18 April ~ "How can you be sure?", was a standard reaction to Friday morning's news that John Batchelor – former York City chairman, racing driver and sometime toilet roll salesman – had left this mortal coil. Tradition has it that death is a simple fact, one that's not up for debate – but nothing was simple with Batchelor. His reputation for deceit, publicity stunts and financial mismanagement was so pervasive that the first reaction of many York fans was pure cynicism. Perhaps this was just another attempt to grab column inches for yet another scam? He certainly had form.

But if this is a stunt then it is a very convincing one. Hospital sources say he died on Sunday night in a Stockport hospital aged 51, reportedly of multiple organ failure. His death ends an unhappy life that left a trail of debtors, job losses and personal failures. He openly asset-stripped companies, struggled with alcoholism and almost destroyed the already crippled York City through rank mismanagement and siphoning off club funds to his own account.

He started out in door-to-door sales in Lancashire, becoming the sort of local businessman that is described as having unspecified "interests" and is always willing to give a good quote to the press. In reality he was sliding from crisis to crisis, taking over companies with the aim of making a quick buck. Sometimes this was by reviving their fortunes but often it involved the use of pre-pack administrations, laying off staff and selling the assets. Former friends and business partners describe how he was happy to walk away from bad deals and leave them with mountains of debt.

When Batchelor arrived at York City the club was in a crisis that he quickly set about turning into a full-blown disaster. His actions seemed unbelievable at the time and are simply bizarre in retrospect. The club became a "Soccer Club" and was cross–branded with his racing car team, supposedly to attract American interest. Luther Blissett turned up and quickly left. A Brazilian player was signed on account of being Brazilian. Promises of a club radio station, city centre sports bar and even a breakaway league featuring Scottish teams spouted forth from his mouth.

That much could be excused as the naïve actions of a misguided dreamer. But off the pitch he was systematically extracting cash from a loss-making football club. The club's lease on the ground was forfeited as part of a sponsorship deal with Persimmon Homes who coughed up £400,000 – payment made via personal cheque to J Batchelor. The end of his rule had a certain black humour about it. He went on the pitch at half-time, a little tired and emotional, and pledged to hand over control of the club to the Supporters' Trust – before recanting the following morning. Instead he sold season tickets six months in advance, bought himself a new house with the proceeds and left supporters to pick up the mess.

Having found a taste for football, Batchelor set about preying on other lower league clubs. His silver tongue would promise the world to desperate fans – big ideas, big finance and a complete absence of detail – but he would usually vanish a few weeks later, usually after a local journalist looked past his press release and did even the gentlest questioning of his credentials.

In 2008 he proposed buying Mansfield Town and renaming them "Harchester United". Calling a traditional community football club after a team on a defunct satellite television series was bonkers but it made a great story on a slow news day – and Batchelor could not resist the media. Within hours the story was all over the national media – even though his only contact with the producers of Dream Team had been a brief email asking for a meeting. Still, he thrived on confrontation, turning up to stand with Mansfield fans at their next away game before being led away by police for his own safety.

Accrington, Chester and Southampton were among the other clubs that had a lucky escape from his advances. At Chester he achieved the astonishing feat of causing supporters to back Stephen Vaughan's regime as the lesser of two evils. At the end of 2009 he was disqualified from acting as a company director and vanished from view. His illness remains unknown, his personal life was a mess and he left a trail of destruction that is still causing repercussions in both business and football. In a 2008 interview he defend his tactics: "I have always worked, brutal though it sounds, within the boundaries of what is legal." He was unrepentant to the end. James Waterson

Comments (5)
Comment by NHH 2010-04-18 09:49:49

It's worth noting that despite everything, he was never formerly charged with any breaches of football rules by the FA. In other words, until the ban as a Director in 2009, he would still have passed the Fit and Proper Person Test.

Comment by shamottle 2010-04-18 20:43:11

This is what I love about WSC; learning about something in football that I knew absolutely nothing about. Crazy.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-04-19 11:52:42

I second that, I used to live in York and went to watch them quite a few times and look out for the results but had no idea about all this. Interesting reading

Comment by sophiegeorgia. 2010-10-25 01:02:14

I have never heard so much utter crap in my life, john batchelor is nothing like you say.

Comment by Sirwilliamberthenderson 2011-01-29 15:50:25

This is all complete RUBBISH.
A true gent and always gave most of his money away to good causes.
He got involved with companies that were going under and helped to salvage and save jobs when nobody wanted to be accountable.

What happened at York was already on the cards and that is why he took up the challenge and boy did he try to sort it and make them a name.
Nobody will ever know how close and i mean they were on the border of something big,Unlucky the big USA deal did not make it and the so called money that went out of the club was to get the deal through.
The House bit is a load of tosh!

Related articles

The Billionaires Club: The unstoppable rise of football’s super-rich owners
by James MontagueBloomsbury, £16.99Reviewed by Paul Rees From WSC 368, October 2017Buy the book The overriding senses to be had from...
York and Stockport’s glory days long gone as they struggle in National League North
Both clubs were hoping this season would see them recover from their rapid declines but their starts suggest tough campaign lies ahead 8...
How York City went from brink of League One to National League North
York’s 2-2 draw with Forest Green at the weekend means they will start next season in the sixth tier for the first time. In January 2017,...