Barry Fry has worked his way through the thrills of 25 years at Peterborough United, sitting back in his garden, clenching cigar, thumbs up and yelling ‘Come on the Posh’ at the camera.
His conversation, laced with expletives and fits of laughter, is bordered from financial chaos and the edge of despair, through dozens of deals to the joy of a new promotion, the sweetest yet.
‘I’m just a stupid football nut,’ he grins. “All my mates are retired, feet up. But I couldn’t imagine. I get up at eight, go to work, banter with the boys, I love it. I never want to pack it.’
Barry Fry relaxes in his garden as he prepares for the Peterborough Championship Challenge
Not when Peterborough, back in the Championship, steps up with Canadian investors attracted by owner Darragh MacAnthony, an improved academy and ambitious plans for a new £83million stadium.
“It feels different this time,” says Fry, 76. “We deserve to be there. We don’t feel like we’re going to be too-rans. We want to be the next Brentford or Barnsley. We are in the championship where we belong and I am so happy because I could never have taken the club this far.
“I’ve been to hell and back a hundred times in 25 years. That’s a long time in a place where they hate you. I should have left after five minutes, but now I feel like I’m in heaven and this makes up for all the sadness.’
It’s been a turbulent relationship. Fry arrived at London Road in 1996 as co-owner and manager, seduced by the promise of total control of the club’s football side.
Peterborough’s return to the championship has made up for all the hardships and sorrows
“I said we would score 100 goals and get promoted,” he grins. “I relegated us in my freshman year. Nightmare. Everyone in Peterborough thought I owned the club when I wasn’t.’
It became clear that Fry had no property rights and was unlikely to see back the money he deposited in Birmingham City. “The club was in bigger trouble than I thought,” as he puts it, as he goes through a list of problems, including employees stealing from the club. “It was a hellish ride for ten years, I was manager for nine…480 games. Not very successful, but somehow I kept the club going.’
Fry became the owner of the club and took over to avoid administration by selling a property in Portugal, taking over his house in Bedford, taking his pension and securing an overdraft on his mother-in-law’s house.
“At one point I was the owner, chairman and manager,” he says. “All I ever wanted to be was a stupid manager, but I had to find £150,000 every month to pay the wages. I’d try until five o’clock to find out where it came from.’
Fry begged, borrowed and made deals, such as the time he bought Leon McKenzie from Crystal Palace for £25,000, paid in 25 installments of £1,000 a month and sold him to Norwich three years later for £750,000 plus bonuses.
The 76-year-old is one of football’s most colorful characters and has no plans to retire
After he fired himself, Big Ron Manager, the fly-on-the-wall Sky documentary starring Ron Atkinson as a troubleshooter, was brought in to advise aspiring Posh boss Steve Bleasdale, who was exhausted by it all. and walked away an hour before a game against Macclesfield.
“If I had known he would do that, I would have asked Sky for more money. The players didn’t like him anyway,” Fry jokes, but this was his low point. ‘I had no money, no possessions and no ideas. It drove me to an early grave.
“I have to thank Darragh MacAnthony for saving my life and my club… he was a godsend. Without him, Peterborough would have left and I’d be six feet below the ground.
‘I must have seen 19 others about buying it and all they had was a cup of tea to make in the club. He was the one. He wanted to help the club move forward. His football knowledge was great.’
MacAnthony bought the club and made Fry its director of football, backing his eye for talent with some of the fortune he had made in real estate. They have developed into one of football’s strangest couples, working together for 15 years, with Darren Ferguson as manager for more than nine, in three different periods.
Owner Darragh MacAnthony and Fry have developed into one of football’s strangest couples
“We have a great system,” says Fry. “Darren has been brilliant for us. Four promotions, three for the championship and a win in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley. He develops the players we get.
“Daragh is the best scout in the world. He knows all the statistics. I just want to see players in real life. Someone told me that Fulham has eight analysts. Eight!
“I’ve been a manager for 32 years and most of that time I’ve never had an assistant. Now the management team is about 15 and we don’t have a big enough bank. The game has changed and I have to change with it or I’m out, so I’ve adapted and I still love it.”
Fry is rambling through his top discoveries: a blur of names and numbers, but the Dwight Gayle transfer is a classic with his old buddy John Still, who was then manager of Dagenham and Redbridge. “John bought it and Dagenham couldn’t pay his wages, so he lent it right away.
“We signed him to a four-year contract and agreed to pay Dagenham £400,000 at £10,000 a month for 40 months, but within seven months we had sold him to Crystal Palace for £6million. Dagenham got all their money and a resale rate, over a million, so they were delighted.
Fry has gone through many ups and downs during his 25-year stint at Peterborough
“We only had him for seven months, but when he left we were able to bring in Britt Assombalonga, who I had seen play for Wealdstone on loan from Watford. We got £8 million for Britt and that’s what we do all the time.”
More recently, Ivan Toney was bought from Newcastle for £300,000 and sold for £10 million to Brentford, where his goals propelled them into the Premier League.
They replaced Toney by signing Jonson Clarke-Harris, who scored 31 goals on his way to promotion.
Two Clarke-Harris goals, including a 96th-minute penalty, secured promotion in May as the Posh came back from three behind to draw against Lincoln.
“Not a fine in a million years,” admits Fry. ‘I dare not look. All emotion. We score the penalty, we’re back in the championship and I think I’m dead and gone to heaven.’