Derby’s negotiations with Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers show what can happen when success becomes less about football and more about finances, writes Laura Lawrence.
When is a football debt not a football debt? This is the million-pound question Derby County’s administrators find themselves asking.
The Rams administrators, Quantuma, have said the sale of Derby County hangs in the balance because potential buyers are being put off by legal claims from Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers. While Boro are pursuing a claim of loss of income for failing to make the play-offs in 2019, Wycombe’s claim relates to their relegation from the Championship last season.
Had Derby County been deducted points in either of these seasons for – and I quote from Boro’s club statement – “cheating”, then both clubs claim they would have been either fighting for promotion to the Premier League or maintained their status in Championship. Either way, these were lucrative positions to be in.
Middlesbrough also claim that Derby held up the arbitration procedures to delay a decision. As a consequence, it’s coming back to bite them on the bum.
In normal circumstances when a football club goes into administration, all football-related debt has to be paid back in full. Football-related debt, according to the FA, is debt that “arose directly from football activity”. This could include activity such as player transfer fees or ticket sales. While you’re thinking about this, spare a moment for the non-football businesses owed thousands that are likely to receive little to nothing.
Derby’s administrators are claiming that Boro and Wycombe’s litigious pursuits don’t fall within the defined category. The EFL disagrees. A lengthy Q&A with the Chief Executive, Trevor Birch, laid down the EFL’s position.
Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers are keen to point out that they are not the bad guys in this situation and that Derby’s current predicament is a consequence of their actions. If this is the only sticking point of the survival of Derby County, Boro and Wycombe have to be willing to negotiate, which both say they are prepared to do.
The sad part of all of this is that these clubs should be supporting each other through the league structure to maintain their existence – but because the aggressive pursuit of promotion has become less about the football and more about the finance, it’s become litigious and back-handed.
Whatever is happening off the field, I applaud Derby’s players and Wayne Rooney for the fight they’re showing on the pitch. I only wish Sheffield Wednesday had shown the same passion last season – but then it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re not getting paid.
While Quantuma are looking to pursue a legal ruling on the definition of football-related debt, the reality is this prolongs Derby County’s agony. The goodwill of the clubs they’ve slighted may turn out to be their only hope of survival. Contrition might be their only route.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR