A BILLIONAIRE investor wants to turn a non-league Northumberland football club into an “international icon”.
Robert Rich – 488th richest man in the world and head of the Rich Corporation in America – is willing to listen to ideas to take Bedlington Terriers as far as they want to go.
Last month the Terriers revealed Mr Rich had visited the club after calling chairman Dave Holmes, saying he wanted to sponsor their shirts.
He had discovered ancestral roots in the area and wanted to see how he could help the town, which bore similarities to his native Buffalo.
Now Mr Rich has revealed he knows many of the Americans investing in Premier League teams, including Randy Lerner of Aston Villa, John W Henry, who is behind Liverpool, and Manchester United’s Glazer family.
Yesterday he told The Journal: “Could the Bedlington Terriers become an international brand – even an international icon? We’re having fun.
“I know all those guys – John Henry and the Glazer family. John Henry came along when we were running minor league baseball.
“I don’t want to be them. [But] we’ve got ideas like having replica shirts made here in America.
“This isn’t my first time at the rodeo – I’ve been in baseball for a long time, so I know the fun you can have with a business. But we’re not in that – we’re helping people who need help.”
Mr Rich is going to sell the shirts via his own channels and at the baseball grounds, where the novelty of a small English club could catch on. He will also contact the many US dog clubs, where the dog emblem and Bedlington Terrier associations could make it a hit.
He also told of his success with baseball teams in a similar position to the Terriers, taking over the ailing Buffalo Bisons and increasing attendance from 28,000 a year to one million a year for the last eight years.
The club has played down the significance of his involvement, explaining the sponsorship figure was nothing out of the ordinary and that they are still focused on their smaller sponsors. Currently his financial help is small, stretching to reseeding the pitch and buying a £30,000 scoreboard.
But he said he is interested to hear the club’s dreams and further investment ideas. He said: “I hope I have the opportunity to make those kind of decisions. I hope good things happen with where they move up. I know they’re looking at where the team plays. I haven’t made any promises – having said that, I would love to see them do well and let them challenge me to increase our participation, whether to increase sponsorship or whatever.
“People keep looking for an angle, but sometimes you go somewhere and feel at home, and say ‘hey, I can relate to you’, and I feel a kinship to them.
“I want to help Bedlington Terriers. I’m still learning about British football, and I understand that if they do well on the field it can move up in divisions. If this is the dream the community has, I want to help. I don’t want to become an owner – I just want to help.”
Secretary David Collop said the name ‘Mr Rich’ made it sound more like a wind-up. He said: “It’s helping the community and it’s a fantastic gesture. It’s a like a fairytale. It’s great he’s helping – who knows where it can go? He said he’ll take it as high as he can and will help us achieve those ambitions.”
Chairman Dave Holmes told The Journal Mr Rich wants to make them a cult following, but felt it was not about money so much as about people.
He said: “All those local corner shops that have helped us – we still need them. We’re not a rich club now, it’s just that we’ve got this association.
“It’s exciting and we’re enjoying it but we’re as we were – down to earth. I don’t know what it means to the club. It’s about people. The people he met were down to earth and not trying to be something they weren’t.”
Who is Bedlington's Mr Rich?
ROBERT Rich, 69, is joint 488th richest man in the world and lives in Buffalo in New York State, America.
He is chairman of Rich Products Corporation, which makes more than 2,000 food products, including toppings, desserts, pizzas and breads.
He now owns more than 70% of the company and has a net worth of £2bn. He owns the Buffalo Bisons, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals and Jamestown Baseball Incorporated, and has been involved with baseball for many years, as well as hockey and lacrosse.
Bedlington Terriers are currently seventh in the STL Northern League Division One, the ninth tier of English football.