Cod Almighty | Article
by Mark Stilton
24 May 2021
John Fenty starts his chairmanship of Grimsby Town by entering into a dispute with Radio Humberside, and the saga of club relocation goes on. Mark continues the story of the Fenty years
John Fenty starts his chairmanship of Grimsby Town by entering into a dispute with Radio Humberside, and the saga of club relocation goes on. Mark continues the story of the Fenty years
Within a couple of months of Russell Slade's appointment before the 2004-05 season, Peter Furneaux stepped down as chairman and was succeeded by John Fenty, who talked of finding "new ways of reaching into the community and bringing extra support". However, he also made reference to the debt hanging over the club as a result of successive relegations and loss of TV revenue, stating the need to "shape our operation more effectively."
Fenty's first move as chairman was to immediately release the "book". The book was a set of rules and guidelines for players including nutritional advice as well as a list of fines for various misdemeanours such as "not wearing your own squad kit". Fenty stated that "this is the protocol from which we expect the players to work within. It is part of creating a new work ethic that will help us to achieve our goals." It was never referred to again.
Despite a recent refurb to create the McMenemy Suite, Fenty was adamant that this didn't affect plans to move to a new stadium. "We have been looking at a lot of ideas and ways forward... when a new chief executive is installed at the council we will look to sit down with him and see how we can achieve our aims" Fenty said, stating that he expected a new stadium in place within five years.
The creation of the McMenemy Suite (replacing the old Inn on the Park) caused some issues after a routine inspection led to guidance that the curtains would need to be closed two hours prior to the match, during the match and one hour afterwards in order to avoid contravening the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act. The club argued that this had never previously been enforced, but the Grimsby Police licencing officer pointed out that the club had been contravening the law, and should now put measures in place to correct this. The officer claimed that "approaches have been made asking the police to turn a blind eye to this neglect and a clear and firm statement has been given to the football club. The police are not the legislators, but we are the enforcers."
Less than two months after Fenty became chairman, director Michael Rouse stepped down from the board in order to "devote more time to other interests." The shares he'd purchased from Fenty as part of the Ramsden manoeuvering were transferred back to Fenty, presumably for the same amount he purchased them for. Rouse's major contribution in his time on the board was to enable Fenty to oust Ramsden and with this purpose served he moved on, leaving Fenty with approximately 47 per cent of the shareholding.
In September, responding to reports on the Electronic Fishcake (The Fishy as it is now) that the club was carrying a tax debt of £500,000, Fenty released a statement via Radio Humberside to say that everything was fine and in control. He stated that "we're very, very happy on where we're going on this in that we've got improved gate receipts, we've got substantial improved commercial income and in total we're very, very happy that we can solve the problem."
In October, Furneaux was made "executive director": effectively a role that enabled him to stand in for Fenty on League committees, act as spokesman and perform other roles that he previously carried out as chairman - in many ways the chairman in all but name. This idea had first been touted when Fenty became chairman but had been blocked by the "objections of a now former director".
In January it was reported that the Inland Revenue had refused the terms of the club's tax repayment plan. Despite Fenty's earlier assertion that everything was in hand, it transpired that the club actually had £720,000 of outstanding tax debt - caused by deferred PAYE contributions on ITV Digital-era wages. The club had hoped to repay this debt over six years, but the Inland Revenue had insisted that a shorter term was required. Fenty assured everyone that "the club continues to meet its obligations and remains viable to that extent", while simultaneously stating that "the repayment is not affordable by the club alone" and making a request for financial support from "the whole community".
The following week, responding to concern from fans, Fenty answered a series of questions on the outstanding tax debt in the Telegraph. The answers aimed to add some clarity on how the debt had arisen, although Fenty's claim that he had not "set out to own this football club" certainly didn't align with his prior actions.
The main thrust of the Q&A was to launch the Keep The Mariners Afloat campaign with the supporters' trust, with an aim to raise £420,000 towards the tax debt; the remaining money would come approximately £150,000 from directors' loans and £150,000 from the club itself. Fenty claimed at the time that directors had already put £2 million into the club - although he failed to clarify that this was in the form of shares and loans and not a donation.
