Cod Almighty | Article
by Mark Stilton
13 July 2021
In Town's first two years in the Conference, John Fenty got into rows with fellow director Mike Parker and Boston United, and "did not hold a gun to the head" of the supporters' trust. Mark continues his epic history
In Town's first two years in the Conference, John Fenty got into rows with fellow director Mike Parker and Boston United, and "did not hold a gun to the head" of the supporters' trust. Mark continues his epic history
Fenty rebutted Newell's claim that swearing and aggressive behaviour were normal behaviour, saying that "several senior personnel at the club" had told the court they had never witnessed such behaviour from him
As Town prepared for life in non-League, Brian Lee, the chair of the Conference, said that it took clubs from the League that were "in trouble" and rehabilitated them. John Fenty was quick to deny that Grimsby Town (with its major creditor JS Fenty) were in trouble, saying that it had never been in administration. He said that he wanted to see an end to clubs being allowed to "cheat" their debt by going into administration, saying "clubs must commit to pay 100p in the pound to its creditors to remain eligible to play in the Conference."
Fenty again referred to the tax debt and the collapse of ITV Digital, saying that the club had "proudly" paid back all of the associated debt. He didn't elaborate on the time it had taken to pay the debt and that it could have been repaid much earlier. The club was "fully supported by its directors when making a decision to spend money that it cannot self generate". As further assurance, he added that the club had a "healthy overdraft facility" and any other debt was "benign debt" owed to "the major shareholders of the company."
As the season began, Town finally reached an out-of-court settlement with Mike Newell worth £5,000, well below the £55,000 that Newell had sought in damages. In a Q&A with the Grimsby Telegraph Fenty declared the claims made by Newell were "hurtful and upsetting", and that he found them surprising when on his exit Newell had said that "the chairman was a good man to work for." Fenty rebutted Newell's claim that swearing and aggressive behaviour were normal behaviour, saying that "several senior personnel at the club" had told the court they had never witnessed such behaviour from him.
At the end of August, the Football League's yearly report revealed Grimsby had paid almost £18,000 in agents' fees during the relegation season. "No club likes to pay agents' fees... they are a necessary evil", Fenty told the Telegraph: "you have to embrace them - we did that last season and it helped us get better players to the football club."
The club AGM - Fenty and Parker move to joint control
Parker described his role as offering "some kind of challenge to decisions in the right way". He and Fenty held "the same ambitions for the club" and would resolve any issues amicably: "I think that kind of debate is very healthy"
An early AGM took place the following month, with the main item of business the share issue to Fenty and Parker that would lead to them having a joint controlling interest of 80 per cent. Under the proposal, Parker would convert a £499,000 loan into shares and Fenty would match that by converting £242,816 of his loans into shares. Along with the transfer of £44,000 worth of shares from Fenty's partner, this would leave Fenty and Parker with an equal share. The share issue was voted through, to allow the share conversion to proceed as agreed between Parker and Fenty.
Parker described his role on the board as offering "some form of challenge to decisions in the right way", saying he had always operated that way in previous businesses. He and Fenty held "the same ambitions for the club" and would resolve any issues amicably: "I think that kind of debate is very healthy." He had already been on the board for much of the last year and did not think that joint ownership would change the way they worked together but that it would improve the future security of the club, adding "we're just the custodians of it for the fans and the community."
Fenty pointed out that Parker had already been involved in major decision making at the club, including the appointment of Neil Woods as manager, and that he was "delighted" to have someone to share the financial burden. He said Parker was "a hugely strong character to have in and around the club but in terms of the day-to-day operations they'll remain as they have been for the time he's been involved."
It was also reported at the AGM that the application for the development of a new ground at Great Coates would expire on 13 November. Fenty said that at the current time and without an anchor tenant "it is just not feasible to carry on" and that the application would be allowed to die. However, he was still working with the council to explore other options and a new stadium at Great Coates could still be revived if there was interest from "outside parties": "The idea is still to create a hub which is open 365 days a year... we are in the process of talking to a couple of developers and working closely with the council."
On the pitch, results had been mixed and a series of draws and defeats in October had moved the club further away from the play-off places. This prompted yet another early season vote of confidence in the manager from Fenty who moved to alleviate fans' concerns: "We knew it wouldn't be an easy task. What matters is where we finish at the end of the season, not where we are in November."
There were changes in backroom staff as safety officer Terry Rudrum and deputy safety officer Bob Sessions both retired, although Rudrum planned to continue a role in support of Nick Dale, the new safety officer.
The fans' forum
Fenty claimed that he'd had huge reservations at the end of Newell's first season and questioned what people saw in him. He suggested that had he sacked him earlier he would have received "a lot more flak". It was a stark contrast to the gushing praise he had previously given Newell
Questioned about Newell at the fans' forum in November, Fenty claimed that he'd actually had "huge reservations at the end of [his] first season" and questioned what people saw in him. He suggested that had he sacked Newell earlier and the club had still been relegated, he would have received "a lot more flak" adding "We ended up with Brian Stein as well, which wasn't my decision." Again, Fenty seemed to be pointing the finger of blame at the fans for unequivocally supporting Newell while disclaiming any responsibility for himself, despite being the only person in a position to do anything about it. It was a stark contrast to the gushing praise he had previously given Newell.
As was becoming a trend, Fenty took the opportunity to tell everyone what a great job he was doing, saying that "every manager since I have been Chairman has got what they asked for in terms of bringing players in." The club had spent over £200,000 in contract settlements with players in the previous few years and Fenty told the forum that he wanted to avoid a repeat of a situation where the club "used over 40 players in the first team." In the fourth flight, the club had had a "top six budget" he said, but of course, if you sign 40 players, you are going to be spending a lot of money on wages; unfortunately, that's not a reliable measure for quality.
Fenty dismissed the notion that star striker Alan Connell would be sold in the January transfer window but added that "you can never say never in football." Connell was "contracted to the football club for two years and if we are promoted that triggers a third year automatically [and] we need Alan to spearhead our push for promotion."
