So, here we are. I’ve sat through 5 gruelling hours of Peterborough United’s historic televised shambles, and we’re approaching the end of our journey. What a terrible shame.
We jump straight into the action: the dust hasn’t yet settled on Steve Bleasdale’s dramatic flounce and there are plenty of deckchairs that need to be rearranged on Posh’s sinking promotion ship. Thankfully, Ron Atkinson is heading to London Road to offer some relief. Lucky us. As Ron is being chauffeured around the East Midlands, Barry Fry’s phone is ringing non-stop, with every media outlet that cares seeking a scoop from Baz. That’s about 3 people then. After being convinced by a baby-faced Phil Adlam, Fry relents, explaining to ITV Anglia the events of the weekend and how “I’m in charge now. Simple”. Barry, Barry, Barry; it’s anything BUT simple mate.
Ron is finally in a PE postcode to help Fry on the training pitch. Lucky players. The decades of experience Atkinson has accumulated make for a cutting edge session… “We’ll have a practice match lads!” he proclaims. This is the perfect opportunity for Ron to continue his bizarre vendetta against Dave Farrell by slagging off his every move and also demonstrate the fact he can’t remember anybody’s name (“Go on lad, look, your mate’s open!”). Crucially though, everyone involved enjoyed it, and Tony Godden, Sean St Ledger and Paul Carden are eager to brown nose Ron in front of the cameras. He told you to play a practice match lads, this isn’t a reinvention of the wheel.
Back to more serious business: Steve Bleasdale is due to return to London Road to talk over what happens next. Steve is accompanied by his wife Karen (to offer moral support), while Fry has invited CEO Bob Symns to sit in on the meeting (to offer some sensible ideas to go with Barry’s bullshit). You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Or Fry’s tongue: “Steve mate, when you walked, my bollocks fell out” [JB: VOMIT BREAK]. Bleasdale clearly regrets his decision, explaining how he has a wife, kids, a big mortgage and now, no job. Steve later goes on to explain his actions: “Ron was sat with me and said me body language was bad. Dat did me in me brain”. Credit to Fry, he has sympathy with the beleaguered Scouser, and comes to a generous (well, that’s the implication) financial arrangement with Steve to send him on his way. And with that, Bleasdale disappears from the club, from Peterborough, from the documentary and from the football world. (I got bored one night and looked up what Steve is doing now; I reckon he’s the only wedding photographer on Merseyside with a UEFA Pro coaching badge).
Remarkably, despite the string of disasters that 2006 had in store for Posh, the club were only outside of the playoffs due to Lincoln City scoring just one more goal than their rivals down the A15. This is obviously as good as it was going to get: Posh’s final matches of the season are tricky ties in the shape of Leyton Orient and Wycombe, and the team is being selected by caretakers Atkinson and Fry. To aid the final promotion push, legendary Ken Charlery is back in the building; Kenny is kind of Cambridgeshire’s answer to the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse, only turning up on a temporary basis as things start go really tits up in PE2… And of course, he’s back again. After a few days of archaic training, the penultimate matchday of the season arrives, and it’s a trip to Brisbane Road; this journey was accompanied by ‘Mr Brightside’ for the umpteenth time of the documentary. I rather liked The Killers when we started this series, but if I hear Brandon Flowers coming out of his cage one more time, I will have a breakdown.
Inside the changing room, we have a perfect opportunity to observe the subtle differences between Ron and Baz’s management techniques: a few quiet words of advice from Ron are complemented by the bellows of “C’mon! Good luck! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” from everyone’s favourite director of football. And onto the match we go…
Despite a bright start, Posh fall behind to a penalty after 15 minutes, after Phil Bolland handled the ball in clear sight. A lifeline is incredibly thrown to the visitors: Orient’s Paul Connor lashed out at Paul Carden and is shown the red card. Despite the numerical advantage, Posh just cannot capitalise, and go back down the tunnel trailing the O’s. After Atkinson again uses his calm, composed approach on individual players (and gets his traditional pop at David Farrell out of the way), Fry steams in claiming “you lot will not have a better chance of winning a game as long as you have a holes in your arses”. Given that most of this series has been Ron and Barry planting their tongues firmly in Sean St Ledger’s, we know that this is definitely the case.
