Darragh MacAnthony saved my life - Chairman of Peterborough United Darragh MacAnthony is discussed
Struggling to find my way out, I pushed open yet another set of hopeful-looking double doors and realised I was at the end of the players’ tunnel. And standing before me was Barry Fry, who I had finished interviewing just minutes earlier.
But then perhaps he simply has a little more time on his hands these days. No longer a manager, no longer an owner, Fry simply pootles along in a small office at London Road and sups from Posh’s modest goblet of glory — three promotions in four seasons, currently 15th in the Championship on a shoestring, and playing some of the most entertaining football in the division. His official job title is director of football, which in theory gives him oversight over virtually every aspect of the football club.
In practice, his remit extends largely to transfer negotiations. Rather disappointingly, he doesn’t swear once during the entire interview. Still, you can hardly blame him for calming down a little.
Lounging back in a comfortable executive chair, Fry considers his medical history. “I’ve had two heart attacks, I’ve had two hip replacements, I’ve had two kneecaps done,” he says eventually. “Apart from that, I’m great.”
Football has taken its toll on Fry, and not just on his health. Now 66 years of age, he has been dragged through the wringer by this game, over a career that spans over half a century and 15 different clubs.
Now, in his own words, “I just sit up there with a permanent smile on my face”.
Having relinquished the manager’s job in 2005, his days in the limelight are largely over. But on days like Sunday, when Peterborough take on Premier League Sunderland in the third round of the FA Cup in front of the live television cameras, surely he must miss the attention a little?
“Not at all,” he says firmly. “I don’t miss the dugout. When you’re on the training ground as manager of a football club and your PA is ringing you up, saying the bailiffs are here taking this and taking that, and then you have to run off the training ground and come back here, you don’t miss it.
“There are times when you’re trying to do 20 jobs and you’re not doing one of them right. It’s time to get out and concentrate on keeping your club in existence.”
For much of the early part of the 2000s, Peterborough were in grave danger of going under. As manager, Fry was often the man caught in the maelstrom. In 2003, he bought the majority share-holding in the club.
It kept Peterborough alive, but almost failed to pay him the same courtesy. “It nearly killed me, no question about it,” he says. “The responsibility of paying £150,000 a month in wages absolutely killed me. I couldn’t sleep, because I didn’t know where I could get the money to pay this month’s wages. That was every month for three or four years. I don’t know how I managed it. But I kept it going, and boy, am I glad I did. Now it’s just clover.”
Property tycoon Darragh MacAnthony took over as chairman in 2006, allowing Fry to step aside. “I owe Darragh my life,” Fry says. “He come in and saved it. If it hadn’t been for him, the club wouldn’t be in existence. There’d be houses on this site. I ain’t being funny, Peterborough shouldn’t even be in the league with all them clubs. But we are! And we want to stay there!”
Fry may have saved Peterborough, but when he looks around the Football League he gives a gloomier prognosis. “A third of the clubs are trading insolvent,” he says. “If one club goes under, then it’ll be like a pack of cards. Players’ wages have escalated to a ridiculous proportion. All of us, collectively, need to bring some sanity into the wage structure. We’ve got to say no! Enough’s enough! No! No!”
He bangs his fist violently on the table as he says this. Fry may have stepped out of the hot seat, but he clearly still cares deeply about the game.
As he shows me out afterwards, he chatters with animation and great knowledge about players he has seen in the Conference. For all the controversy, for all the cartoonish outbursts, for all the television appearances, this former Busby Babe is still a football man through and through. The game may have come close to killing him, but like a true believer, he continues to repay it with only devotion.