The Tamplin Circus Rolls Into Romford
He was never likely to be away for very long. When it comes down to it, Glenn Tamplin just loves the limelight too much. Tamplin finally walked away from Billericay Town in September after yet another row behind the scenes at the National League South club. On this occasion, Tamplin had fired manager Harry Webster with the team sitting in seventh place in the table, and rumour had it that the reason for this was Webster’s reluctance to play the owner’s sixteen year-old son in the first team.
Time will tell whether Tamplin junior turns out to be the next Lionel Messi – those who have seen him play have suggested that this is a tall order, though it does seem a little unfair to be dismissing the potential of a sixteen year-old footballer altogether – but for Tamplin this seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. He’d left his various positions within the club before, which led some to question at what point he’d be back, but this time the permanence of his departure was confirmed when he sold his shareholding in club to the time-honoured “consortium of local businessmen.”
Like a shark that needs to keep swimming in order to stay alive, though, the Glenn Tamplin publicity machine needs a constant source of hubris and attention in order to keep on turning. Last week, he confirmed his desire to return to the non-league game, and there was some degree of speculation over whether he would return to the National League South with struggling Chelmsford City, but it turned out that his new project wasn’t quite as grand. Glenn Tamplin is back, but this time he arrives at a club that sits at the bottom of the pile, which doesn’t even have a home of its own, and which has been struggling for several seasons, without any clear path towards improving its circumstances.
Welcome to Romford, Mr Tamplin.
The original Romford FC was founded in 1876, and arguably its greatest claims to fame was reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 1881 before losing 15-0 to Darwen. This club folded in the early 1920s, but was formed in 1929, playing its home matches at Brookfields, a site formerly used by the old club’s reserve team. The club joined the Athenian League and then the Isthmian League, before switching to the Southern League in 1959, by which time the club had made its one and only Wembley appearance, losing by a goal to nil to Bromley in the 1949 FA Amateur Cup final in front of a crowd of 100,000 people.
The 1960s was, on the whole, not a great time for a non-league football club to be discovering ambition. In switching to the Southern League, Romford had taken the leap into the professional and semi-professional, and promotion into its Premier Division after one season only fuelled the belief on the part of the club that it could take up a Football League place. Brookfields was accordingly redeveloped in anticipation of this happening, but the club’s applications to join were unsuccessful and by the middle of the 1970s the club was in such deep financial trouble that it had to sell Brookfields in 1975, continuing to play there for a further two seasons before leaving, playing on for one final season on borrowed grounds before folding, with building work on a new ground having barely started and hardly any money left.
Reformation came in 1992, and an Essex Senior League title win four years later hinted that a Romford revival could be on the cards. The new club had been homeless but ended up ground-sharing with nearby Collier Row, and in the summer of 1996 they renamed themselves Collier Row & Romford and merged with their landlords, but this state of affairs only lasted a year before the “Collier Row &” part of this name was forgotten.
Two successive relegations, however, dropped the club back into the Essex Senior League, and although they got promoted back in 2009, life back in Division One North of the Isthmian League has been a struggle ever since. The club hasn’t finished above sixteenth place in the table since 2014, has been struggling along on two-digit crowds, and has been playing its home league matches at Brentwood Town, seven miles away from their home town. For the last two seasons they’ve finished second from bottom in the table, and last season were only spared relegation by the mid-season collapse of North Ferriby United, elsewhere in the pyramid.
As might have been expected when this particular media circus rolls into town, there are very conflicting versions of what has been going on since Tamplin rolled into Romford FC last week. Tamplin has been eager to explain to anyone who’ll listen that this will not be like Billericay Town, a club at which the wage bill rose as high as £30,000 per week, and where Tamplin, by his own admission, needed bridging loans in order to ensure that the players were paid. He spent £3m at Billericay, and it’s worth questioning what, exactly, he got for his money. The club’s New Lodge Ground is in a better state than it was and yes, there was one promotion, but this all seems like a very large amount of money to spend in order to secure these relatively meagre returns.