It was an ambitious plan and "sarcastic" comments about the campaign on Radio Humberside led to the first of Fenty's many falling outs with the station. The club wrote to Radio Humberside as they felt the station's coverage "belittled and damaged the campaign" and was therefore in breach of the contract with the club. Radio Humberside conceded on some minor points, but felt it was their duty to ask "challenging and difficult questions". The case was picked up by the Football League commercial director and the head of BBC Sport in the regions. In the meantime, the club blocked Radio Humberside from conducting interviews with the players and manager.
Some relief came in March when the club managed to reach agreement with the Inland Revenue on the terms of the tax debt repayment, while the Keep The Mariners Afloat campaign had already raised £25,000. However, Fenty stated that the club would only be able to meet its obligations if other directors did not call in existing loans and to that end he was looking to put in a "standstill agreement" to stop this from happening. Fenty warned "we are not out of trouble yet and the hard work starts here."
The club were not the only ones in trouble: Fenty had his own problems. Having been clocked driving at 93mph on the M180 the previous year he had five points added to his licence to go with the nine already on it. This led to a six-month driving ban despite Fenty's protestations that the disqualification would cause him exceptional hardship because his girlfriend was not sufficiently confident to tow a horsebox and he couldn't afford to employ a driver. On his way out of the courtroom in Scunthorpe he asked if he would be able to drive home but was reminded that driving while disqualified was a criminal offence.
By mid-March the club had reached 50 points in the league and Fenty used this as a trigger to take up the second year on Slade's contract. Fenty stated that Slade had done well: "To be left with four senior pros and rebuild a team inside one season is a big ask. We admit that there have been bad days but overall we think the team has shown promise and are delighted to put our faith in Russell next season."
The Football League's review into the spat with Radio Humberside found no grounds for the club's complaint. Fenty had more success with Grimsby Hospital Radio where he submitted his top three songs for a charity marathon: Angels by Robbie Williams, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out of My Head
April saw the conclusion of the Football League's review into the spat with Radio Humberside, which found no grounds for the club's complaint. The arbitration meeting lasted nine hours during which a compromise was reached and a joint statement agreed. The club itself never seemed to actually release the joint statement, instead stating that the finer details had not been ironed out.
Fenty couldn't resist one final barbed statement though, claiming the reasons stated elsewhere for the ban were "rubbish" and adding that "the club's fragile existence cannot tolerate mismanagement of facts or games towards the campaign or the football club." He added "If there was nothing wrong then why is there a joint statement, a grievance procedure and a protocol implemented" without ever referring to the details of any of these. Nevertheless, the ban on Radio Humberside was finally lifted.
Fenty had more success with Grimsby Hospital Radio where he submitted his top three songs for a charity marathon: Angels by Robbie Williams, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out of My Head.
By the end of the season, the Keep The Mariners Afloat campaign had raised £75,000, including a £50,000 donation by the son of a former Bishop of Grimsby. While that was a steady start for the campaign, it was only 10 per cent of the money the club needed to raise.
Fenty also released a further statement on the new stadium saying he was "optimistic" it would happen despite the fact that there were "many obstacles for a new stadium in Great Coates to become reality." The club was hopeful of getting grant assistance to carry out a feasibility study which could help it secure an anchor tenant, which the stadium project could not progress without.
The end of year accounts show wages dropped by over a third from £2m to £1.3m, while the overdraft reduced by £140,000 to £500,000. However, directors' loans had increased by £200,000 in the same period and now stood at £550,000 in total. TV revenue plummeted a further 40 per cent to £190,000, but match receipts only dropped by around £50,000 to £940,000.
The next season started with well-attended friendlies against Blackburn, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Scunthorpe and Rotherham. Surplus money from these games raised a further £25,000 for the Keep The Mariners Afloat campaign, taking its running total to £125,000.
The season started very strongly for the Mariners with old lady "football fortune" about to shine brightly down on the club. After beating Derby in the first round of the League Cup, Town were drawn at home to Spurs with a further boost that the match would be shown on Sky TV - netting the club £50,000 from TV money.
While the match itself is etched in Mariners folklore, it was the events after the match that perhaps gave the first big hint of Fenty's narcissistic tendencies. Sky TV conducted the after-match interview with Russell Slade in the changing rooms as the players were still celebrating. And there among them, jumping around, was John Fenty who, having helped the players tip a bucket of juice over Slade, leered into the cameras and shouted: "What about the orange?"
