John Fenty: a pattern of behaviour

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

2 March 2020

John Fenty has said he will no longer be involved in the day-to-day running of Grimsby Town. It is impossible not to hope he is being sincere

John Fenty has announced "he is stepping back from the day-to-day operations of Grimsby Town Football Club".

At first, Fenty's chairmanship of the club did come as something of a relief after the boardroom battles and the collapse of ITV Digital in the early 2000s. He described the situation he inherited in an interview for Cod Almighty in 2005. Since then though, the mistakes and the mis-turnings - some of them described below - have mounted.

In appointing Holloway, Fenty has put the club in a healthier position than it was at the end of 2019. And if the club is going to owe money, it is probably better owed to Fenty than to the bank or to Revenue & Customs, although who knows how much of the club's debt is down to bad decisions, the pursuit of Peaks Parkway and revenue lost from our slide down the leagues. It certainly isn't money needed for the daily running of the club, as Fenty has been getting his loans repaid in recent years.

Reviewing Fenty's record, it is hard not to fear his withdrawal may simply be his latest dodge to try and evade the evident conflict of interest between him being a councillor responsible for regeneraton and the major shareholder of a football club hoping to benefit from regeneration. Apart from Holloway, he has left in place the same board that has had so little positive influence on events throughout Fenty's tenure. Let's hope it isn't so.

September 2003
Unhappy with admittedly questionable coverage in the Grimsby Telegraph of ambulance availability at Blundell Park, the club responds not by rebutting the report but by withdrawing accreditation from the reporter.

March 2004
Caretaker manager Graham Rodger wins three games out of six after a run of 10 games without a win under Paul Groves had tipped Town into a relegation fight. But, citing Rodger's lack of contacts, John Fenty brings in Nicky Law. Town win just three more games all season, and a team of players brought in on short-term contracts go down listlessly at Tranmere on the final day of the season.

June 2005
John McDermott, winner of multiple player-of-the-season awards for 2004-05, is rewarded with a contract that cuts his pay from £650 to £400 a week - and that only after Russell Slade had worked a couple of deals on his behalf. At one point in negotiations, when Fenty was demanding he do extra coaching and scouting in the evenings to top-up his earnings, he told McDermott "I thought you'd be pleased to get out of the house, you've got four kids haven't you?" Fenty's chiselling treatment of a genuine club legend did not stop him trying to share in the acclaim early next season though, when McDermott made his 700th Town appearance.

May 2006
"Football fortune hasn’t been kind. Had we not been second so often in the numerous visits to Wembley and at the Millennium Stadium during the last 14 years, the record would look very different." writes John Fenty.

Two of our six Wembley and Cardiff appearances were in the FA Trophy: a cup that a sizeable proportion of fans thought at the time we should have sacked off (although I'm not one of them). Another was in the Football League Trophy, when it was still a legitimate competition. Wins in those games might have filled the honours board, but they'd not have made the descent from second to fifth flight any more palatable.

Then there are three play-off finals. In 2015, we lost to Bristol Rovers but the club came out of the experience stronger and won our one Wembley final, and promotion, in 2016.

The only real turning point missed came a decade before, when we were aiming for promotion to the third flight under Russell Slade. The week before the final, it was announced that at the end-of-season awards night, Slade would sign a new contract. He didn't. Contract talks dragged on until after the final, when Town turned in a performance that bore all the hallmarks of a team not properly prepared. Slade eventually left for Yeovil.

Fenty had played a game of brinksmanship with Slade and the club had lost. That is not bad "football fortune": that suggests mismanagement.

November 2006
Graham Rodger is sacked as manager. Possibly a correct decision, but certainly a hasty one after 20 games in charge. "Graham Rodger has been most loyal and dedicated servant to the Club, which started back in 1992, he has qualities this Club needs, the shame of it is that this man deserved better. Sadly, he has become a victim of circumstances' fallen in his current roll due to the unrelenting pressures and lack of patience that surrounds football." someone wrote. That 'someone' is a club statement, describing it's own shameful and impatient treatment of its manager.

The club appears to have been blaming the fans for having to sack him. Can we really call that effective leadership?

August 2007
Grimsby Town's ongoing spat with BBC Humberside reaches a new milestone when they award broadcasting rights to Compass FM, a radio station that can hardly be heard outside the immediate area of Grimsby and Cleethorpes and has no experience in sports broadcasting.

December 2007
John Fenty's complaint to Ofcom about BBC Humberside's coverage of Grimsby Town is thrown out on every count.

October 2009
Mike Newell is sacked. Certainly, in the light of what we know now, the correct decision, but just one week after John Fenty had said "Players, who think another two games and we will have a new manager and a new opportunity to hang on, must think again." Whatever way you read that, it hardly suggests good stewardship.

February 2011
One day, John Fenty told the world that "If we didn't believe in what Neil Woods was doing, we would make a change but that's not the case.". Next day, he sacked Neil Woods. Fenty usually insists on the confidentiality of boardroom decision-making, but he was willing to make clear he had been against appointing Woods in the first place.

Woods, like Rodger before him, was becoming the target of fan abuse. It is worth bearing in mind their treatment by the board when later it claimed credit for persevering with Paul Hurst.

March 2012
The Mariners Trust is donated £200,000 worth of shares by Mike Parker. Fenty claims the club will run out of money and have to sell key players unless the trust hands the shares over to him. Years later, he said he had no recollection of making that threat, but it hung over the discussion and ballot on the issue - he certainly didn't deny it at the time. Is this the behaviour of a man who has been "a strong supporter of the Mariners Trust from inception"?

