IT was Susan Reynolds who summed up her former husband best. “The difference between God and George is that God never claims to be George Reynolds.” As an epitaph, it sums up both the good and bad of the man who saved Darlington Football Club before sparking the painful demise that would eventually bring the club to its knees.

Reynolds never wanted to be a football club owner. He had no real affection for the game, and while he was brought up in Sunderland’s Dock Street East, his formative years at an orphanage that doubled as a workhouse did not involve childhood trips to Roker Park.

Yet when he was approached to bail out Darlington in 1999, he answered the call. He took over a club that was on its knees, saddled with debt after the reconstruction of Feethams’ East Stand and a tenant in its own home as it desperately tried to raise funds to stay afloat. Reynolds paid off the debtors on his first day in charge, promising a bright new era of Premier League football and capacity crowds.

Why did he agree to get involved? Vanity almost certainly played a part, along with the pig-headedness that characterised so many of his other business decisions. People told him he would be mad to buy Darlington; that only made him even more determined to sign the cheque. Yet reread his comments from his first day in charge, and a degree of philanthropy comes through. “The prices are set,” he said. “Ten pounds in the main stand, £8 in the stand opposite and £5 behind the goals. I will not put up my prices. This isn’t London - that’s enough for people to pay.”

Initially, things went reasonably well. Reynolds’ first season at the helm, with David Hodgson in the dugout, saw Darlington finish fourth in what is now League Two, only missing out on automatic promotion by three points. A play-off semi-final win over Hartlepool, still cherished by supporters today, preceded a Wembley defeat to Peterborough United.

The following season, however, Quakers slipped to 20th in the table, and by the time they finished 15th in the 2001-02 season, things were beginning to unravel at a pace.

Why did it go wrong? The answer is probably found in the comment that followed Reynolds’ commitment not to raise prices during his first interview as Darlington chairman. “People keep on saying that football’s different,” said Reynolds. “But it’s not. Business is business, whether you’re selling elephants, football or flowers. There’s nothing hard about football.” Like so many self-made entrepreneurs before him, he was to find that the opposite was the case.

Football was different, and the unbridled ambition that enabled him to transform an unremarkable chipboard business into a £260m personal fortune ultimately proved his undoing when it came to running Darlington.

A business model predicated on “taking 5,000 fans each from Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland and adding them to the 10,000 we’ve already got” was never going to work. A constant churn of managers and players only created further upheaval. A much-publicised pursuit of Faustino Asprilla might have been a nice PR stunt, but it hardly addressed what Darlington actually needed on the pitch.

Then, of course, there was the Reynolds Arena, the 25,000-seater folly that was supposed to be his crowning glory, but that became the gaping black hole down which Darlington’s income and hopes disappeared.

While some fans will vehemently disagree, the idea of moving from Feethams was not an intrinsically bad one. The much-loved old ground was creaking and was always going to be extremely hard to successfully redevelop. The vast majority of clubs at Darlington’s level have made similar moves in the last two or three decades.

The problem was that the Arena was a temple to Reynolds’ ego rather than a functioning football stadium for a club of Darlington’s size. It boasted marble tiles, self-flushing toilets and state-of-the-art lifts, but was also always going to feature 10-15,000 empty seats. From the first day it opened, the sums were never going to work.

Unsurprisingly, things started to go awry, and not wanting to concede an iota of blame, Reynolds rounded on anyone other than himself. When the players underperformed, he publicly revealed their salaries and watched on supportively as his wife infamously accused them of throwing matches at a supporters’ club meeting. As the supporters turned against him and stayed away from the unloved Arena, he criticised them harshly. When this newspaper became critical, he banned reporters from attending matches and turned up at their homes unannounced in the early hours of the morning.

Much of his ire was directed at the council, whose failure to support his non-footballing initiatives at the Arena became a long-running personal crusade. Reynolds had a point when he bemoaned the council’s failure to grant permission for concerts, car-boot sales and other revenue-raising events – a stance that has subsequently been reversed – but instead of trying to locate a common ground, his rabble-rousing meant that positions inevitably became entrenched.

By December 2003, he had decided that enough was enough. With debts having soared to around £20m, and the Inland Revenue having served a winding-up order, Reynolds placed Darlington into administration. The club left the hands of the administrators the following summer, when control passed to the Sterling Consortium, but the rot had set in. Eight years later, and Darlington were playing in the Northern League.

Plenty of people that followed Reynolds contributed to the club’s demise, but the downward spiral began on his watch. Darlington’s saviour also turned out to be the architect of their downfall.