The Business of Non-League

A series of articles looking at the financial side of Non-League football

Part Two:
How attractive is investing in Non-League clubs?

Why are we seeing more investment in 
Non-League clubs?

Credit: Pheonix FM

If you're a non-league fan who doubt the wisdom of Abramovich, the Glazers, Sheikh Mansour et al spending silly money in the Premier League, you may want to look away now. 

For what about the club saddled with £2.5 million-worth of debt in what was the Conference . . . or the club owner who is spending over £1 million a year in the seventh flight. 

The list of crazily rich investors goes on and is now filtering its way through the lower reaches of English football. Notts County saw huge Qatari investment in 2009 which led to the appointment of Sven Goran-Eriksson while they were playing League Two football. 

Fleetwood Town and Crawley Town are just two examples of clubs that have reaped the rewards from big investment to work their way in the promise-land of the Football League.

However, football finance experts can see the logic in investing heavily in certain Non-League clubs.

But, there are new boys on the block hoping to follow in their footsteps. Glenn Tamplin is currently investing large amounts of money into Billericay Town, which boasts a £21,000 per week playing budget, including ex-Premier League players Paul Konchesky and Jamie O'Hara. 

While Forest Green Rovers’ well-publicised financial backing of Dale Vince has seen them reach the promised land of the Football League following a win over 2000 League Cup Finalists, Tranmere Rovers. 

The financial backing that The Villagers have received has raised eyebrows after reporting losses of £2.5 million in the 2015/16 financial year having already made £2.9 million in losses for 2014/15. 

Making a club sustainable is one of the targets for Billericay Town’s owner and joint-manager, Glenn Tamplin who took over the club in December, 2016 and wants to see his side in the Football League within five years.

He said: "Making us sustainable is the challenge. If you want to grow something, you have to invest. I will be investing heavily over the next three years, while trying to build the crowds up. 

“I'm building a large 3G area, which should create a large income and all the proceeds will go back to the club to maintain the club and eventually pass down to my eldest boy. 

“There won’t be any more big name signings, we’re up to £21,000 per week now so I am done, and I have to make it sustainable. I’ve got the team, I’ve invested early, so now it’s time to get the crowds up to pay that.” 

Tamplin, who owns AGP Steel Structures London, had tried to invest in other Non-League clubs, but his reasoning behind investing in Billericay Town was the connection he had with the fans. 

The boss of the step-three club, said: “Basically, I was looking to get a non league football club. I had a look at Dagenham & Redbridge and Bishop Stortford before, but it ended up being Billericay. Mainly due to the fans, the warmness of them and how much I was welcomed. 

“At Bishop Stortford, the chairman only wanted to give me 50 per cent. Dagenham wasn’t accepted by the fans and I was accused of all sorts and got quite a bit of abuse on social media.

“Then, at the last minute, the board changed their mind on me for individual reasons with the board members.”

Tamplin's impact wasn’t quite enough to guide them to the play-offs this season, but that won’t stop his long-term goals for the club. 

He said: "In five years time I expect Billericay to be fighting for promotion in the National League minimum, if not then League Two. 

“The ultimate aim for the club to have 4-5000 supporters in a 6000 stadium, help out children’s charities and give a bit back for what I’ve been blessed with."

Professor at the University of Warwick, Wyn Grant, who has produced numerous financial-based publications believes that Billericay are a club that can become sustainable unlike others. 

He said: "I think it is a lot more difficult than a lot of these investors realise to make the clubs sustainable. A lot depends on whether you have a good population density in the area and a lack of competition. 

“The lack of the first eventually did for Rushden & Diamonds when they lost their benefactor. Forest Green Rovers scores well on the second criterion, but not the first. Billericay does well on both criteria."

Another investor is Clive Nates, who joined the board at Lincoln City during the 2015/16 season. 

The South African admitted he wanted to invest in the club because he couldn't afford to do so with Premier League side Everton.

Nates said: "Well I wanted to get involved in a football club, that was the first item on my bucket list, if I ever had ones. 

“The connection with Lincoln City came through Everton. I obviously don't have enough money to put into Everton who I’ve followed from around 1968. 

“Lincoln City became my second team after the alliance they had with Everton in 2002. When Bob (Dorrian, chairman) put out the announcement about the Co-op bank issue, I contacted Bob and the rest is history." 

Nates, whose Lincoln City side has returned to the Football League after winning the National League this season, believes his investment initially came from his affiliation with the club rather than making money. 

He said: “The financial gain was not a consideration in my decision. It was purely from emotional side. It was only later on I realised the potential in the club. 

“I think to stand any chance of a return you have to get into the Football League, but even then you have to look at a number of Football League clubs. 

“It’s amazing to see despite seeing a whole load of money coming in from wealthy individuals that support those clubs whether it’s Notts County or Chesterfield, they all have required massive amounts of money to continually be put into the club and that’s the big risk when the person decides he doesn’t want to be involved in the club anymore.”

It isn't always a case of wanting to be involved in a financial way at a football club. Particularly lower down in the pyramid, it can be forced upon people. 

Graham Starmer, Managing Director of FootballCV Academy was also a director at Corby Town, but in January 2011 the passing of then chairman Peter Mallinger left Starmer and Mallinger’s son in taking co-ownership of the Northamptonshire side. 

He admitted the difficulties in stepping into Peter’s shoes to stabilise the club. 

Starmer, who sold the club in May 2012, said: "From a financial perspective it was not attractive. The motivation was to continue Peter’s legacy, especially with the new ground being completed in the summer of 2011, and it clearly needed a new board of directors – something I was able help with. 

“What we didn’t have were funds to invest. Peter had kept the club going through his own backing – so we needed to make the club as self-sufficient as possible." 

Starmer eventually sold the club May 2012 having fought off relegation from step-two and reached the first round of the FA Cup. 

He said: "In the end, it was far too time consuming and impacted too much on my own business. 

“It also needed investment to maintain its Conference North status again and we always felt we were guardians of the club and if someone else came along that may possibly be able to take the club to the next level then we would never get in the way. 

“After 18 months a consortium approached us with a business plan to take the club to the next level. After working with them for the next season it was then the right time to step down and concentrate on my own businesses again."