Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

For Cod’s Sake! The Tale of the Grimsby Town Takeover

Posted on 12 February 2021 by Sam Stephenson

Blundell Park, the home of Grimsby Town, has seen many an on field drama over the years, but nothing quite like the events off the field over Christmas [credit: MapsMan (Wikicommons licence)] 
What comes to mind when one pictures the sale of a football club?

Mysterious suit-clad figures chatting in the directors’ box? Perhaps representing a third party, who themselves represent a third party?

Perhaps the news of a takeover breaking unexpectedly, journalists rushing to twitter to be the first to confirm the scoop.

What about the majority shareholder and the chairman issuing a succession of highly emotional public statements on the club’s official website, each more confusing and alarming than the last?

This is the situation that engulfed fishing port club Grimsby Town over the Christmas period.

It was back in the late 1990s that John Fenty first became involved with the club.

He soon grew from being another unassuming shareholder to the controlling party at the club.

Under his leadership, the club has endured relegation, promotion, potential stadium moves and an infamous Ofcom complaint after he was referred to on air as a “plonker” by a BBC Radio Humberside reporter.

So, the question is, how did Fenty go from a tolerated stable owner, to issuing rambling statements late at night just before Christmas in a desperate attempt to be bought out?

Thanks, but no thanks Mr May

In early December a new face was spotted taking his seat in the directors’ box at Blundell Park.

With talk of Fenty’s desire to sell up already gathering pace, anybody seen chatting to club chairman Philip Day was always going to arouse interest.

But whilst some fans might have been hoping that the figure in question might have been their saviour in a suit and tie, they could not have been more wrong.

Alex May, born Alick Kapikanya, was a convicted fraudster.

(Left) Alex May pictured entering Blundell Park [credit: Anonymous by request.] (Right) Cleethorpes beach front [credit: MOTORAL 1987]
Back in 2014, May hit headlines in Manchester after it came to light that he had been the mastermind behind a scam which involved May and his associates posing as elderly homeowners in the area to secretly gain ownership of their houses and then repeatedly re-mortgage them.

The plan saw him and others pocket around £3.5 million and May enjoy a life of luxury, even travelling around town in chauffeur-driven limousines.

But his crimes caught up with him eventually and he was sentenced to six years in jail.

Yet despite all this John Fenty was keen to do business with May, going so far as to set up a company with him.

But thanks to the work of James Findlater, writer for Grimsby Live, May’s interest in Fenty’s shares did not stay secret for long.

“We’d been tipped off that he’d been turning up to games this season,” Findlater said. He added: “So we ran the story that he was looking to invest in the club and given his past the fans weren’t too happy about it.”

In the end, May’s offer to the board to purchase £1 million of shares was rejected, but the damage had been done.

“I’ve always assumed that he’s [Fenty] a bumbling idiot at best,” remarked Alex Green, host of the DN35 Grimsby Town podcast, “but I never thought he’d willingly put the club at risk,” he added.

The fans were left shocked that May had come so close to taking control of their club, and, to make matter worse, it also came to light that whilst Fenty had been in correspondence with May, a consortium headed by Tom Shutes was also in talks to buy the club and were unaware May’s involvement.

All of this finally came to a head on the 23rd of December.

The nightmare the night before the night before Christmas

The first inkling fans got that something might be going slightly wrong behind the scenes came at 9:20am when manager Ian Holloway, only six days after issuing a statement committing to the club, announced his resignation.

Holloway, a man not known for his restraint, was surprisingly calm in the statement, commenting: “It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my resignation as manager of Grimsby Town Football Club.”

For Holloway it was clear that with Fenty selling up he simply did not see a place for himself at the club, perhaps unsurprisingly as it was Fenty who persuaded Holloway to come onboard in the first place.

Embed from Getty Images

Ian Holloway in an typical frustrated fashion as Grimsby take on Leicester City’s under 21’s in the Papa John’s Trophy

As for the timing of Holloway’s statement, Findlater remarked: “We kind of got the inkling that he was getting itchy feet as it were, and that he might just up and leave at any point, but the timing was a bit interesting to say the least…”

So, Holloway was out, but Fenty still had yet to finalise a deal to sell his stake in the club, and it soon became clear that Day’s was patience was slipping.

Such feelings soon boiled over in the form of a public statement issued later that same day on the club’s official website by Day.

The statement was unique to say the least, firstly setting out the three ways in which anyone, if they so desired, could go about purchasing control of Grimsby Town.

Day went on to add, in an unmistakably sour tone, that running the club had been made: “Doubly difficult when individuals professing to want to acquire the club have done so in the public domain but have not progressed their intentions with actions,” before confirming that the no party has come forward with such actions.

But Day’s comments were nothing compared to what John Fenty himself had in store.

The Last Hurdle

Fenty’s statement started casually enough, with the confirmation of his desire to sell up and move on.

But the rest of the announcement was ever so slightly less so, to put it mildly.

After confirming that the deal with the consortium headed by Tom Shutes was off, Fenty went on to declare just why he had rejected the offer, which amounted to the consortium’s unwillingness to repay money put in by Fenty himself to help stave off the debts the club had when he took over, “approximately £5 million in today’s money,” according to Fenty.

(Left) Majority shareholder John Fenty [credit: Grimsworth] (Right) On the pitch, Town have not fared well in recent weeks. They are bottom of League 2 and have taken one point from the last five games
He went on to add: “I do not think I am being unreasonable at all. I know that at least two of the consortium members are very wealthy indeed, so I do struggle to understand why there is all the faffing around.”

Fenty was trying to control the narrative around the takeover and, simultaneously, pile more pressure on the consortium themselves to act.

But fans saw the statement for what it was, a last desperate attempt to salvage his legacy at the club.

“It came across as a statement put out by a man who was losing his position of power,” said Green.

Finally, on the 29th of December, Grimsby Town fans read the club statement they had been dreaming off, declaring that an agreement with the consortium had at last been reached.

John Fenty was going.

We only sing when we’re selling

Currently, the sale is still waiting to be rubber stamped by the EFL, but there is little doubt that it will go through.

In doing so, it brings an end to over 20 years of John Fenty at Grimsby Town.

The December dealings by Fenty have without question left a very bitter taste in the mouths of loyal supports.

But time is a great healer, especially in sport. So is there a chance that Fenty will one day be looked back on fondly?

Green is highly doubtful: “He’ll be seen as the worst owner the football club ever had.

“I don’t think he’s left anything to the next generation. The only thing he did was put in new floodlights and that’s probably only because the old ones were like 70 years old!”

But at least, and at last, fans can put the madness of December behind them and begin to go back to focusing on the madness of the real world instead.