While the players were able to celebrate the win, they were unfortunately unable to take a memento of the match. In his autobiography, John McDermott says that he approached Robbie Keane after the match to ask if he could swap shirts, but was told they couldn't give their shirts away because "they had promised to give them to the club to auction". This also happened for the Newcastle game in the next round.
Perhaps the shirts were due to be auctioned to raise money for the Keep The Mariners Afloat campaign, but it doesn't seem that this ever actually happened. One former player who played in the cup match was told by someone that they'd seen them stacked in a box in Fenty's garage some time later.
The win led to a home draw with Newcastle and a further boost of TV money into the club coffers. £30,000 had been made from the Spurs game on top of the TV money, and with £15,000 from the Derby game in the first round the club were making significant inroads into the tax liabilities. Fenty claimed the club was forecasting an additional £110,000 in total from the Newcastle match but that this was "ring-fenced" as they had set an "optimistic" budget for Russell Slade that relied on an element of football fortune. "You could say if you budget pessimistically, you look down, you go down. We, the directors, are going to underpin what we have allowed, if we enjoy success we won't be required to underpin it, but if it all goes wrong we will have to" warned Fenty. All in all though, the club expected to clear a third of the tax debt with the money taken from the cup games.
Why waste money paying for ice for the players' post-match ice baths when you can just re-use the ice from your fish factory? And while it may leave the lingering smell of fish, this was a bonus according to Fenty: With a little bit of luck the players will fail to pull on a Saturday, get home nice and early and their bodies will be preparing for the next game!
The club saved a few more pennies due to a novel idea by John Fenty. Why waste money paying for ice for the players' post-match ice baths when you can just re-use the ice from your fish factory? And while it may leave the lingering smell of fish on the players, this was a bonus according to Fenty: "With a little bit of luck the players will fail to pull on a Saturday, get home nice and early and their bodies will be preparing for the next game!"
Plans for the new stadium appeared to be progressing with Fenty confident that a 12,000-seater stadium would be in place for the beginning of the 2008-09 season. The Burford Group, developers "with a strong track record in retail warehouse development", started working with the club on initial feasibility studies. However, Fenty warned that the club would need early approval from the town's planning committee in order for any potential anchor tenants to take the development seriously. The new ground, situated on the outskirts of the town, would "make a massive contribution to the socio-economic well-being of Grimsby, guarantee the future of Grimsby Town Football Club and add immeasurably to the prestige of the town" claimed Fenty.
In December Fenty set down a proposal to increase his shareholding to 51 per cent and therefore give him majority control of the club. The proposal was necessary, Fenty argued, because the club's overdraft was to be cut in half by the bank, leaving the club with a shortfall in funding. Strangely, at this time the club's overdraft had already been reduced by £150,000 from the previous season, and by the end of the season it had increased again by £100,000. It is unclear what happened in regards to the bank, but what is clear is that the overdraft was never reduced.
However, Fenty was willing to invest a further £150,000 in the club to achieve a 51 per cent shareholding, but needed shareholders to vote through "Resolution Five". This resolution would enable Fenty to take a controlling majority shareholding while waiving a legal obligation to offer to buy the rest of the club's shares. Fenty pointed out that the club still owed the Inland Revenue £685,000, as well as owing £75,000 to other clubs and £50,000 to a former director (Rouse) who wanted his loan back. Fenty went on to explain all of the things the board had been doing to try to secure additional funds, including attracting new board members - "the financial implications of becoming a director were considered to be too onerous" - and promoting wider share ownership which he said "has only raised £24,000".
Fenty was willing to help with this shortfall but insisted he must have "effective voting control during this time to ensure that the club is not subsequently destabilised". He made it very clear again that he had no interest in extending his shareholding beyond that level and effectively becoming the "owner of the club". No Fenty statement is ever complete without a veiled threat though, and he followed this up with a warning that "should we be unable to secure additional funding the threat of administration remains a very real possibility" and that without shareholder support he and the board would have to "reconsider our plans."
