FORMER JJB supremo Dave Whelan has spoken of his pain as he watched his former business disintegrate in the hands of Chris Ronnie.
He accused the disgraced former chief executive of “totally wrecking” the empire he had created.
Ronnie bought Mr Whelan’s 56 per cent share in the Wigan-based sports retailer in 2007 for £200m.
Latics chairman Mr Whelan said he sold up his shares in JJB on doctors’ advice after being told that a rare genetic disorder could leave him with just months to live, but happily his potentially fatal condition rectified itself.
However, despite being able to establish a new business in the shape of DW Sports Fitness, he is now living to regret selling his former pride and joy.
Ronnie, now 52, was in charge at Martland Mill headquarters for less than three years and during that time it went from the biggest player in its field on the high street to a financial basket case which, despite several subsequent rescue attempts, eventually went into administration with the loss of thousands of jobs.
The onset of recession, tough competition and replica kit sales damagingly poor after the England football team’s performance at the 2008 European Championships did not help the company’s fortunes.
But Mr Whelan said that a business as big and strong as JJB should have been able to ride those problems out.
And despite DW hoping to post £20m profits this year as it gets up a head of steam post-recession, the end of the JJB empire still hurts Mr Whelan.
He said: “I had reservations about the deal but when I asked Ronnie where his money was coming from he said an Icelandic bank.
“At that time I thought I only had six months to live and doctors told me to give up work. If I had not been in that medical situation I would never have sold the company.
“As it was Ronnie totally and utterly wrecked JJB and got it into administration.
“It really hurt me. I had built up JJB from one shop in Wigan to a chain with more than 400 outlets and a workforce of 5,000, including 1,000 in Wigan.
“Shortly before I left it made a profit of £110m and it was once valued at £1bn.
“Then I sold it and it was ripped apart. It was heartbreaking to see it happen, especially in Wigan and I could not do anything about it.”
In fact Mr Whelan did later do something to help: buying up some of JJB’s shops and gyms for his new DW chain as JJB failed.
By then Ronnie was under investigation for financial irregularities.