Safe hands Reynolds

The Darlington chairman is banning those who criticise him from the club's new stadium. Ron Hamilton reports

On the outskirts of Darlington stands the club’s fine new stadium. The 25,000-capacity, as-yet unnamed stadium boasts restaurants, a nightclub and a reputed £85,000 worth of marble floor­ing. A new home fit for a king rather than a team struggling to avoid the drop to the con­ference. And while this stadium will welcome the Conference-dodging Quakers on to the pitch for the first time at the start of next season, one man who will not be there is former editor of fanzine Where’s The Money Gone?, Dave Mac­Lean. For that matter, neither is MacLean wel­come at Darlington’s current, less glam­orous abode, Feethams.

Over the course of the last month a bitter row has broken out at the club, a row that has now transcended simple football matters and taken on an altogether more sinister air. The saga began at the start of February when, in his editorial for WTMG, MacLean questioned the direction that the club was taking, and the continuing decline of both attendances and league position. The magazine also aimed a couple of derisory remarks in the direction of the chairman’s wife Susan, who dragged the club’s name through the mud a year ago when she accused the players of throwing games “by way of favours”.

Criticism, it would seem, does not wash with George Reynolds. Having confiscated MacLean’s season ticket and banned him from the ground, Reynolds launched an attack on his 16-year-old nemesis. “Hitler would have been proud of him,” read the chairman’s of­ficial statement. “He would have been part of his propaganda machine just like William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw.” It’s hard to resist the mental image of Reynolds’ notion that the Third Reich’s propaganda machine was built on stapled A4 sheets bitching about a disappointing second half away at Shrewsbury Town.

Reynolds didn’t however stop with ill-con­ceived character analogies. The next, and by far most worrying, step came nearly a fortnight after the initial furore. Responding to other fans who had, unsurprisingly, sided with fan­zine rather than club, another statement ap­peared on the club’s website. On this occasion it was laden with threats, both to MacLean and anyone else out there who voiced an opinion: “The chairman is adamant that any such libel or slander against the Club will be struck down with the full force of the law… It is rumoured that legal action will be taken against David MacLean and his family. Should this action occur the courts could place a charge on their house to be set against any legal costs.”

Given the manner in which Reynolds re­ferred to MacLean (not to mention the bill­board outside the new stadium that rec­ently carried Rey­nolds’ poster questioning the sex­uality of a local DJ who had voiced similar dis­sent), could his own remarks be thought more likely to attract litigious reprisals than some­one who questioned the per­form­ance of his local team?

Since Reynolds bought the club in 1999 his reign has been characterised by a num­ber of high-profile incidents in which Darlington have managed to sneak their way into the national footballing consciousness. The Susan Reynolds debacle; the Faus­tino Asprilla shambles; the chairman’s “col­ourful” past as a convicted safe cracker: all se­cured the club its five minutes of ridicule. At no point, however, have circumstances reached any­thing near their current nadir. Past follies may have been largely humorous, but likening a teenage fanzine editor to a Nazi and making direct threats against him, his family and any other supporters of the club who dare to speak ill of the club’s plight is downright dangerous.

Reynolds likes to view himself as a man of the people, a rags-to-riches figure, the bad lad turned good. Despite his delusions, in this in­stance he has shown himself to be a crude individual who has resorted to bullying and censorship as soon as he is questioned. He boas­ted recently that he was “trying to give football back to the working classes”. Instead, by trying to silence or ostracise those who care most passionately about Darlington, George Reynolds is doing exactly the opposite.

From WSC 194 April 2003. What was happening this month