A former football chairman who nearly bankrupted one of the oldest clubs in the UK, using more than £800,000 (€1.2m) of club funds to prop up his other failing businesses, is serving a four-year jail sentence for fraud, it can be revealed today.
Conman Darren Brown, 34, from Wingerworth, Derbyshire, was seen as a bright young entrepreneur when he took over Chesterfield Football Club, but in reality he was trying to milk the club of money to pay back his own creditors.
He was branded by the judge in the case as “entirely reckless” as a businessmen while appearing “ambitious, plausible and persuasive” to his business acquaintances.
Just one year after the former British Gas trainee assumed control of what had been a thriving and financially sound club, administrators discovered that Chesterfield had amassed debts of almost £2m (€2.9m).
The club almost lost its Saltergate ground when Brown offered to sell the historic pitch to property developers.
A spokesman for Derbyshire Police Fraud Squad said: “The actions of Darren Brown almost led to the extinction of one of the oldest football league clubs in the country.
“Had this happened, thousands of local people would have been deprived of the Saturday-afternoon football which the local community has enjoyed for over 100 years.”
Brown was jailed at Nottingham Crown Court in November last year after admitting two charges of fraudulent trading.
His empire began in 1997 when, while a British Gas management trainee, he set up a print-brokers business called Uniform.
One of his clients was the Sheffield Steelers Ice Hockey team. The Steelers ran up debts of £20,000 (€29,400) which resulted in Brown, somewhat bizarrely, taking over ownership of the team in 1999.
His company, UK Sports Group, grew to take charge of the Sheffield Steelers, Sheffield Sharks basketball team and the Hull Thunder ice hockey team.
He raised £400,000 (€589,100) from business contacts to buy a controlling stake in Chesterfield Football Club, which he saw as the flagship in his portfolio.
He was seen by many at the club as a bright young entrepreneur who could achieve success on the field.
During his reign CFC actually won promotion, despite being deducted nine points by the FA for irregularities in counting match attendances.
But the club was being stripped of assets to shore up Brown’s failing businesses – and he was carrying out illegal financial dealings to keep them afloat.