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The Roker Ramble: The Ego Has Landed


This has been, and still is, a sad week in the football community of not only the North East, but the country as a whole.

On Monday, it was announced that the administrators that had taken control of Darlington FC had sacked the entire playing staff and manager Craig Liddle, leaving the club in dire straights, and fighting for their lives against all the odds. Although things haven't been officially declared over and done with at The Darlington Arena and there are more positive signs starting to emerge, you can't help but feel immeasurably sorry for the team's fans.

With that in mind, and with it being easy to point something of a finger of blame at former chairman George Reynolds, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the egotistical b*llends that have ruined football clubs across the land in the past, and should never have been allowed into the game in the first place. For all we like to laugh at our friends up the road and their tracksuit-flogging chief, these fellas make him look like a saint.

Rather than tuck straight into the horrorshow that is Darlington, the logical place to start is one of the most well-known stories of recent times. A man who has made a habit of ruining football clubs. A man who makes it look like a hobby. That man is, of course, Peter Ridsdale.

Although it wasn't always the way at Leeds, the head honcho soon ran into trouble when he borrowed more than £60m against future gate receipts when the Yorkshire club were enjoying a successful time in the Champions League. This was all hinged on the fact that they would qualify for the competition the following season. It goes without saying that this didn't happen, and the club became riddled with a debt that was rather huge at the time.

Of course, famously, that wasn't what got the headlines. The whole Leeds operation was to become a joke, and it all stemmed from the man at the top. While the club were in financial dire straits, money was been splashed up the wall on a fleet of company cars for directors and a private jet. Fit and proper person? Doesn't look like it, does it?

However, the most entertaining story to come out of Leeds at the time was about the much-publicised fish in the Elland Road board room. Although they actually only cost the club a measly £20 a month, on top of a hell of a lot of pennies on a posh tank, the little swimmers were on loan at Leeds. Why? Because, in Ridsdale's words, 'It ensured that they would always be fed if someone wasn't in the office."

So, after slipping one to Leeds where the sun doesn't shine, and been cast out of West Yorkshire, the chairman extraordinaire decided to chance his arm in South Yorkshire instead, and pushed Barnsley to the brink of extinction before local businessman Patrick Cryne stepped in to steady the ship. However, Tykes fans can thank themselves lucky really that the damage stopped there.

Skip forward a few years to Cardiff City, and with Mr Ridsdale in charge, yet another club found itself on the verge of liquidation. When he walked away from Wales, not only had he conned season ticket holders, but he'd dragged the club through the courts to face no-less than five winding up orders, before nipping over the bridge with debts of £65m against the Bluebirds. Fans would never forgive him for making them shell out £400 for their season ticket under the impression that the money would be spent on players in the January transfer window. Was there any money available when the window opened? God no. That's not Ridsdale's way.

And on we move to Plymouth Argyle. Where, despite Peter Reid investing his own money into the club to pay the youth team players and the gas bill, he was unceremoniously dumped out of the club by his new chairman within a couple of weeks. Okay, so this time the club was on a frankly terrible run of form and struggling in League Two, but it does bring up some questions about decisions based on morality within the game.

He hasn't been at Preston North End for long at the moment, but he's already seen it fit to sack Phil Brown (although who could blame him there?), and it will be interesting to see what happens to the club in the near future. All that I can imagine is, given his past record, it won't be pretty.

Which brings us back onto the man in question. The very lovely George Reynolds.

Now I am not one to judge about what having a criminal record means for a person. I mean, David Dickinson spent some time in prison, didn't he? And he did a bloody wonderful job on Bargain Hunt before that other guy took over and ruined it all.

To put the bloke into a bit of context, for those of you that aren't already familiar with his 'colourful' story, Reynolds had been to prison four times by the time he was 40, and one of those stints saw him at Her Majesty's pleasure for the petty crime of safe-cracking, handling explosives, burglary and theft. Sound like the kind of guy that you want running your football club? Well, surprisingly, at first, the Darlington fans had nothing but good words to say about him.

Unfortunately for them, and even more so for the club as a whole, it wasn't to last. Instead, 'Glorious' George's ego kicked in, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Reynolds took the club from their former ground Feethams and into an arena that most Championship clubs would be proud of. No expense was spared as he created a 25,000 all-seater stadium, with all the mod cons inside. However, as wonderful of a stadia that it may have been, the club was only drawing attendances of approximately 3,000 at the time, and that was never going to help them recoup the £20m that he spent on the wonderfully named 'George Reynolds Arena'. Ego? What ego?

Rumours began to circulate about the chairman, and it was even claimed that he used to turn up at supporter's houses in the middle of the night, offering them a fight.

If you ever have time, pick up a copy of Spencer Austin's 'I am the Gloryhunter'. In that book, he talks to Reynolds about how his time went at Darlington. Rather than accept that he ever did anything wrong, instead he insists that crowds dwindled once he left the club, because he was loved by the supporters there, and that they were voting with their feet by no longer attending games.

It goes without saying that they were never going to recover from such a financial hit, and the club went into administration in 2004. That was the start of the battle, and it doesn't look like they are going to recover from it.

And what became of 'Glorious George'? Well, he was arrested for money laundering shortly after his time at Darlington was up, after police caught him with half a million pounds in his car boot. Some would say that it's unfortunate that he seems to have found his feet again now in the business world, but I'll leave that to them.

It's a heart-breaking situation that Darlington find themselves in now. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow to the news that there might no longer be a Sunderland AFC, and that they had just, well, stopped...

We all enjoy a large personality in the game of football. It's why we embrace managers such as Jose Mourinho, Ian Holloway, and of course, our very own party animal, Martin O'Neill. But personalities in the dressing room, and egotistical maniacs in the board room are two very different things, and it is a minor miracle that Mr Ridsdale hasn't sent a club the same way as Darlo by this point. Preston, beware.

We all at Roker Report hope that Darlo can find a way to conquer their demons and continue as a football club, it would be a sad state of affairs if it ended any other way. Until then, just beware if the two gentlemen (and I use the term very loosely) mentioned above are ever even mentioned in the same breath as a club that you hold dear, or infact, any club at all.

If you would like another view of Mr Reynolds, please check out ex-Sunderland and Darlington goalie David Preece's memories of him. It makes good reading. Read it here

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