Barry Fry's roller-coaster reign as manager of Birmingham City ended in dismissal and a typically quotable parting shot yesterday, 36 hours after an assurance from the co-owner, David Sullivan, that his future was secure.
After his sacking, callers to Fry's home were met with an answerphone message. "Kristine's gone shopping as usual," he said, "and I've gone to the job centre looking for employment. Funny old game, innit?''
Birmingham were already busy drawing up a shortlist of possible successors with a view to an early appointment. Sullivan cited "Premiership quality and a proven track record" as their main criteria. Trevor Francis, idol of St Andrew's 25 years ago, was installed as favourite.
George Graham, whose year-long ban from management ends next month, was Birmingham's first choice. An approach is thought to have been met with a "thanks, but no thanks" from the former Arsenal manager, who may instead re-emerge with Leeds or Chelsea.
Terry Venables also becomes free from his England commitments at the same time, though he may also be setting his sights higher. Apart from Francis, whose pedigree includes third place in the Premier League plus two Wembley finals, realistic candidates include Mike Walker, Chris Nicholl, Steve Coppell and Steve Bruce. Graeme Souness, who has parted company with Galatasaray, could also come into the reckoning.
Fry, 51, paid for a poor second half of a season in which Birmingham stood third in the First Division on Boxing Day. Their final position, 15th, was the club's highest in a decade, but they took one point from the last four games and failed to win away after November.
Sullivan and the joint owners, Ralph and David Gold, complained in the programme for Sunday's defeat by Reading about "gutless" displays. But the Essex-based publisher later told the club phone line: "We'll start next season with Barry Fry as manager unless Barry decides otherwise.''
Changing his tune yesterday, Sullivan said: "It's purely because we want to win promotion next season, and despite Barry's efforts and commitment we didn't think he could take us any further. After three years and 61 players, we think someone else is entitled to have a go." He expected the former Barnet manager to be with "a club like Notts County or Luton" shortly.
In the two and a half years after his defection from Southend to Birmingham, Fry presided over relegation from the First, a Second Division championship and Auto Windscreens Shield double, and a run to the Coca-Cola Cup semi- finals this season. He bought more than 50 players at a cost of over pounds 6m and sold nearly 40 for around pounds 5m.
Fry said last night: "I can't believe it. Nothing surprises me in football but I certainly didn't see this one coming, that's for sure. The amazing thing is that last night I was with two of the club's owners, David and Ralph Gold, at a presentation evening and we were talking until 1am about plans for next season.''
Peter Reid, whose transfer dealings at Sunderland were by financial necessity in stark contrast to Fry's, was yesterday named Manager of the Year by his contemporaries. Reid pipped Alex Ferguson in the annual poll of members of the League Managers' Association. The LMA secretary, John Camkin, said the award was recognition that Reid made "the best use of resources available" in taking Sunderland to the First Division title.
Trevor Phillips, the Association's commercial director, has quit after an apparent disagreement with Lancaster Gate officials over the FA's commercial policy and overall strategy.
Darren Anderton, the Tottenham player, is expected to be named in Terry Venables' England squad today for the match against Hungary on 18 May and the Far East tour .Venables expects to confirm from Peking that the Chinese leg of the tour will go ahead despite his reservations about facilities.