At the AGM the resolution was passed unanimously, unsurprisingly gathering support from the current board, the supporters' trust and four major shareholders. Fenty stated that he was "humbled" and promised he would do his utmost to "take the club forward". He further remarked that continuity on the board was essential for the new stadium project to progress, and that past boardroom changes and "shareholder politics" had held up progress in the past.
Fenty also revealed at the AGM that former director Michael Rouse had issued a writ to the club to try to get his loan to the club released. The club planned to contest it, telling Rouse he could only have his loan back once other debts had been repaid. The club had also drafted a new "Directors' Protocol" in an attempt to try and stop this happening in the future.
February brought a further statement on the proposed new stadium development. Having submitted the planning application at the end of the previous month, the club announced a steering group to take the project forward called "Gateway to Grimsby". The purpose of the group, which included representatives of the council, the local college and Business Link, was to look at ways the new ground could contribute to the community beyond just football. "Working closely with the Grimsby Institute and local schools, the plan is to make available superb health and fitness facilities, as well as education services" stated Fenty. It was hoped the new ground would be part of the "biggest community initiative ever created in Grimsby, Cleethorpe and the surrounding area." However, it wasn't made clear exactly how an out-of-town development on the edge of a motorway would benefit the wider community.
While the on-the-pitch performances started to falter, leading to Town losing out on an automatic promotion spot, so did contract negotiations with Slade. In mid-February Slade was talking about being offered a "two- or three-year deal" that just needed ratifying by the board (note that Fenty had a 51 per cent majority at this point). By March Fenty was stating that he'd made final offers on contracts to Slade, Steve Mildenhall and Rob Jones. Fenty was adamant these were final offers because "the club will not break it's wage structure as it needs to keep its feet financially on the ground."
With the play-off final approaching both Slade and Rodger had still not signed their new contracts. However, the club reported they were confident the contracts would be signed and announced that as long as "there are no last minute snags" the three-year contracts would be signed at a Sportsman's dinner held by the club. The club even tried to drum up interest in the event by reporting that fans wanting to see the signing could get tickets for the event "priced at £30 per person." The signing never took place.
After the play-off final defeat to Cheltenham, Slade stated that he was keen to re-open contract talks before he went on holiday: "If things are right and we can thrash out details, of which there is only one that really needs addressing, then we will see how things go.”
However, the three-year deal that had been offered to Slade before the play-off final was withdrawn by Fenty and replaced with a lesser package for a single year only. Fenty complained that "we've asked Russell to put forward what he does want. We want him to tell us so we can make a decision about who is going to be the new manager." However, only days later the club and Slade issued a joint statement to say that no deal could be concluded. Within a week Slade had signed a three-year deal with Yeovil.
The end-of-year accounts show that wages increased by around 20 per cent to £1.6m. Directors' loans reduced by £100,000 to £450,000, but the club's overdraft increased by the same amount to £600,000. The cup and play-off games contributed to a 150 per cent increase in TV revenue to £480,000, while match receipts were up 40 per cent to £1.3m
Within a week of Slade leaving, Fenty was already confident of getting a replacement. "The process is underway and if we get the man we want, I'm sure the fans will be happy with the choice. Obviously, we won't be naming names until it is all secured" he told the Telegraph. However, this soon changed to "within a few weeks" as Fenty prepared to jet off to the Football League AGM in Portugal.
Despite the suggestion of a delay, Graham Rodger was appointed manager before Fenty had even started working on his tan. Rodger was given a two-year deal, with an option for a further two years and the club stated "there will be financial support to mount a serious challenge for the next campaign."
On his return from a "hectic week in Portugal", Fenty was somewhat taken aback by negative comments suggesting the appointment of Rodger was a cheap option. The club "needs continuity and people who want to be at Grimsby" argued Fenty: "we believe the right man for the job was already in the building. Therefore, cost did not come into it, logic did."
A couple of weeks later Fenty's thin skin was once again breached following reports Slade had claimed that he had one of the lowest fourth-flight budgets at Grimsby: "It is more likely that it was a top-four budget... Russell was very, very, well supported." He went on to compare average budgets across the Football League before adding "it's not... how much you spend, it's what you spend it on. It is important that we have control to that extent."
