Fry's bullish delights

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The Independent Online
Cardiff City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Barnet. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

A HUMDINGER of a game between two sides united in mutual admiration and by their hunger for a higher status nevertheless failed to keep in the background the financial uncertainty afflicting both clubs. To think that football was once a simple business requiring only that you put the ball in the net more often than the opposition.

A crowd in excess of 16,000 (only two were bigger on the day) roared its appreciation until the final whistle, which came five minutes after the substitute Cohen Griffith had equalised to preserve Cardiff's three-point advantage at the top of the Third Division. Barnet could still derive immense satisfaction from the occasion. Not for the first time in their crazy season it was a performance that spoke volumes for their character.

To all intents and purposes their club is bankrupt, the credibility of their owner, Stan Flashman, long overdrawn. Yet in spirit and resolve the players are millionaires. Without wages for two weeks they were prepared to meet the cost of Friday's overnight accommodation themselves until they discovered that their latest pay-cheques had bounced.

Eventually Flashman, ill in bed after a stroke, found the funds. Presumably he was considerably cheered by a scoreline which ended a run of three successive defeats, though the future of his club remains in considerable doubt.

'We are at the end of the tunnel and we have had enough,' said the Barnet manager, Barry Fry, who somehow continues to offer a smile and a wisecrack. 'If we are not careful the Football League will expel us, Stan will liquidate us or one of our creditors will wind us up.'

Fry is a genuine contender for Manager of the Year. Sacked in bizarre, acrimonious circumstances, he returned only to discover his wages had been cut by half. To the suggestion that Cardiff might also be a club without a Football League future the smile returns: 'Surely there can't be two lunatic chairmen around.'

The Welsh club's situation is less serious but more complex. Their financial controller, Rick Wright, is cast as the good guy, especially in the Barnet dressing-room, which he approached at ten to five holding a cheque for pounds 1,000. 'Have a good drink on the way home,' he told them. 'You deserve to go up as champions.'

Wright is ready to sell Cardiff for pounds 2m and in the absence of a successor does not rule out taking the club into the Konica League of Wales because that provides an easier route into European competition. He says he lacks the funds to lift Cardiff through the Second Division and they certainly need to acquire new players, with midfield craft a priority.

Kevin Ratcliffe, the former Welsh captain newly restored to the national squad, has added experience to a team also benefiting from the know-how of Robbie James and Paul Ramsey. Barnet, however, were the more composed, their play directed towards Gary Bull, who showed why he is in much demand. They threatened a second goal but ultimately were grateful for two superlative saves from Gary Phillips, who also kept out Chris Pike's 17th-minute penalty.

Goals: Evans (8) 0-1; Griffith (85) 1-1.

Cardiff City: Ward; James, Searle, Brazil, Perry, Ratcliffe, Ramsey, Matthews (Griffith, 76), Stant, Pike, Blake (Richardson, 45).

Barnet: Phillips; Huxford, Naylor, Bodley, Howell, Sorrell, Payne, Stein, Bull, Evans, Hunt. Substitutes not used: Carter, Lynch.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).