When questioned on the performance of Neil Woods, Fenty felt that the team was "going in the right direction" and everyone needed to support the manager. He admitted the club was "punching below [its] weight" suggesting that it should realistically be "top of League Two or the bottom end of League One."
Despite the planning application for Great Coates lapsing, Fenty was still keen to move forward with plans to relocate telling fans that "I still believe we have to have a new stadium and that belief won't change." He mentioned that Great Coates was still a consideration but they were also considering other sites and the new council leaders were "very willing and on board to help us." The club needed to generate "seven-day income streams" and he felt that a new ground "with enough car parking" would do that. If you build a car park, they will come.
Speaking to the Telegraph at the end of November, Fenty lamented the league the club found itself in and loosely accepted some responsibility, on behalf of the board: "Yes I do feel responsible but the board all have the best interests of the club at heart - we are Grimsby Town fans too". He did admit that his selection of managers hadn't been great and that "the club has gone backwards" as a result, but the club was on a sound financial footing despite having debt "of around £2.5 million." There was no need for concern though as it was "benign debt" and not "something [Fenty] or the board will ever ask to be paid back to put the club in jeopardy." He reiterated his support for the manager, saying that "We are alive and kicking and I believe we are going in the right direction under Neil Woods."
The sacking of Neil Woods
Suggesting that there had already been a large number of applications, Fenty said that his reputation preceded him and "managers know they will have a decent budget here, and get the board's support as has always been the case with every manager in my time"
The club entered the new year after a very quiet December sitting just outside the play-offs, despite a couple of high-scoring wins. However, Fenty was clear he wanted to avoid the mistakes of previous seasons in bringing in too many players in the January window saying that "such a conveyor of change does not lend itself to a settled squad or team."
He also took the opportunity to offer some advice to Lincoln City who were in the League Two relegation zone. He stated the importance of remaining positive within the club and said that had been the case the previous season at Town, although "negativity came from outside and some fans coming into the stadium." Typical bloody supporters, disgruntled that their club had spent two seasons fighting to stay in the Football League.
At the turn of the year, the team had a couple of positive results but suffered a string of defeats over January including losing away at Chasetown, a club at level 7 in the league pyramid, in the FA Trophy. This led to an apology from Fenty for the performance and result and he vowed to make amends. He put pressure on Woods to get results in the upcoming games stating that "we have two very important games over the next six days in which we must pick up points."
The team's inconsistent form continued over the following weeks, and a 3-0 loss to Fleetwood in mid-February led to Fenty issuing a vote of confidence in Woods. Fenty was still confident that the results would come: "We are still in eighth with three games in hand and anything can happen if we can find that consistency. It's not time to give up on this season just yet." He found the team's inconsistency "frustrating" and felt the squad should be performing better, but did not place the blame with Woods, stating that "the board sees he is doing all he can in-house to get the team playing - it's down to them to go out and get the results."
The following day, after a 1-1 draw at home to Forest Green, Woods was sacked. Sacking a "devoted servant to Grimsby Town" was challenging and Fenty said that he'd supported Woods until the very end: "As a board we have never wanted to undermine any manager and have always supported Neil and those before him."
The club again began the search for a new manager but Fenty was clear that they wouldn't be "promoting from within" and would consider all applications alongside a number of targets they already had in mind. Initially, the club contacted managers who had previously applied for the job to see if they might still be interested, and it was also rumoured that Brian Laws (recently sacked by Burnley) had been approached. "We can't dilly-dally with a chance to bring someone in - we still have ambitions of the play-offs" said Fenty. Suggesting that there had already been a large number of applications, he said that his reputation preceded him and "managers know they will have a decent budget here, and get the board's support as has always been the case with every manager in my time."
Mike Parker resigns
Parker said that he had attempted to push through boardroom changes "in a positive way without causing too much discomfort". However, just when he felt he had support, "the position changed" which left his place on the board untenable. He warned: "I also hope that John [Fenty] looks and thinks hard at what sort of board he wants going forward."
At the same time as starting the search for a new manager, Fenty said he wanted to "ascertain whether the board continue to support my chairmanship." He said he was "hugely proud" to be chairman, but admitted that his time in charge had "been a massive disappointment for everyone." He reassured fans that whatever the outcome of the discussion, he would continue to have a place on the board regardless: "My financial support remains locked in" he confirmed, promising that he would "never call on those funds to harm the football club and that is my word." He nonchalantly stated that he wasn't "bothered about that money" because he never put it in to make a financial gain. However, he wanted to put the record straight following questions from "sections of the media" and to make it clear that the club needed financial support so he wouldn't be "walking away from that commitment whether I am Chairman or not."
At the board meeting the following week the five-man board (Fenty, Furneaux, Chapman, Elsom, Parker) agreed "unanimously" that Fenty should continue as chairman. Fenty was "delighted with the backing of the board" but felt it had been right to "gauge opinion at this time", adding that the club was in good shape off the field "thanks to the support of all the directors."
This was not the only item on the agenda however. Although he had supported Fenty carrying on as chairman, Mike Parker had been pushing for other changes to the board structure. All board members currently had equal voting rights despite Chapman, Elsom and Furneaux having considerably smaller investments in the club. Parker had felt that there was an agreement to change this, but his proposals were voted down, and he resigned from the board immediately: there was "not the appetite for change at board level which I had hoped for and been led to believe existed", he said, complaining that his "personal motives were being questioned" by members of the board. He confirmed that he would still honour his previous commitment to purchase additional shares, taking his shareholding to £1 million and that he would "work in [the] best interest" of the club but this would be "best done from outside the boardroom, rather than within it".
Fenty said he was "disappointed" by Parker's decision. He claimed that although he had supported Parker's proposed restructuring, "it is quite clear that the majority on the board were not in support", and that "the club is a democracy, shareholders have appointed the directors and the directors elected the chairman, which is normal." What was unusual was that, despite a long history of voting in Fenty's favour, this time the other board members had seemingly voted against him.
