Fry may receive further £4m

Huddersfield Town 1Birmingham City 2
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The Independent Online
Money talks, it is said, but David Sullivan's wad was torn between shouting from the rooftops and counselling restraint after Birmingham sealed their first championship in 40 years.

On the face of it, a surprisingly easy victory over Huddersfield merely restored Barry Fry's side to the First Division from which they were relegated last May. The difference is that Sullivan and his co-investors, the Gold brothers of Ann Summers sex shops fame, have since allied restless ambition and financial clout to Birmingham's potential to become one of the leading clubs.

The question now is whether they keep on throwing money at the transfer market. Sullivan hoped for an increase in season-ticket sales from 7,500 to 12,000, pledging to match "pound for pound" the "couple of million" that would accrue. By which reckoning Fry might be given £4m for new players this summer.

The Birmingham manager, who thinks understatement is something sent out by a bank, retorted: "They'll have to spend £10m, if not £12m, or £15m. If they want to play at it, they'll give me £3m or £4m."

For all Sullivan's caveats - "we're not Jack Walker or the Abbey National" - one suspects the soft-porn publisher has been so thoroughly bitten by the Blues bug that Fry will be allowed to indulge himself. If his employer's predictions are not to be left looking fanciful, he may have to be.

Resplendent in a royal blue suit, Sullivan set out his vision in the symbolic setting of the futuristic McAlpine Stadium. "I promised at the end of last season: don't panic, we'll come back up as champions and win the Auto Windscreens Shield. That came true, and my forecast for next year is that we'll reach a Wembley final and get promotion again.

"It's a tough league we're going into, but I believe the big time's just around the corner and that within three or four years we could be in Europe. We're well supported, which is very important because football's all about money. OK, so we've got out of this division but we've spent more than anyone before us to do so."

Ironically, neither of Fry's £800,000 buys, Kevin Francis (injured) and Ricky Otto (dropped), figured in the final triumph. The rapid pace of change at Birmingham can be gauged by the fact that only four of the team which opened the season by losing to Leyton Orient (who finished bottom) started Saturday's game.

Fry's formation was as defensive as he has ever fielded. Once it was clear, however, that the hosts were holding something back for the play- offs, he sent on two attackers and was promptly rewarded. Steve Claridge became the first Birmingham player to reach 20 League goals in a season since Trevor Francis in 1977-78. Paul Tait made it safe, and even Huddersfield's consolation went to a self-confessed "Bluenose", Darren Bullock.

What with a record crowd, baking temperatures and even the losers having something to look forward to, it took extraordinary inflexibility by the West Yorkshire Police to sour the afternoon. They over-reacted by sending in officers on horseback when a handful of fans ran on to celebrate the first goal. Later, with the rest of the ground empty, they refused to allow the new champions to share the moment with their 4,000 followers.

Common sense did not prevail for an hour, and it was a tribute to the Birmingham supporters' patience and good humour that an incident was averted.

Goals: Claridge (73) 0-1; Tait (85) 0-2; Bullock (88) 1-2.

Huddersfield Town (4-3-3): Francis; Trevitt, Sinnott, Scully, Cowan; Collins (Moulden, 74), Duxbury, Bullock; Jepson, Booth, Dunn (Billy, 66). Substitute not used: Blackwell (gk).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Poole, Whyte, Daish, Frain; Hunt (Donowa, 51), Hendon, Ward, Cooper; Williams (Tait, 59), Claridge. Substitute not used: Price (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

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