In spite this rousing talk, Posh (inevitably) fall 2-0 down. Opara grabbed a late goal, but all that it turned out to be was a consolation. Ron hurries the squad into the dressing room, telling them to keep their chins up because ‘you never know what might happen [in the final round of fixtures]’. But everyone does know, Ron. This dejected, downtrodden side are not going to perform the miracle needed to secure the last play off place. A big win against their bogey side Wycombe AND Rochdale beating Lincoln is about as likely as Barry Fry not whinging about how hard done by he is for a whole hour.
Speaking of which, as we cut to Monday morning, Baz hobbles out of his Merc with a single crutch by his side due to his hip playing up. He’s complaining about the deal that was made over his head to sell Jimmy Bullard to Wigan a few years prior, and how fans ‘facking hate me but don’t care about the people who made that deal that lost us money’. This financial flounce is a neat segue into Ron’s cutting edge idea of a Posh golf day, which is finally taking place. Atkkkinson has secured some ‘mega stars’ such as David Seaman, Roger Hunt ( those two are impressive to be fair), David Hirst (hmmm, if you say so) and ‘funny’ man Stan Boardman. I’m gutted I missed it. All of my piss taking aside, it was a profitable day for the club, mainly due to the auction held after the conclusion of the game, featuring some impressive signed memorabilia. Barry Fry demonstrated that his ability to spout hyperbolic bollocks isn’t limited to his own players, as he tried to drum up interest for a shirt signed by the England squad at the imminent 2006 World Cup. “C’monnnnn, you’ve got the chance to buy a future WORLD CHAMPIONS’ shirt here!” This extracted £1100 out of some poor soul, who I’m sure has made Scott Carson and Stewart Downing’s signatures pride of place in their living room.
Anyway, back to a sport I (apparently) know something about. Posh’s final match of this topsy turvy 2005/06 campaign comes against the Chairboys of Wycombe. I would put in a joke along the lines of ‘Posh have done enough sitting on their arses’, but in truth, I can’t be bothered any more. Fry gives out some original and helpful advice in the form of ‘Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!’ as Posh set about doing the impossible to secure a play off place. Jermaine Easter’s early goal meant the wheels came off Posh’s promotion bus (which at this stage resembled a unicycle), and late home goals at Sincil bank coupled with Mike Williamson taking the chance to double Wycombe’s lead meant Posh finished 6 points off of the last play off place. The customary noughties end of season pitch invasion happened right on cue, as the Posh faithful made their feelings towards the owner known.
This was legendary winger Dave Farrell’s last Posh match, (to date) Fry’s last ever match as a manager, and with some sad music in the background, it was the last time Atkinson walked out of London Road. With the season over and everyone at the club forced to take part in Sky interviews, you’d think Ron had turned the Nene into pure spray tan. Ryan Semple and Danny Crow agreed that Ron had ‘improved everyone and everything’, whilst Barry Fry (wearing his summer gear) told the viewers that ‘Ron Atkinson has been tremendous for this football club. You got value for money with everything that happened!!’ Jeff Stelling implied Ron practically saved the club; the narrative the producers created against Bleasdale/in favour of Atkinson was paper thin and biased beyond belief. A small postscript to the series included the fates of plenty of the featured players, and told viewers how a new chapter would be written during the 2006/07 season, with Keith Alexander now at the helm. They certainly got that right.
Posh were humiliated on the small screen and the narrative of Ron being the messiah that the production company so desperately tried to emphasise painted plenty in a bad light. Steve Bleasdale is probably the biggest victim in all of this, as he was parachuted into a difficult situation upon being made caretaker, and Ron’s involvement complicated things further. We’ll never know if Bleasdale’s good start would have carried on had he been left to his own devices, but it is a fact that Posh finished in a worse position than they were in when Atkinson entered the building. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but in this case it probably does. Luckily, this was a final hurrah in Fry’s shambolic ownership of Posh, as a mysterious young Irishman bought the club a few weeks after the series was broadcast. I wonder how that story goes…
But that, as they say, is that with regards to Big Ron Manager. Thank Christ I don’t need to watch anymore of that shit. Danny Crow’s bowels, Sean St Ledger’s twattishness, Njaz Kuqi’s debut, Barry Fry’s (literal and metaphorical) bollocks, Steve Bleasdale’s battlecry and of course Big Ron’s lasagne are all etched into my memory now, and I can’t say I’m too happy about that. Thank you for taking the time to read this series and all the positive feedback I’ve received, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you haven’t, I have no idea why you kept reading them.