AS we walk around what is now pretty much an empty shell inside Rylands Recreation Club, Paul Stretford’s ambition is clear to see.

Talk of bistros and sports bars in the future set the imagination racing – and that is before anything outside of the building is discussed.

His approach since coming into the club has upset plenty and there will be those who will never back his plans.

However, if his ambitions for Gorsey Lane are realised, Rylands will be a facility Warrington can be proud of.

“It’s got bags of opportunity,” Stretford says.

“If you played football or rugby, worked for Rylands or came across to the Memorial Hall for a concert or function, you will know of the place but the wider community do not know what can be done here. That’s a phenomenal opportunity.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication, but I feel we’re on that journey now.

“The clubhouse probably hasn’t been touched in 50 years, but we’re making some major changes that will make it a venue not just for those playing sport, but people who just want to enjoy good food and good surroundings.

“There’s a wider world out there and we want to attract it.”

Warrington Guardian:

Rylands Recreation Club. Picture by Mike Boden

For Stretford – a highly successful sports agent whose clients include Wayne Rooney and Harry Maguire – this journey is a very personal one.

Having been to Bruche Primary School and Woolston High School, many of his formative years were spent playing in the blue of Rylands FC, playing a part in one of the club’s most successful eras.

Mid-Cheshire League titles were won and the latter stages of the FA Vase were reached one year – all with Stretford playing either in midfield or attack.

These are days he recalls very fondly and it is where the roots of his career on the business side of sport started to grow.

“When I left junior school, my headmaster said in a note to my mum that I was bright and enthusiastic but I needed to realise there was more to life than football,” he said.

“There was a lot of truth in what he was saying, but that’s how I was.

“That’s what I was driven by – I wanted to play football at the highest level I possibly could.

“It was a really cold Tuesday night training session under Tommy Ellis, who was the manager then, when I first came here. Ian Pollard was the chairman.

“We trained just across the way from where the club is now. There was open grass there and we had floodlights in the trees.

“I’ll never forget Tommy’s son Mike Ellis was playing out wide for us and the trouble with lights in the trees was they didn’t tell you the tree was there.

“The next thing we knew, there was a thud and Mike was flat out on the floor!

“I played up front and scored goals. I could play as a 10 or I could battle it out in midfield with people.

“I could pass and score but I definitely didn’t have enough pace and probably wasn’t technically good enough to compensate for my size.

“Even when I was here playing, I was working on the commercial side.

“I generated the programme for them, brought in sponsorships and created the badge we still have now.

“Wanting to be a footballer was a big part of me but after that, my desire was wanting to work in the sports business.”

Eventually, the pull of life in London proved too much for Stretford to resist and he left his home town behind.

His career blossomed and he is now the proud managing director of Triple S Sports and Entertainment Group, whose head offices are in Lymm.

Warrington Guardian:

Wayne Rooney – the record goalscorer for both Manchester United and England – is one of Paul Stretford's clients. Picture by Mike Egerton/PA Wire

However, running an errand for father Ron and bumping into an old teammate started the chain of events that led to him taking control of the club.

“My dad wasn’t well, I’d gone to his house to see him and he needed something from the chemist,” Stretford recalled.

“It was a rainy Saturday so I went to the chemist on Orford Lane for him.

“I had a wait for the thing Dad needed to come in so I thought I’d see if Rylands were at home.

“I walked in and the place was looking completely dilapidated, the team wasn’t at the level it was when I played.

“The whole place looked tired and was pretty much being held together by a man called Ian Fitchett, who I played alongside.

“He was doing absolutely everything – playing, managing, secretary, writing the programme – and without him, I doubt the football part of the place would still be alive.

“He asked if there was anything I could do to help and I said I would sort some sponsorship out. That’s where it all started.

“From there, because of my affiliation with the club, I got to the point that I was becoming more and more interested and involved to see where we could go with it.

“Over time, my focus became about what could happen, how it would link up with our business and how we could bring the place back to former glories.”

As it turned out, Stretford’s return to his old stomping ground could not have been better timed.

While the first team were competing in the Cheshire League, an opportunity to move up the footballing pyramid was about to present itself.

For that to be achieved, they had to do one of two things – win promotion on the field or develop enough off it to satisfy a ground grading committee.

“We were very fortunate, but we made our own luck,” Stretford said.

“We started the ground development work while we were still in the Cheshire League and an opportunity for us to apply for the North West Counties League was there.

“We didn’t make it through promotion, but the grading committee could see the work that was already done.

“They told us what else we needed to do and we made a commitment to do it.”

They were suitably impressed and Rylands were admitted into the North West Counties League for the first time in their history.

Blues were placed in Division One South – but not for long.

“We got into Division One South, won it and won the Super Cup with the Division One North champions,” Stretford continued.

“Our aim was for consolidation and to do well in a cup, so we were at least a year ahead of schedule.

“Once you’re on that journey, you’ve got to ride its coattails. There was no point in us putting the brakes on.”

Warrington Guardian:

Rylands stormed to the First Division South title in their first season as a North West Counties League club. Picture by Lee Wolstencroft

With the league won at a canter, Rylands now sit in the Premier Division.

Notoriously difficult to get out of as it usually has only one promotion spot available, more reorganisation has meant three teams will be promoted to the Northern Premier League for next season.

While that may be a mouth-watering proposition – and the team looks like they may challenge to do just that – Stretford is thinking bigger.

“We’ve improved the team and the facilities again,” he said.

“We’ve had the grading committee down and we know what we need to do, not just for the next step but for the one after that. Our full intention is to do that.

“The first team is an advertisement for what we do.

“I don’t want to say we want to be at a certain level by a certain date, but everything we do will be geared for taking that first team being a flagship for the club.

“Underneath that is a community operation that goes right down to under 7s – we’ve even got toddler groups for 4-6 year olds – and up to North West Counties youth team and two women’s teams that have both been champions.

“Presently, we’ve got around 250 members signed up and we’re looking to expand that again. We’re not getting everything right, but we’re doing a lot of things right.

“A very realisable dream is getting a 4G pitch open that not only serves the club but the wider community as well.

“There are a number of primary schools around here that are losing facilities left, right and centre and I want to get them playing sport again.

“We can fulfil the government requirement of two hours per week of sporting activity – it doesn’t have to be football, it can be whatever.

“We want the place to become self-financing.

“It hasn’t really been that because it was supported by a works, who made sure the losses were covered. That’s really the role we’ve taken on now.

“We want to make it self-sustaining and make it one of the gems of the town.

“We want to increase our reach to people who are open to playing football at whatever level they can.

“I want Rylands to be a true community club.”