How One Rich Man’s Weird Dream Transformed A British Pro Soccer Team

Outside the 3500-capacity AGP Arena in the modest suburban town of Billericay, Essex, a 100-foot-long, 20-foot-high mural depicts Glenn Tamplin’s dream. It begins with the Mayflower setting sail for the New World, jumps ahead somewhat to the formation of Billericay Town FC in 1880, and quickly addresses the club’s modest, amateur-level successes during the 1970s.

And then God speaks. Specifically, He speaks to Tamplin, who is lying in bed—asleep, shirtless, tattoos snaking up his arms and over his chest. Above him are the hands of the Almighty, and thought clouds drift from the millionaire’s head: “Build a new stadium…” “Win trophies…” “Get promotion to professional leagues…” “Selfless…” “Honesty…” This is the new dawn—a club destined for glory. At the far end, Tamplin appears again, this time awake and alive and seemingly roaring in ecstasy. He’s wearing Billericay blue, holding a can of spray paint, writing a message to his people: “To all at BTFC… Please support us and make my dreams and your dreams come true.”

Everything changed for Billericay Town in December 2016 when Tamplin became the club’s owner. Brash, fit, coiffed, never afraid to flaunt his wealth and forever a syllable away from saying something outlandish, he proved excellent fodder for the ravenous British tabloid press. He promised to turn Billericay, a then-anonymous seventh-tier soccer team, into a well-respected, professional operation.

His ambition fit the locale. Essex, a mostly working class county immediately north-east of London, has long been seen—by Londoners in particular—as unrefined and gaudy. It is hard-nosed and hard-working and touched by poverty in parts but, in the English imagination, it is primarily about New Money, thick cockney accents, potentially shady deals, nights out on double vodka-Red Bulls, lads, trophy wives with long and ambitiously painted nails, brawls outside nightclubs called Evoke and Fiction, and ten-day holidays on the Costa del Sol. For the past eight years, it has been synonymous with The Only Way Is Essex, a reality TV show pitched as the nation’s response to Jersey Shore.

On the surface, Tamplin adheres to that stereotype beautifully. Born and brought up in Dagenham, East London, a few miles from the Essex border, he didn’t have much as a kid. He found out at age 13 that the man who he thought was his father was in fact his stepdad. His real father was, Tamplin said recently, a “tall man, with muscles and tattoos, everyone running around his needs.” Two weeks after their first meeting, his father decided that he wanted nothing more to do with the boy.

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