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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

The former football club owner now on the run – inside the bizarre world of Glenn Tamplin

He is the former football club owner who named himself the manager and lured former Premier League stars to the seventh tier of English football on big wages. The man who put a mural of himself outside their ground and made his players call him ‘Daddy Pig’ and sing ‘The World’s Greatest’ together before going out onto the pitch.

Now Glenn Tamplin, once of Billericay Town and Romford FC, is a wanted man: he is on the run from police after twice failing to show up in court last year.

Tamplin, a born-again Christian who made his multi-million-pound fortune in steel, was due before magistrates last year over allegations of cocaine possession and failing to comply with a community order.

After his no-show at the hearings, his mugshot was circulated by Hertfordshire Police on December 14, who said “extensive inquiries” were being carried out to find him.

His last known addresses were in Watford, Hertfordshire’s largest town, and Essex.

As the search continues to track down the father of seven, this is the story of Tamplin’s time at two Essex football clubs.

The town of Billericay was made famous by the British TV sitcom Gavin & Stacey. It was where Gavin’s Essex family lived, some 200 miles east of Stacey’s clan in Barry, south Wales, where most of the filming for the show was done.

Billericay is a proud Essex market town 25 miles east of London, with a population of around 40,000 people.

Its football club were pretty unremarkable, bobbing along in the Isthmian League Premier Division (the seventh level of English football) when Tamplin bought them in December 2016, after first trying to take over at nearby Dagenham & Redbridge, then of the fifth tier.

(Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)

This was a man who lived in a £10million house in the Essex village of Abridge — later named ‘Bliss Heights’ after his wife — with a collection of sports cars out the front, and he was not shy about making his mark on Billericay, either.

Craig Edwards, the club’s manager for the previous seven years, quit within three months, citing too much interference from Tamplin, and the owner took his place in the dugout.

In February 2017, former Premier League players Paul Konchesky and Jamie O’Hara joined Billericay, the latter following a stint on TV’s Celebrity Big Brother reality show alongside the likes of Bianca Gascoigne, daughter of former England footballer Paul, and Jedward, identical-twin Irish singers with distinctive haircuts who appeared on The X Factor in 2009.

“I was meant to be going to Las Vegas that week,” O’Hara told UK newspaper The Independent, “but Glenn said, ‘I want you to play on Saturday, we’ve got a massive game (against Dulwich Hamlet), so cancel your holiday because I need you in the team’. I wanted to show them that commitment and I wanted to be involved.”

O’Hara has said his friend Mark Wright, a UK celebrity thanks to another reality TV show, The Only Way Is Essex, who was close to Tamplin, played a big part in persuading him to sign. Tamplin said O’Hara had agreed to forfeit his wages if he got injured and included a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave if a “Championship or above” club came in for him.

The arrival of O’Hara on non-League deadline day overshadowed the fact Billericay had broken their transfer record to sign goalscorer Jake Robinson from Hemel Hempstead Town for £24,000. Robinson, who started his career at Brighton, would go on to score 123 goals in 161 games at Billericay.

“I spoke to Glenn very briefly on the phone,” said Robinson, who now works as a marketing executive while still playing part-time in non-League for Worthing. “He obviously offered decent money, he sold the dream — he’s a very good salesman, as you can imagine. So I ended up on my way the next day. The first day set the tone because I arrived and Jamie O’Hara had just signed, too, so there was national media there.

“I was on the sort of money I got paid when I was at (EFL) clubs. It was pretty much an offer I couldn’t turn down. It gave me a chance to leave the job I was doing at the time and almost have another go at being a professional footballer.”

Two weeks after naming himself manager despite having no previous coaching experience, Tamplin brought in Harry Wheeler, who earned his UEFA A Licence aged just 23, to join him in the dugout. That first season, Billericay finished eighth in the 24-team Isthmian League Premier Division but did win its League Cup.


Konchesky had been a European finalist (Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It was not just the playing squad where Tamplin was investing heavily. He was pumping money into Billericay off the pitch.

In the summer of 2017, he built two new stands and a clubhouse at their New Lodge Stadium, paid around £200,000 for a new pitch, which needed relaying after less than a season (Billericay now have a 4G pitch), and had the home dressing room decorated with an enormous lion mural. On the outside wall of the main stand, there was another mural — of Tamplin in bed with his wife, Bliss, receiving a message from God.

In total, he claimed to have spent around £3million on his Billericay venture.

