AN English businessman, one of whose former companies ran up debts of almost #2m, is behind a bid to take control of one of Scotland's oldest football clubs.

Mr Reg Brealey is one of two businessmen involved in takeover talks with first division St Mirren, established in 1877.

His involvement as chairman of the Dundee-based jute company Titaghur, which bought the West Highland Knoydart Estate for #1.7m in 1993, left a legacy of debts amounting to almost #2m - about #1.4m of which is owed to the Bank of Scotland.

Yesterday, St Mirren's managing director John Paton, confirming the Englishman's interest in the club, said he was not concerned at reports of Mr Brealey's business involvements outside football.

He said his previous track record with English football clubs - including two periods as chairman of Sheffield United - had been successful. St Mirren would be happy as long as his proposed financial investment in the Paisley club was ''sincere'' and could be taken forward.

Mr Paton's sentiments were not matched, however, by Mr Danny McLean, secretary of the club's official supporters' association.

He said: ''We are worried that a man whose companies have reportedly run up big debts in previous business ventures could become involved with the club.''

Titaghur went into liquidation last April, but is set to rise from the ashes following its takeover in November by London-based businessman, Mr Graham Avery. The company owns four textile mills in India which employ about 12,000.

The takeover involved taking control of Knoydart Peninsula Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Titaghur. It runs the 17,000-acre Knoydart estate in west Inverness-shire. The subsidiary is understood to owe the Bank of Scotland #1.4m and #500,000 to other creditors. The estate has been on the market for the past two years.

Mr Brealey, who is based in Lincoln, could not be contacted for comment yesterday. Inquiries at Companies House in Edinburgh show that he is listed as a director with six companies throughout Britain, none of which could be contacted by phone. The records also show he also held five directorships with other companies.

He has been involved at director level with several English football clubs. These included two spells as chairman of Sheffield United, and involvements at Chesterfield and Darlington.

A Sheffield United spokesman said yesterday that Mr Brealey's time with the club during the early 80s and early 90s had been ''fairly successful.''

A spokesman for Darlington said his trust had been a major shareholder for four years during the early 1990s. ''He kept the club from collapse and did a good job overall,'' he added. No-one from Chesterfield was available for comment.

Mr Paton said Mr Brealey was one of two businessmen who had approached St Mirren with a view to making a major investment at the club.

He said any deal, which could only be given the go-ahead following an emergency general meeting, would give one of the businessmen a controlling interest at the club. It is unlikely that Mr Brealey and the other unnamed Scottish businessman would both become involved.

Mr Paton said: ''Whatever track record Mr Brealey has had with other companies doesn't worry me. As long as he can satisfy me and the other St Mirren directors that he is sincere in his investment and can come up with the financial package we are looking for, we will be quite happy.''

The St Mirren managing director said the club was structured for the premier league, but was surviving on first division income.

Mr Paton added: ''We are looking for more investment so that we can strengthen the squad and not continue to be forced to sell our best players to survive.''