Fresh from playing a round at one of the North-East’s premier golf resorts, Francis Jones concedes that he’s got a long way to go before he is a master of the fairways.

“Put it this way, I wouldn’t gamble the Bentley on winning over 18 holes – not yet, anyway,” he laughs.

Parked outside Close House Golf Club, west of Newcastle, the gleaming black Bentley Mulsanne is the latest addition to the assets of Sparta Security UK, launched 11 years ago by the eccentric former professional boxer.

Having defied the doubters to build Sparta into the region’s leading security company, the luxurious Bentley is a symbol of Francis’s ambition to take his business to the next elite level.

“I want to be at the top of my game,” he says, explaining that the Bentley is intended to be used for chauffeur-driven corporate protection, transporting the region’s business movers and shakers or taking celebrities to and from the airport.

“Sparta has near enough boxed off the North-East with manned guards and close protection, now it’s time to take it to a higher level and give the rich and famous peace of mind while they’re going about their business,” says Francis.

Therefore, he is determined to mix in the right circles, which explains why he’s taken out a corporate membership of the prestigious Close House and is also a regular on the greens at Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington.

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The Bentley – sleek and sumptuous, with a personalised number plate, comes as a stark contrast to the heavily branded chunky Sparta trucks that are a familiar sight around the region. It is a thoroughbred amongst workhorses and Francis insists more prestige cars will be added to the Sparta stable as the corporate protection part of the business grows.

“It’s about the full package, from the first-class security services we already provide to top class comfort,” he says.

Having started as a ‘door supervision’ company providing security for pubs and nightclubs, Sparta has grown over the past 11 years into a business generating more than £1m of revenue a year. It employs more than 70 security staff, many of them ex-military ‘seasoned professionals’ with experience in war zones.

And, despite the clear economic challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the company is continuing to thrive, with the lockdown ironically having worked in its favour.

“With so many people working from home, factories and business sites found themselves more exposed and in need of extra security,” says Francis’s wife, Rachel, who is also the company’s financial director.

New contracts this year have included Richmondshire District Council calling in Sparta to guard against crowds breaking social distancing regulations when gathering by the River Swale.

Further north, Sparta has been providing the same kind of service for GSC Grays at the Blue Lagoon beauty spot at Fourstones, near Hexham.

Meanwhile, EDF Energy has recently signed a major contract to keep its network of sites secure, including wind farms.

Middlesbrough Borough Council has also just come on board, while other recent additions to the customer base include Raby Estates, Maguires Country Parks and the Shorewood Leisure Group.

It is also a source of pride that Sparta has been heavily engaged by ISG, the principal design and build contractor for the huge Amazon site on the outskirts of Darlington, as well as the Integra 61 development at Bowburn.

Industrial sites, offices, farms, automotive premises, oil and gas works and care homes are all on the Sparta list, with the company providing security services that include on-site task force teams, round-the-clock CCTV surveillance and highly-trained guard dogs from a pool of 30 Alsatians, Rottweilers and Malinois.

Arguably, the quirkiest of all the Sparta responsibilities was the time the Coca-Cola truck came to Darlington and the security firm was ordered to follow it round on its tour of the country to make sure it was not vandalised.

It may be too much of a stretch to claim that Sparta provides personal protection for Santa Claus himself, but Coca-Cola is a brand that certainly adds fizz to the CV of the Darlington security company.

By this Christmas, there will also be a new business venture running alongside Sparta, in the shape of Car Park Management North East. Its aim is to target landlords and business owners who have car parks that need monitoring and ticketing, so they are not misused by the public.

“I can’t believe how it’s all grown but I’m not satisfied yet, not by a long way. I want it to keep on growing,” says Francis, who admits to having an obsessive, even addictive nature.

It was that intense competitive streak which took him into the top 20 under-16 British squash players when he was a boy, and almost to the country’s number one as a welterweight boxer. Fighting for the British title in 2007, he came close to knocking out Kevin Anderson in round 10, only to be stopped in the last round after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

“My doctor said he thought I had suffered the haemorrhage in the seventh round, but I wouldn’t give in,” he explains. “It’s always been one of my biggest regrets because I didn’t get to be number one and I don’t want that to happen with Sparta”.  

As a devout Christian, he passionately believes that God is guiding him and will deliver his ultimate ambition.

“I want to be top dog. I want to dance with the big boys. I want to eat steak with kings. I want to be the Tyson Fury of security,” he says, his voice rising with each aspiration.

But, as an animal-lover, with six rescue dogs of his own, he insists there is a deeper reason for achieving success than personal wealth.

“I want to build the best security company in the country so I can become a multi-millionaire and open lots of animal sanctuaries, that’s my dream,” he says. “I want to look back and know I got to number one so I was able to do something good to benefit society”.

He refers to the Bible and The Parable of the Sower: “By doing the right things, and living a Christian life, I’m scattering seeds in good soil and I have faith they will produce results,” he says.

Of course, there will be those who will scoff, but Francis Jones has proved the doubters wrong so far. Who knows? He might even learn to master the fairways.