Gazette Column 10/12/2021
Blackpool fans know only too well what it is to live in a state of perpetual crisis, where you dread the next negative headline and know that every plot twist in your club's story will make it feel worse.
So on the eve of our game at Pride Park we should spare a thought for the supporters of Derby County, who face an existential threat that is, in its way, every bit as bad as the crisis that we were trapped in during the period from 2015-2019. How would you feel if you supported a club that :
• is marooned at the bottom of the Championship as the result of a 21 point deduction
• is not only in administration, but still trying to unravel the financial irregularities that got it into trouble (and a further points penalty) in the first place
• is trying to find a new owner for a club that is not only headed for League One, but also saddled with debts that are conservatively estimated to be in excess of £50m - as well as uncertainty about the future of the stadium it plays in
• knows that should no buyer be found, liquidation of a proud institution remains a real possibility?
Such is the plight that Derby fans find themselves in today.
How did it come to this? Every misfortune has many authors, but in this case it is difficult to look beyond the club’s former owner, Mel Morris, and the EFL.
At BST we have long said that the massively inequitable way that money moves around the football pyramid encourages reckless behaviour, as Championship owners in particular chase the pot of gold that comes with promotion. From our point of view, Derby are a model case study in how badly this can go wrong. Mr. Morris spent lavishly on wages that took Derby close to the precipice on Financial Fair Play, effectively sold the stadium to himself to inflate turnover (mortgaging it in the process), took a novel approach to EFL accounting rules and has been less than assiduous in the timely publishing of accounts. That he has chosen to put the club in administration and effectively walk away from the chaos this has wrought is causing real anger amongst Derby fans and is impossible to justify.
The EFL have not covered themselves in glory whilst all this has been going on. It remains a mystery to us that clubs selling their stadia to arms-length companies is not only acceptable, but does not seem to raise any red flags with the people who are supposed to be regulating the game.
As regards the way in which clubs depreciate the book value of players for accounting purposes (known as amortisation), again, Derby can be forgiven for feeling that they got mixed messages from the EFL. At first this was waved through, and the EFL only belatedly revisited the issue to change their minds after representations from other clubs.
Worst of all though, is the pace at which this saga has played out. Like Sheffield Wednesday before them, Derby have had to endure an often opaque and inordinately lengthy investigative process that in both cases unfolded over the course of more than one footballing season. And, for the second season in a row, it looks almost certain that points deductions from the EFL will be crucial in determining exactly who gets relegated from the Championship.
So much for “managing the integrity of the competition” ….. something of a hollow boast for an organisation that this year went to the extraordinary lengths of publishing provisional fixtures lists for Derby and Wycombe Wanderers because they couldn’t be sure which Division the two clubs would finish up in. It is little wonder that Tracey Crouch and her panel concluded that the football authorities can no longer credibly hope to have a role in regulating the English game - a job that they are manifestly unfit for.
As ever, the people who suffer the most are the ones who are least to blame. Some people accuse Derby fans of living the high life while Morris was spending his way to disaster, but in truth, there was no high life to be lived. The club flirted with promotion to the promised land, but ultimately failed to make it. Now fans find themselves trying to raise money to reimburse local creditors - like St. John’s Ambulance, to name but one - who have been left high and dry after providing goods and services that have not been paid for. That the fans should be prepared to do this reflects enormous credit on them - but the fact that they feel obliged to leaves a very sour taste.
Saturday represents a chance for our supporters to show some solidarity. We, of all people, know how this feels. We, of all people, are most determined that it should not happen to anyone else, and are campaigning hard at the national level to make sure that it doesn’t in future.
It is not that long ago that a couple of hundred of us stood in the away end at Pride Park and listened to three sides of the ground continually chanting “Oyston Out” in a remarkably generous display of support. They could have mocked us, as we were clearly going down. They could have revelled in our discomfort as their team trounced ours on the pitch. Instead, they chose to embrace our cause. Hopefully, on Saturday, the away end will repay that kindness.