Peter Taylor's latest port of call is Peterborough, where many of the supporters are waiting impatiently for the end of the Barry Fry era. Darren Fletcher reports
Nobody knows what is happening at Peterborough. Not the fans, nor the media and nor, it seems, the manager or the chairman. Six seasons ago, Barry Fry took over the club. However, having written himself a rolling three-year contract, he gave up the idea to let a wealthy local businessman, Peter Boizot, take the reins while Fry concentrated on the football. The season before Peterborough had finished 16th in the Second Division and the new manager promised he would take us out of that division. Following numerous triple sub- stitutions, he did – into the Third.
One problem with Posh is that Boizot is one of the Old School. A lovely man, I’m sure, but no match for the real sharks in football. In his first season he would supply orange squash for the away supporters, until told he couldn’t by the police for safety reasons.
On the other hand, Fry is definitely not Old School and we have been treated to every manipulation of the media in the Big Fry book, including a walk-out from a board meeting only a week after gaining promotion (at the third time of asking despite being top at Christmas each year), with subsequent claims that he had been sacked, had received a death threat and feared for his life following a comment on the unofficial website’s message board. Ultimately, he weathered the storm thanks to victory in the play-off final against Darlington in 2000.
Nevertheless, the “vocal minority” among the fans merely went quiet, they didn’t change their views. Too much water had passed under the bridge for that. Some people love Barry Fry, but while his style of play (nearly always 4-2-4) wins friends, his off-field antics and his disdain for tactics makes Posh fans despair. The combination of his football nous with Boizot’s business knowledge might have made a useful partnership, but in practice it hasn’t.
Boizot was in the Times top 500 Rich List when he took over, but is now a million miles from it. He has allowed wastage to go unchecked, particularly on the playing side, while his stubbornness over shirt sponsorship (we haven’t had one for three years now, promoting the Posh name instead) has cut off a reliable source of income. He also brokered the sale of Simon Davies and Matthew Etherington to Spurs at £1.2 million for the pair. Anyone who saw them play for Peterborough or who looks at the Tottenham teamsheet now knows what a steal that was.
The club has been up for sale for almost a year now. There are many interested parties, but the covenant on the ground stating that it must be used for sporting purposes, and so can’t be developed, seems to be putting them off for some reason – one consortium has now reportedly missed nine deadlines for buying the club. Meanwhile, the best players are nearing the end of their contracts with nobody able to offer fresh terms, the most notable being a brilliant young goalkeeper, Mark Tyler.
At the time of writing, Peterborough are one off the bottom of the Second Division, having already endured a run of six consecutive defeats without scoring. Peter Taylor has joined (Fry’s 11th assistant in six years), apparently being paid only his travel expenses in a role described by Fry as “spreading happiness”. Yet at the first game after Taylor joined, Portsmouth away, he was nowhere to be seen.
Three years ago, there were demonstrations among the fans and Fry was left in absolutely no doubt that he was Public Enemy No 1. This time, apathy and indifference are more in evidence as attendances dwindle. His rolling contract means it will cost £300,000 to oust him, and he has insisted the only way he will be leaving is in a box.
The “vocal minority” is still around, but now both they and many of the silent majority choose to go shopping on Saturdays rather than coming to London Road. Even the unofficial webmaster would rather go and watch speedway instead. The patient isn’t quite dead, but without new owners soon, its condition could become terminal.
From WSC 189 November 2002. What was happening this month