CONTROVERSIAL former York City FC owner John Batchelor has died at the age of 51.

The ex-touring car driver and team boss, who was at the Bootham Crescent helm between 2002 and 2003, was suffering from liver disease caused by alcoholism and died in Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

His reign was one of the most disastrous in City’s history, with the club coming close to extinction. Mr Batchelor, who lived in Wilmslow, Cheshire, personally pocketed £120,000 from his time in charge.

In 2008, the former toilet roll salesman, who once changed his name to John Top Gear to win backing for his racing team from the BBC show and became John B&Q to secure sponsorship from the DIY chain, admitted to The Press that he asset-stripped the Minstermen to make a profit, although he also claimed he still had “a great affinity” for City and “would do it completely differently” if he had a second chance at the club.

Former City owner Douglas Craig, who sold the club to Mr Batchelor, said yesterday: “I think he totally underestimated the difficulty of the job – I always thought he would either be a millionaire or a bankrupt.

“I am very sorry to hear of his death in such circumstances.”

During Mr Batchelor’s time as owner, City plunged into administration and their 25-year lease on their ground with Bootham Crescent Holdings was torn up, with the club subsequently dropping out of the Football League.

He later refused to pay City £42,500 he had promised to hand over for season-ticket money he used ahead of the 2003/4 season because of a breach of a confidentiality clause in a contract he had signed with the club and the York City Supporters’ Trust. Last year, he was banned from acting as a company director for seven years.

City fan Phil Howden said: “I don’t think many supporters will be shedding too many tears.

“John Batchelor openly admitted he asset-stripped the club and he was obviously somebody you could never fathom, who was desperate for attention and who walked away from the club with a lot of money.”

Steve Clark of the Pocklington Minstermen supporters’ club said: “What he did to City was unforgivable.”

City’s current board of directors declined to comment on the death of Mr Batchelor, who leaves a wife, Gillian.

Paul Steddings, general manager of System Hygiene, the firm where Mr Batchelor launched his business career, said: “John Batchelor was a director of the company more than 20 years ago and we are sorry to learn of his tragic death. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Never a dull moment during colourful reign, writes Dave Flett

FORMER York City chairman John Batchelor’s passing will not be greeted in the same reverential manner at Bootham Crescent as that of 1955 FA Cup semi-final hero Sid Storey earlier this month.

Whereas Storey was afforded a touching minute’s applause before the club’s 5-0 home victory over AFC Wimbledon, the black armbands will not be dished out to mark Batchelor’s death at this afternoon’s Blue Square Premier clash with Grays Athletic. Life was never dull during his colourful 11 months at the helm of the Minstermen.

The former toilet-roll salesman, who admitted spending a month in hospital for alcohol dependency in 2006, thought nothing of dressing up as Austin Powers and had previously changed his name by deed poll to John Top Gear and John B&Q as he sought advertising funds for his motor racing team.

He also launched a rebranding initiative when taking over the Minstermen in March 2002, introducing a chequered flag into the team’s kit and renaming them York City Soccer Club.

Of greater damage, however, was the later revelation that he had struck a deal with Persimmon Homes and stadium owners Bootham Crescent Holdings, headed by former chairman Douglas Craig, to sell the ground for housing and tear up the club’s 25-year lease at their traditional home in return for £400,000 sponsorship money for Batchelor’s “York Sporting Club”.

Despite having no guarantee of a venue at which to play football, he then offered City fans the opportunity to buy half-price season tickets for the 2003/4 campaign before plunging the club into administration with debts of £1.8 million.

It subsequently emerged that only £100,000 of the Persimmon money was invested into the club with Batchelor admitting that he asset-stripped the Minstermen and lied to fans after backtracking on a promise to give the Supporters’ Trust a 25.1 per cent shareholding. The chain of events that unfolded under his stewardship meant that the Trust had to acquire a total of £2.5 million to secure ownership of both the club and Bootham Crescent, contributing to City’s relegation from the Football League and ongoing financial struggles.

More recently, Batchelor cropped up again with more madcap plans to takeover Mansfield Town in 2008.

He wanted to rename the Stags “Harchester United” – a fictional club whose fortunes were dramatised on Sky TV.