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As one of English football’s most prominent agents, Paul Stretford is used to seeing his clients grace the Wembley stage.
Wayne Rooney played many a game under the arch for club and country, while Harry Maguire will hope to help England to Euro 2020 glory there this summer.
As Stretford heads to the national stadium on Saturday, however, his focus will not be on any individual high-profile star, but a whole team from the amateur ranks – Warrington Rylands.
🚌 From Warrington to Wembley 🚌
And we’re off!
— Warrington Rylands FC (@RylandsFC) May 21, 2021
The Cheshire outfit play at Wembley for the first time as they face Berkshire club Binfield in the final of the FA Vase, the national knockout competition for clubs in tiers nine and 10 of the English football pyramid.
Stretford, through his company Triple S Sports & Entertainment Group, now owns Rylands after an offer to sponsor the club several years ago developed into something more substantial.
It has been quite a ride. Just three years ago they were playing in the 11th-tier – or step seven as it is referred to in non-league terms – Cheshire League. This week, hot on the heels of their FA Vase semi-final win over Walsall Wood, they learned they would be elevated from the North West Counties League to the step four Northern Premier League West under a restructure.
Wembley comes as good reward for all those involved, but Stretford insists it is not just a day out.
“Obviously it has gone beyond expectations from where we were four years ago,” Stretford told the PA news agency. “It’s been a meteoric rise both on and off the pitch.
“It is amazing what the management team and the players have achieved, and also those that are behind them. For all the hard work that has gone in, it’s reward for that.
“But we’re set up to be as professional as we can, so the satisfaction will come with leaving Wembley with a trophy in our hands.”
Stretford, 62, is passionate about a club that spans three generations of his family. His grandfather played for them after the First World War, his father was treasurer and he himself turned out for them in the 1970s and 1980s.
He initially got financially involved to help the club back on to a sound footing after they hit difficulties but, after their successes, people are now wondering how high they can go. Perhaps they could even emulate Salford and climb into the English Football League.
Asked if that was the aim, Stretford said: “If it was as easy as saying it then yes – but our intention is to be a successful club.
“We need to keep moving forward, we need to keep building on the level we play at. We need to keep building the fanbase and the infrastructure of the club.
“We’ve not got a set statement of ‘we need to be in the Football League by XYZ’ because we are a club that is growing on a day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year basis.
“We don’t want to be outrageous with our statements, but we do want to go about it in a professional manner.”
— Warrington Rylands FC (@RylandsFC) May 12, 2021
Rylands were boosted on their journey to Wembley by a surprise visit from Rooney, record goalscorer for both England and Manchester United and now Derby manager, ahead of last week’s semi-final.
“The things he said certainly focused the attention and were useful on the day,” said Stretford.
“He was great for the boys, great for the club and we are just happy he took the time out in such a busy period for him and we were able to reward him by getting the result.”
Rylands will now aim higher as they follow in Rooney’s footsteps on to the Wembley turf.