|FA Cup extra preliminary round|
|Date:9-11 AugustCoverage:Punjab United v Broadbridge Heath live on the Red Button and on the BBC Sport website from 12:30 BST on 10 August|
With the summer transfer window about to close, this is one of the busiest times of the year for Paul Stretford.
One of football’s most prominent agents, Stretford has guided the career of former England captain Wayne Rooney, and his company acts for Leicester City defender Harry Maguire, who is set to join Manchester United for £80m.
Yet, among the flurry of last-minute deals, Stretford has something else on his mind – next weekend’s FA Cup extra preliminary round, the first of 13 hurdles before the final on 23 May 2020.
The reason? Rylands, the club he has owned since last year, are preparing for the first FA Cup tie in their 108-year history – at Runcorn Town on Saturday (15:00 BST).
That is one of the rewards for winning the North West Counties League Division One South title last season.
“These are exciting times for the club,” Stretford, 61, told BBC Sport. “We’re competing at the highest level in our history and we’re now in the FA Cup.
“We are ambitious and want to keep growing. Why not aim for the Football League? It might not happen in my lifetime but you have to aim for the stars.”
- BBC to stream FA Cup qualifying rounds
- FA Cup extra preliminary round fixtures
The trip to the chemist that saved Rylands
Wire-making is the traditional industry in Warrington, and Rylands are named after a former wireworks.
Stretford, who grew up in the town, played in midfield for the team for a decade from the mid-1970s.
Seven years ago, as they struggled in Cheshire League Division One, they were in danger of going under financially.
Then came a chance encounter in a chemist between Stretford and former team-mate Ian Finchett, then the club’s chairman.
Stretford, a vacuum cleaner salesman turned multi-millionaire, was on an errand for his dad Ron – a long-serving treasurer at Rylands who has a stand named after him at the club’s 1,345-capacity Gorsey Lane ground.
Soon he was actively involved, spending £100,000 on ground improvements while his company became club sponsors.
“Paul sponsored a kit to start with and it just built from there,” said Rylands chairman Mark Pye.
“When he came in we had two senior teams. Now we cater for all age groups and we have a successful ladies’ team.”
Stretford said: “As a former player, it is great to have the chance to put something back in.”
Galloping to promotion and Chester Races
Stretford is perhaps best known for being at the centre of Rooney’s £27m move from Everton to Manchester United in 2004 – nine years after he had negotiated Andy Cole’s then British record £7m transfer from Newcastle to Old Trafford.
His company also acts for players such as Stoke City and England keeper Jack Butland and Toni Duggan, who played for England at this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
Stretford is, by non-league standards at least, a wealthy owner yet club officials are keen to play down suggestions Rylands – whose average gate is 99 – are awash with money.
Transfer fees and wages are rare in the ninth tier of English football, and players often travel to away games together to save on fuel.
It is no different at Rylands, where each player pays a £20 monthly club membership.
They do receive expenses, though, and were treated to a day at Chester Races when they won their league by seven points last season.
“Everyone has got this theory that we pay players a lot,” said Pye. “We’re not at that level. We need sponsors to function and we’re very fortunate we have got some great ones.”
Rylands is a close-knit club – but also, in Stretford’s words, “here to serve the community”.
When goalkeeper Graeme McCall announced he was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to help fund a new chemotherapy unit after his sister Linzi was diagnosed with breast cancer, the club organised a charity night for him.
The club has also become involved in the Peace Cup.
Initially played between Warrington Town and Crewe United, it is a fixture played annually since the IRA bombing in Warrington in 1993.
Rylands hosted the fixture for the first time earlier this month, winning 4-0.
Will Rooney line up for Rylands?
When Rylands won promotion in April after scoring 111 goals – including 23 by joint-manager Stuart Wellstead – Rooney tweeted his congratulations.
The 33-year-old, who won 120 England caps and now plays for DC United, is no stranger to the club – he used their facilities to film his own training app.
More recently, the clubhouse and changing rooms were used to film scenes for a television dramaabout World Cup-winning England captain Bobby Moore.
Will Stretford try to persuade his client to play for Rylands when his professional career ends?
“No,” he said. “I think Wayne will be performing at the top of the game throughout his playing career and then beyond that in coaching and management.
“That said, I might get him to put out a charity XI for us one day.”