Well, United, anyway. Oh, and it’s a city. Darren Fletcher reports on how Mr Fry has extended his control of Peterborough but has also responded to his many critics
For years Posh fans have winced at media references to “Barry Fry’s Peterborough United”. But finally the term has some credence as he now owns 99.6 per cent of the club, becoming the first English football manager to double up as owner. In April this year, former owner Peter Boizot finally sold his stake to a consortium funded by Colin Hill, a property developer, and led by former chairman Alf Hand. The deal went through in 24 hours and was passed off to supporters as Posh being saved from those who sought to make a fast buck from redeveloping the London Road site.
Fry and others joined the board and made major cuts to reduce the spiralling debt. The most deeply felt of these was the complete dissolution of the youth set-up, with wholesale transfers of juniors to Northampton and Cambridge. This was a holding tactic, as Fry himself remortgaged his house and announced he was to take control at the beginning of October.
On the pitch, though, nothing has changed. We still have to endure comedy defending, inane post-match comments about other clubs having “proper players in proper positions” and decreasing attendances. At the time of writing, we are in the relegation zone, without a win at home in the league and our prize asset, Leon McKenzie, is widely rumoured to be off at any time.
Yet, there is an air of tentative optimism around, for the simple reason that the club’s attitude towards fans has changed significantly. In the week the takeover was announced, Fry offered an olive branch to some of his most outspoken opponents. The Posh Independent Supporters’ Association (PISA), banned in April, were invited back, along with their giant flag. The chairman of the Peterborough Supporters’ Trust (PST) was then the first person to be named on Fry’s new board, closely followed by local businessmen, all of whom have been supporters of the club in the past.
On top of this, the club is making 360,000 shares available to fans, which will clear the debt if the full allocation is taken up. London Road is now owned by a holding company, of which the major shareholder is Swiss-based Hill, a millionaire and friend of Fry. Indeed, he is a friend to the extent that he is regularly seen in the dugout shouting instructions to the players while the manager stands silently behind.
It is not clear what the splitting of the club and the ground means. We are told London Road is to be lent, rent-free, to PUFC for the next ten years. It appears the ground is no longer available to property developers per se, but has been ring-fenced by one in particular until he is able to realise his plans.
Supporters still have questions about the change of ownership, but with the PST on the board, it is possible that for the first time since he’s been at Posh, Barry Fry has put somebody other than himself first.
From WSC 203 January 2004. What was happening this month