Going into his first full season at Billericay, 2017-2018, Tamplin was in a bullish mood.

He declared: “We will get back-to-back promotions and then it will take two to three years to get out of the National League (the fifth tier). A lot of people have had a go at me on Twitter and I feel sorry for them. But I don’t care. In five years, when we are in League Two or League One with gates of 10,000, they will see that I walk the walk.”

In August 2017, Jermaine Pennant, who had started for Liverpool in the Champions League final a decade earlier, joined. So did Elliot Kebbie, who played for Leeds United and Atletico Madrid as a youngster, and ex-Wolves and Republic of Ireland player Kevin Foley, on a pay-as-you-play deal.

One player was contacted via networking site LinkedIn with a “ridiculous” offer that would see him walk away with £3,000 a week after tax.

Tamplin in November 2018 (George Wood/Getty Images)

Pennant told The Athletic: “It was definitely a rollercoaster. I didn’t have regrets because I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t really know Glenn, so I was going into a blank canvas, but obviously if I knew more about the situation, then I think I would definitely have taken a different path.”

In his autobiography, Mental, Pennant admitted to finding the drop down the divisions a tough adjustment and said Tamplin expected him to score or assist every game. Pennant described his time there as a “circus” and called it the “craziest club I’ve ever been involved in, by far”. He added: “When you’re at a proper club, you sign a contract and you know your future is secure, what the future is, your family is safe; at Billericay, it changed from week to week.”

That season began in front of 1,141 fans at home to a Kingstonian side led by Edwards, Billericay’s previous manager.

“The big names played against us that day but we beat them 1-0,” said Edwards. “That’s the last time I saw Glenn. It’s a bittersweet story, really. The good times I had with Glenn far outweigh the bad times, but the bad times were bad. It would have been lovely if it could have continued — who knows where it could have taken them? It’s a really sad story, I hope he finds his way through his struggles.”

After that August setback, Billericay did not lose again in the league until the February. They finished comfortably as champions with 99 points, won the Essex Senior Cup (a knockout competition between the county’s biggest clubs) and Isthmian League Cup (contested by the 82 sides who make up the four divisions of the Isthmian league) and qualified for the FA Cup first round.

“There wasn’t a lot of tactical-based stuff,” Robinson says. “Glenn liked to motivate the team and do big speeches before the games. He’d built a team of very good players, so we didn’t need much in the way of tactical instructions.

“We won the league because we had the best team. We had a lot of quality. You could never get the ball off Jamie in training. Glenn expected Jermaine to dribble past everyone and score every time he got the ball.”

Players were told to refer to Tamplin as ‘Daddy Pig’ and fines were given to those who called him ‘Gaffer’.

Tamplin told Greatest British Life magazine in 2017: “I’ll start a speech and I’ll say, ‘Brothers, I am going to stand by you today. Are you going to stand by me? What are we?’. And they’ll go, ‘Brothers’. And I’ll go, ‘I will fight for every inch of grass today. I will bleed for my brothers. What are we?’. And they’ll go, ‘Brothers’. And it gets louder and louder and louder.”

Before heading onto the pitch, Tamplin led his players in a team rendition of since-disgraced singer R Kelly’s big hit The World’s Greatest.

“It was surreal,” said Robinson. “My first game we got there, we were away at Dulwich, we came back in after the warm-up and he said, ‘Right, we’re going to get together and do our song’. And we did it, we sang the song The World’s Greatest. I was thinking, ‘This must be an inside joke or something’ — I was new and I didn’t know what was going on, but it then happened every single game.”

It wasn’t just the singing.

On matchdays, Tamplin brought in seven pastors, who operated around the ground. “We’ve not just got people selling burgers, we’ve got people selling faith,” he told the BBC’s Look East regional news show.

Just two months after joining the club, Kebbie’s transfer turned sour.

He claimed he was told by Tamplin to take a pay cut on his £4,000 per week salary. When he refused, Kebbie said he was blocked from training with his team-mates.

Essex Police launched an investigation in early 2018 after it was alleged Tamplin had written a message to Kebbie the previous October, saying he “did not want to get gangsters involved”. It was claimed death threats had been made to Kebbie’s family. The player began legal action and the case was settled out of court.

With Tamplin apparently looking to cut costs, Konchesky departed four months into that 2017-18 season and Pennant left a few weeks later. The ex-Arsenal and Leeds winger rejoined 24 hours later on a reduced salary before exiting for good in the February.

