Outspoken chairman resigns from Darlington FC after series of rows

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The Independent Online

His wife's observation that his players were not trying hard enough helped sow the seeds of acrimony, and yesterday the dream marriage between George Reynolds and Darlington Football Club ended in a messy divorce.

The former safe-cracker turned flat-pack furniture magnate resigned as chairman and director of the struggling Third Division side he bought five years ago with dreams of the Premiership and a £5.2m cheque to pay off its debts.

The departure of Mr Reynolds, 67, whose blunt speaking made him one of the Football League's more colourful club owners, came after he placed Darlington into administration shortly before Christmas amid acrimony over a scheme to use its stadium for concerts and car boot sales.

A court-appointed administrator will now try to draw up a survival plan for the Co Durham team, which is languishing second from the bottom of the Football League and faces a claim from its former owner for millions of pounds. Mr Reynolds, who provided the club with a £25m all-seater stadium as part of his project to transform its fortunes, said any new investors would have to deal with the fact that he is its largest creditor. "I am owed £15m and the administrator knows that," he said. "As far as I can see there is not even a pound note on the table. I'll always be there to help. But I am also the biggest creditor and anybody who feels they can do anything has to deal with me."

The rift between Darlington FC and the millionaire, whose personal fortune is estimated at £120m, is the latest twist in a rollercoaster relationship that has rarely been out of the headlines.

After buying the club in 1999, Mr Reynolds, who became Europe's biggest manufacturer of kitchen worktops after a youth spent blowing safes, made three promises: to clear its debts, build a stadium and secure top flight football.

Despite achieving the first two goals with the opening of the 25,000-seater Reynolds Arena last summer, the closest the club came to playing in football's most famous stadiums was a defeat in the play-off final at Wembley against Peterborough in 2000.

Relations worsened two years ago when Sue Reynolds, the chairman's outspoken wife who is 24 years his junior, launched into a 30-minute diatribe against the team at an emergency supporters' meeting. The outburst, peppered with quotes from the Bible, prompted a walk-out by the players after Mrs Reynolds appeared to suggest that they had thrown a game.

As fans booed, Mr Reynolds appeared to predict the future by telling them: "How do you expect me to support a club like this if my wife's beginning to hate it? Don't get the idea that I won't walk away. I would."

Prospects for the club, nicknamed the Quakers, briefly seemed to be improving last summer when Mr Reynolds announced that he had secured the services of the Colombian star Faustino Asprilla for a team 191 places off the top flight. The transfer quickly foundered.

David Field, the administrator of the club, said last night that Mr Reynolds had severed all ties with Darlington FC and that the extent of its debts would be revealed later this week.

In the meantime, a supporters' trust has been set up with the aim of raising £250,000 by March to secure the club's future. Mr Reynolds warned that it would only cover the players' wages for two months.