Your questions answered by football's biggest legends
To sign for Manchester United, you must have been a decent player. Who’s the modern-day Barry Fry?
Stephen McCullagh, Gerrards Cross
I was an inside forward and I was a good player. I played for England schoolboys six times and scored five goals, including one at Wembley when we beat Scotland 5-3 in front of 93,000. I could have went pretty much anywhere, but I chose United because they invited me up there and Nobby Stiles looked after me and sold me the club brilliantly. Who was I like in the modern game? Midfielder bombing forward to score goals, good with either foot, quick, I could head it… I’d say Stevie Gerrard!
What went wrong, Barry. You were a Busby Babe at United in 1960, but within eight years you were playing at Romford, then managing Dunstable, aged just 28…
Bruce Higgins, via e-mail
(Laughs) Well, I remember the boss, Matt Busby, driving past me at the bus stop one day after training and offering me a lift. He said “Where you going, Barry?” I said “Manchester Races, boss” So was he, so I jumped in and as he drove he said, “So, you like gambling, Barry?” “Oh yeah, I love it, boss” I said. “I go to the races every day after training”. “And what do you do after that, Barry, do you go home?” “No, I have something to eat and then I go to the dogs all afternoon”. “And then what?” he said, “you go home?” “No, boss, I go to the nightclub and play roulette ’till three in the morning”.
He went, “Oh”. So then he said “What about beer, Barry?” “Oh, I love it [laughs]. Beer, whisky, rum and black, I love it all”. And he went, “Oh”. “And what about the women?” And I said, “Coming from a village like Bedford and ending up in Manchester, I can’t believe it, boss. I’m shagging morning, noon and night!” Then he just looked at me and gave me the best advice I’ve ever had in my life. He said, “Barry, boy, moderation in all things”. Obviously I took no fucking notice and at the end of me contract, Matt called me in and said “You’ve been gambling too much, drinking too much and shagging too much, I’m giving you a free transfer”! That’s what went wrong, and it was entirely my own fault!
Is it true you took nine attempts to pass your driving test – and Bobby Charlton was to blame?
Felix Bateman, Kent
(Laughs) What happened was, I’d failed so many tests and I was talking about it one day at training and Bob said, “Baz, what you want to do is wear your United tie and blazer when you turn up for the test”. So I went for this test, wearing me club shirt and blazer, and I did the test. And as I pulled up at the end, the instructor said, in this solemn voice, “Well, Mr Fry, I’m afraid you’ve failed to reach the standard required”. Then, as he gets out of the car, turns round, smiles and says, “Oh, and by the way, I’m a City fan!” The only fucking City fan in the whole of Manchester and I got him! But I failed so many times, I don’t think I can blame Bobby for every one.
When you took over at Dunstable Town, you signed George Best. How?
Jimmy Hunt, via e-mail
Well, when I joined Dunstable they’d finished bottom of their league eight times in a row and played in front of 34 people, so I needed a gimmick that would make people take us seriously. I looked after Bestie when he first came to United, as Nobby Stiles had done for me, so I went up to Slack Alice in Manchester, George’s nightclub, and asked him if he’d play. He agreed like a shot, but I had to get Tommy Docherty’s permission, because he’d left United but they still had his registration. So I met The Doc, and he just laughed. “How the fuck you going to get George to play for Dunstabubble when he won’t even play at Old Trafford!”
When I told him we were mates from our time at United and George had agreed to play a couple of friendlies, The Doc said “How about we bring a Manchester United XI down and you play us?” Fucking hell, can you imagine, George Best playing against Man United in front of 5,000? And we won 3-2! We won the league that season, but without the publicity that game gave us, I probably wouldn’t have done anything in management and wouldn’t be here now, so I have a lot to thank George for.
What kind of manager were you – arm-round-the-shoulder, or flying tea cups?
