In a bygone age of British football, clubs weren’t owned by foreign billionaires or consortiums who spend millions and millions to ensure massive success.

In the 1990s and 2000s, it was common for football clubs to be owned by successful people from the local area who wanted to put their money back into the club.

For example, the former chairman of Reading, Sir John Madejski, founded Auto Trader magazine, making him a multi-millionaire.

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Sir John was cited as the model example of a “local boy done good” football chairman, but raised many eyebrows with his comments about how he was worth £250 million – but nowhere near rich enough to run a football club.

Many other football chairmen have not set such a good example. 

Who was George Reynolds?

George Reynolds is a former chairman of Darlington Football Club in England who was born on September 22, 1937.

Reynolds made his fortune through the kitchen and bathroom fitting company he founded in the 1960s.

He took over as chairman of Darlington FC in 1999 and was responsible for building a new stadium for the club named the Reynolds Arena in his honor.

You can’t fault Reynolds’ ambition, as the stadium capacity was 25,000, many times the average gate the Third Division side were getting at the time.

In 2005, Reynolds was jailed for tax evasion after taking £349,000 from his company.

He later claimed the theft was due to cash flow problems caused by delays in building the stadium.

His prison sentence followed another spell in jail after he deliberately set fire to a shop he owned in nearby Sunderland after a row with the landlord.

He was jailed for 18 months for the arson attack.

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Outlandish promises

Reynolds promised fans the club was to sign the Colombian star Faustino Asprilla – a superstar who starred for Premier League Newcastle United.

He was to be paid £10,000 a week – a massive wage for the time and the division.

It never happened.

Other statements that never happened included:

  • Taking the club to the Premier League in five years
  • Making Darlington the “Manchester United of the north-east” – in 2023, the club is in 6th place in the Vanarama National League North, with an average attendance of around 2,000.
  • Claiming he would pay high salaries to get better players
  • Claiming he was in talks to sign the world-famous Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne and Diego Maradona(Gascoigne was 32 at the time and still playing in the Premier League, Maradonna was 39 and had retired two years earlier)

What happened to Darlington FC next? 

Darlington went bankrupt in 2009, as did Reynolds.

The main reason was the massive size of the stadium and the high costs of its upkeep compared to the minuscule crowds the club was getting.

Reynolds’s brilliant idea to play Third Division players high salaries was also a factor.

The other issue over the size of the stadium was it was practically empty and virtually silent, leading to a lack of atmosphere.

It was Darlington’s ground for nearly a decade,

In addition to the financial difficulties, the size of the stadium also made it difficult for the club to maintain a strong home advantage, as the large size of the venue meant that the atmosphere could sometimes feel sparse or subdued.

Despite these challenges, the Reynolds Arena served as the home ground for Darlington Football Club for over a decade and was an important part of the club’s history.

It was bought by the Northern Echo news group in 2009 and became the Northern Echo arena.

It is now the home of Darlington Mowden Park RFC, a rugby union side.

The club now plays at Blackwell Meadows, a stadium in Darlington with a capacity of 3,281, with 588 seats.

Reynolds died on April 13 2021, aged 84.

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