Just days before the new season was about to start, Radio Humberside issued a statement to say that it would no longer be providing commentaries for Town matches. The station had not been able to agree financial terms with the club who were "seeking a fee that would have been over 60 per cent more expensive than the costs in the previous deal." Simon Pattern, the station's managing editor, felt that the deal didn't represent "value for money for the licence fee payer".
Fenty wouldn't let that lie and issued a 1,000-word invective aimed squarely at the station. Fenty felt the £5,000 on offer from the station did not accurately balance out "broadcasting harm over broadcasting gain" and claimed the club was more likely to lose around £12,000 of gate money over the season due to radio coverage. Fenty felt that other media outlets offered better value for money and that the £5,000 Humberside paid for "unlimited coverage... advertising hoardings... free tickets... and extensive access for interviews" was a steal.
Fenty went on to accuse the station of "bullying our club" but was at pains to point out that this wasn't a personal gripe based on "historical friction" between the station and himself. He then urged fans as "licence fee payer[s] to the BBC" to contact Simon Pattern at Radio Humberside to protest the station's position: "It is your right, you pay their wages."
Only days later Fenty issued a further diatribe, this time aimed at Bill Osborne of the Fishy who had written his own interpretation of the dispute. Fenty clarified a few minor points on what happened at the meeting between the club and the station and again urged fans to complain to the BBC, this time to Charles Runcie, Head of BBC Sport. He also stated the club had purchased equipment to provide their own match commentaries for Mariners World "at no cost to the club" (except perhaps the cost of buying the equipment!) "Please let it drop, if there is to be a change of heart it is not likely to happen by me continually having to justify the club's position" moaned Fenty, not wishing to be held to account.
The season started slowly with Rodger's team only managing one win in the first seven games, which caused Fenty to deliver probably one of the earliest votes of confidence in the club's history. "I am pleading with the fans to be patient and stick with us. It isn't all going to happen overnight" Fenty told the Telegraph before clarifying that "the board is fully behind the manager. Graham's position is not under threat."
Results didn't improve much over September and a 4-1 home loss to Hartlepool led to yet another vote of confidence from Fenty. "It would be the wrong reaction to take assertive action now" he argued, explaining that Rodger had inherited a depleted squad due to "players leaving and others being unsettled by outside influences." Fenty gave his full backing to Rodger suggesting that "we judge him when he has a full squad to choose from."
At the beginning of November, Rodger was sacked. The club issued a mealy-mouthed statement saying Rodger had not been blessed with results or performances that he deserved... he has qualities this club needs, the shame of it is that this man deserved better. The board took no accountability for the decision, simply stating Rodger had become a victim of circumstances
That season saw the launch of a new fanzine: Black and White Corner. The launch issue featured an exclusive interview with John Fenty where he once again called on fans to give Rodger time to build a team. More interestingly though was the admission that Rob Jones, one of Town's outstanding players last season, had been made a "derisory offer" to stay at the club. In the interview Fenty argued that it wouldn't have been right to pay Jones more because "the defensive position isn't the same as a striking position... they're considered different in values." Only one clean sheet by the end of September suggested otherwise.
The team's result did not pick-up in October and after another home defeat at the beginning of November, Rodger was sacked. The club issued a rather strange statement saying Rodger had "not been blessed with results or performances that he deserved... he has qualities this club needs, the shame of it is that this man deserved better." This rather mealy-mouthed statement from the board took no accountability for the decision, simply stating Rodger had "become a victim of circumstances... due to the unrelenting pressures and lack of patience that surrounds football." In other words, it was the fans wot did it! Three days later Alan Buckley was appointed as manager.
By mid-November the club had finally reached an agreement with Radio Humberside. While the exact details of the agreement were never published the deal effectively meant the station would provide commentaries for all away games and a selection of home games. Fenty was happy that the deal meant the club would "receive adequate compensation for the loss of income on home attendances."
A week later and Fenty's thin skin was pierced once again. This time the mere suggestion from some quarters (i.e. the fans) that perhaps other sites than Great Coates were possible for the new stadium prompted another 1,000+ word thesis from Fenty. The statement went to great lengths to say why Garth Lane or the Docks were not viable locations and that Great Coates was really the only option: "Under the circumstances it is ludicrous to expect the club to consider alternative sites." How very dare we!