March 2012
A judge determines that John Fenty has "acted recklessly" after Boston United successfully sues the club over the poaching of their joint managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst. Boston were asking for £10,400 in compensation. The case ended up costing Town about £40,000, as well as damaging our reputation.

April 2013
John Fenty snaps a flag being waved in the directors box by a family member of a Newport director during a game. The boy was 10 years old.

July 2013
John Fenty demands that the Fishy's messageboard is shut down.

September 2013
After joint-manager Rob Scott is suspended and Town are beaten 4-0 at Halifax, John Fenty calls a BBC Humberside phone-in to berate it's journalists for asking whether the two facts could possibly be related. Yet another instance of Fenty blaming journalists for being journalists.

June 2016
Pádraig Amond, after scoring 30 goals in 2015-16, is offered only a one-year contract, the two-and-a-half year deal he had asked to defer talks on earlier in the year withdrawn. Amond leaves, and Town have been finding goals hard to come by ever since. It is possible that manager Paul Hurst had doubts about Amond - although all Podge's utterances about his time at Grimsby suggest otherwise. The episode is certainly reminiscent of Fenty's earlier treatment of John McDermott.

August 2016
Andy Carr is sacked as the mascot Mighty Mariner after he calls for a boycott of B-team matches. As getyourfactsright, John Fenty moves in the space of one Fishy posting from saying Carr is a valued employee to claiming not to have known he is paid at all. To replace Carr, the club launches a scheme where fans pay to be Mighty Mariner.

Fenty had voted for the inclusion of B-teams in the Football League Trophy, apparently wih no reference to the rest of the board. He says he only did so after being reassured that the move would not be the "thin of the wedge" to having B-teams in the League; a reassurance that is less than reassuring when in May Fenty had said "I'd much rather see the introduction of Premier League reserve teams in an expanded, regional League Two... Games against, say Man United under-23s would be sure to enhance attendances."

October 2016
After five years at Blundell Park, Paul Hurst leaves for Shrewsbury. In a secretly-recorded discussion, Fenty will claim it was the fans who drove Hurst out. Hurst has since made clear he left when his hopes of strengthening the coaching staff were not just rejected but belittled ("When did a fitness coach last win three points on a Saturday" or words to that effect.) Ironically, after alienating the only man in the 21st century to have got Town promoted, Fenty then gave the resources he had denied Hurst to his successors: Marcus Bignot then Russell Slade.

April 2017
Marcus Bignot is sacked as manager after just five months. The board didn't like his approach apparently. If only they'd thought to ask him what his approach would be before they appointed him. Fenty said one reason for his dismissal was the size of the squad Bignot had recruited - something Fenty had been boasting about in January.

August 2017
When the Internet Mariners organise a charity match against the Donny R'sonists to express their opposition to B-teams in the Football League Trophy, they find offers to host the match are mysteriously withdrawn. Lucarlys "are concerned about how they will be viewed in future" if they host a charity match. Bradley Pitches are concerned at how it might affect their relationship with Grimsby Town. 

November 2017
Most club directors would use a fans' forum to improve their relationship with supporters. Not ours, not this time. Fenty set the tone when, posting as getyourfactsright on the Fishy, he made clear he was preparing for a confrontation.

Over the course of an evening, we were then told that the fans were to blame for the lack of investment in the club. That Operation Promotion had made no positive difference. That the fans only had themselves to blame for being made to show their bras if they were women, or use toilet facilities in front of female stewards if they were men, at Stevenage. It was fellow director Steven Marley who told a fan - at an occasion intended to give fans a voice - to "shut up". But it was Fenty who had set the tone.

Fenty and Slade also used the occasion to pursue their spat with BBC Humberside, Two weeks before, Matt Dean had reported rumours that Curtis Woodhouse was going to be added to the club's coaching staff. It was an issue that the club and BBC Humberside had resolved the week before, but Fenty and Slade reopened it, grilling Dean, who was chairing the meeting.

August 2019
James McKeown is described by John Fenty as "hauling the club over the coals a little bit" when he asks for an improved contract. 14 years on from the original Macca, and Fenty still appeared to think popular players should not expect to be paid as well as praised.

In the same interview, Fenty tells us the stadium manager, Nick Dale, is doing "a great job". That's the Nick Dale who the week before had said Town were the one team other clubs don't want to play because of our alleged hooligan problem, and was revealed to have cost the club a £15,000 fine after failing to act on police intelligence before a game against Port Vale which was interrupted by crowd fighting.

November 2019
Michael Jolley leaves Grimsby by mutual consent. The club was preparing a disciplinary hearing over a foul-mouthed rant our then-manager had directed at Matt Dean the month before, fortuitously leaked the day after Jolley's departure. There is no evidence BBC Humberside had formally complained about the incident, which John Tondeur had discussed, and resolved, with Jolley a few days after it happened.

Curiously, Fenty was particularly concerned that Jolley had drawn attention to the limited playing budget available to him. He also suggested that the idea of a long-term strategy had been mainly Jolley's: success in football comes quickly or not at all, apparently.

February 2020
John Fenty confirms that there will be no takeover of Grimsby Town, blaming interested bidders for delaying the club's relocation to Freeman Street. This despite the fact he had only admitted a few months before that there were any takeover talks, and that as recently as January 2019 he had still been describing Peaks Parkway as the best option for a new ground. Who knows how much time, and money, was wasted on that particular project.

Additional research by Peter Anderson