WHEN BRIGHT young Bradford lad Gareth Roberts arrived for his first day at Oxford, it was in clothes paid for by the local social services.
It can be little wonder then that the oil tycoon feels indebted to the community which would “quite literally have given you the shirt off your back”.
Now the Texas-based businessman is aiming to level the playing field in his capacity as owner of his home town club Bradford Park Avenue.
Despite moving to the USA at the tender age of 21, the businessman never forgot the sense of community spirit growing up on a council estate in Holme Wood, Bradford.
When aged seven he lost his father, who died after collapsing at his son’s school sports day at the Horsfall Stadium, locals rallied around the youngster and his mother.
“We were very poor, and other people were too but they gave us things when they didn’t have much themselves,” said Mr Roberts.
“It’s like Bill Gates giving 10 per cent of his net worth away. But that’s what they did in those days, and that’s what we need back in society.
“It made me what I am.”
This sense of community Mr Roberts has put at the heart of his mission at the helm of non-league outfit Bradford Park Avenue.
With the club languishing near to the bottom of the Conference North, success on the pitch is a must.
But the takeover is about much more than throwing money at a football team to buy a host of new players. The new boss, who completed the formal transfer of major shareholding of the club last week, hopes to create new football facilities which will benefit the whole area for decades to come.
Mr Roberts told The Yorkshire Post: “I’ve supported various charities in the area over the years but it is hard to make a lot of difference.
“Football is about a lot more than 90 minutes on a pitch. We want to inspire young people. In the area I grew up in there aren’t decent facilities to play football.
“I want to build a decent quality football team and provide a good facility which will last for, say 50 years. I want the next few generations to have memories of the team.”
Mr Roberts inherited a lifelong love of Bradford Park Avenue, known as The Avenue, from his uncle Vincent, who took him to games as a boy.
As a young football fan he dreamed of following in the footsteps of his sporting heroes, but his mother put an end to the fantasy and told him to concentrate on academia.
The application to study helped the former Tong Comprehensive School pupil win a scholarship to Oxford and go on to complete a masters in geology from St Edmund Hall.
Upon graduating he secured a job with oil giant Texaco in London. He was moved almost immediately to New Orleans, carving a successful career in the exploration and development of oil and natural gas.
The married father-of-three went on to found his own business, Denbury Management Inc, but has continued to follow the fortunes of The Avenue closely and catch a game wherever possible.
“I get back to visit about two to three times every year, but I think I’ll have to increase that now,” the 59-year-old said.
Following the team’s exit from the football league in 1970, however, it has filled with more lows than highs, something he hopes to rectify in his new role.
Mr Roberts said: “Relegation is not an option.”