John Elsom released a statement, also on behalf of Furneaux and Chapman, defending himself against public criticism of a lack of investment in the club. He outlined that alongside his £500 of shares he also had a £50,000 interest-free loan in the club which was "not necessarily repayable" to him should he leave the board and that he was "considering" a further £25,000 investment either in shares or as a further loan. His statement said that Parker's proposal had been raised under Any Other Business and that he had had no prior knowledge of it. Because of this, he felt that the board had not actually taken a decision on it and that it would be discussed further at a future board meeting: the item was merely raised for discussion and "no show of hands was asked for or votes taken." The statement concluded by saying that the directors were shocked by Parker's decision to step down, and that there was support for his proposal to restructure the board.
Parker's take on events was quite different. He argued that the "board needs refreshing" and while he didn't want to refer to specific individuals he felt that it "needs to have energy and it needs to be able to have fresh ideas." Leaving the board wasn't a hasty decision, he said, and neither was he ruling out a return at some future point but that was unlikely to happen any time soon. He stated that he had attempted to push through boardroom changes "in a positive way without causing too much discomfort" but that had been challenging. However, just when he felt he had support, "the position changed" which left his place on the board untenable. He felt that the only way to enact change at board level was by stepping down but retaining his shareholding. He warned: "I also hope that John [Fenty] looks and thinks hard at what sort of board he wants going forward."
Sections of the support were unhappy with what they saw as intransigence in the boardroom and gathered outside the ground to protest and call for change. Fenty addressed the gathered fans pointing out that Parker had supported Fenty as chairman but had wanted Furneaux to step down - something Furneaux planned to do at the end of the season anyway. That change had not been agreed by the board who, Fenty argued, had done lots of wonderful work such as seeing the club "through the ITV Digital collapse" and paying off the outstanding tax bill. On Furneaux, he praised his contribution to the club and credited him with "a commendable spell in the Championship" and stated that he was "a useful component of the board and a welcome support to me in particular". However, he added that the demands of modern-day football meant the club required more investors at boardroom level and so it now felt right for Furneaux to step down at the end of the current season.
Within two days, Furneaux decided to step down with immediate effect. He was keen to stress that he always intended to step down at the end of the season and that recent incidents had not influenced his decision to step down sooner, rather that he simply wanted supporters to focus on the team and not the boardroom. He released a statement that wistfully looked back on the successes he'd had during his time on the board and as chairman, pointing out that he was the person who appointed Alan Buckley, "a decision that was greeted with derision at the time". However, Furneaux accepted that the football world had now changed and "being a fan is now not all that is required to run a professional football club... you need directors to use vast amounts of their own personal wealth and I am no longer in a position to do that."
While some believed that Furneaux stepping down would mean a return to the board for Parker, he told the Telegraph that it wouldn't be happening: "This doesn't change anything as it was never a single issue... for me it is about the process of pure decision making as much as anything, and it has never been a personal issue in that sense." In spite of this, Parker intended to continue to purchase additional shares and didn't "foresee any problems", expecting it to go through "probably in the next week or so."
The appointment of Rob Scott and Paul Hurst
Fenty hit back at the claim they had made an illegal approach, saying he didn't believe Boston had "a legal position" and was upset that they'd gone public with the claim. "On Tuesday, I saw an article on the Boston website which said their resignations had been accepted and clarified their release from contract - this article was later taken down and a new one put in its place with different wording"
Meanwhile the hunt for a new manager continued. After initial discussions with Town, Mark Cooper decided to remain at Darlington until his contract expired at the end of the season. The club then approached Kidderminster to speak to Steve Burr, but had that bid turned down. Further reports in the press suggested the club had also been turned down by Gary Brabin (assistant at Luton) and Justin Edinburgh (Rushden). Martin Foyle (assistant at Bristol Rovers), Ian Sampson, Mark Stimson, Dave Penny, Martin Ling and Rob Scott and Paul Hurst were also reported to be on the list of interviewees.
After three weeks, the club were still conducting interviews, and Dave Moore continued to oversee the first team. One of the rumoured candidates, Justin Edinburgh, ruled himself out of contention on the eve of the Mariners' match with his current team Rushden in mid-March: "I had a conversation with Grimsby's chairman because I will always answer a call. But I made it clear that I enjoy my job here", said Edinburgh, adding that the geographic location of the club was also a major factor.
The game itself ended in a farce as fog led to it being abandoned with Town losing 2-1 and down to 10 men. Controversy surrounded the decision as Fenty himself came down to the side of the pitch to remonstrate with officials. Edinburgh said he'd "never seen anything like it" and felt that Fenty was pressuring the officials to get the match called off. Fenty insisted otherwise and that he was merely informing officials that some fans had complained to him that they couldn't see the game: "I mentioned to the fourth official that it is a spectator sport... we couldn't see anything, the sending off, the goals - it was shambolic."
Fenty also hit back at Edinburgh's comments that he'd declined to take the vacant manager's position, accusing him of being "presumptuous": "There had been a discussion and what would have happened if the conversation had gone further, is that it would have naturally gone through to an interview with the board" stropped Fenty: "there was never the ability for him to turn the job down because he had not been offered it."
Exactly one month after Woods was sacked, the club appointed Paul Hurst and Rob Scott from Boston United as joint managers, although this was not without controversy. Boston chairman David Newton accused the club of making an illegal approach for the pair and took legal action to win compensation. Newton claimed he was happy for Scott and Hurst to join Grimsby but expected a conversation with them in regards to an effective handover. Instead the pair resigned which Newton claimed was outside the terms of their contract.
Fenty hit back at the claims, stating that he didn't believe Boston had "a legal position" and was upset that they'd gone public with the claim. Fenty argued that the conditions Boston placed on the joint managers must have been unreasonable and that the club had only made an approach "because we understood there was a release clause." Fenty had clearly done his homework too: "On Tuesday, I saw an article on the Boston website which said their resignations had been accepted and clarified their release from contract - this article was later taken down and a new one put in its place with different wording." That's that solved, then.
