Cod Almighty | Article
24 December 2020
Lloyd lifts the lid on the cheap and shabby way John Fenty treats the players and staff at Grimsby Town
Lloyd lifts the lid on the cheap and shabby way John Fenty treats the players and staff at Grimsby Town
On Monday 14 December, John Fenty stepped down as Deputy Leader of North East Lincolnshire Council and Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Skills and Housing. He made no apology to the people he was elected to represent having been found to have set up a company with a convicted criminal. He had simply been caught out and was (probably) forced to relinquish his roles. He stepped down because he had someone above him, someone he was accountable to. If he didn't have someone above him, he'd still be doing whatever it is he was doing with his new "friend" while in his role at the council.
John Fenty was forced to relinquish his council roles. At Grimsby Town Football Club, he doesn't have to answer to anyone. He's top of the food chain and he'll keep on doing what he's doing
At Grimsby Town Football Club PLC, John Fenty doesn't have to answer to anyone. He's the majority shareholder, top of the food chain, the big daddy, he's the boss. There is nobody to tell him to step down. Therefore, he'll keep doing what he's doing.
For years now, we've just had to abide by this leadership and take his word for every bit of business that he's undertaken, whether we've liked it or not. When questions have been asked of his business acumen or about various decisions either by fans or journalists, they are quashed by the majority shareholder and Conservative councillor, or more recently via statements made by Philip Day, the "Chairman". He will even try and ban media organisations reporting on Grimsby Town who "ask the wrong questions". When Trump first came on to the scene in 2016, it felt like it wasn't the first time I'd seen this Tory-teflon-energy.
There was a glimmer of hope in the last week or so, with news of a consortium led by Tom Shutes, Jason Stockwood and Andrew Pettit engaged in talks with the club about a possible takeover. It turns out: Fenty wasn't selling. He moans about "tyre kickers". Not to keep over-exhausting this analogy, but the car he keeps banging on about isn't for sale. Never has been apparently.
What's weird is that Philip Day said that the club is open to discussions; Ian Holloway stated in his resignation tweet that John was selling his shares. Though all is not what it seems. Someone's lying aren't they? And I wonder who it is? Strange.
The owner of the football club (already a millionaire) asked/told an employee (who he's previously demanded take a pay cut for the last four months) to stay up until half midnight on Christmas Eve morning so that he can put out his statement demanding £1.5m within 14 hours
So, at 00:30 hours, on Christmas Eve morning, Fenty released a statement stating what he wanted in the deal: essentially, his "benign" loans paid back ASAP. For the avoidance of doubt, these "loans" aren't loans: this is money that John Fenty had used to stop the club going bankrupt. The club was heading this way due to the awful decisions John had made on the way; his ineptitude to run a business. These should not be classed as loans. He should forget a) them and b) every decision he's ever made.
However, my stomach dropped at realising the reality of what had just happened. The owner of the football club (already a millionaire) asked/told an employee (who he's previously demanded take a pay cut for the last four months) to stay up until half midnight on Christmas Eve morning so that he can put out his statement demanding £1.5m within 14 hours. He is so far from reality it hurts.
It would appear John Fenty cares for nobody but himself. Not the fans, nor the players.
Sometimes you can buy a second-hand car or a last-minute holiday on the cheap, but it may not get you very far. For a football club, we haven't got very far
I'm in a fortunate enough position that over the years I've become friends with various footballers who have told me a number of horror stories about John Fenty's dealings with them, which have resulted in players leaving, or being unhappy while playing for the club. I've been mortified that the owner of a football club acts like this, but after a while you become numb to it. As we've seen over the years, he's famous for doing things on the cheap. When you are buying a second-hand car it's feasible you can do it "on the cheap"; when you're trying to book a last minute holiday you can certainly "do it on the cheap". You may not get very far with either. When running a football club, doing things on the cheap doesn't work. We haven't got very far. Our results this season have been testament to that. We can’t even afford numbers and letters for all the players on the pitch.
I’ve spoken to a few footballers for this piece and thankfully they've agreed for their views to be aired about their dealings with the club when trying to sort out a new deal. One thing I've also been aware of too, is that footballers talk to each other. While we have amazing fans and a cracking stadium that a lot of footballers would love to play in front of, word gets around that you're probably not going to get the best deal in the world or treated that respectfully by the people up top. Geography is usually the main blame when trying to get players to sign, but it's also seemingly the reputation of the holder of the purse strings that stops those killer signings.
