George's Folly | Darlington FC and the Reynolds Arena
Dubbed 'George's Folly' the Reynolds Arena on the southern edge of Darlington cost its creator, the former Darlington FC owner George Reynolds, £20m - and started a chain of events that led to him being jailed for a second time. With marble fittings, expensive furnishings and a capacity of 27,500, it appears more suited as the home ground of a team in the Premiership. With the football team now attracting an average crowd of a little over 2,500, its new owner is having radical thoughts about its long-term viability. Tyneside businessman George Houghton, who operates a care home and property busines, said: 'The worrying thing at the moment is that the crowd is going down. We've got big areas inside the ground which are not usable. I closed down one side of it down because we're having 2,500 fans in a 27,500 stadium.'
Houghton said: 'I was thinking of taking the west stand off and putting an office block and two blocks of flats in. I think that would be a great idea and give a better atmosphere to the stadium. We'd lose 7,000 or 8,000 seats but it would be different for the players because they wouldn't be playing in an empty stadium. The first plan is for a nursery, hotel, restaurant. I had offices in the first plan but I've taken them out, I decided there was no point.' In a bid to give added impetus to his drive to develop the club and its facilities, Mr Houghton was joined on the board earlier this month by Teesside businessman Raj Singh, who has taken a 10 per cent stake in the club. Mr Singh owns the £30m Stockton-based Prestige Group care home company. Although Darlington's has special challenges, Mr Houghton thinks 'there is a meltdown in football. All the clubs in the bottom two divisions face real financial difficulty.'