Loyalty bonus

Peterborough may have been relegated under chairman-manager Barry Fry but, as Graham Dunbar reports, they have arranged a lucrative testimonial

Amid all the fake outrage about Ashley Cole’s companions for afternoon tea in a swanky hotel and Rio Ferdinand’s chance partners for a plate-smashing session in a Greek restaurant, one potential tapping-up scandal has largely escaped attention.

Far away from the prying eyes of the London media, a club owner was reported to have consorted with the manager of a promotion-chasing team and two of that team’s players, preparing the ground to lure them away in the summer.

The alleged venue was a pub in Lincoln and über-agent Pini Zahavi was not believed to be present as Barry Fry, owner and current manager of Barry Fry’s Peterborough United™, soon to be exiting League One from the rear, schmoozed Keith Alexander, whose day job was steering Lincoln City towards the League Two play-offs.

For fans of BFPUFC, who spent most of their owner-manager’s ninth – and final, as it turns out – season in charge of playing affairs at London Road reminding him how much they wanted it to be his last, news of this apparently clandestine lunch should have been warmly received.

Double duty in the boardroom and dugout clearly detracted from Fry’s performance this season and his team’s fight against relegation was one long standing count. Alexander, meanwhile, has proven that he is one of the lower divisions’ brighter managers, not least because of the dignified and energetic way in which he has returned from life-saving brain surgery 18 months ago. And yet…

Heartened by hearing Fry’s claims of having received 91 applications for the job of succeeding him, Posh fans want a manager who will be his own man. As Alexander played for Fry at Barnet and is a personal friend, the story served to confirm some fans’ suspicion that the owner’s retreat to the boardroom was merely a front for picking up the strings as puppet master.

Fry himself laughed away the question when asked if he could ever have operated under such terms and conditions as he was offering. The problem at the heart of supporting Barry Fry’s Peterborough United™ for many these days is that it has become a cult of personality instead of a football club. Not that this has been the only reason for feeling disillusioned and apathetic.

Too many players were demoralised and uninterested. First-team coach Bobby Gould, credited with sorting out the defence last season for the tactically challenged boss, walked out in September, stylishly, at half-time in an LDV Vans Trophy defeat at Bristol City. Relations between the club and the supporters’ trust broke down. Ticket prices for next season were hiked by 18 per cent in March just as the last vestige of spirit was petering out of the team.

Meanwhile, there have been some “mitigating circumstances”, a favoured phrase of Fry’s. A cloud over the season has been the ill health of Andy Legg, a popular veteran defender, who in the week relegation was confirmed was told by doctors that he must retire to fight the cancerous tumour in his neck.

Even then, attention was diverted by a series of upbeat announcements and news of his own hip replacement operation, as Fry flowed in full circus-barker mode. A rugby club going by the gloriously Wodehousian name of Westwood Deaconians would play ten home games on the London Road turf next season, while the pitch would also host an outdoor boxing bill in August.

Oh, and Manchester United are coming to play a testimonial match in July. At a top price of £18 a head in a 15,000-capacity ground, it’s quite a lucrative little earner for a loyal club servant and an ideal way of starting a new campaign on the right foot, banishing all the poisonous, rancorous memories of the 2004-05 season from hell.

And who is this loyal club servant? None other than B Fry Esq. The irrepressible Mr Fry, who gave a league debut in April to his 20-year-old son Adam, has insisted all proceeds will be reinvested in the club and that it will take just £600,000 of any benefactor’s cash to buy him out so he can meet his mortgage and pension commitments.

Admirable sentiments, though the opinion of Mark Tyler would be intriguing. The highly rated goalkeeper, who can match his manager with nine years of Posh service and more than 350 appearances, signed a new contract in March with the promise of an imminent testimonial.

Details of Tyler’s own benefit match were unavailable as WSC went to press.

From WSC 220 June 2005. What was happening this month