Jim White

Fry’s yobbish delight

Jim White

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Those with
longer memories will recall the footage of Barry Fry arriving to manage
Birmingham City in 1993.

The first
appointment of the new owners - the pornographers, or rather, as they prefer to
be called, the adult entertainment entrepreneurs David Sullivan and David Gold
- Fry was not exactly short of self-confidence as he surveyed the St Andrews
stands.

 The man who likes to tell the world he played
with George Best - well he did, but only on the Manchester United youth team -
was singing his personal anthem: Simply The Best. So animated was his rendition
as the cameras rolled, all he needed was a fright wig and a gold lame mini
skirt and it could have been Tina Turner herself striding out across the turf.

It was a
bold statement of intent which never quite came good. Under Fry the club
oscillated between the second and third tiers of English football, never sure
which it found most comfortable. And this despite the fact the manager had so
many players go through his books, at times he had more available to choose
from than there were Blues fans in the stands.

Unable to
bring the transformation the owners required, Fry parted company with
Birmingham three years later, heading east to Peterborough. After a lengthy
spell as team boss he found himself owning the London Road club, and, in 2006
he once more invited the television cameras into his realm.

It was less
Simply The Best than Almost The Bankrupt as he explained the precarious
financial condition to the lens. So bad was it, he felt he needed outside support.
So in came Ron Atkinson, a sort of footballing Gordon Ramsay, trailing a
£100,000 fee from Sky TV.

For that
lifesaving injection of capital, Fry was happy to gift the company access all
areas. And so came television gold as the meltdown of the Peterborough manager
Steve Bleasdale, wilting under Atkinson's critique, was caught on film.

Now, after
ceding financial responsibility for the club to new owners, Fry is
Peterborough's director of football. And still, despite the advancing years, he
is apparently incapable of not making a fool of himself in their presence. This
time, however, he was not playing the jovial nutter.

After his
team were engaged in what one participant called the worst example of violence
he had ever experienced at a ground - an all-out brawl with Notts County which
involved not only all 22 players, but coaches, substitutes, even squad members
running from the stands to join in - the FA have initiated an inquiry. It seems
likely both clubs will be charged with a failure to control their personnel.

Fry,
however, is not happy. Seeking out the news cameras, he gave his view of what
happened. It was as idiosyncratic as we have come to expect. According to him,
there is only one person to blame for the fracas: the referee Andy Woolmer.

"As
I've seen it both sides were upset by the referee. It wasn't the players who
were at fault," reckoned Fry. "The FA should charge the ref with
inciting a riot instead of charging the clubs."

Apparently,
though he didn't throw a punch, launch a drop kick or in any way attempt to
engage an exchange of handbags, the season's biggest scrap was all down to the
ref.

Now the ref
may not have had a good game. The two sendings-off he initiated may not have
been justified. He might have got it horribly wrong. But these are two teams of
players and officials paid to do a job. And part of that job is taking whatever
comes their way with equanimity.

Just as the
England manager blaming the referee's failure to see that Frank Lampard's goal
had crossed the line for his team's subsequent capitulation against Germany in
the summer's World Cup was the feeblest of excuses, so is Fry's. Players should
be able to respond to injustice by raising their game, not giving up. At
Peterborough, even if the ref was as woeful as Fry suggests, there is no way
they should be venting their frustrations on each other's chins.

You may not
think Barry Fry's opinions are particularly worthy of comment. After all, this
self-styled character is not exactly the most distinguished of footballing
participants. Yet his response, publicly delivered via television, to Tuesday's
bother is more than absurd. It is really damaging.

Seeking to
excuse lack of self-control through complaint at a ref's decisions is precisely
what bone-headed parents watching their eight-year-olds on a Saturday morning
do on a regular basis. Fry's lazy legitimisation of the demonization of
referees gives the touchline morons the perfect get-out when they spume their
fury at amateur refs doing their best.

If in doubt
blame the ref has long been a get-out of professional football. But this week,
Barry Fry took it to another level entirely. Let's hope the FA protect the
integrity of the game by punishing him accordingly.

Giving him
the whistle to negotiate an under-8 game in his local park this weekend might
be a good start.

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