Fenty looks back on 2010-11
Fenty restated his claim that no offer had been made to Scott and Hurst until after they had resigned their positions at Boston "so I don't see how on earth we can be at fault. I believe we can hold our head high that we did things honourably. I don't believe we have a case to answer; I'm pretty adamant about that"
The following week Fenty gave his backing to a leaflet campaign at the match to raise awareness of loan sharks. The scheme also hoped to identify local loan sharks who "resort to intimidation, threats or violence" and trap those loaned the money into a "spiral of debt."
As the season approached the end Fenty took the unusual step of releasing details of the club's budget for the following season. He again made the point that the club had one of the largest budgets in the league and proposed to continue that. While the new managers would have a slightly lower budget of £900,000 in the coming season, he made the point that in real terms this was actually an increase as around £200,000 of the previous season's budget had been spent on severance payments to players. However, he didn't expect the same to happen this season, claiming the club were "aiming to pay-off the minimal number of players possible... all have been given the opportunity to show they deserve to stay next season."
He also took time to praise the approach of Scott and Hurst who he felt would "rule with a rod of iron", something Fenty said he knew all about from his "time in industry." He was very positive and felt that he and the management team were "developing a good working relationship and long may that continue."
The club finished the season in 11th place, 16 points outside of the play-off places. Looking back on the season, Fenty criticised some of Woods' signings. Firstly he felt Crawley "did a good job on us" in the signing of Charles Ademeno who clearly had a history of injury problems and played only 13 games for the club. He said the club "didn't do [its homework] well enough" on the player who had cost £10,000 via a tribunal. However, he wasn't specific about who was responsible for that homework. He also described the signing of Serge Makofo on a three-year deal as "a disaster" and felt that the fee paid for Rob Duffy was a waste of money.
All three players were told they could leave the club before their contracts expired, less than six months after they had been agreed in the cases of Makofo and Duffy. However, Fenty said it wasn't a "mistake" to support the previous manager in his signings, and he would do the same with the new management team. He had no worries with the new management pairing though as they were "as thorough as you can be in doing their homework… they are literate [and] can use computers."
It wasn't the league position that led to Woods' demise though, but the fact that the club weren't "equipping ourselves suitably for what was ahead." As an example, he argued that the four players brought in for the second half of the season hadn't improved the squad. In total, 16 players were told they could leave the club at the end of the season.
Meanwhile the saga with Boston continued. The club were given the option of going through arbitration or going through the courts, and decided on the latter. Fenty was still adamant the club had done no wrong in its approach for the pair, stating "we are happy to go to court to defend our position." He believed the club just needed to "go through the motions" of the legal proceedings and wasn't worried in the slightest as he didn't believe it would end up costing the club anything. He restated his claim that no offer had been made to Scott and Hurst until after they had resigned their positions at Boston "so I don't see how on earth we can be at fault. I believe we can hold our head high that we did things honourably. I don't believe we have a case to answer; I'm pretty adamant about that."
Any financing for the coming season had been discussed by Fenty with Mike Parker as the pair had met "a couple of times" since Parker's resignation. "There's no secret I would like him to come back and work with me and the football club to help recover our football fortunes" said Fenty, but he also reiterated that the club's articles of association stated that the board had a minimum membership of three, so he was loath to reduce board membership.
The end of season accounts show that Directors' loans were reduced by around £150,000 to just under £2.3 million. The club's overdraft was wiped out but converted to a loan of around £490,000, presumably at the insistence of the bank. Wages dropped by £300,000 to £1.6m while match receipts dropped by around £250,000 to £600,000. TV revenue fell to just under £400,000 - although included in this amount was a parachute payment from the Football League. A further £50,000 pension payment was made to JS Fenty.
Further shots with Boston and the sale of Alan Connell
When Connell had joined, the club had published information suggesting he had signed a two-year contract with an option of a further year. Later, this was subtly changed to just two years with fans who spotted the change accused of lying. Eventually the club were forced to admit that Connell had in fact only signed a two-year deal
As the preparations for the new season got under way, the ongoing battle between Fenty and David Newton at Boston United heightened when the club signed out-of-contract Shaun Pearson and Anthony Church. Due to both players' ages, compensation was due to Boston but Fenty said the two clubs were "poles apart" in their valuation of the players and therefore a tribunal would be needed. "We asked Boston for their minimum figure but that is several times more than what we are prepared to offer" moaned Fenty. Newton responded that Rob Scott had valued Pearson at £100,000 previously but that now the player had "suddenly become worthless" when sought by the same manager.
The club was also poles apart from others in their valuation of Alan Connell, who was attracting interest from a number of clubs. Fenty said the club would not "entertain [the] derisory" bid received from Luton, while Wimbledon manager Terry Brown felt the club's valuation had priced them out of the market. Fenty was clear that he had not set an asking price for Connell and that he was "not for sale; he is under contract at this football club and we don't want a key player to leave." He was not interested in selling to a rival club unless offered "funny money" and added that Connell was happy to stay despite stating his desire to play in the Football League.
The club also cleared up confusion over Connell's contract. When he had joined, the club had published information suggesting that Connell had signed a two-year contract with an option of a further year, details which Fenty had confirmed at the fans' forum. Later, this was subtly changed on the club website to just two years, with accusations of lying aimed at fans who spotted this change. Eventually the club were forced to admit that Connell had in fact only signed a two-year deal: "when he arrived to sign, his agent asked to have that option removed at the very last minute and we had to make a quick decision" explained Fenty.
Despite all the talk of wishing to hold on to Connell, a deal was agreed with Swindon in the following few days, with the fee reported to be in the region of £115,000 payable over three seasons. And while Fenty had earlier claimed that Connell was happy to stay, he took a swipe at him on his exit, moaning that "Alan had been wanting to leave since Christmas; his agent said he would be playing in League football next season."
