FORMER Darlington FC chairman George Reynolds has died.

The safe-cracker turned flamboyant businessman will be remembered for his time with Darlington FC and brushes with the law over the years.

Reynolds, who was in his 80s, last appeared in the news in March when he was given a 12-month conditional discharge for breaching a restraining order.

Paul Gough, who Reynolds appointed head physiotherapist at Darlington Football Club from 2003-2007, paid tribute to his old boss from his home in Florida. 

He said: "George showed incredible faith in me and gave me my first physio position at a professional football club at the age of just 22, despite everyone else saying I was too young for the job - and I was a Hartlepool fan don’t forget! 

“Giving youth a chance is an important trait and something I have taken with me since in business. He showed great belief in me at the time and it was a great learning curve to be thrown into the environment of a proper football club. It was a great phrase of my life. 

“I was at the club during administration under Reynolds in 2003, so I saw all sides of it. He was a divisive character for many, but that principle of giving people a chance, which he instilled in me then, remains to this day and I do the same with my employees now, regardless or their age or what other people say.” 

Peter Barron, who had many run-ins with George Reynolds during his time as editor of The Northern Echo, said: “There is no doubt that George Reynolds was an extraordinary and colourful character with a truly great story to tell about how he went from petty crook to millionaire businessman and chairman of Darlington Football Club.

"There are those who enjoyed his company, found him entertaining, and admired him for his self-belief, determination, and achievements in business."

Reynolds had a remarkable career in which he rose from humble roots in Sunderland to own a multi-million chipboard business in Shildon and be ranked 112th in the Sunday Times rich list with a fortune of £250m.

In 1999, he bought the football club, cleared its £5m debts and built the 25,000 seater stadium on the edge of Darlington.

However, in 2005 he was jailed for three years for tax evasion.

His friends have also taken to social media to pay tribute.

One Facebook user said: "A legend and a very very good friend George Reynolds has sadly passed away this morning.

"I know a lot of people think of George in a different way but he was a man who looked after me and my family when I was in trouble financially he got me back on my feet and has put me where I am today.

"People will think of George in different ways I know he could be a swine when he wanted to be but he also had a heart of gold underneath. I would never hear anybody speak a bad word of him for what he did for me and my family. God bless rest in peace George."

The Northern Echo:

In a statement, his daughter said: "My dad was controversial but he’s tried to do some good things for the town. He built a fantastic stadium. RIP Dad. You’re at peace now."