From the Archives: June 2007, Going straight (back to jail)

Jake: looking back

John McCormick writes:

While we await our new manager, Pete’s relegation reminiscences and the imminent announcement of  this (last) season’s WAY winner we have time for a look back. This post first appeared ten years ago, on June 6th, 2007:

Colin’s original introduction:

One of those wags from the London and Southern England supporters’ association branch came up with the suggestion that the Celebrity Supporters series should be followed by another, devoted to Scoundrel Supporters.

It is too long ago to recall whether the comment – read on to see who made it – was uttered before or after my interview with George Reynolds.

At the time, I could just about have got away with protesting that such a description of George would be a little harsh.

George*, it has to be said, had known his scoundrel days, nay his scoundrel years.

But he seemed, at the time, a reasonable choice of interviewee.

Was he not, after all, firmly on the straight and narrow, leading a blameless life of his own and also accepting invitations to go into prison not as a guest of Her Majesty but to lecture young inmates on the perils of opting for crime as their careers? And was he not also – again at the time of the interview – the go-ahead chairman of Darlington FC?

Sadly, the assessment was not harsh at all. A few years on, George was back before the courts, accused and convicted of tax evasion. He collected three years in jail in 2005 for cheating the taxman out of more than half a million pounds.

Salut!‘s man at the prison gates reports that George was released a few months ago, and is living in a flat at Nevilles Cross that he insists is a penthouse.

There was a spot of bother over a failure to observe the conditions of his parole curfew but he may now be defying the advancing years – he is, after all, 71 or so now – and seeking an honest living by getting pubs to install machines that sell you what is described to me as “a squirt of alluring perfume”. 

George is now aged 81,  and according to sources such as Wikipedia is involved in the e-cigarette business. Here’s the original post:
George Reynolds: Red and White reminiscences of a (semi) reformed rogue

You cannot hope to bribe or twist

Thank God, The British journalist

But seeing what the man will do unbribed

There’s no occasion to

Brainier supporters (you know, the ones who polish off the cryptic crossword between London and Stevenage on exiles’ trips home) may be familiar with Humbert Wolfe’s lines trashing the nation’s hacks. George Reynolds clearly wasn’t.

Into the young reporter’s grubby hand, he pressed a ten bob note while whispering the nudge-nudge plea: “Just make sure you give us a good write-up.”

It was the late Sixties. Georges, just beginning to see an honest alternative to crime, was opening the Dolphin Milk Bar in Shildon.

In 35 years as a journalist (it’s 40 now), I have met no-one else who wanted to bribe me. Crazily enough, George had already paid for his good write-up; my local paper was covering the café opening as an advertising feature.

Having spent the money on fags, sweets and magazines (50p went a long way then), I felt pangs of guilt and confessed to my boss, Mike Amos, these days the Northern Echo‘s star columnist.

After giving me a ferocious bollocking, Mike had to lend me the money to repay George. A close shave for me, for sure, though the original gesture had less to do with corruption than the same warm-hearted nature George showed, on a grander scale, when he handed seven workers up to £30,000 and a Mercedes each for toiling heroically to save his business after a devastating factory blaze.

It was Ian Todd, founder of the London and Southern England SAFCSA branch, who came up with the idea of a Wear Down South series on scoundrels once the celebs dried up.

George’s unrivalled talent for causing a stir means that however long ago he gave up crime, he might qualify for either category.

There are many sides to George Reynolds. But strip away the controversy, carefully overlook the fact that the football club he owns (correct at the time of interview; it’s no longer his, of course) is Darlo and you are left with a man who remains, at heart, a Sunderland fan.

He was born within earshot of Roker Park. “23 Cooper Street, just around the corner from the ground,” he says. “If I think back to when I was four or five, I can still hear the cheers of the crowd, the Roker Roar. You could see the ground from the back bedroom window.”

At six or seven, he started going to matches with his grandfather. Casually, he mentions the man most of us can only wish we’d seen play.

“I go back to the Clown Prince. Shack was my hero. I once saw him chase the ball upfield, then all of a sudden run past it take the opponent with him before going back to get it.”

He remembers Trevor Ford, too, though not “whether I was there when he broke a goalpost with his chest”. Ian Todd, who definitely was present (Nov 4 1950 – a 5-1 thumping of Sheffield Wednesday), recalls it as a shoulder charge on the post. Until he looked it up, Ian had forgotten that Ford also contrived to break the Wednesday centre-half’s jaw.

One of George’s uncles – “Uncle Joss” – was John Tennick, a near-legendary figure among SAFC fans. George was taken on some of the away trips he ran: Norwich for a cup tie, for example. Swansea for a match he’s long forgotten. At home games, it was always the Roker End “three rows off the bottom”.

George has vivid memories of his house being “bombed out” three times during the Second World War. His dad was in the Royal Navy, his mother eventually couldn’t cope and, between the ages of eight and 16, he was away at a bleak orphanage-cum-workhouse in Worcestershire.

“I couldn’t read or write until I was 21. Backward, mentally deficient and illiterate was what they called me. They hadn’t discovered dyslexia.”

Thinking of Sunderland from afar, he’d huddle with other lads with other lads around a radio on Saturdays to hear the scores. “I only got home for two weeks in the summer and a week at Christmas. I felt a big gap but always kept in touch.”

He followed his father to sea, but in the Merchant Navy, catching games on leave. “Being chairman of Darlington means Sunderland are my second club now, but I’ve always been a staunch supporter. I had a box at Roker Park and then at the Stadium of Light. It was only when I took over Darlington that I realised I couldn’t be in two places at once.

“I really admire what Murray and Reid have done. People criticise, but they’ve done a wonderful job. The old ground was falling to bits and if they’d stayed there, they’d be in the Third Division now.”

Along the way, George became a very wealthy man, owning a luxury house in Witton-le-Wear, a home in Spain and, at different times, a sumptuous yacht and London pad. Rich lists have placed him in Britain’s top few hundred and, at the peak of his business powers, George reckoned his company Direct Worktops was the world’s biggest maker of laminated surfaces.

The firm was the product of an idea he dreamed up in jail. I remember him showing me around his Shildon factory and handing ma a calling card that read: “Gentleman, entrepreneur, adventurer, maker of money, utter genius.”

Later he ploughed an awful of money into Darlington and reduced his business portfolio. The figures can be confusing but, speaking to me after that jolly row over his wife’s verbal assault on his under-achieving team, he estimated his total worth at around £40m.

It is still a far cry from the days when he was in and out of trouble for officebreaking, quarry raids and burglary.

When he bought Darlington FC, the club was on the brink of bankruptcy. When we spoke, he was awaiting the opening of a 25,000 seater stadium.

Looking back, he realises how close he came to wasting his entire life. Now 65, he visits prisons to urge young offenders to abandon crime. “I tell them that if I can do it, there’s no reason why they cannot. With social workers and probation officers, it’s them and us. They listen to me because they look on me as one of them.”

* Picture credit: BBC

Next Post