Around the same time Fenty revealed that the compensation disputes with Boston over the signing of Scott and Hurst was over an amount of £25,000. "I'm quite happy to reveal that figure because Boston have made this a very public case. I'd like to see the whole thing washed away; I still feel this is a waste of time and money" he complained. The club submitted it's paperwork to the legal team at Boston and felt that this would be enough to see them "climb down" from their actions. "If not we will have to pursue it in a way we see fit to defend the club and we will do that strongly" threatened Fenty.
Newton hit back, stating that £25,000 was the maximum that his club were seeking in compensation: "That is the price band that we have gone in for". He added that they would let legal action take its course and were "quite comfortable" with their position.
At a fans' forum, Fenty said that the club had offered to play a friendly at Boston to try and sweeten the deal and move things on, but Boston had refused. He also revealed that his plans to relocate to a new stadium were still high on the agenda: "I won't put any time frame on it but we will be relentless in trying to make it happen sooner rather than later".
Outside of football, Fenty continued his campaign against the wildlife of north-east Lincolnshire, moaning that he was "disappointed" that the steps taken to contain the salt marshes did not go far enough and threatening to raise the issue with the Secretary of State.
Scott and Fenty take on the fans
Fenty signed off the statement: "By: A very dejected chairman who takes the ultimate responsibility and will again look to pick up the pieces as I love my club unreservedly." Poor, poor old John
The new season got off to a poor start with only one win and one draw in the opening six matches, including a 5-0 defeat away at Braintree. Then, after a home defeat to Darlington, footage was uploaded by a supporter to YouTube of Rob Scott remonstrating with fans in the Pontoon after the game. Fenty released a statement on the club's website which was really a tacit acceptance of Scott's behaviour: "the club cannot condone Rob's actions but commend his passion and desire to progress the club." Fenty went on to bemoan "small sections" of the support, suggesting that it was detrimental to the confidence of players if they were constantly subject to abuse. As examples, he used Anthony Williams, Nick Colgan and Phil Barnes as players who had been subjected to unfair abuse from fans. That will be Barnes, who was forced out of the club by Newell and Colgan, who was paid off by Fenty on relegation to the Conference.
Fenty then took a leaf out of Scott's book to "get some things off [his] chest" about the fans, thus continuing a trend of erratic and passive-aggressive behaviour. He was "sickened to the core" by the behaviour of some fans and said that the club's fall from the Championship was "inevitable" and while he didn't excuse relegation out of the League it "is where we find ourselves." He signed off the statement: "By: A very dejected chairman who takes the ultimate responsibility and will again look to pick up the pieces as I love my club unreservedly." Poor, poor old John.
Fenty also complained to the Telegraph that the ongoing legal wrangles with Boston over Scott, Hurst, Pearson and Church were like "clouds hanging over the club" and were an unwelcome distraction from "the job we have to do on the field." He took umbrage with the fact that the club had been "sifting through papers and legal advice" when they still had a club to run and "all the financial worries that come with that."
Fenty resigns as chairman
On taking the role of chairman, Fenty said that it wasn't really planned and that he'd been the "last man standing" when Furneaux decided to step down from the role. He was, of course, only the last man standing because he had ousted Ramsden, Rouse et al from the board
Within a week, Fenty resigned from his position of chairman of the club. The trigger was that Mike Parker's recent share purchase had given him a 54 per cent shareholding in the club. Fenty felt this made his position "untenable" and argued that he couldn’t be expected to keep loaning the club money "without having control of the club."
However, the issue had only arisen because Fenty didn't keep to his part of the deal. It had initially been agreed that Parker would buy shares (rather than loan the club more money) and that Fenty would transfer a shareholding from his partner and convert part of his existing loan into shares so that the two had an equal stake. Only Fenty's failure to make his conversion made Parker the majority shareholder, triggering an investigation by the takeover panel. It was a situation wholly engineered by Fenty.
Despite stepping down as chairman, he assured fans that he would continue as a director on the board at least until the AGM in November. If the matter was not resolved by then he would step down as a director and attend the AGM as a shareholder only.
It had been tough at the top for Fenty though, who told the Telegraph that he had to put his "flak jacket on" as fans were unhappy with how the club was performing, and that he'd had "banner boys" outside his house. Despite this he was proud of his achievement in getting the club to two "national stadiums" and would do it all again, given the chance. On taking the role in the first place he said that it wasn't really planned and that he'd been the "last man standing" when Furneaux decided to step down from the role. He was, of course, only the last man standing because he had ousted Ramsden, Rouse et al from the board.
It was a "privilege" to chair the club, he said, but it was "harder than you might imagine." It wasn't a "real business" because you couldn't really plan for what might happen, you just had to take a "reactive position." And clearly his time in control had taken its toll on Fenty, even so far as threatening his very being: "Sleep, home-life and your existence is affected." But John felt he had always been honest, open and done the job to the "best of [his] ability".
He argued that the club was in a better financial position than when he'd first taken over as now "we only have future debts." Ah, good old future debt. He pointed out that with the £700,000 tax debt cleared (finally) and the shortfall from the ITV Digital collapse (10 years earlier) now gone, the club was in a much better shape financially. He put some of the blame at the feet of "mercenary" players who wouldn't accept a pay cut after the ITV Digital fallout, and bemoaned the fact that the shortfall couldn't be covered by player sales because "there weren't any Jack Lesters or Lee Ashcrofts to sell, they had already gone." He skipped over the outstanding £2.3 million in directors' loans and £500,000 bank loan accrued during his tenure.
Fenty also had a little swipe at Parker, suggesting that his reasoning for leaving the board was over a "nonsensical issue" and again claimed the main issue was Furneaux's position on the board. He found it difficult to understand why anyone with such a controlling shareholding would wish "to sit outside of the decision-making process." His ego clearly bruised, he also took an opportunity for a dig at fans who he said portrayed Parker as someone who would "come in as a knight in shining armour to run the football club." His stepping down would enable Parker to "come to terms with how things are" and that it was his choice on whether he wanted to rejoin the board or not. Take that, Sir Parker!