A footballer was driving overnight on Christmas Eve, the deal already agreed, preparing to spend Christmas Day alone in a hotel. Then he was told Fenty had reduced his appearance fee by 50 per cent and he could take it, or drive back home
I was first aware of this when I read John McDermott's autobiography Its Not All Black & White. John McDermott, as you all know, is a club legend, spending his entire career at Grimsby Town. There are many moments in his book where you gasp in horror as to the way he was treated by the then-chairman (John Fenty). In his last years, John Fenty kept reducing his wage but kept increasing his duties. He was offered £300 a week in his penultimate year at Grimsby Town. £300. Let that sink in. 18 years' service. A reduction of £350 a week. 20 years' service, multiple player of the year awards, even in his 18th year. As Macca points out in his book, that was less than minimum wage. "Thanks for your service Macca - take it or leave it pal."
There was then the time where a footballer was driving overnight to sign for Grimsby Town on Christmas Eve. A deal had been agreed. The player was going to miss Christmas Day with his family as the club were due to train before their Boxing Day game. While driving to Grimsby and trying to sort out a lonely Christmas hotel in the area, the player received a call saying that Fenty had reduced his appearance fee by 50 per cent. The deal had already been signed. The player was on the motorway. When the player questioned it, he was told by Fenty to take it, or drive back home. Welcome to Grimsby. Merry Christmas. Try the haddock.
More recently, we were unable to keep hold of Pádraig Amond. For those of you who have only started supporting Grimsby in the last few years, we signed Podge in the summer of 2015 on a one year deal and he went on to score 37 goals in all competitions that year, helping us win promotion to the Football League. Podge was offered a contract extension in January 2016 but decided he wanted to show the club he was worth more than the offer, so opted to wait until he scored more goals and got the club promoted. Surely that would get him a deservedly better contract when we’re in the Football League? After all: he got us in the Football League.
I spoke to Podge about how his move away from Grimsby unfurled.
You were offered a deal in January 2016, why did you reject that?
They wanted to take out the standard clause that if we got promoted I got a 25 per cent pay increase. That clause is standard in any contract and it's the same if you get relegated: you take a 25 per cent reduction. And to be fair, the manager Paul Hurst completely agreed with me when I gave him my reason for turning down the offer. He was actually disappointed with the deal that was offered
"The club offered me a two-year deal on top of what I was already on. The main reason for turning down that deal was, and I remember this quite vividly, what was actually offered was very, very poor considering what I had done up to that time. I think I had scored 21 or 22 goals up to that time and I think the wage increase was £100 a week, plus a £25 goal bonus, but crucially they wanted to take out the standard clause that if we got promoted I got a 25 per cent pay increase. So I wouldn't have got that increase if we got promoted. That clause is standard in any contract that I'd signed before and since, and it's the same if you get relegated: you take a 25 per cent reduction. And to be fair, the manager Paul Hurst completely agreed with me when I gave him my reason for turning down the offer. He was actually disappointed with the deal that was offered [to me]. I remember thinking, "right, I'm surprised by that" especially with how much coverage I was getting at the time and especially how, since Jamie Vardy moved on from the conference, how much coverage goalscorers from the Conference were getting and I was disappointed. I said that I'm not going to sign another contract between now and the end of the season, I just want to concentrate on the season and score as many goals as possible, get the club into the play-offs, and get us promoted. There were no issues between me, Hursty and & Doigy [assistant manager Chris Doig] after those meetings: they completely understood and if I'm being honest, they probably expected me to say what I did and if they were in the exact position as me they would have made the same decision at the time.
"I was also aware that this was a huge gamble for me: what if I didn't score any more goals between then and the end of the season? I've seen lads get injured in the January window, or just after and then they're out of contract in June and they can't get a club, but I was willing to take a chance on that."
What were you expecting from the club in the summer of 2016 after you've lifted the trophy at Wembley?
"I was expecting an offer obviously, but I didn't think it would be a one-year deal and less money than was offered in January. After 37 goals, to be offered £50 extra, on a one-year deal, it wasn't exactly amazing. Don't get me wrong, any increase is nice, but at the end of the day, I knew if I didn't accept this then there would be clubs that would be interested in speaking to me. I was even more shocked than I was from the first meeting in January. I genuinely thought they had the wrong figures in front of them when it was offered. I always dealt with Hursty and he said to me, "My hands are tied with this one. The club wants to get proven players". And that got to me, not Hursty, because I had a good relationship with him and I know he didn't want to lose me. I know the previous year the club had spent a bit of money on Omar [Bogle] who was given a 3-year deal, and he wasn't proven at Football League level, and I felt like I deserved a little more than the one-year extension. I tried to then stay out of it, mainly because I didn't want to fall out with Paul [Hurst]. I then didn't speak to the club and I let my agent deal with it in the hope of a better offer, but the club never came back with an offer."
