Gardiner invests in bright future

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The Independent Online
Stamco were already a wealthy club, by Sussex County League standards, before they changed their name to St Leonards Stamcroft and earned promotion to the Dr Martens (Southern) League this summer. Now, however, they enjoy a level of financial backing that must make almost every non-League club in the country jealous.

Mark Gardiner, who runs a double glazing firm in Hastings, became one of the country's biggest National Lottery multi-millionaires when he won pounds 11.6m in June last year. Gardiner, a Queen's Park Rangers fan with no previous involvement in the non-League game, initially approached Hastings Town and offered a sponsorship deal involving his firm, Croft Glass. They had just made alternative arrangements, however, so Gardiner moved on to Stamco, as they were then known, whose ground is next door to Hastings Town.

Gardiner initially invested pounds 20,000 in Stamco, which helped them win promotion to the Dr Martens League. This summer he pledged pounds 500,000 over three years to improve the club's facilities. With the club's long-serving chairman, Leon Shepperdson, maintaining his financial support at similar levels, the future looks bright for Stamcroft, who changed their name to reflect the involvement of Gardiner's business alongside Shepperdson's timber firm, Stamco.

The club are well placed in the top half of the Dr Martens Southern Division and last weekend they enjoyed a 4-1 win over their former County League rivals, Arundel, in the FA Cup. Their most famous player is Steve Gatting, the former Arsenal and Brighton defender and brother of Mike the cricketer, while Mike Trusson, once a midfielder with Plymouth, Sheffield United and Brighton but now marketing manager for the London restaurant Football Football, is player-coach.

"We're not in the Southern League to make up the numbers, and we've had a better start than other people expected," said the club's manager for 10 years, Michael Reed, who stressed that Gardiner's investment is funding improved facilities and that wages are little different to last season.

After the lucky day that changed his life, Gardiner's personal life became public property thanks to the tabloids, but Shepperdson prefers to concentrate on the positive. "He has put his money where his mouth is," Stamcroft's chairman said. "I know plenty of wealthy people who do not help their local area, but that certainly could not be said of him."