Midway through the season, a WhatsApp message from Tamplin to his squad on their group chat, which was called ‘The World’s Greatest’, went viral after he told them they would be tested for alcohol and drugs before their match on New Year’s Day.

He wrote: “Any alcohol or drugs in your system, you won’t be playing and fined 2 weeks’ wages. Sorry, but sometimes Daddy Pig has to be ruthless. So don’t let yourself down on New Year’s Eve.”

In the end, that match, away to Tonbridge Angels, was called off anyway because of a waterlogged pitch.

A month later, Tamplin sacked himself following a 5-2 loss to Wealdstone in the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy (a knockout tournament between teams from tiers five through eight of the English football system, with its final played at Wembley Stadium). He then rehired himself just two days later but stepped down for good in the April, leaving Wheeler in sole charge.

FA Cup

Billericay host an FA Cup first-round tie in 2018 (Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)

Despite the chaos, many Billericay players look back on their time there with fondness.

“It put Billericay Town on the map and it got everyone talking about it,” said Adam Cunnington, a striker who was there from 2017 to 2019 and later followed Tamplin to nearby Romford. “They are still reaping some of the rewards from that. When I originally went there, we were getting around 200 fans each week, but I think they got around 1,200 fans at the weekend, so it definitely built a fanbase for them.

“There are things people probably rolled their eyes at, but there are things we did well there.”

Alfie Potter, a forward signed in the summer of 2018, agrees. “It was a tough environment to go into, you had to have a bit about you really to survive there,” Potter tells The Athletic. “If you came in and were quiet and shy, it probably was a bit overwhelming. There were big personalities, as well as what came with Glenn.

“Glenn just wanted to win every game. He left the club in a much better position than when he took over. I felt he did care about his players. The players had fun, they enjoyed it.”

As well as Billericay’s success on the pitch, Tamplin paid almost half the £75,000 cost of treatment for Harry Parker, a seven-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, at London’s Great Ormond Street children’s hospital.

Yet the drama continued.

Winning the Isthmian Premier took Billericay up to the sixth tier, but Wheeler was sacked a month into the 2018-19 National League South season. Steve Watt, manager at Maidstone, was added to the team WhatsApp group, but was then informed hours later that he was not getting the job after it was alleged he had made negative comments about the club in the past.

A bemused Watt told news site KentOnline: “I’ve lost two jobs in one day, which takes some doing,” and denied making any digs at the club or Tamplin.

Dean Brennan came in for four months, then Wheeler was reappointed in the January.

Tamplin then announced he had put the club up for sale.

In a statement the previous September, he said a complaint made by a fan to the police that Tamplin had been snorting cocaine in the stadium toilets after a match against Woking, which he denied, had “crossed the line”.

He told the Southend Echo newspaper: “They told me they had received a report that I had been snorting drugs in the public toilets. I asked to be tested and they said they didn’t have the test kits with them. I was then told I might be pulled over. I was pulled over 15 minutes later and to be asked if you have been taking drugs in front of your five-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son is not something I am willing to put my children through. Not for football.”

Tamplin eventually stepped away in September 2019, a day after naming O’Hara as player-manager, replacing Wheeler. The club was taken over the following month by businessmen Greg Lake, David McCartney, Alex Morrissey and Nick Hutt.

“It was an amazing moment one day and then the next he left. It was a bit of a mental experience,” O’Hara told the Non-League Paper. “I say I got thrown in the deep end; it was definitely being thrown in the Atlantic, that’s for sure.”

Hutt said Tamplin would be remembered “fondly and with gratitude for what he did for Billericay”.

It did not take long for Tamplin to return to football.

That November, he arrived at Romford, 13 miles (20km) west of Billericay and then bottom of the eighth-tier Isthmian League North, as their main investor.

“I’ve changed so much (since Billericay),” Tamplin told London’s Evening Standard newspaper. “I don’t regret it, but it made me very sick and cost me a lot of money. Billericay was a circus because I spent so much money. I paid what I call idiot tax. The difference is now I used to do things with my pocket, this is about me doing things with my heart. So people are seeing the real me.”

He added: “I want to be at Romford for the next 20 years, then I want my son Archie to take it over.”

