When the Covid 19 pandemic swept across the world and fans were no longer allowed to attend football games club across Europe were plunged into a financial crisis.
My immediate thoughts turned to clubs in the lower levels of the Football League Pyramid whose very operation depends on match day income and sponsorship. Without fans attending games, there was no reason for businesses to spend money on match day advertising. And as you go further down the Pyramid and into the National League and below, entire competitions were abandoned and decided on a Points per game basis. Unfairly relegating some and promoting other while some still had 3 or 4 games in hand.
Amazingly through it all, the Covid pandemic only claimed one club, Macclesfield Town, and it seemed as though that wasn’t really a Pandemic issue more as an unfortunate owner issue that the Football League wanted to relieve themselves of as quick as possible.
Over the last 18 months Football has banded together to keep it alive and running as normal as possible, and the scenes we’ve seen since the start of this season have been heart-warming. Packed stadiums full of fans both home and away, and everything seems to be running as normal.
And then, just as everything was going smoothly, Derby County owner Mel Morris is set to appoint administrators after the club has suffered partially because of the Covid 19 pandemic but largely due to his inability to find a successful buyer of the club.
On top of the club going into administration likely next week, they will be incurring 12-point deduction as a result, on top of a further 9-point deduction as a result of a breach of the EFL Championships FFP rules. After barely escaping relegation last season, Derby have had a good start to the season and currently sit in 12th on 10 points.
Considering the amount of off field issues surrounding the club and its limitations in the transfer market, current manager Wayne Rooney has done an amazing job considering. With the potential and likely 21-point deduction inevitably on the horizon, it would be one hell of a job for Wayne and his team to pull off what they did last season. I can’t help but also think about how Wycombe fans must feel considering they were the team who went down instead of Derby on the final day of the season.
My biggest worry for Derby fans right now is that 6 months down the road a buyer isn’t found and then somewhere further down the road they end up under the threat of removal from the football league, much like a team near and dear to my heart Bury FC. Bought by a man that was approved by the EFL themselves, who never proved he had the funds to run a Football Club, and slowly watched the club die under his control. For legal reasons I won’t mention his name, because even though we may be small now. I don’t want him to get in the way of a new buyer of Bury FC, the potential return to the football league and Gigg lane is too important.
A worrying trend has developed over the last few years, particularly in the Northwest of England with a number of clubs flirting with extinction. Bolton were just days away from the same fate as Bury before they were saved. Wigan went months waiting for administrators to find a buyer, being kept alive with the amazing fundraising efforts of the Wigan Supporters trust. Rochdale were in a similar situation but thanks to the passion of the fans it was sorted with relative ease.
Charlton while not from the Northwest were also very close to a sad fate before a seemingly perfect buyer stepped in, and so far, Charlton fans are happy. Even at this very moment, the fans of Oldham are protesting their club’s owner who has them well and truly in the danger of dropping out of the football league and seems to be blaming the fans for the situation. He has an over-inflated value on the club that doesn’t come close to the club’s real value. And this will only get worse if the club falls out of the Football League.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 14 years since Derby were in the premier league. And up until last season they were a competitive side in the Championship. Mel Morris has been trying to sell the club for some time now, but administration is never good. Even when, and I hope it’s a “when” they find a buyer and they get through this troubling time, it will be a long time before we see the Derby we used to know.
This issue is an ever present one in English football. An independent review has handed down a lot of recommendations for the both the Premier League and Football Leagues to consider implementing. Gary Neville has been a vocal supporter of the findings and recommendations and fully supports the implementation of an independent regulator to oversea football in the UK.
My thoughts on the derby issue are positive. There’s a lot of benefits to someone coming in and buying Derby County even if they drop into League One. All I think a potential buyer will see out of that is a price cut. They have a passionate fan base and a history of success. When the right owner comes along, the future will be bright. Its now on the EFL and the Administrators to make sure they find the right buyer for Derby’s sake and Football in general.