Sean O’Hagan, Dublin
Depends who the player was. I was a very passionate manager and you were either worth £10 million or you weren’t worth two-fucking-bob – there was no in between with me. But I learnt that you couldn’t bollock every player because some of them wouldn’t react well to it. Saying that, a bollocking sometimes works wonders. There was an episode when I was managing Dunstable and we were 3-0 down at Leamington. We’d just got the lads in the dressing room and I was just laying into them when there was a knock on the door, and some bloke hands a tray of teas to Jeff Astle.
So Jeff’s walking round asking if anyone wants a cup of tea and I see red – I put me foot through the tray, sending this hot tea all over poor Jeff. “Fuckin’ tea! Fuckin’ tea! You lot don’t deserve any fuckin’ tea, fuck off back out there, get out, go on!” So they spent 10 minutes out on the pitch just standing around waiting. We ended up winning 5-3 and Jeff got a hat-trick, and after the third goal he ran over and stuck two fingers up at me! So you do what you have to do to motivate people, and that worked a fucking treat.
Is it true that your chairman at Barnet, Stan Flashman, sacked you 37 times in nine years, or has that been embellished?
Rajesh Shah, Surrey
No, that’s true, the shitbag. I used to go round Stan’s house every Friday to pick up me wages and he used to ask me the team for the next game. So I’d say so and so, so and so, Frankie Murphy… then I’d get up and say “I’m going now, Stan, can I get me wages?” and he’d say, “You’re not getting any wages and I’m sacking you tomorrow if you play that fucking team”.
So I’d leave his house and drive the five minutes to the club and by the time I got there, Frank Murphy would be on the phone, saying he’d had a call from Stan who’d told him that if he turned up the next day, his boys would beat him up in the car park. I said “That’s just cos I’ve picked you Frank, don’t take no notice of that, I’ll see you tomorrow.” “No you fucking won’t, boss!” he said, and he didn’t turn up. That’s what Fat Stan was like. He sacked me 36 times, but I’d just turn up the next day and neither of us would say anything about it. Apart from the 37th time, when he sent me a registered letter and banned me from the ground. I knew he was serious when he did that [laughs].
What were the best tickets Stan ‘King of the Ticket Touts’ Flashman got you? Given that he bragged of being able to get tickets for anything, he must have got you into some decent events?
Mike Blair, via e-mail
Yeah, he got me the best seats in the house for loads of people, but the best by miles was Ol’ Blue Eyes. I said to Stan, “I love Frank Sinatra, he’s my favourite, how much for two tickets together?” He said, “To you, £1,500” I said, “I don’t fucking like him that much!” [laughs]. Anyway, months later, Stan calls to say he’s got two spare tickets for Sinatra at the Royal Albert Hall, only he’s on in two hours. So me and the wife bomb straight down there and it was fucking brilliant.
Back at Stan’s the next day, I can’t stop thanking him. “Amazing, Stan, incredible, superb, what a night...” This went on for two hours, then at the end I asked if I could get me wages, because it was a Friday. “Fucking wages?” he snapped? “You’re getting no wages from me for three weeks, you got to pay me for them Frank Sinatra tickets”. Turned out he’d already been paid for them too, by a couple who’d bought them but couldn’t make it. But that was Stan; an absolute shitbag but a brilliant character.
You were the only manager to get the best out of Stan Collymore, during your time at Southend. What was your secret?
Shirley Preston, via e-mail
My secret was just to let Stan go out and play. We were bottom of Division One and doomed when I took over, so I said to the team, “There’s no pressure, everyone thinks we’re down, so just go out and enjoy yourselves”. And they did. We won six and drew two of our last nine games and Stan was phenomenal. It also helped that when I arrived at the club, Stan had the ’ump because he thought he was going somewhere in the transfer window and it never happened. So I said to him, “Where do you want to go?” He said, “Villa, I’ve always supported Villa”.
