20 YEARS OF BARRY FRY: '˜They told me I wouldn't last a month'
It was May, 30, 1996 when the Peterborough Evening Telegraph revealed that Barry Fry was to buy Peterborough United from Chris Turner.
Fry intended to own the club and manage the first team, but things didn’t quite go to plan. However, 20 years later the 71 year-old is still a big player at Posh. ALAN SWANN caught up with him this week to reminisce.
Part one of that interview is here.
More will follow over the next few days.
“I was sacked by Birmingham in 1996. That night I looked at my phone to see 19 messages from Chris Turner asking me to take charge at Posh.
“Chris was in hospital at the time and I went to see him out of courtesy and because he was a friend. But there was not a cat in hell’s chance of me managing Peterborough. I felt I was bound to get a bigger club as I’d had success at Birmingham.
“Chris told me running Posh had made him ill. He was drained physically and mentally. He then told me about his cunning plan.
“The club would be split into two. He would set up a holding company to control offfield stuff and I could buy the club for a quid and run it as I wanted.
“That was music to my ears. No begging chairmen for money. I could just run a club as I wanted.
“I accepted there and then and it was the worst decision of my life. I didn’t even do due diligence. I just wanted to get cracking.
“As it happened I never purchased the club at all. It became clear that splitting the club into two would cause tax problems for the club and for individuals.
“But while that was being sorted out all sorts of problems had started to emerge.
“Typically I’d gone into the club all guns blazing. I was shooting my mouth off about winning promotion, scoring 100 goals and I signed top players like Martin O’Connor, Scott Houghton and Steve Welsh, thinking I had lots of money to play with.
“I’d only been at the club a week when the cashflow problems started to hurt. I had to pay top money for my new signings as they were all determined by tribunals.
“Only problem was the club didn’t have any money. I had given my pay-off from Birmingham to my wife , but I was soon borrowing substantial sums from that pay-off just to keep the club afloat.
“I had to get my own accountant, Ted Hennessey, in and what we found was horrendous. It made me ill. I had a heart attack within four weeks of joining Posh and spent four days in Papworth Hospital.
“The tipping point arrived after a tribunal in Edinburgh ordered me to pay £55k for Welsh. At the same time the tax implications were discovered and I couldn’t legally buy the club.
“I could have walked away there and then, but I couldn’t do it. I’d gone in under a false promise, but I felt it was my duty to put it right. I didn’t take any wages for six months.
“The bank froze our account and I could only unfreeze it by selling Martin O’Connor for £528k to Birmingham. They paid up front and we could operate again, but things were still grim.
“From talking about winning promotion we were now just talking about survival, and not just from relegation.”
“We muddled through from week to week and then I had my first stroke of luck. Peter Boizot attended a youth team meeting and decided he wanted to give £1k to our youth programme.
“I went to see him for breakfast at the Great Northern. We got talking, I explained how much financial trouble we were in and his immediate reaction was to want to help.
“We met again at Kettners, his place in Soho, and he offered take over the club . Noone was going to stop him.
“He forked out £750k and he ended up losing £7.5 million in his time in charge.
“Peter was a Peterborian and he just wanted to do as much as he could for the city. It was an expensive decision, but one he made with the best intentions.
“We were relegated at the end of that season, but I was thrilled to get Peter on the pitch at Wembley after we won that play-off final against Darlington in 2000.
“What Peter did for the club was heroic. He’s an absolute diamond and when he decided he had to get out, he still did a deal that benefitted the club rather than himself.
“Late one night I received a phone call from Alf Hand (long-time Posh director) who told me he’d been visited by three property developers who wanted to buy Posh.
“Alf thought the deal would be catastrophic for the club and I agreed. We needed to persuade Peter though as we found out that his nephew Matthew Allen was behind the proposal.
“A board meeting was held the next day to discuss the offer. I was banned, but the vote was split and so it was down to Peter as the chairman to make the final decision
“I’d warned Peter that all his good work in saving the club and keeping it going would be wasted if the club went out of existence. He’d be blamed.
“Thankfully Peter backed his club, stuck to his principles and went against his family, who were furious with him.
“He still wanted out though and he needed £250k in a hurry.”
“I phoned Colin Hill, a mate of Turner’s more than mine, who was on his boat and asked him to lend me £250K so I could safeguard the club.
“He agreed, but after coming over and visiting the bank he decided he wanted more. We had a charge at the bank for £210k so Hill paid £460k – Peter’s money and the bank’s money and took control.
“After a few arguments about the direction the club would be heading, Hill sold me the playing side of the club for a quid and kept all the profitable bits for himself, including ownership of the stadium.
“He also wanted his £460k back so I took out a second mortgage on my house and sold a propety I owned in Portugal for £160k.
“I thought I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“That night I heard a story about Hill and his mates laughing that I wouldn’t last a month. They were almost right.”