True grit keeps Wolfson's hand in the stadium game

The leisure company produces the package that it hopes will save it from the backwash of its 1980s acquisition spree
Click to follow
Those predicting that a Wembley rescue would see the end of Sir Brian Wolfson under-estimated his instinct for survival.

"He's proved again and again that he has a very thick hide that will stand up to any amount of stick," said Jarvis Astaire, the boxing promoter who first met Mr Wolfson 30 years ago when the young Liverpudlian entrepreneur workedat Granada in the television rental company.

Sir Brian has come a long way since. He has acquired a host of business commitments in Britain and the US, a Bentley, an awesome number of contacts and a knighthood. Success was achieved through hard work, the connections through aggressive social networking that culminated in a friendship with Lady Thatcher and the chairmanship of the controversial National Training Task Force.

Sir Brian first demonstrated a certain true grit after his father, who had run the family's Merseyside motor distribution and engineering company, suddenly died while the 15-year-old was still studying at college in Liverpool. A few years later, while studying law at university for a year, hewas called home to rescue the ailing business. This he did, and sold it.

By the time he ran into MrAstaire, Sir Brian had been headhunted by Granada. By the age of 32 he had become one of Alex Bernstein's chief executives expanding the television leasing into the US.

Although he was tipped as an heir-apparent, Mr Wolfson turned his back on the corporate treadmill and, in a display of the sort of wilfulness that critics would come to say was his undoing, packed in his job and moved to South-east Asia to make his fortune.

He was back in Britain 17 years later, involved in trying to bring the Olympic Games to London. The 58-year-old Wembley Stadium should have been an ace in the consortium's hand butwas dilapidated due to under-investment.

Building up Wembley, Sir Brian cast himself as something of a national hero. Inspired bythe 1966 World Cup, when Bobby Moore led the England team to victory over Germany, he dreamed of returning the stadium to its former glory - or so the story went. His critics say that his attempts to finance this ambition also existed in a dream world. Too many deals were done for cash, not paper, and when the recession began to bite he dismissed its effects, saying in 1991: "We have simply lost a year in getting our return."

As bankers tried to tie up the loose ends of his scattered empire over the past 12 months of negotiations, they wondered at the energy that had gone into striking so many deals, even though many of them were potentially ruinous.