Well, I knew Ron Atkinson well, so I told Stan if he did it for me, I’d get him a move to the Villa. Didn’t happen as it turned out, but it was a carrot for him and he went to Forest instead. What went wrong with him? I get asked by a lot of journalists, “Baz, you must have a story about Stan”. And I say, “Yeah. How about the one where he’d go to the local schools to talk to the kids about the dangers of taking drugs?” But they never want that kind of story, they want the other kind. But I don’t know those stories. Stan was a very private man and at that time his sister, who had kids, was dying of cancer. I said to him “If you want time off, Stan, take it”. He appreciated that but he never took advantage. I’ve nothing but good things to say about Stan Collymore.
You won the old Division Three title and Auto Windscreens at Birmingham, yet you’ll always be remembered for pissing in all four corners of the pitch to remove a gypsy’s curse. What happened there?!
Matthew Robinson, Sheffield
[Laughs] Well, we went three months without winning a game, and I was in the office shaking my head at our secretary, Alan Jones, saying I’d got it all wrong. He said “It’s not your fault, Baz, it’s the gypsy’s curse”. Gypsy curse? Fuck off, what rubbish. But he said we’d always had it and that Ron Saunders put crosses on the dressing room floor, on the walls, on the players’ boots to scare it off, but that didn’t work cos he got the sack. So I said to Alan, “Do you know anyone in the gypsy world?” Turned out he knew the top geezer, so he got him down and he said the only way to lift the curse was to piss in all four corners of the pitch. I thought it was a wind up, but what the ’ell, we were desperate, so I pissed in all four corners, holding it in while I waddled round the pitch. Did it work? Well, we started to win and I thought it had, then they fucking sacked me, so probably not [laughs].
You were hired at Birmingham by then 23-year-old Karren Brady. As a member of the old school, what did you make of a woman being MD of a football club?
Paul Benson, Plymouth
I hold me hands up, when I first went there I thought this is a fucking gimmick, y’know; porn king and a fucking bimbo running the show, they’re having a laugh. But they’re serious football people and they’ve been there 16 years, which tells you everything. I’ve got a lot of respect for Karren. To be put in charge as MD at 23, in a man’s world, was very difficult. We had a fantastic relationship. I fucking loved her and she fucking hated me! I was so uncouth, she didn’t know what to do with me. I used to go in and she’d say “Barry, I want you to do this and that”, and I’d say “no problem love,” then go and do the exact opposite.
Did your old mate Alex Ferguson make you give his son Darren the job at Posh? If not, what did you see in an untested young man with no previous experience?
Austin Taylor, Coventry
A lot of people were very surprised when we appointed Darren, but what they didn’t know was the history. I tried to bring Darren in as player-coach three years earlier, but we couldn’t afford him at the time. Now Darren went off and done his coaching badges and done a management course. He didn’t just sit back and say “I’m Darren Ferguson, my dad’ll get me a job”, he showed that he wanted to be a manager in his own right. So, when Darragh MacAnthony came in and saved the club, we went back for Darren.
Then Darragh and Darren spoke for an hour, and Darragh came off the phone and said “Offer him the job. Get him now, whatever it takes”. He said to me he didn’t know who was interviewing who, but the most impressive thing was that over the course of an hour’s conversation, Darren didn’t once mention his dad or money. Darragh said to him “I want back-to-back promotions”. Darren said “You’ll get them if you back me”. I almost fell off me chair laughing, didn’t think there was any way it would happen. But we’ve got a goalie coach, a dietician, a fitness coach, a training ground and I’m laughing on the other side of my face now. What they’ve achieved in two-and-a-half years is nothing short of miraculous.
What kind of manager is Ferguson Jnr? Does he have his dad’s temper? Could he replace Fergie at Man United one day?
Ron Pennington, Southend-on-Sea
He’s going to manage in the Premier League, no two ways about it. Whether it’s at Man United, I don’t know, but he’ll get there. But he’s his own man. He’s very cool and calm when all of us are shitting it, and that helped us in the last two seasons when things got a bit hairy. He rarely loses his temper but when he does the lads are frightened to fucking death of him, but they love him. His man-management is sensational.