The inner workings of the current board were brought into sharp focus as he also revealed the thought process behind the appointment of Neil Woods. The choice, it seems, had been between Woods (supported by Furneaux) and Slade (supported by Chapman and Elsom). Despite revealing the vote of other board members, Fenty was coy about how he voted. However, he did state that the vote was split, suggesting he had in fact voted in favour of Woods. The board debated the matter to reach a consensus when Chapman and Elsom conceded - which Fenty remarked "they often did". Fenty added that the appointment of Woods "was ultimately a financial decision." That is, he was in charge so do as he says.
After a near six-month silence, Parker immediately responded in the Telegraph and on Radio Humberside to the claims made by Fenty. He made it clear that he had "no interest in becoming chairman or rejoining the board" adding that this had always been his position and one he'd made repeatedly clear to Fenty. He was "very surprised" with the timing of Fenty's statement, pointing out that his last share purchase had actually taken place some two months ago in July and had been done with full board consent. He'd also had a number of conversations with Fenty over email and face-to-face since leaving the board, and the matter of his shareholding had never been discussed. He restated the reasoning for the share purchase (rather than loans): "it was best for the club not to increase the debt burden... it makes the balance sheet look a lot better" and added that he hadn't realised Fenty was going to invest his share as a further loan until Fenty stated so at the fans' forum.
He was at pains to state that he never intended to take an "aggressive" stance on his shareholding and felt the matter would have been resolved if Fenty had made further share purchases as they'd originally discussed. "I believe that he still has up to £350,000 of his £500,000 commitment to put into the club... and he could put that into shares so the problem could be rectified or could have become rectified", suggested Parker, adding "I just don't know where we stand now."
On the claim that he left the board for "nonsensical" reasons he again underlined that the issue wasn't with Furneaux per se but that he "didn't like the process of the board and how the board was conducted and how it reached its decisions." He had no ulterior motive and "deliberately avoided" interfering in the day-to-day running of the club, was not part of the appointment process for the new managers and had declined opportunities to speak publicly about his involvement in the club. However, the events of the preceding 24 hours left him no alternative other than to defend his position. He was also clear that after investing around £1.25-million over the last 20 months, he had no intention of funding the club beyond the current season.
Fenty was having none of that and immediately released a 1,500 word statement on the club website after turning down the opportunity to respond on Radio Humberside. He started by stating that before his tenure there had been "25 years of boardroom shareholder acrimony" but that it "wasn't the case on my shift", clearly overlooking the fact that he replaced potential challengers such as Ramsden and Rouse with weedy 'yes men' in Chapman and Elsom. He said that he had been relieved when Parker had originally joined the board and agreed to shoulder some of the financial burden because he "never wanted control and was pleased this day had come." At the time he felt he had shown a willingness to share control of the club even though the times when Parker held meetings with Woods on his own had been "difficult to manage on occasions." He also confirmed that Parker had been involved in all discussions over player transactions.
But he again hit out at Parker's reasoning to leave the board arguing that he "unquestionably left on a minor issue", because Furneaux had "resisted his overtures for him to leave the board with immediate effect." He suggested that the comments made by Parker when he stepped down had led to fans "waiting to lurch the remaining directors after being branded not forward thinking". The board had never disagreed with anything Parker had suggested and he had never been made aware of issues with how the club had been run that Parker alluded to. This seems at odds with his statement the previous season which suggested he'd discussed and agreed with Parker over the board restructure before the meeting, but that it was ultimately voted down by other board members.
In reference to the additional £350,000 investment, Fenty argued that there had been no agreement that this would be provided in the form of shares rather than loans and that the money would only be provided "when and if actually required." He also argued that his purchasing of the additional shares would not "equate" and that control of the club would still sit "outside the boardroom."
He also claimed that Parker leaving the board "in such a public way [had] fuelled heightened speculation regarding him taking over the club" and that this had made his position as chairman "untenable." He also alleged that at one point Parker had considered rejoining the board but that was "conditional upon several things [including] becoming chairman." He concluded his statement saying he thought it "strange" that a major shareholder was looking to make a decision on the appointment of a new chairman without discussion with the board.
The next week the takeover panel concluded that Parker would need to reduce his shareholding by transferring some of his shares to a party he had no relationship with. Parker released a statement saying that he would be offering some of his shares "with all associated rights" as a gift to the Grimsby Town Supporters Trust (soon to be renamed the Mariners Trust.) He added that should they accept and the transfer be approved by the board, it would give them "a strong voice in the club’s affairs."
The £500,000 shares transferred to the Trust brought Parker's shareholding in line with Fenty's. However, combined with shares they already owned, this made the Trust the new majority shareholders - by a very slim margin. The Trust took the decision not to take a seat on the board as it had been largely dormant for a couple of years and had dwindling membership. It did, though, create the impetus to revive the trust and push for a membership drive.
At the beginning of November the club published its accounts. Chief Executive Ian Fleming highlighted that the club had debts of around £2.8 million, but in spite of this there was "absolutely no threat of administration whatsoever." He pointed out that the club had only two creditors, "one being the primary funder which is John Fenty, another is the bank" and that going into administration "wouldn't do the club any good." Nor, one assumes, would it be preferential for major creditor John Fenty!
As the AGM approached, Fenty took time out from his busy schedule of statement writing and legal wrangling to argue with messageboard posters on the Fishy. In particular he was angered by a statement by one poster who claimed he would benefit financially from the sale of Blundell Park. So angered was he that he wrote an open letter that was published on the website and threatened further legal action. He made reference to the messageboard post and the "more vitriolic and venomous" messages that followed it and, aided by the site's owners, identified the individual who made the original post. Fenty invited the author of the message to the club to talk through the club's accounts and then asked them to issue an apology on the website. "To suggest I am only looking to take money out of the club and sell Blundell Park to repay loans is totally out of order" he complained.
The tribunal for the transfers of Pearson and Church took place in late November with Town instructed to pay Boston in the region of £20,000 combined for both players. The valuation was more in favour of Town, who'd originally offered £10,000 for the pair, whereas Boston had asked for £40,000.
