Football: New love for a dedicated follower of passion: Barry Fry endured a grilling at Barnet while touting his wares for Stan Flashman. Trevor Haylett on a survivor

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The Independent Online
WE ALL love a winner and when winning flies in the face of steepling odds, economic logic and the bad guy in the background we grant him special esteem. Right now, Barry Fry has considerably more friends and admirers in football than Stan Flashman has tickets for tonight's main event.

'The man came in and saved my club. He was my hero. I thought the world of him,' Fry once said, recalling his feelings for Flashman circa 1986. Now the sentiments for the Barnet owner and club chairman are equally dramatic, just as colourful but a little less friendly.

'From being my hero Stan has become Evil Knievel,' Fry said this week. 'He is destroying what is nearest and dearest to me and I can never forgive him for that. I pray God that Barnet will go up as champions from Division Three at the end of the season and I just feel so angry that I won't be there to share it with them.'

Nine days ago Fry walked out on Flashman and Barnet to join First Division strugglers Southend in a move he says he was forced to take to preserve his sanity and safeguard his health. The fact that the previous day he had been sacked by Flashman (for the fourth time) was incidental. Everyday life at Underhill had scaled such peaks of farce that he long ago learned to ignore such things and carry on working.

Now, quickly settled into his new 'home' by the sea, and with two wins out of two making him even more chipper, Fry is free to unleash his loathing for the man who has 'risen' from the most infamous ticket tout in the game to its most notorious club chairman. To give him his due Fry was no less critical when he was working in tandem with Flashman.

In tandem? That's a joke. Fry says his chairman has attended just two games this season (though admittedly Flashman has been ill) and as the Barnet turmoil grew worse his appearances at the ground became less and less frequent.

'I have said that if you didn't know Stanley you would think he was an ignorant pig. For those who do know him I can't quite find the right words to describe him, although certainly he's a Jekyll and Hyde character.'

At first Flashman was generous to his players, putting money into the dressing-room for a celebration on the way home, supplying them with the best hotels, the best meals, the best coach travel, so that in preparation terms Barnet were virtually Premier League. As time wore on, however, a different picture began to emerge.

So why last Thursday, just 24 hours after Flashman had announced he was stepping down and a three-man board under a new chairman Robert Woolfson taking over, did Fry also decide it was time to go? The question of Flashman's departure, he argues, is not as simple as it seems.

'He still has the shares and his wife is operating as the company secretary. As far as I can see nothing has changed and the new people haven't put a penny piece into the club. Stan has merely taken a back seat, appointed some Freeman Hardy and Willis to wag the tail and keep the fort going. I was left with no choice but to go.

'When I first met the new people I said that if I was them I would go to the players and pay them the four weeks' money they were owed. I would guarantee that would win us the League. But they said only one week's money would be forthcoming, from the proceeds of that week's game with Halifax. When I queried the money I was owed I was told I would also receive just one week's money. As for the rest they said I would just have to join the list of creditors.'

Fry estimates he is owed around pounds 8,000 in back wages. When he was sacked (for real it seemed) in December, only to be reinstated 12 days later, he found on his return his wages were down by half. Yet his own commitment, in money and hours and sheer fortitude, to the club he has lifted from non-League to the brink of the Second Division was considerable.

He took out a second mortgage on his house to help clear debts. The proceeds from his testimonial game went to help his players through another monetary crisis. Over the last two years those crises have multiplied so that now the very future of the north London club is in grave danger. Players allege payments have not been met. After a Football League investigation the club were fined pounds 50,000 in November for irregular payments and failing to keep proper records. The threat of closure is never far away from a growing list of creditors pressing for payment.

'For all that people have read about Barnet in the papers there's been twice as much going on that has not been reported,' Fry said. 'Flashman just doesn't realise what he is doing to something that means so much to so many people. The supporters face losing a big part of their lives if the club goes down, several people will be put on the dole queue and it is absolutely criminal.

'It was one meeting after another, meetings with lawyers, the PFA, accountants, meetings with people who wanted to take over. The football just seemed to get in the way. Now it seems like a double-decker bus has been lifted from my shoulders. I can concentrate on the game and it's great.'

On his travels Fry regularly bumped into Dave Webb when he was in charge at Southend, and his chairman Vic Jobson. 'I always felt it was the kind of club I would like to manage and I told Vic I would walk to Roots Hall for a job just to get away from my environment. When Vic heard what had happened last week he rang and offered me that job.'

It has been said that Fry has jeopardised his chances of work elsewhere by the frequency and force of his public attacks on Flashman. He agrees with that but said: 'I had to do it. Things were so bad I had to disassociate myself from Flashman because people were starting to talk about us as a double act. I could not stand for what the man stood for. Yes I was outspoken but these were unusual circumstances.

'I will tackle this job the same way as I did at Barnet. With bags of commitment and energy. I can't do it any other way and if the players do the same we can go a long way and, who knows, we may even be able to avoid relegation. I am honest with them and I think that is one of my strengths. If they're good I tell them they're George Best, if they're crap I tell them they were effing crap.

'I can get the best out of them. My track record proves that. I wind them up to a pitch in the dressing-room before the start and watch them uncoil. I don't spend much time talking tactics. I've never used a blackboard and chalk in my life.'

He is not a bad judge of a player either, earning Barnet more than a million pounds in the transfer market, which only adds to his puzzlement at how his former club could be in such fiscal disarray.

Only a man with a maniacal obsession for football would have been prepared to risk his life, his marriage and his home by enduring what Fry has had to put up with these last two years and more.

That love for the game is already permeating every corner of Southend, and on Wednesday what turned out to be the winning goal against West Ham sent Fry on a zany 40-yard jig of delight along the touchline at Roots Hall. At the final whistle Fry, his flat cap all askew, cavorted on to the pitch, jumping into the arms of his players in an excessive celebration of the joy of victory. For a man with a history of heart trouble, who had reached his 48th birthday the same day, it was an impressive display of acrobatics.

'It was only my love of football that kept me going at Barnet. How we used to keep producing results there under all the circumstances - and don't forget we had a transfer embargo put on us from the start of the season which meant we couldn't buy or loan anyone - was just amazing. I can only put it down to our sense of togetherness. We badly wanted to do well for each other.

'Eventually I want to manage a club in the Premier League to pit my wits against George Graham and Terry Venables. I swear too much to be the England manager so that must be the next best thing.'

Barnet without Barry Fry is hard to accept. It's like Southend without its pier. At some time he intends writing a book on the whole saga. Who knows, maybe even a stage show. Two together anyone?

(Photograph omitted)

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