#SaveDerbyCounty How corporate greed ruined English football
We spoke to Derby fans ahead of their game against Birmingham City to hear their thoughts on the looming threat of Derby County ceasing to exist.
An entire city should not be made to suffer for one man’s recklessness. I should preface the rest of this article by admitting I am by no means a hardcore Derby fan. Even so, the ramifications of Derby County ceasing to exist stretch far beyond the stands. Since 2010 the city has been crippled by austerity. Sports clubs and youth clubs have been shut down. Our high street is abundant with abandoned retail spaces, replaced with betting shops preying on financial desperation. The family owned flower shop I used to get Mother’s Day’s bouquets from, is now a Ladbrokes. There is objectively very little to look forward to in the city. As astronomical rates of male suicide dominate the news, one has to seriously consider the consequences of removing a space where men regularly meet to talk to their friends. The decisions of the super-rich consistently take away so much from ordinary working people, who haven’t done anything wrong.
The nitty gritty details of the financial circus that has led to Derby entering administration are well documented (and extremely boring). All that really needs to be said, is that Mel Morris gambled the future of the club on winning the playoff final vs. Aston Villa in 2019. Had Derby won, the prize money for promotion would’ve been enough to cover the losses of his economic mismanagement over a number of years. Instead, lack of revenue onset by Covid-19 exacerbated the rot. Clearly the man who made his millions through Candy Crush failed to acknowledge that not everything is a game. An entire city should not be made to suffer for one man’s recklessness. I should preface the rest of this article by admitting I am by no means a hardcore Derby fan. Even so, the ramifications of Derby County ceasing to exist stretch far beyond the stands. Since 2010 the city has been crippled by austerity. Sports clubs and youth clubs have been shut down. Our high street is abundant with abandoned retail spaces, replaced with betting shops preying on financial desperation. The family owned flower shop I used to get Mother’s Day’s bouquets from, is now a Ladbrokes. There is objectively very little to look forward to in the city. As astronomical rates of male suicide dominate the news, one has to seriously consider the consequences of removing a space where men regularly meet to talk to their friends. The decisions of the super-rich consistently take away so much from ordinary working people, who haven’t done anything wrong.
The impact on the local economy could be devastating. Hospitality has been blighted over the pandemic. Losing tens of thousands of customers in footfall every weekend could be the final nail in the coffin. Football clubs employ swathes of people who never take to the field or occupy the dugout. My first ever job was catering Derby matches during college. The backroom staff, the media team and countless other people behind the scenes who the ordinary fan doesn’t even know about, potentially face losing their livelihoods because of Mel Morris and the EFL. It’s maddening that for all the bailouts and packages the government are able to offer private businesses, clubs that are integral to communities are left to languish. Obviously, I don’t expect the chancellor to just pay off club debt based on sentiment. Lest Middlesbrough and Wycombe fans submerge the U.K. in tears. But the fact that Mel Morris can wield the power to ruin something for so many people, points to a market that should be regulated better. If you’ve ever tried to build an extension on your house, you’ll know how quickly local governments can bureaucratise things if they want to. So, the fact private businessmen can use entire stadiums or football clubs as personal assets, is evidence that autonomy is disproportionately granted to the wealthy. “You can’t build a conservatory without planning permission, but you can gamble the future of a football club” is not a reasonable precedent, but it’s reality.
"The main thing I keep coming back to is how important the club is to such a massive amount of people. There isn’t a lot going on in Derby and football is what ties so many people together. I can’t say I’ve ever felt particularly proud to be part of the fan base, truthfully it’s full of pricks, but that isn’t a fair reflection on every single person who turns up at pride park each week and I wonder what everyone would do without Derby County should it go under, there isn’t much else going on in this city. The effects it might have could be dire, for a lot of people the football club is all their life. Personally I’d be devastated, and although I consider myself a big Derby fan I know for sure that there are thousands more that are even more emotionally invested than I am, so I’d worry for those people a lot too."
"For me personally it’s about the countless afternoons and late kicks offs with my dad, time I wouldn’t necessarily have spent exclusively with him. It’s about the weekends and away days with my mates, a special environment if there ever was one. The club means everything socially, emotionally and economically. Without it the city would suffer and the people would suffer. I’m lucky enough to have had a season ticket every year for the last 12 seasons, but I always think there are those less fortunate, who going to a game is a very special event. It’s a community and it’s common ground for so many people. I count myself lucky I’ve been able to experience the highs and massive lows of something to culturally significant, a one of a kind experience."
Beyond Derby County, the community element and accessibility of football has been eroded as more money has come into the game. When I was growing up at least one leg of a Champion’s League fixture was on ITV. You now need subscriptions to BT Sport, Amazon Prime and Sky Sports to even be able to watch every televised Premier League game. The romance of the FA cup is premised upon giant killings and smaller local teams having their moment in the sun. You’ll just need BT Sports to see it now, rather than tuning into BBC one. Despite rainbow laces campaigns from the Premier League, they allowed Newcastle to be taken over by a Saudi consortium. Never mind homosexuality being criminalised there. The World Cup this year will be held in Qatar, despite them having no footballing history and the well-publicised thousands of deaths in the construction of stadiums. Who can forget the shambles that was European Super League? You have to question at what point (if any) footballing bodies will prioritise fans, or even human rights, over profit. At some point, surely, you have enough money.
We seem a long way from anything akin to Germany’s 50+1 ownership rule, which basically stipulates that a club and its fans must own a majority stake. As well as a majority share of voting rights on how a club is run. I’ll always remember a German friend I met on my Masters in London telling me that it would be cheaper for him to fly back to Germany and watch Bayern Munich every weekend, than it would be to get an Arsenal season ticket whilst living in London. Football is meant to be a sport for the working class. It would be naïve to think that football has a unifying power that transcends societal difference. Even so, I can’t think of a social space in Derby where you’re as likely to encounter teenagers from Normanton as you are pensioners from Duffield, with the same interest. I think it would be a shame to lose that.
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