|FA Cup preliminary round|
|Date: 23-25 August Coverage: Heather St John’s v Worcester City live on the Red Button and on the BBC Sport website from 12:30 BST on 24 August|
Having scooped £40.6m in the lottery, Gareth Bull knows how it feels to hit the jackpot.
A supporter of non-league Sherwood Colliery, Bull’s life changed forever in 2012 when he went from self-employed builder to multi-millionaire overnight.
He has since become chairman of the Nottinghamshire part-timers, who this season are taking part in the FA Cup for the first time since re-forming 11 years ago.
On Saturday, Sherwood Colliery, who play in the 10th tier of English football, are away at Loughborough Dynamo in the preliminary round – five hurdles from the first round proper – and Bull hopes his team can cash in.
Winning clubs at this stage of the FA Cup each receive £2,890, and Bull said: “That amount is enough to sustain a club like ours for six months.”
Despite his vast wealth, Bull is very much a ‘hands on’ chairman and club secretary Phil Kirkland, who has been with the club from the start, said: “You are most likely to find Gareth with a tin of paint in his hand than anything else.”
‘This is my hobby’
Based two miles from League Two club Mansfield Town, Sherwood Colliery – nicknamed ‘The Wood’ – play at Debdale Park, a multi-sports venue in the village of Mansfield Woodhouse, where Bull lives.
As a fan, he watched them play in the Midland Amateur Alliance in front of crowds of 40.
Since Bull became chairman in 2014 – two years after his life-changing EuroMillions win – the club have won promotion to the East Midlands Counties League, while average crowds have swelled to 77.
So with Bull’s financial clout, are The Wood planning on ‘doing a Salford City’ by spending big in an attempt to climb the leagues?
“I’d like to take Sherwood Colliery as far as I can,” Bull told BBC Sport.
“Some teams at this level throw money at it, but not us. Everybody thinks we do because of what has happened.
“The idea is to make the club sustainable so that when the current committee gets a bit older, the club does not fall away.
“The club is my hobby. I’m a local lad and I get a lot of enjoyment helping as best I can.
“I had volunteered to do work on the club’s new floodlights when the vacancy to become chairman came up. It was vacant for about six months so I decided to throw my hat into the ring. I’m very passionate about it.”
Despite having a wealthy chairman, Sherwood Colliery are not openly flashy.
Instead of splashing out on ground improvements, Bull used his know-how as a builder to make two 50-seater stands, while he can often be found putting up the nets before matches.
“Gareth mucks in like most people at grass-roots level,” added Kirkland.
“He gets involved in the upkeep and running of the club as much as anybody. He chairs our committee meetings and is an active member of the board.”
‘We budget for gates of 50’
One of Bull’s biggest extravagances since winning the lottery has been a hospitality box at Wembley for England games and one at Old Trafford for Manchester United home games.
He will miss United’s home game with Crystal Palace this Saturday so he can cheer on Sherwood Colliery as they attempt to reach the FA Cup first qualifying round.
“My parents will use the box instead,” adds Bull, who used his contacts at Old Trafford to help arrange a friendly against a Manchester United legends XI to celebrate the club’s 10th anniversary.
Wes Brown, a Champions League winner in 2008, was among those who played in front of a crowd of 1,062 at Debdale Park – a club-record attendance.
“We budget for a gate of 50 people – anything above that is a bonus,” added Kirkland.
“Proceeds from games like the legends match will keep us going for two or three seasons.
“In addition it helps create extra interest. A few players from our under-13s team acted as ball boys and our under-8s and under-9s walked out with the players.
“When you are a kid, those sort of memories stick in your head.”
Free coach travel and £75 season tickets
With interest steadily growing after finishing third in the table last season, partly due to 26 goals by leading scorer Gareth Curtis, Sherwood Colliery have introduced season tickets – £75 for adults, £35 for concessions – for the first time.
On Saturday, the club will lay on free coach travel for fans to make the 76-mile round-trip to Loughborough Dynamo.
Bull hopes it is not the last time he has to subsidise free travel to FA Cup games this season.
“No-one mentions it,” he replies, when asked what his fellow chairmen think about his lottery win.
“I think they are aware of it but we just talk football. It was seven years ago, so it’s a long time.
“I might be [one of the wealthiest chairmen at this level], I don’t know. I don’t really look at it like that.”
Like many clubs at this level, The Wood rely on volunteers to operate.
Fan Eric Sipson has been nominated for a Football Association volunteer of the year award.
“Eric pretty much does everything from fundraising to sorting the half-time drinks,” added Kirkland.
“He’s been here since the beginning. People like him are invaluable.”