HomePeterborough United

Barry Fry On Peterborough United, Management And Club Ownership

Barry Fry On Peterborough United, Management And Club Ownership

An interview with Barry Fry, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You are the director of football at Peterborough United and you have now been at the club in different capacities for over a quarter of a decade. You started at the club in 1996 as owner and manager at the same time. How on earth does that set of circumstances come into existence?

“I was the manager at the club before the then owner of the club wanted to put us into administration.

“At the board meeting when he broke this news to me and the other board members, I foolishly said that I would buy the club off him because we had assets at the club and a fanbase that could not afford to lose their club.

“He laughed and told me that I did not have a pot to piss in so he must have known me quite well… (laughs).

“However, I had assets such as a holiday home in Portugal that I was willing to sell to put into the club.

“So, I did that, and I also remortgaged my home to invest that money into the club as well.

“Then, once I was in at Peterborough United as owner, it became apparent that I had not done enough due diligence and that I would need to raise even more money.

“So, I claimed the pension that I had set up early and put that into the club as well as arranging a testimonial for myself against Manchester United which Sir Alex sent his full first team down for.

“Again, all of that money went into the club too, and I was able to keep the club going.

“However, it was a massive responsibility as I was not just responsible for picking the team but also responsible for making sure that we had enough money every month to play the players and the staff across the club.

“It was much harder than just being a manager and there were times when I would get a call from the club to say that the bailiffs had arrived to take things away from the club due to unpaid bills and I would have to travel to London Road to sort things out as quickly as I could.

“It was a hopeless situation over time with many sleepless nights and I did everything and anything to keep the club going.

“Thankfully, Darragh MacAnthony – who still owns the club to this day – came in at the right time to help me out and take the club on. If he had not done so at that time then I would be dead and buried now because it is one hell of a worry to have the prospects of every aspect of a football club on your shoulders particularly when you do not come from a business background.

“It was the best and worst thing that I have ever done because I saved the club from extinction but it was also the most stressful and scary thing that I have ever experienced.

“Thankfully, it was worth all the heartache and stress. Darragh bought the club for £1 on the condition that I stayed as director of football which I was delighted to do and still do to this day.”

You have been director of football at Peterborough since 2005. How pleasing has it been for you to still be involved and see the progression of the club?

“It means the world to me. I am heavily involved in the club, and I do everything that I can to help the football club.

“I want us to succeed from youth level right up to first team level and we want to continually improve the football club across all areas.

“Under Darragh’s ownership, we’ve played in the Championship, and we are an established EFL team known for developing quality footballers.

“I am so chuffed to see where the club is now and to be involved in helping the club continue to move forward because it is a club that means the world to me for all that I’ve been through with it and I love being at Peterborough United and working every single day to drive us forward even at the age of 78.”

Many readers will know you as a manager or as a director of football, but as a footballer, you started your career at Manchester United. What was Barry Fry, the footballer like?

“Before Manchester United, I played for England schoolboys on six occasions and I scored five goals, one of which I scored at Wembley against Scotland.

“In that team alongside me were players like Ron Harris and David Pleat and on the Scotland side was Bobby Moncur and George Graham.

“All of those players went on to have great careers in football as players or managers whereas I became a has-been who never was (laughs).

“In all seriousness, I was at Manchester United for four years – two as an apprentice and two as a professional – but in my last year at the club, it was discovered that I had a blood clot in my leg which kept me out of action for a number of months.

“I then left Manchester United for Bolton Wanderers and I played three times for them scoring once, against a Cardiff side that included the great John Charles.

“That was the only goal that I scored in the football league as I ended up at Luton Town before playing the majority of my football in Non-League at clubs such as Gravesend & Northfleet, and Romford before returning to the league with Leyton Orient.

“My main problem was the blood clot issue that I had at Manchester United kept resurfacing, and I had issues with my thighs as a result of that.

“Ultimately, I was told that if those clots travelled to my heart that I would be dead, so I had no option but to give up football in my mid-twenties.

“I always loved football and I hated giving up playing but it was necessary for my health.”

As a result of retiring from playing, you became a manager at the age of 28 with Dunstable Town. How important was it for you to remain involved in football?

“It was massively important for me because football is my passion and all that I know.

“I went in at Dunstable Town at a time when they had finished bottom of the league in multiple seasons on the trot and after my first season in charge, we finished bottom again (laughs).

“But, the following year, we were able to make a massive step forward. I knew we had to raise money to become more competitive, so George Best played for us on three occasions as a guest in friendlies while I was able to sign Jeff Astle for us for the full season.

“Jeff was a revelation for us and showed his class from his time playing at the top levels of football by scoring 34 goals that enabled us to go from bottom of the table in my first season to winning promotion in my second season.

