
No matter the level of football, an ever-present wish amongst football fans is that their club wins the lottery, becoming the benefactor of a billionaire oil sheikh or local multi-millionaire takeover. Despite Billericay Town’s story being far from over, their journey so far tells a sobering tale of a lost history and identity, two things money can’t buy.
Article authored by Alex Vale