By the time of the AGM in December the club were going through the final phases of the stadium planning process and had a date set for when the application would be considered. Fenty went to great lengths to compare Town's application to that of Salford Reds whose application had recently been approved. Fenty felt that the club's application was more justified than that of the Salford Reds application, so it had to be successful.
Fenty also stated that although the club had increased revenue in the previous year through the Spurs and Newcastle games (plus the play-off final) that money had actually been used in "servicing the debt to the Inland Revenue and funding the costs that are necessary to move the new stadium project forward." Essentially, he'd pissed money up the wall on a pipedream rather than clearing debts.
By late January Fenty finally got the news he'd been waiting a long time for: North East Lincolnshire Council granted planning permission for the new stadium to be built at Great Coates. Fenty was overjoyed and released a statement akin to an Oscar acceptance speech thanking all those that had supported the scheme including local councillors, the Telegraph, the Fishy and the fans. Funnily enough, Radio Humberside did not make the list.
While the application still needed to get sign-off from the government, Fenty felt this stage was more of a formality: "As much work that there is to do and there are many hurdles to overcome, a move into a new stadium by August 2009 isn't overly ambitious."
Town finished the second-half of the season fairly strongly, but only attained a comfortable mid-table finish. However, the last game of the season at Shrewsbury marked the end of John McDermott’s illustrious career at the club. Unfortunately due to the ongoing spat between Fenty and Radio Humberside, they were not able to interview Macca after his last game.
In Macca's autobiography It's not all black & white he explains that his wages were one of the lowest at the club by this point. In Slade's second season he'd seen his wages drop by around 50 per cent to £400 a week (after much negotiation), despite playing most of the previous season and winning the player of the year award. Fenty had offered him an additional £50 a week if he did additional coaching, scouting and helped out with the school of excellence two days a week (something Macca was already receiving £50 a week for). Funnily enough, Macca declined. Of all of Fenty's myriad mistakes and bad decisions, the treatment of John McDermott - the club's record appearance holder - is nothing short of an utter disgrace. That alone should have been enough to have seen him marched out of the club a long time ago.
The end of year accounts showed that wages had increased marginally to £1.7m with TV revenue dropping by £80,000 to £410,000. Gate receipts had dropped by about 40 per cent on the previous season, to around £820,000, but this was more to do with the increase in the previous season from the cup and play-off games. The club's overdraft remained fairly static at £590,000, but directors' loans had increased by a further £460,000 to £910,000.
The new season started with a whistle-stop tour of the club and ground on Sky Sports by John Fenty. It's hard to know where to start with this short film: it is not even three minutes long but Fenty manages to faux pas his way through the whole thing. It starts with a tour of each of the stands where he points out that the Osmond and the Main Stands are the oldest in the Football League before moving onto the Pontoon "where all of the fans make the noise and they've been known to suck the ball into the net." Anyone?
Next we move onto the changing rooms where John tells us that the old baths have been upgraded to showers due to "health and safety legislation", and not because, I don't know, it's just modernisation perhaps? Next he moves into the boot room that "used to be Bill Shankly’s office" and points to a photo of Shankly on the wall that looks like it's been printed out and glued to the wall that morning. A fitting tribute! But it gets worse.
John moves onto the referee's room - a room so grim I can see why we get so many decisions against us - pointing out the "rusty fridge" he states that the room has "all the mod cons, and of course for the lady referees we've got the sink."
John briefly cuts across the pitch ("the most expensive garden I've got") before making his way into the club's offices. Here we see his rapport with the staff: Dale Ladson looks frightened when John introduces him, whereas Terry Rudrum just looks startled and confused. Fenty then moves on to Lucy, the commercial manager, placing a rather inappropriate hand on her shoulder and creepily stating: "obviously a pretty face". The whole thing is a car crash wrapped inside a faux pas wrapped inside a car crash.
While Fenty was lording it up on TV, he was starting yet another spat with Radio Humberside. Again the argument was over the amount of money paid to the club by the station. Despite offering an increased amount on the previous season this did not meet the value Fenty had placed on the service. Ultimately the disagreement boiled down to the fact that Fenty saw the radio station as a commercial venture that should pay compensation to the club, whereas Radio Humberside felt that they were offering a service to the local community in covering news and matches from the club.