Fenty was re-elected onto the board at the club's AGM although he refused to be drawn on whether he would be returning as Chairman. He still felt that the position was untenable while control of the club remained outside of the boardroom, with his personal shareholding now less than the 50 percent majority needed for control. However, the matter would be discussed at the next board meeting, although he was not sure he wanted to take the job on again. He would continue to sit on the three-man board as a director and while he was no longer chairman, it was clear that he would still be driving decision making at the club.
He was also vocal in his continued support for Scott and Hurst at the meeting, telling those gathered that they worked "the hardest a manager has worked at the club for a number of years." While he also made this comment about Newell, and Woods to a lesser extent, it does raise the question of why he hadn't challenged previous managers who, presumably, were not working hard enough. He also confirmed that the club would be due a sell-on fee from Peterborough should Ryan Bennett be sold. The Telegraph reported that this was expected to be 25 per cent of any fee Peterborough received above the £500,000 already received by the club.
As attendances began to dwindle again, Fenty appealed to fans to turn up for matches. Although the club projected losses for each game, the actual income from games was actually much lower than anticipated. "We budgeted for the Stockport game £20,000 gate receipts and we got £9,000. Clearly we are talking a big loss there" stated Fenty, adding: "Having attendances below budget simply compounds the losses we have already been prepared to accept." He warned that the club could not continue to sustain such losses and while "two key blocks of shares" sat outside the boardroom, he was not prepared to finance those losses.
He did reveal though that there had been some interest from a group wanting to buy the club with a view to investing "between £5 million and £10 million" to get the club back to the Championship. He had discussed with the interested party the potential of buying his shares for £1 to take control of the club, saying that "if that's the best for the football club I would happily stand aside." However, the party had not responded to Fenty's request for proof of funding and he didn't expect them to be back in touch. "Getting rid of my shares is a non-issue, but if I left it to somebody who is not going to ultimately back it with the necessary funds, I would be turning in my grave," said the very much alive John Fenty: "I couldn't do that and the fans would never forgive me."
A board meeting was held towards the end of December and Fenty invited the Trust to attend. "They have got an invite to come and explain to us what their aspirations are and how they want to go about what they want to do" he said, sounding like a headmaster summoning an errant child to his office. He demanded to know how the trust could "affect the matchday experience" and what were "their projections from a financial point of view".
Meanwhile, the team's form took an upswing over the Christmas period and into the new year, with striker Liam Hearn reaching 21 goals before the end of January. This attracted some interest from other clubs, including Peterborough, but Fenty issued a statement telling any suitors to back off: "I would take exception to anyone making an illegal approach to the player, and we would deal with that accordingly should it happen."
As the transfer window closed at the end of January, Peterborough sold Ryan Bennett to Norwich for a reported £2.5 million, triggering a sell-on payment to Town reported to be in the region of £500,000. However, the money wasn't due to be paid in a single installment, with Fenty saying that the club had to "compromise in the amount we get in terms of the time we receive the funds" from Peterborough. He was quick to praise his part in the deal though, claiming that he'd pushed for "arguably an unprecedented sell-on", despite it being well publicised as standard practice for Peterborough.
The Mariners Trust ballot on Mike Parker's shares
Despite claiming that he was not playing "hard ball", Fenty made clear that one of the possible outcomes of the club not being able to pay its bills was the "forced sale of Liam Hearn", the club's high-scoring striker
In February a number of meetings between Fenty and the Mariners Trust took place to discuss how the alleged "funding gap" could be bridged until the end of the season. The outcome of these meetings was that the Trust would ballot it’s membership (then around 300) on a proposal to gift £200,000 worth of shares to Fenty and give him back overall control of the club. As part of the deal, Fenty would purchase an additional £200,000 worth of shares in the club - something that he'd proposed to do as part of the original deal with Mike Parker anyway. The end of season accounts show that what actually happened was that he converted some of his existing loans with the club into shares.
Fenty stated that this would provide the club with enough funding to see it through "to the end of the season and next season as well." He didn't think the Trust needed a substantial shareholding to have a "positive integration" with the club and said that he had no objection to them having a seat on the board. He made it clear that he wouldn't be returning as chairman, however, because there was "absolutely no difference in the daily activities of the club. I still integrate with managers, and make funds available for them to retain and sign players." It was an admission that he was chairman in all but name.
As the Trust went out to ballot its membership, Fenty released a statement on the official website to justify his motives. He again made the point that he'd stepped down as chairman to see if there were any potential investors who wanted to step forward. He stated that if that happened and he was ultimately removed from the board he "would not at any time put the club under pressure to repay my loans whatsoever - unless they were affordable."
He went on to say that he believed the Trust having a 27 per cent share in the club would "put off any potential further investment because it is too high" but stressed that he had been reasonable and not played "hard ball" with the trust: "Let's face it, if I was playing hard ball I would have let the club run out of money and have forced the situation", he added, as a veiled threat. He went on "If I were holding a gun to the [Trust's] head as some wish to suggest I am, then the first step would have been to stop paying the players and threaten administration. The likely outcome would be that the entire shareholding in GTFC would be acquired for £1.00 in a SVA, pre-pack or administration process." The other outcome, of course, would be that debtors would receive 1p in the pound - or to put it another way, the repayment of Fenty’s loans would amount to £23,000.
Despite claiming that he was not playing "hard ball", Fenty made clear that one of the possible outcomes of the club not being able to pay its bills was the "forced sale of Liam Hearn", the club's high-scoring striker. But, he added, "there is do doubt that we need him and do not want to be pushed into liquidating one of our finest assets of recents years." This was an underhand move and clearly a veiled threat to supporters just as the Trust went out to ballot. There is no doubt that it played on the minds of those who were voting at that time.
Fenty's statement also confirmed that, "under duress", the club's overdraft had been converted to a loan by the bank: probably because there had been little effort to pay it off during his tenure. He went on to list a succession of items that had an impact on finances such as the condition of the stadium, falling gate receipts and player turnover. None of which he was responsible for, of course.