You have a reputation for using industrial language when dealing with your players – and indeed in most situations. What is Barry Fry’s favourite expletive and does poor old Mrs Fry take a dim view?
Alex Simmons, via e-mail
Fuck off! No, no, no. It’s called a lack of vocabulary, and I’m not proud of it. Mrs Fry doesn’t like it but she puts up with it. And what a woman she is. People talk about all the signings I’ve made but no word of a lie, she’s the best. How she’s put up with me for 30 years is beyond me. What woman, when you go home and tell her you’re taking out a second mortgage, would happily sign on the dotted line for you? “What’s this for? Are we having an extension?” “No, my dear, we’re buying a fucking football club!” She said she’d live in a tent if she had to. Fucking hell, she doesn’t realise how close we came when I bought this club – it almost ruined us. She deserves a medal.
How has management changed since you started out in 1974? Was it easier?
Phil Hughes, via e-mail
Yeah, it was easier back then because the players had less power. When you got fined two weeks’ wages in the good old days, it hurt. Nowadays, if you fine a player two weeks’ wages, which is the maximum, they earn so much money it’s no deterrent. But added to that, there’s the agent situation. I deal with agents more than players these days, and there’s two kinds of agents in the game today – the ones who want to look after the player as a client, and the ones who just want to look after the money and don’t even see their client play. They’re the problem.
I’ve had players sign a four-year contract with me and the agent’s straight out in the car park on his phone letting it be known that there’s a clause in the contract that would mean he could leave if you pay £2m. These people don’t give two fucks about the game or their players and they’re taking so much money out of the game it’s a fucking disgrace. It’s the agents who have made the game difficult, not the players.
Cristiano Ronaldo or George Best?
Anna White, Hertfordshire
If he was still alive, it would be Bestie in a shot. I grew up and watched George every day of the week, watched people try to kick his bollocks off from start to finish, and you had to see his skill to believe it. Ronaldo’s a genius too, of course, and he’s got everything, but he cheats and dives. You could kick George 100 times and if he could stay on his feet, he would. He’d have been a massive star nowadays, and probably the biggest star of all.
If Barry Fry was running football in 2009, what would he change?
Gary Shepheard, via e-mail
The thing I hate most of all is the way players contest decisions and don’t just accept it when things don’t go their way. Everyone makes mistakes – players, referees, linesmen – but it’s all part and parcel of the game, so get on with it and stop bleating. That Chelsea-Barcelona game was the best example. They didn’t deserve to lose but what kind of message did that reaction from Drogba and Ballack send to the young kids who idolise them players? Fucking disgraceful. These players get paid an unbelievable amount of money so accept the responsibility, fucking behave yourself and just go and play football.
What would you have done with your life if football hadn’t come along? Did you excel in any other field than football?
Alex Hunt, Cambridgeshire
I could add up quite well, but that’s about all. I feel so, so lucky because since I was a kid football’s all I’ve cared about and I’ve made a wonderful living and loved every single minute of it. I’ve had proper jobs. When I was managing in non-league, I worked as a petrol pump attendant to make ends meet. And I changed the towels in ladies and gents toilets, worked on a farm at 6am, sold cars, was a mortgage broker… I’ve done loads of jobs but I didn’t enjoy any of them. All I’ve ever been interested in is football. At heart I’m just a fan who’s been lucky enough to be in football.
If you could do it all again, Barry, what would you do differently?
Ben Watson, via e-mail
Not one thing. You’ve got to have the bad times to appreciate the good times, and I’m just so lucky with what I’ve done. Maybe I should have paid more attention to Matt Busby, but it went in one ear and out the other. I was a silly fucker [Laughs].
From the July 2009 issue of FourFourTwo.
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