However, negotiations had been progressing amicably until the radio station received news that Fenty had made two official complaints to Ofcom over what he perceived as continued negative coverage of the club. Charles Runcie, Head of BBC Sport, notified the club that the BBC would be withdrawing from discussions as the complaints were pending and therefore would not be coming to an agreement with the club over coverage for the coming season. Although Fenty had previously claimed this was not a personal matter, that chip on his shoulder was in plain sight.
Fenty immediately went away and agreed a "lucrative and exclusive one-year deal" with commercial radio station Compass FM. He was overjoyed with the deal: "It's a deal that is not only financially beneficial for the club but puts behind us the difficulties over radio broadcasting in recent years." Fans were less impressed: aside from the fact that the broadcast range for the station was quite narrow, meaning some fans couldn't tune into the station, the commentaries that accompanied games were staid and amateurish, often failing to portray what was actually happening in the game.
In late July the club had managed to access some of the £90-million development fund that was filtered down to the Football League from Premier League clubs. The club secured a £69,000 grant from the pot of money which, in a rather garbled statement, Fenty said was "to be set aside to improve stadia and to improve football business in its entirety which in turn would increase gates and overall have a better impact for the long term future of football." Although lambasting the fact that most of the 'trickle down' money would find its way into the pockets of footballers rather than bring broader improvements to the game, Fenty stated that the money was "factored into our playing budget already." He warned: "The football club is going to make a loss next year, there is no doubt about that. We have still got tax debts to pay off [for] two more years almost at £180,000 a year... we mustn't get carried away and think that this is a mend all because it's not."
The season started slowly with a series of draws and attendances began to dwindle, providing Fenty with an opportunity to release yet another wordy statement before September had even finished. Fenty berated stay-away fans asking "where is all of the support?" and complaining that some fans were saying "we should already throw the baby out with the bath water."
He went on to warn that the club required "a substantial financial injection within the next two months, in excess of two hundred thousand pounds, to pay its way" on top of the £350,000 still needed to service the tax debt. He said that there had been "considerable sums... invested in the club's plan to relocate to Great Coates." and again reiterated that "Grimsby Town Football Club's plans to relocate are vital to its survival and are the only hope of attracting short term bridging investment helping to give the club a long term future." However, the ground move that never happened continued to amass more and more costs for the club, often masked in the accounts by directors' loans.
The statement issued by the club was a rather bizarre affair, switching voices between "The Board" (with its majority shareholding by JS Fenty) and "The Chairman" (JS Fenty). It led to rather odd statements such as: "The Board are not precious about their constitution, equally if there is someone who can do a better job as Chairman they should stand up to be counted, because he only wants what's best for the club when all is said and done." Did he leave the room while the rest of the (minority shareholding) board wrote the statement?
Switching back to "Chairman" voice, Fenty then complained that he'd "invested a king's ransom already" into the club but was not expecting to get that investment back "contrary to some sections speculation." He warned that if the relocation didn't happen then he was no longer prepared to continue to fund the club.
Fenty's wishes appeared to be coming true as the final hurdle in obtaining full planning permission for the new ground was cleared by the council within the next few days. All that was left to do now was to get the nod from the government. Plus secure anchor tenants. And developers. And other investors. And...
Meanwhile the supporters' trust released a statement saying that the Keep The Mariners Afloat campaign had not been a great success (isn't that what David Burns "sarcastically" suggested would happen?) Having only raised the "paltry" sum of £20,000 (via share purchase), Fenty made it very clear to the trust that the only way they would get representation on the board would be if they were to invest £250,000 in the club as a mixture of shares and loans. Even then there would have to be "a rationale to the selection process of that representative no different than there would be for the appointment of a normal director to join the Board."
Town's form did not pick up in October but Fenty stated he would not sack Buckley, and was at pains to add that this comment did not constitute "a vote of confidence." He stated that it would be "foolhardy to change things" and that Buckley "genuinely needs more time."
