Bill's Yeading firmly in the heartlands

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The Independent Football

It would have been Elvis Presley's 70th birthday next week, which is why those clever folk at Carlsberg dreamed up a ruse involving impersonators, wigs and the players of Yeading FC. After all, the chances of the Ryman Premier club overcoming their FA Cup third-round opponents are deemed as likely as The King wandering down South Africa Road ahead of the tie being played at Queen's Park Rangers' ground on Sunday.

Except Yeading said no. Their manager, Johnson Hippolyte, did not think it was a good idea. He wants his players to stay focused. "He's quietly confident in a way," says Yeading's commercial director, and only full-time employee, Bill Perryman.

The club's opponents are Newcastle United and never before, it is claimed, in the history of the competition have teams met with quite such a gulf between them. Yeading would have to win six promotions - and leapfrog 140 or so places - to meet the multi-millionaire Tynesiders as equals.

"Us playing them really is fairy-tale stuff," says Perryman. He is speaking the day it is announced that Newcastle are paying £8m for Jean-Alain Boumsong. Yeading's record signing is the £3,000 they spent for striker Marvin Morgan. "And we normally wouldn't dream of paying that kind of money," Perryman says.

There is extra motivation, not that it is needed, which has come from the crass arrogance of a Newcastle scout who twice came to watch the modest little club nestled to the west of London, by Heathrow Airport. "They watched us the Saturday before Christmas - we played really well that day and won 3-0," says Perryman, "and again last Tuesday on a bumpy pitch. It was a dire game, really, and we scraped a 1-0 win. Their scout said to our chairman after the game, 'It's just a question of how many. If [Craig] Bellamy plays he'll have four before half-time'."

And maybe he will. If he doesn't - and Yeading somehow pull off a result - it will be the biggest upset since, well, since Newcastle slipped up against Hereford United in that famous 1972 mud-bath. The winning goal that day was scored by Ricky George, who was the first visitor to Yeading's Warren ground after the draw was made last month. "He was here to do a newspaper piece," says Perryman. He knows George well, "from my days in the shop," he recalls. "He was our adidas rep."

"The shop" is a reference to the years Perryman, 55, spent in business with his brother, Steve, running Steve Perryman Sports, a chain of five shops they started when Steve was just 19, embarking on his football career, and Bill was 21. The shops were sold just five years ago. "We could no longer compete with the big boys," says Perryman.

Both brothers will do so next weekend, however. Steve, the former Tottenham Hotspur captain, who twice lifted the Cup, is now the director of football at Exeter City, and they, of course, play Manchester United on Saturday. He will then drive south to watch Yeading's game, not just to support his brother but also because he is the club's life vice-president.

The association with the Perrymans, who come from nearby Northolt, runs deep. "I think we first supplied Yeading with a kit in 1972," says Bill Perryman. "I used to play football with a lot of the lads on Sundays and a lot of them were Spurs supporters. The friendship and the association continued." So much so that Perryman eventually went to work for Yeading, where his job is to raise money but "somewhere like here you have to be prepared to do everything". He is in "first thing" and is there to lock up after the last match at 10.15pm.

They are a remarkable club, and have their own anniversary to celebrate this year. It was 40 years ago that a youth team run from a nearby pub, the Industry, decided to expand. "Everything they went into they won," says Perryman, "and they got given this piece of land". He looks out across The Warren's pitch, from the clubhouse which was partly built by the players themselves. "At the time a lot of them were bricklayers and builders, and it was all done relatively cheap," Perryman explains. "The chairman [Philip Spurden], who is our ex-goalie, is a builder also."

Playing Newcastle (the match will be televised live by the BBC) will give Yeading, top of their league, the funds "to do the things we need to do to go to the next level" if promoted. A new stand will be built, plus "terracing around the other sides". The players will once again muck in. "It's a very low-budget club," says Perryman.

They tried to comply with FA rules, which were brought in after the Farnborough Town fiasco, and stage the tie at home. "But the fences keep coming down every week and I'm always having to prop them up," says Perryman, who had nightmares of ticketless fans roaming outside the ground while others slipped and slid on the muddy patch to one side of the pitch. "I don't think any of us would have enjoyed it," he says. "The romantics thought we had a chance. But realistically, no."

Still, Yeading received some angry letters when they were allowed to switch to Loftus Road, where they hope to attract at least 15,000 (their usual attendance is 130). If they had been allowed to "do a Farnborough", and play the tie at the opposition's ground, it would have meant even more money. "And we're structured in way that no one can just take that money out," says Perryman. "It would all go back into the club. The chairman keeps saying that not switching it to Newcastle [capacity 52,000] has cost this community a full-size Astro pitch. That's what we had earmarked."

Yeading now run 18 youth teams and plough a lot back into the local community. Their biggest claim to fame, before the FA Cup, was featuring in adverts for Carlsberg and ING Direct and the film Bend It Like Beckham, with Perryman handed a walk-on part. "The director asked me to say something," says Perryman, "and she brought down this great big mike and I had to speak into it. When the film crew came back for the finishing touches a month later they were calling me 'One-take Bill'."

Yeading are also hoping to improvise their own script next weekend. Then they can Beat It Like Bellamy.

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