He went on to stress that the board were "purely custodians of our football club for the time being" and if any of the directors were expected to fund the club then "they require a little comfort." He had been "adamant" that he would not purchase additional shares to alleviate financial concerns, despite this being part of the prior agreement with Parker which he reneged on. However, he said he had changed his mind because talks with the trust had led him to become more "relaxed on this issue" and suggested that the alternative was that the trust would need to give away "twice as many shares." He ended his statement by saying that he was going to "crack open a bottle of wine" and watch the Town game online due to "my good lady's ingenuity."
Fenty released a further statement while the Mariners Trust ballot was live clarifying that the club would "work hand in hand with [the Trust] to promote the trust activities in a positive manner" if the transfer of shares was agreed. The counterpoint to that statement, however, is that if the trust didn't hand over the shares, he would not be open to working with them or allowing them a place on the board. Another stipulation on the deal was that the Trust had to agree "not to accept any further shares from Mr Mike Parker." Days later, and with the vote still live, Fenty released yet a further statement, contrary to earlier statements, saying that the club had only agreed "in principle" that the Trust should have a position on the board. So much for working hand in hand, then.
When the vote was counted the outcome was not really surprising. 225 members (out of 313) voted and 82 per cent (185) of them voted in favour of handing over the shares to Fenty. This left the club's shareholdings as: Fenty 47 per cent; Parker 24 per cent; the Mariners Trust 13 per cent. Following the transfer of shares, the Trust began talks with the club about a "potential" seat on the board.
Fenty was as ever ungracious in his small victory over the fans. "It's not an open cheque book, it's not indefinite", he barked: "I am not looking for ownership here, what I'm looking for is security of tenure while I'm expected to fund the football club." He then seemed to get himself tangled up in his own perverse logic, arguing that "people who say we are in a worse position as a result of being lower down the divisions are wrong [because] it takes less money to be able to compete." He was even less generous to the 40 fans who voted against the proposal, sneering "if you are going to vote against something which gives the club sustainability... I really think you are going to have to have a plan B, and nobody came up with one." The fact that nobody had asked any of those fans for alternatives was neither here nor there.
He then went on to restate he had stepped down to try to stimulate interest - in a non-League club with a £2.8m debt, most of which was due to him. "I'm not looking to keep a hold on this football club... If there are others to take it forward that would be good for the club. I would work with anybody that wants to do that, but if I'm expected to fund the football club I have to have security of tenure." Mike Parker did not comment.
Boston's compensation claim for Scott and Hurst
The judge found that Fenty had "acted recklessly" in relying on the word of the agent in regards to the situation with Scott and Hurst and that the refusal to name the agent cast a "severe cloud" over their evidence and "undermined their credibility"
A court date was set for March to hear Boston United's compensation claim over Scott and Hurst. Fenty remained defiant, calling the £25,000 compensation claim "preposterous and ridiculous" and arguing that Boston were being "completely unreasonable." He also complained of the financial and time cost the case had already caused the club, stating that legal costs so far had amounted to "£15-18,000".
The case was heard in Sheffield County Court and after nearly five hours of cross examination, the court found against the club, Scott and Hurst. Both Scott and Fenty were accused by Boston's counsel of "being coy" in the evidence they gave, with Fenty complaining that the questioning was "like a witch hunt." However, it was accepted by all parties that Scott and Hurst were interviewed for the manager's job on 7 March, which was 16 days before their appointment and 14 days before they'd resigned from Boston. This was completely at odds with Fenty's earlier claims that the pair hadn't been approached until they resigned. The claim from Boston was that Scott and Hurst had breached their contracts, but that Grimsby Town had supported them in doing this.
Both Fenty and Scott refused to name the agent acting on behalf of the management duo who had approached Fenty to arrange contact with the pair. The judge found that Fenty had "acted recklessly" in relying on the word of the agent in regards to the situation with Scott and Hurst and that his refusal to name the agent cast a "severe cloud" over their evidence and "undermined their credibility."
Fenty defended his actions by saying that the club had not asked Boston for permission to approach Scott and Hurst prior to the interview on 7 March because that was commonplace in football and there was nothing wrong with it. The judge disagreed and ordered the club, Scott and Hurst to pay Boston £10,400 in damages, £10,500 in costs and £510 in interest. The club also had to pay their own legal costs of around £10-12,000.
Fenty told the Telegraph that he was "disappointed" with the outcome, which was ultimately the decision of "one man [who has] a lot of information to digest." That'll be the judge, then, doing his normal job. He felt the court had mostly found against them because they refused to name the agent they used which left "a cloud over the case." They had agreed they wouldn't name the agent "because he did not want his name brought out in this", although it is not clear why Fenty would go to such lengths to protect a football agent given his previous comments about them. He was also critical of Boston chairman David Newton who he felt "could have been fairer" and who they "could have had genuine negotiations" with. He moaned that the cost to the club, including legal fees, was "a figure close to £35,000" adding that the club had the money but that it would "have to come from another area."
Not content with arguing with former directors, other clubs and the courts, Fenty also took the to email Cod Almighty. He demanded that the fanzine stop referring to him as "John Fenty (TopCon)" in relation to his association with the Topcon Construction firm. The fanzine ignored his demands and continued to do so.
The team finished the season in 11th place - the same as the previous year but with a slightly higher points tally. Fenty was "very optimistic" for the new season, pointing out that the managers had been "hard-working and relentless in the pursuit of new players". The budget for the new season would be comparable to the current season, and he felt that the club would be "well equipped" to challenge for promotion.
The end of season accounts showed that directors' loans had reduced by around £250,000 to just over £2 million. This reduction was essentially a conversion of loans to shares as part of the agreement with the Trust on the Mike Parker share issue. The club's loan with the bank was reduced by £30,000 to £460,000. TV revenue dropped by around £200,000 (which was actually due to the parachute payment ending), but the wage bill dropped by a similar amount to £1.4 million. Match receipts were up slightly by £60,000 to £660,000.
A further £50,000 pension payment was made to JS Fenty.