Fenty had some positive stadium news in November when he was informed that the Government would not be "calling in" the planning application. "This is great news but people must realise the club's ambitions to relocate to Great Coates has only moved a step closer, albeit a big one and that there are more hurdles to overcome before we have project reality" stated Fenty, but warned that the "single biggest problem is feasibility" and that everything hinged on securing retail enabling development. During the AGM it was stated that the club had written off over £500,000 in the accounts for the previous year on the stadium relocation project.
However, within a month of the news, the notoriously thin-skinned Fenty once again hit out at his detractors. So incensed was he by claims he was only in it for himself, he switched to the third person: "If anyone thinks that John Fenty is going to get rich out of the new stadium they are sad in my opinion." He told the Telegraph that he'd put a lot of "blood, sweat... heart and soul" into the stadium project because he cared so much about the future of the club. He also stated that there was a £6-million funding gap, but that this was "due to come from the retail sector" as part of the enabling development. "The sale of Blundell Park is likely to bring in around £1.5 million. It is probably worth double that but we have to provide social housing here as well" Fenty added, almost regretfully.
As Christmas approached one present Fenty didn't want in his stocking was Ofcom's complete and utter dismissal of his complaints about Radio Humberside. Ofcom's verdict was that there was no fault with the radio station on each of the five issues raised.
- On the complaint of "unbalanced coverage of the dispute over broadcast rights", Ofcom felt that "the BBC did in fact explain clearly the nature of the dispute... and the coverage did not result in unfairness to the club".
- On the complaint that George Kerr had criticised the "quality and performances of the team", Ofcom felt that the comments "were in keeping with the normal cut and thrust of sports coverage... four games had been lost and... it was not surprising therefore that the possible reasons for the malaise were being explored.
- The third issue related to the station incorrectly reporting that Town had "refused Humberside an interview with the manager." Ofcom stated that "as the club had informed the BBC that open and direct access to the club's chairman, manager and selected players would not be given to the station, it was not unfair for the station to report that the club had not allowed such access."
- On a related issue that Fenty had blocked an interview with John McDermott on his retirement, Ofcom found that "a general denial of access... with players was in place, for which Mr Fenty... was responsible."
- Finally, regarding the issue that the station had referred to Fenty as a "plonker", Ofcom stated that although the term was "derogatory and offensive" it noted that "the BBC had accepted immediately that the remark was offensive and... broadcast an apology, the terms of which were discussed and agreed with Mr Fenty".
Castlemore Securities were pencilled in as the contractors to build the new stadium at Great Coates. The development hinged on Castlemore securing 10 retailers to share the site. Fenty stated that the local community is a priority and the development will include new education, sporting and recreational facilities for young people. Castlemore Securities were liquidated in 2012
Back on the pitch, Town had put a good run of performances together in the second-half of the season propelling them into 10th place and the final of the Football League Trophy. However, while another trip to Wembley raised much needed finance towards the outstanding tax debt, it also led to a slump in form which saw Town drop to 16th by the end of the season. Fenty himself had a better end to the season, becoming Conservative councillor for Humberston & New Waltham in the local elections.
Further stadium news came at the end of the season when Castlemore Securities were pencilled in as the contractors to build the new stadium at Great Coates. It was now hoped that the stadium would open in August 2011, although the development hinged on Castlemore securing 10 retailers to share the site. Fenty stated that "the local community is a priority and the development will include new education, sporting and recreational facilities for young people." Castlemore Securities were liquidated in 2012.
As the season drew to a close there were rumours that Alan Buckley would be retiring due to ill health. Buckley himself was quick to rubbish the rumours: "Perhaps someone saw me in Boots a couple of weeks ago and have put two and two together. I was buying some suntan lotion, by the way." Fenty added: "It is all nonsense and I can safely say that Alan Buckley will still be the manager here next season without question... [he] has a long contract with us and I hope everyone continues to get behind him as we look to next season."
The end of season accounts show that wages had dropped by £100,000 to £1.6m, and the club's overdraft had reduced by £50,000 to £540,000. TV revenue was up by £80,000 to £490,000, and the appearance at Wembley had boosted match receipts by around 60 per cent to £1.3m. However, in spite of this, directors' loans increased by a further £260,000 to around £1.2m.
The doomed Fentydome project was now costing the club more than the ITV Digital tax debt.
Next week in Part Three, the end of Buckley, the rise and fall of Newell and the descent into non-League