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George Reynolds - Playing by his own rules
Tuesday 16 March 2004, 7.00pm, BBC Two
Footballers in training
Darlington train whilst their colourful Chairman wheels and deals

George Reynolds - former safe breaker, former chipboard kitchen tycoon and now former Chairman of Darlington Football Club.

Homeground follows the spectacular rise and fall of this colourful local legend, and goes behind the scenes at his former club.

George Reynolds was a football club chairman like no other. He had his own unique code of conduct, and played by his own set of rules.

It was an approach that won the charismatic Reynolds as many enemies as friends. Revered as a hero in his hometown of Sunderland, Homeground investigates the man behind the fiery image and looks at what makes him tick.

Hometown hero

George Reynolds had a tough upbringing in the dockland slums of Sunderland.

Reynolds dressed as convict
Reynolds plays on his ex-convict past for a jocular photo shoot

It was a neighbourhood where bare knuckle fighting was a common occurrence.

"It was very, very hard. Down here, if you didn't steal, you starved... You had to be able to fight down here."

He used to smuggle watches from incoming ships, a crime for which he served six months inside in the 1960s.

It was the start of a criminal career which Reynolds makes no secret of.

His reputation built up from there, but it was to the world of business that George eventually turned, with great success.

He amassed a small fortune, and dreamed of owning a football club. When the self-made millionaire bought Darlington Football Club, he hoped to translate this success to the sporting arena.

Field of dreams

When George Reynolds took over Darlington FC in 1999, it was a struggling Third Division football club with an old-fashioned ground.

But George had grand designs. Shortly after arriving at Darlington, Reynolds initiated a huge building programme. He was to spend more than £30 m on a new stadium to fulfil his dreams.

Feethams football ground
Feethams - original home to The Quakers since the 1880s

A new era loomed at Darlington, but did Reynolds have the recipe for football success?

The countdown to a new stadium for the club began in 2001.

Darlington's old ground at Feethams was to be replaced with a state-of-the-art stadium, good enough to compete with the best.

Reynolds called the old stadium "a nice little ground", controversially pointing out that, "all Feethams needs really is a big JCB putting through it. I love this Feethams like a hole in the head."

Reynolds' ambitions on the pitch were just as high, and his rhetoric backed this up, "We didn't build this for the Third Division. We built this for the Premier Division. We will get there sooner or later."

Reynolds boasted that Darlington could be in the Premiership in five years, competing with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea.

His critics were sceptical but George didn't care. "I love proving people wrong. Oh, I love that," he said at the time.

Fighting words

Darlington Fact File

* Darlington Football Club was formed in 1883 following a meeting of local amateur teams.

* In 1889 Darlington became one of the ten original founders of the Northern League.

* Darlington played the first ever FA Cup game under floodlights when the club met Carlisle United at St James' Park in 1955.

* Darlington's best ever win was 13-1 against Scarborough in the FA Cup in 1891.

George Reynolds - Quotes

"Never listen to the fans or the manager 'cos they never get it right."

"Football's easy. All you've got to do is do things right and don't give the money away to the players."

"There's nothing I'd like better than to see Darlington in the Premier division. What an achievement!"

"I'm dyslexic, backward, mentally deficient and couldn't read or write. So I've got everything going for me as Chairman of a football club." Quoted in The Times.

The new chairman had a business philosophy all of his own, and woe-betide anyone who disagreed with his opinions.

He was renowned for confronting journalists on their own doorsteps, and publicly warning fans that he would go to their homes if they criticised him or his family.

George Reynolds famously said that his detractors could "expect confrontation at home or at the ground."

"If anyone has a go at me, I find out where they live and go and knock on the door.

"As soon as I do that, they ring the Police."

But the man himself couldn't understand why this caused such a negative reaction with journalists and the club's supporters.

"Why should they be scared of me? I'm 67... so who's the coward?" said Reynolds.

He added, "The fans can be very temperamental at times."

Boom to bust

After two years in development, the new Reynolds Arena finally opened its doors in December 2003.

Reynolds' wife Sue paid tribute to her husband, "It's been tremendous hard work. He's been here just about 24 hours a day for the last month or so."

Reynolds' car outside new football stadium
Reynolds built £30 m worth of stadium

But despite opening successfully with 11,000 attendance, some fans remained critical.

Many pointed to the lack of investment on the pitch whilst others railed against the 27,000 capacity stadium built for a club with average gates of 3,000.

But there was to be a new twist in the tale of the club with the controversial chairman.

Just as Reynolds' dreams were about to be realised, the club was plunged into a financial crisis, worsened by a string of bad results on the pitch.

George Reynolds resigned, leaving his Third Division club with a new stadium, but on the brink of collapse.