“Those two years at Dunstable Town set me up for the next 30 years of football management.”

After your time at Dunstable, you had two spells in charge of Barnet totalling 14 years – with a season at Maidstone United in between. How do you reflect on your time in charge of Barnet overall?

“The first five years at Barnet were a real struggle as we did not have any money and we battled just to exist as a club in all honesty.

“Despite that, we had a brilliant cup run during that time and faced Brighton and Hove Albion at home. They were in the top flight at the time and we managed to draw with them away at their ground which forced a replay at home.

“The return game was televised and, although we lost the game, the money raised from strong gate receipts and from the television money helped us massively.

“Brighton wanted to buy our left back Graham Pearce after facing us in those games and we ended up selling him for £35,000 to further help our financial situation.

“Graham was a very good player and he played for Brighton against Manchester United in the FA Cup final a year after making that move. I was watching that day and I was proud to see him make that step forward because the romance of the FA Cup earned him that move to a higher level while also helping the club out in a big way.

“I left Barnet for the first time to join Maidstone United who were considered to be the Manchester United of Non-League football at that time. Unfortunately, it did not work out for me there and thankfully, Barnet invited me to return as manager which I was more than happy to do.

“Overall, at Barnet, we finished second in the conference on three occasions then we won the conference scoring 105 goals on the way to take the club into the football league and we reached the playoffs – of what would now be known as League Two -in our first season in the football league.

“We followed that up by winning promotion from the league automatically in our second season in the football league before I left for Southend United.

“It was a rollercoaster ride of a time at Barnet in both spells there, but I was able to achieve a lot of success with the club and I look back with positive memories.”

You joined Southend as manager when they were bottom of Division One. You kept the club up before leaving for Birmingham City. What was that period at Southend like given the predicament they were in when you arrived?

“I went in when the club were bottom of the table and no one gave us a chance.

“However, we put together a strong run of form in the last nine games of the season to turn things around. We won six games, drew two and lost one which saved the club from relegation.

“At the end of that season, I sold Stan Collymore to Nottingham Forest for £2.5 million which would rise to £5 million with the add-ons received. That was a lot of money in those days, so I left the club in a stronger position on and off the pitch than what I had inherited.

You managed Birmingham from 1993 to 1996 reaching a League Cup semi-final, winning the Division Two Championship and the Football League trophy. How proud are you of those achievements?

“I had the best two and half years of my life at Birmingham City.

“The club was bottom of the league by a country mile when I arrived and although I steadied the ship and our form improved, it was too little too late and we were relegated at the end of my first six months in charge on goal difference to West Bromwich Albion.

“Some Birmingham fans ran onto the pitch and towards me after our last game at Tranmere when we got relegated. I honestly thought that they were coming to strangle me (laughs) but thankfully they lifted me up and carried me like I had won something.

“That reaction blew me away and I told them that I would win them the double of the league title and the football league trophy in the next season and give them something to really cheer for.

“Many people laughed when I said that, but we went on to achieve exactly that, in a difficult league with only the league winners being promoted that season to make it even more challenging.

“We added to our league success by going to Wembley and defeating a strong Carlisle United side on golden goal in front of 78,000 fans.

“We then went on to reach the League Cup semi-final in the following year which we lost to a strong Leeds United side who had invested a lot of money at that time.

“I had great fun at Birmingham City because the supporters were as mad as I was (laughs) and I enjoyed working under David Sullivan, David Gold and Karen Brady.

“We did not always see eye to eye, but they supported me and that is all that you can ask for as a manager.”

Finally, Barry, when you went into the club when they were bottom of the table, it was said that there was a curse on St Andrews. Can you tell me how you tried to solve that curse? 

“I won my first two games at St Andrews but after that, we did not win another game at home in around seven games.

“I was fed up with the results, but our club secretary said to me ‘Barry, it’s not your fault because there is a curse on the ground.’

“He told me that when Ron Saunders was manager of Birmingham, he put crosses on the dressing room doors and at the corners of the ground to try and lift the curse.

“So, I asked him what happened to Ron Saunders, and he told me that he got the sack in the end.

“I couldn’t help but laugh but over time I became fed up hearing about this supposed curse of St Andrews.

“I am not superstitious but when you have not won for a while, you will try anything to end this supposed curse.

“So, one of the ways to lift such a curse, I was told was to urinate in each of the four corners of the ground. I kid you not. That is what I was told.

“And being f***ing mad like I am, that is exactly what I did and guess what… I still ended up getting the sack over time, so it did not lift the curse for long (laughs)

“That being said, watching them play now, it does not look like the curse has been lifted to this day either (laughs).”