One version of events will tell you that Tamplin sacked manager Paul Martin, who’d run up thirteen years with the club, appointed himself as manager, signed fifteen new players on his first day, and then sacked twelve Romford players on Saturday lunchtime for being late to arrive at the Brentwood Centre Arena prior to their match against Coggeshall Town on Saturday afternoon. The legality of doing this would, of course, depend on the players’ contractual terms, should they have had contracts. Tamplin claims, by the way, that his weekly wage budget at Romford is £3,000 per week, which doesn’t seem extraordinarily high for this level of the game.
The other version, of course, is the version that Tamplin wants the media to swallow whole. Free admission and the offer of a free pint of beer, along with the inevitable rubber-necking that follows him everywhere, swelled the crowd for Saturday’s match to more than 500, and his team didn’t put in an unreasonable showing, losing by three goals to two against a fourth-placed Coggeshall team that is funded by, of all people, Olly Murs. Extricating Romford from the very bottom of the Isthmian League, however, would be an uphill battle, and Tamplin will have proved nothing to anybody if any achievements at Romford are managed solely by throwing money at the club.
In comparison with Billericay, Romford feels like something of a free swing for Tamplin. There is no asset to lose (Tamplin has, of course, already promised to return his new plaything to its home town, though such a move would be years away and would require funding) and, after years of a hand-to-mouth existence trying to avoid a drop back to county league football, the temptation for something, anything to step in and change the club’s cycle of poor form must be overwhelming.
Has Tamplin learned anything from the blizzard of negative publicity that followed him around for the entirety of his time at Billericay, though? Well, he claims that he has, but even now he doesn’t seem able to resist the temptation to describe his critics as “sick people” and, whilst the parachuting in of an entirely new team upon the arrival of a new manager is far from unheard of at this level of the game, the combination of his hubris, ego, carefree mouth and occasional evangelical pronouncements – with their inference that winning football matches after throwing vast amounts of money at his team is somehow “God’s work” – seem unlikely to make him many new friends within the non-league game.
The question of whether Tamplin needs “friends” is, of course, complex, but he may need reminding of the reasons why he was so despised whilst running Billericay Town. Financially doping one club by throwing millions of pounds into it is never going to make one popular. It renders all the efforts of every other club broadly pointless, if one club has the enormous advantage of being able to sign players from a considerably higher level of the game with no consequences, and carries with it a risk that other clubs in the same division have to overspend if they’re to try to compete with him. It also rubs people up the wrong way when, whilst acting this way, the person concerned behaves with as little humility as Tamplin always did, and when we add on the perception that he expected to be carried on people’s shoulders after setting the skill level of his version of Football Manager to the easiest possible.
If Tamplin could actually introspect for a while and ask himself the question of why he’s so unpopular honestly without coming to the thought-free conclusion that he’s great and that everyone else is just a “hater”, then perhaps he would, over time, find that his reputation could be rehabilitated. He could have gone to Romford quietly, offered his support, and got on with the job of building the club up from its base. Instead, he installed himself as manager, sacked a bunch of players, brought in a whole bunch of other players, and dragged the glare of the media spotlight to this particular club without having given any apparent thought to the question of whether this is the right thing to do for the club itself. Glenn Tamplin seems to be stuck in a psychological prison of his creation in which his undoubted genius will never be properly recognised by “sick people” and “haters.”
If he’s ever going to break that particular cycle – and he might not even care whether he does or not – he needs to take the stabilisers off his way of running a football club. Romford’s plight gives him the opportunity to actually prove himself, but only Glenn Tamplin himself can decide whether he wants to actually test himself. He left Billericay Town a division higher up the non-league pyramid, but he also left the club a non-league punchline with a stain on its reputation which may take a while to clear. Ultimately, if Glenn Tamplin wants to be considered anything but a clown, he needs to take that make-up off first. Whether he’s prepared to do that is a question that ultimately only he can answer.