David Conn: Reynolds saga leads Darlington to workhouse
Saturday 13 March 2004
The Dickensian tragedy which is the George Reynolds saga looks to be unfolding to its hubristic conclusion. The man with the mansion who spent £5.2m of his Rich List-sized fortune originally saving Darlington Football Club, then £14m building a 27,000-seat stadium which he named after himself, will be reduced in court next month to facing a bankruptcy petition.
Reynolds, who grew up in a tough orphanage, turned to crime, then later made a fortune in chipboard, admits to having embarked on the Darlo venture partly to garner some love which he never had before. He has spent everything he had on the club and on the George Reynolds Arena, whose expanses this season have rattled with crowds, on average, of around 4,500.
When banks would not lend him money, he borrowed £4m to finish the stadium from the moneylenders Melvyn Laughton, Sean Verity and Stewart Davies, who, as The Sterling Consortium, have previously lent to other football clubs in trouble, including Chesterfield and Barnsley. The £4m loan to Darlington is understood to have charged 15 per cent annual interest, was secured on the stadium, and supported by a personal guarantee from Reynolds. In December, with Darlington unable to pay its debts, Reynolds put the club into administration. His own company, George Reynolds UK, is in liquidation. Sterling have called on his personal guarantee, but he has not paid the £4m, so they they issued a bankruptcy petition, which Reynolds is due to face in Durham County Court on 14 April.
Reynolds, whose public mix of aggression and indignant self-justification gradually lost him the fans' support, is not displaying vulnerability. "Do you know what? I'm not bothered," he told me. He said his lifestyle would not change if he were made bankrupt because his daughter had cars and houses, and he would not lose all his money: "They have to find it all first."
He said bankruptcy would free him from the work and worry: "I'm going about with a smile on my face." With no firm offer in for the club itself, which owes around £20m, the administrator, David Field, said that The Sterling Consortium were increasingly likely to take the club over themselves, as the only way of recovering any of their money.
The Supporters Trust, which has been working with a local consortium, still hopes to be part of a solution, but £6m is required to pay off Sterling and 10p in the pound to other creditors, most prominently Reynolds himself, a lot of money for all but eccentrics to find for Darlington FC.
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