Did you want to stay?
"Yeah if the contact offer was right, I would have stayed, but we were miles away from getting close to the right offer. And as the summer ran on I knew I had other people interested. That year, we had a very good bond and a very close knit with the staff and that was a big part of how we were successful.
I always thought that the club would struggle to progress beyond the Football League. When we got promoted we had Hursty, Doigy, and Dave Moore and that was our whole coaching staff. We had a fitness coach in pre-season but that was for two weeks. We had no strength and conditioning coach. And what's scary for Grimsby is that not much has changed since the Conference. If you don't have these structures in place you will struggle to get players as that's what they're used to at other clubs
"Contract aside, I always thought that the club would struggle to progress beyond the Football League. When we got promoted we had Hursty, Doigy, and Dave Moore and that was our whole coaching staff. No analysts: Hursty and Doigy were having to do that themselves as well as manage. We had a fitness coach in pre-season but that was for two weeks. We had no strength and conditioning coach. And what's scary for Grimsby is that not much has changed since the Conference, and you released your assistant manager. Hursty got a lot of stick when he said he wanted a strength and conditioning coach but when you're a manager you're looking to make the club better and better, and you're not looking to break the bank it's not stupid amounts, but you do have to try and compete with everyone else. If you don't have these structures in place you will struggle to get players as that's what they're used to at other clubs."
Last season, Charles Vernam hit impressive form for Grimsby Town in the final months of the 2019-20 campaign and was resurgent under the guidance of Ian Holloway. He put in performance after performance after coming back from loan at Chorley, continuously in the division four team of the week. He scored that goal, so when the season came to an abrupt end, he assumed that he'd be in the Mariners' plans for the 2020-21 season. Surely? Surely?
Not while John's in town. He hadn't played the allotted games to trigger the extension in his contract, but Vernam had settled in the area and was ready to sign for the Mariners.
I am led to believe - and I would happily embrace the club to show evidence to prove otherwise - that the club decided to offer Vernam £100 less than he was currently on "to avoid paying agent's fees". £100 less and then take the 25 per cent pay cut. Town on the cheap again. Vernam signed for Burton a week later.
Spare a thought for all the office staff at Grimsby Town who are probably having to face the brunt of his tantrums now that he's been outed for what he is, all the while on 25 per cent less pay because they were ordered by their majority shareholder to take the pay cut when they were brought back after furlough
Essentially what we're seeing here is the arrogance of a man who does what he wants. We've seen him get away with it for years, and in the last few weeks he's overstepped the mark. Enough really is enough. Spare a thought for all the office staff at Grimsby Town who are probably having to face the brunt of his tantrums now that he's been outed for what he is, all the while on 25 per cent less pay because they were ordered by their majority shareholder to take the pay cut when they were brought back after furlough. Again, Merry Christmas.
He will vehemently deny all the claims above, because that's what he does. We've seen the statements where he denies everything and expects everyone to accept that. However, in the last few weeks, we've seen his true colours. There may not be anyone above you in the hierarchy at Grimsby Town, but let it be known John that as fans, we're above you, and we're above all your bullshit.
One of the people in the consortium trying to takeover the club is Jason Stockwood; he won overall Best Leader at the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For awards. His company, Simply Business, won Best Company to Work for, two years running. Compare that with the way Fenty treats his employees: worlds apart.
Fenty appears not to care for the players, nor the staff at the club, nor the fans. He only seems to care for himself. If he doesn't go, and it seems from today's statement that he won't, then we as fans must show him that enough is enough. Grimsby Town Football Club is not his. It belongs to the fans. The club is nothing without its legion of faithful followers who have continuously pumped money into this club through thick and thin, even when he takes that same money out and sticks it in his pocket.
The football club is the fans, it’s the players, it’s the staff. You are not this football club John.
The following is taken from a Guardian review of the film Grimsby: "Sacha Baron Cohen's Grimsby echoes the spirit of our times – embodied by Donald Trump – by beating on the little guy". I didn't think that another millionaire could take the piss out of Grimsby Town fans as much as Sacha Baron Cohen did, but John Shelton Fenty proved me wrong.
There's thousands of little guys and girls and we're tired of being beaten on. Time for change John, time to move on.
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