This one is going to more personal than other pieces I have written. As some may or may not know. I am a Derby County supporter. I have been supporting the club since 1997. There have been lots of ups and downs, but this is probably one of the scariest times to be a fan of The Rams.
Some background and information to catch you up to speed on the current situation: Not too long after missing out on promotion to The Premier League in 2014 (losing 1-0 to QPR in the Playoff Final), the club was purchased by local businessman Mel Morris. Morris was a Derby supporter all his life and made his money after being the Chairman of King, Inc. – the company behind Candy Crush Saga. The club preceded to break its transfer record three times over the next four years as the club pushed again and again for promotion.
However, with all of this going on, the club was not making much money in terms of player sales or other income to keep this kind of spending sustainable. Player salaries went from 70% of turnover to over 150% of turnover. Several seasons in a row Mel himself warned that spending needed to be cut back but it never was. He also sold Pride Park to himself in order to balance the club’s finances, but that has also seems to have come back to bite us.
Various fan accounts and blogs (such as the brilliant Derby County Blog from Ollie Wright) warned for several seasons that this was unsustainable and that sooner or later it would catch up with the club. Which brings us to now. It has caught up with the club. The club owes a massive amount to the taxman, which Mel Morris does have the money to pay, since he still has vast amounts of wealth, but instead he decided to put the club into administration, which saw us docked 12 points. This felt like a giant stab in the back from Mel, who seems to be sulking because he did not get his way and is making the club suffer for it.
It also turns out that he had been reaching out to administrators since the beginning of September. Add this to the fact that our manager, Wayne Rooney had not spoken to him in months and that the players, Rooney and the club staff found out the administration news from Sky Sports rather than being told what was going to happen shows how awful Mel has handled this situation.
As an aside, docking clubs points for this only really hurts the supporters as the owners tend to be able to duck out of financial obligations. The supporters should not be punished for the actions of their owners. The system must change, but it appears the EFL only cares about punishing the clubs and supporters themselves, rather than any owners.
Throughout this whole nightmare, Derby have been under transfer embargo and have only been able to sign a few players on frees and for less than 4,500 pounds a week salary. As you can imagine, this has severely impacted the club’s ability to recruit. We have lost several players on frees because we could not renew theirs deals and many of our players are on reduced salaries. Now, with the club being in administration that means that some people will lose their jobs (some already have) and players might be sold to help reduce debts.
There is also the fact that the EFL is considering a further 9-point punishment with 3 suspended, though the administrators have publicly been confident of working something out. Also, according to the admins, there have been several parties interested in buying the club and they think they will be able to solve everything within the next 3 months. While that seems great, us supporters are still pushing and preparing for the worst and are making sure that the club does not sleepwalk towards oblivion.
One of the positive things about administration has been the fact that most news is actually public, and the admins have been holding press conferences and been open with supporter’s groups. The last half year or so had seen the club been quiet on everything going on and even when there was a meeting with supporters, the supporter’s groups’ representatives were forced to sign NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) to legal bind them from telling everyone what they had been learned at the meeting.
The admins have also stressed that the club needs money in the short term to pay-off its debts. This would come from matchday tickets and other income such as merchandise sales. This also looks good to potential investors because it shows that the supporters do support the club financially as well. Though, I will admit, there is something perverse about making the supporters open their wallets more and spend spend spend as a way to help the club or make it look appealing to potential buyers.
Another positive thing about this whole situation is that the players, the staff and the supporters are all pulling in the same direction. Players are performing very well given the circumstances and are playing with a lot of pride. Supporters are helping buy each other tickets to help fill the stands, there has been some fundraisers done to help financially support staff who were laid off. “We’re all Derby, aren’t we?” has been a common phrase among supporters, but I have never seen it fulfill its meaning more fully at any other time than now.
It has been a strange journey for me personally, as well. I lived in Derby for close to 5 years, so they were my local club. Now, people could (not wrongly) accuse me of being stubborn to keep supporting Derby after all the club has been through, even before current circumstances. There have been times when people questioned why I could not support a different club. One of my managers at my old job often asked me why I wouldn’t support a more successful team – or at least a team that wins more and the answer is pretty simple: Derby is my club.
They may not be the club closest to me, that honour goes to Albirex Niigata – who I also follow but not in the same way, but Derby is my club. I don’t think I could stop supporting them if I tried. Aside from some musicians I listen to, Derby have been the one constant in my life. No matter what has been going on, if Derby has a match, my attention is on that match. I even wore a Derby kit under my suit when I got married.
I once tried to get a trial with the club, calling them several times and speaking with some of the scouts. Honestly, I was not going to ever get to that level, but it was a dream of mine just to train with the club. During the 2007/2008 season – the infamous 11-point one – I flew out to London for the weekend to watch Derby get hammered by Arsenal at the Emirates (one of my best friends is an Arsenal season ticket holder). It was crazy but absolutely worth it. I remember blowing almost $200 on a kit and some shirts one year because I got hit by tariffs when having it shipped to the US. Again, totally worth it. Heck, I used to listen to matches on an earpiece radio during my Saturday classes at school. I think I even still have a newspaper match report from the away win against Man Utd that kept us up in the 2000/2001 season. Random memories and pieces for some, but a part of me keeping my connection to Derby. I still purchase the home kit every season and the away kit most seasons as well. I own several books on Derby County and have a lot of training wear pieces I use when I play as well.
Derby County is my club, and though I am thousands of miles away, it still feels close to me, and going to the stadium always feels like going somewhere I belong. That is something I do not think will ever change.
Header Photo Credit: DCFC Official