Game over?

Darlington Football Club is in now in administration and battling against relegation from the Football League.

On December 23, 2003, Wilson Field, were appointed joint administrators of Darlington Football Club by the High Court.

David Field has now taken measures to secure the club's future. "Since our appointment, we have safeguarded the short term survival of the club," he says.

"We have enabled the club to continue trading to fulfil its fixtures to date, and have secured sufficient funding that should ensure the club's survival to the end of the season.

Darlington players on pitch
"The club, town and people of Darlington have a stadium they should be proud of", says David Field

Field is relatively upbeat about finding a buyer.

"We have actively marketed the club for sale, locally, nationally, and internationally, and received a number of enquiries.

"We are continuing discussions with two interested parties, and are optimistic that an offer will be received that will... enable the company to come out of administration, and allow the club to continue to play in the football league for the foreseeable future."

Ironically it was building the stadium that sent the club into administration, but it could also prove to be its salvation.

"In excess of £15m has been spent building and fitting out a brand new, 25,000 seat stadium, which would be a credit to any football club," says Field.

"In addition to the football facilities, the stadium has excellent commercial facilities, and with the right development of those facilities, should provide the basis for a very profitable business in the future."


So what of George Reynolds today? The businessman is now technically unemployed, but waiting for his next move.

"If I turn the clock back, I probably should have looked into getting Sunderland instead of Darlington. But there again, I took Darlington because it was a lame duck," he says.

George Reynolds and wife at stadium
George Reynolds and his wife didn't get the triumph they hoped for at the new stadium

"I've built £30m of stadium, and then they have the audacity to have a go at you," says Reynolds.

"It's like Robin Hood. They made out how he was a wonderful person, and really he was a villain... Sometimes I find that the bad guys are the good guys."

As David Field points out, "To be fair he's done a very good job in keeping costs down," pointing to the club's small staff numbers, and the fact that the players aren't overpaid.

The club can remain in administration for 12 months, but it needs a clear game plan if it's to continue trading next season.

It's a testing time for Darlington Football Club which remains on the brink of extinction.

As for the club's former chairman, it will intriguing to see what his next move will be. The only surprise will be if George Reynolds doesn't continue playing by his own rules...

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received. We regret that we will not be publishing any new comments on this article.

Marco Gabby
Why not come to Hartlepool they've put a couple of settees into the ground and made it an all seater stadium

Thanks for showing this again, hopefully people can see what Darlo have been through in recent years... Mr Reynolds has taken the club away from the fans. Long Live Darlo FC

as in the programme on reynolds, i will take a leaf out of my fellow fans and say *no comment*

Alastair Wilson
I'm not feeling so sceptical as a lot of people. Hopefully we'll find a buyer, and with the stadium, if we steady ourselves financially, it should become a good little earner. Also, with Hodgson as manager, the team can only get better! Although I'm glad GR has gone, without him we'd be financially struggling AND without a big stadium!! All in all, I think we're moving forward!

Sussex Darlo Fan
My daughter was the mascot at the game against Exeter where Reynolds was unveiled as the saviour. She was 8 yrs old. He told her that by the time she was a teenager we would be in the Premiership. She's 12 and a half now and is looking forward to another season in Div 3 !!!

The crux of this is that the club can only really attract about 5000 supporters on a regular basis, so building a ground with a capacity of 27000 was always madness ... the madness of our George ...

How much did the Arena cost I have seen £15m, £18m, £20m, £22m, £25m, £30m & £46m so George whats the correct cost ?.

Good riddance, Reynolds.

Thomas Clark
I've been a Darlington fan for about six or seven years now, I've never seen a wilder chairman ever than an Reynolds himself.

I was sat in a small clubshop when the steelwork was going up for the arena, there was an old couple sat next to me watching the virtual reality video of the stadium, the old couple said, "what if the team's not good enough, what are you going to do?" George said "I'll chuck five or six million at them." What I want to know is why didnt he do it?!

Come on Darlo
So where are we now, five years on? Fighting for survival, are we worse off...yes!

Darlo Fan
When are you going to show the juicy bits off the cutting room floor? Come on, you know you want to!

Just get yourselves a decent lawyer!

Owen - Darlo fan for over 20 years
It appears that George Reynolds has brought about his own demise. He was the club, and the fan's saviour when he took over and no-one should forget that.

But instead of running the club in a professional manner and listening to advice when it was offered, George ignored it. If he'd made an honest go of it and failed then he would have our sympathy.

I think I can speak for most Darlo fans when I say good riddance. Long live The Quakers!

HMS Scylla became Britain's first artificial reef off the Cornwall coast.
The day they sucttled Scylla (image: divers)
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