Tamplin immediately set to work, sacking manager Paul Martin and the coaching staff, appointing himself to run the team, holding trials for a new squad and signing 21 new players. Players with EFL pedigree were drafted in, including Ryan Cresswell, Adam Morgan and Freddy Moncur, as well as Tamplin’s son, Archie, and Jake Hall, another who appeared in The Only Way Is Essex.

adam morgan liverpool

Former Liverpool player Adam Morgan, centre, signed for Romford (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Before his first match — against Coggeshall Town, a club co-owned by X Factor singer Olly Murs — Tamplin sent 12 players home for turning up late. The Romford teamsheet was left blank for the game.

The ‘Daddy Pig’ nickname followed him to Romford, but the pre-match song was changed to Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It. In a FootballJoe documentary, Tamplin told injured players that “pain is in the brain” and described niggles as “p****yitis”.

Morgan, who had started for Liverpool in the Europa League seven years before joining Romford, described his time under Tamplin as “the maddest year of my life”. He was persuaded to sign after being offered £900 a week by Tamplin, with a further £600 per week to be made doing handiwork for him. Morgan said he always got paid, even if it sometimes came late.

“Glenn’s house was unbelievable,” Morgan remembered. “The best I’ve ever seen. Me and one of the other lads, Magic (Mekhi Leacock-McLeod, who had played for Accrington Stanley in League Two), worked for him. We built an outhouse for him. Sometimes we worked as security there as well, just sitting there all day. Other times we would be flying around the grounds of the place on quad bikes.

“As well as a pool, it had three golf holes and a football pitch. We would have shooting competitions on the pitch and Glenn would say things like, ‘If you score that one, I’ll give you £300’.

“With Glenn, it was always all or nothing. One day we’d arrive for work and he would say, ‘Right lads, we’re going out in London for the day’, and we would go somewhere swanky, like Novikov in Mayfair (a high-end central London restaurant that attracts celebrities), and he would rack up a big bill.  Or he would come over in the morning and say, ‘Right, I need this and this doing around the place today’. Sometimes he would call you numerous times a day, then you might not hear from him for ages. There was nothing in between.”

Morgan remembers Tamplin’s surreal coaching methods.

“The first training session there, he came along with two big Umbro bags full of stuff,” he said. “He said there would be two winners — one for player of the day and the other for the winner of the shooting competition. Each would get to take home one of the bags.

“Anyway, at the end, two of the lads went up and had to pick a bag. They opened them up… One was full of cat and dog food, the other was full of designer gear, like Balmain trainers, a Gucci jacket and Louboutin shoes. There must have been £5,000 worth of stuff.

“The lad with the pet food was gutted.”

His eccentric techniques extended to matchdays.

Morgan recalled how, before one game, Tamplin said they would be playing 4-2-4 and warned that the first Romford player to pass the ball backwards would get subbed off.

He said: “It must have been 90 seconds into the game, one of the lads passed it back to the full-back and Glenn followed through with the threat. He was subbed off. I couldn’t believe it.”

Morgan said Tamplin called the team ‘The Wizards’ and gave all the players a wand and said anyone who forgot to bring their wand to a game would be fined. Then, one day, he walked into the changing room dressed in a full wizard outfit.

For another match, Tamplin hired the 3ft (around 91cm) tall entertainer known as LikkleMan and had him sing to the players before going out onto the pitch.

Steve Gardener, who was Romford’s chairman, told The Athletic: “Some of it was surreal. Our social media following quadrupled overnight. We had celebrities coming to watch our games who were not necessarily associated with football. It was enjoyable at the time because it was something new. Glenn’s a larger-than-life character. It certainly raised the club’s profile and we’re no worse off from him being on board.”

For all his bravado, Tamplin, who openly and regularly discussed his past battles with drug addiction, talked about wanting to help the community through his role at Romford and called on fans to give any unwanted clothes to the homeless at Christmas.

Morgan said: “He would put on a show to get attention, but he just wanted to be loved.”

Tamplin had ambitions to return Romford, who were then in a groundshare (seven miles away from their hometown) with Brentwood Town, to their own home.

However, all dreams were put on ice when Covid-19 struck in March 2020 and football everywhere was suspended.

A year on, with the football season still disrupted by restrictions related to the pandemic and Tamplin by then living in Dubai, he called time on his Romford tenure.

“If Covid hadn’t happened, where might the club be now? That’s an open-ended question that nobody knows,” Gardener said. “Would Romford be playing in Romford, in front of 500 people, higher up the pyramid? We had no doubts Glenn had the drive and determination to make it happen.”

 (Top photo: Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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