|Derby County 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Monday, 29th November 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Who you gonna call? Preview
Sunday, 28th Nov 2021 10:35 by Clive Whittingham
A favourable weekend of results sets QPR up with a chance to go third in the table with a positive result at Derby who are now embroiled in a financial crisis that’s inevitably been coming for a long time.
Derby (4-10-5 DLLDWD 24th) v QPR (9-5-5 DDWDWW 4th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Monday November 29, 2021 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Calming down after a weekend of sleet >>> Pride Park, Derby
As Derby County’s extortionately expensive administrators start to unpick and unravel the spider’s web of chaos Mel Morris (CBE, because of course he’s got a CBE) wove at Pride Park, so the scale of the excess and deception we all knew was taking place there is being steadily brought out into the light.
Between the club and its parent company, north of £29m is owed to HMRC in unpaid taxes alone. A further £20m is owed to a US company, MSD Holdings (kids ask your parents about ABC Corporation of Panama), from whom Derby had taken loans so it could continue its reckless spend on signing players and firing managers. A further £15m is owed to other creditors. Four years of accounts had to be refiled minus an illegitimate player amortisation work-around Morris was using to cover up the scale of the losses and allow the club to go on spending (explanations here and here). Smith Cooper, the auditor who willingly signed off on those original accounts, had worked with Morris for 20 years prior to his purchase of the club, acted as his adviser in the takeover and subsequently had the North Stand named after them for their diligence.
Now redone without the unicorn sales and fairy dust, they show that Derby breached the league’s FFP/profit and sustainability rules for rolling three-year periods ending in 2016/17 (by £7.76m), 2018/19 (£11.72m) and 2020/21 (£1.96m). This despite the dubious £80m passing of Pride Park from Morris’ left hand to his right hand in 2018/19. Transfer embargoes should have been in place here for most of the last four years and the points that are now being deducted from the club by the dozen should have been coming off far earlier – potentially enough to get Middlesbrough into the 2018/19 play-offs instead of the Rams (Steve Gibson is now pursuing them for £45m in potential lost earnings) and certainly enough to relegate them instead of Wycombe last year (for which another court case must surely be forthcoming). You’d be forgiven for thinking an enormous fraud has occurred here. One wonders how long you or I would be able to file illegitimate accounts and owe HMRC £29m before being hauled up in front of a judge.
In some ways, Morris and Derby were, indeed, unlucky. In 2014, when Morris was a 22% stakeholder set to take full charge of the club, they lost a play-off final at Wembley against Queens Park Rangers which a majority would probably concede they deserved to win. One fewer save from Robert Green, header from Richard Dunne, or swing of the left boot by Bobby Zamora and they’d have been taking a bright young team with a wage bill well south of £30m p/a into the Premier League where they’d have been guaranteed £120m in prize and TV money alone even for finishing dead last. In 2019 they were beaten at Wembley again, 2-1 by Aston Villa, where promotion would have made the whole situation in those introductory paragraphs evaporate overnight. On both occasions they were beaten by teams who were themselves cheating to win promotion at that time: QPR and Villa, like Derby, ignored the rules of the league on profit and sustainability, overspent to a grotesque level and bet the house on a promotion. QPR, on a wage bill of £80m p/a that season, would have been bang in trouble had they lost that afternoon and were eventually fined a world record £42m (split almost equally between a debt write off and a fine the club will be paying off for a decade). Villa, spending even more than that, would have almost certainly gone into exactly the sort of fiery death spiral Derby are now in had it been 2-1 the other way. Sliding doors moments.
But then, there’s nothing particularly unlucky about not getting promoted from the Championship when your already competitive team has had Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Fikayo Tomori dropped into it. That team should have been out of sight, never mind the play-offs, and the media/Redknapp-driven myth that Frank Lampard did a good job there and is some sort of super manager in waiting persists to this day regardless of that colossal underachievement. Nor did Mel Morris’ statement on the club’s official website in September, when he finally admitted defeat and cast the club he supposedly loves out to the wolves, hold much water. There were just shy of 700 words (‘sorry’ not among them), a lot of which pointed the finger at the EFL, but the biggest problem, apparently, was the Covid shutdown. This was/is bollocks. Total bollocks. Derby had been deliberately breaching the league rules, covering it up in doctored accounts and selling their stadium long before we even knew what Covid-19 was. There was no such thing as Covid-19 in the summer of 2019 when, having it transpires already breached the P&L rules for a second time that April, they paid Arsenal £8m for the permanently injured Krystian Bielik. Much of that fee - and the £3.6m they offered Lech Poznan for Kamil Jozwiak in September 2020 when they did know about Covid and were already in breach of the league rules for a third time - is unpaid. Those two transfers form part of £8.37m owed to other clubs. A further £504,000 is owed to agents, including Rooney's Paul Stretford (fuck them though, that’s the only bit of this that’s funny). Covid had nothing to do with them handing a contract worth £37,000 a week to the Championship’s ultimate ‘flatter to deceive’ wide man Tom Lawrence (he is top scorer this season with four, and will score tomorrow night now I’ve called him that, but will be encouraged to leave on a free in January to shed his particular burden from the balance sheet). Nor them deciding to keep Lawrence and Mason Bennett on after their shameful drunken rally drive home from the pub, while at the same time firing captain Richard Keogh who’d only been a passenger in one of the cars (but was older, more severely injured, and therefore unsellable) resulting in the most obvious employment tribunal defeat in history and another £2.3m bled out of the club. This is on Mel Morris, nobody and nothing else.
A better safeguard of clubs in this country would be exactly that – it’s on you. If you want to buy a football club, put a bit of money in, try and take it somewhere, please feel free. FFP-style regulation merely makes an already difficult task for small and mid-range clubs to ever progress above their station nigh on impossible, while the bigger and stronger clubs simply get bigger and stronger still and pull off into the distance. If somebody wants to buy Derby, QPR, Sheff Wed, Coventry, and try and turn them into a Premier League force then they should be allowed to – how quickly fans of both clubs forget, but Chelsea and Man City themselves were once exactly like us before a rich bloke turned up and doped them into mega-club status. If it goes well you become Leicester or Wolves, if it goes wrong you’re Derby or Sheff Wed, but if it does turn out to be the latter then… it’s on you, the owner who decided to do that. Derby shouldn’t owe £29m to HMRC, Mel Morris should. Debts and losses accrued by owners chasing the dream should belong to the owners, not the football club. Make that a rule in football and see how many clubs are quite so keen to run at 204% wages to turnover.
For all of the mistakes QPR’s owners have undoubtedly made, they have at least swallowed the cost themselves, converting all the debt to equity. QPR have wasted colossal amounts of money, but they’re debt free, and own their stadium. Whoever takes over Derby is getting a club that no longer owns its ground, will be in League One without a squad of players, has a list of creditors as long as the A52, and presumably has potential further points deductions still to come if future accounts also breach league rules. Luton Town’s punishments and points deductions went on for so many successive seasons it took them from Championship to Conference. The club has an outstanding academy, which has provided talented boys to the first team by the half dozen in recent years, and even in this current crisis state won 5-3 away to league leaders Arsenal during the week – who knows what will be left of that or the players within it at the end of this. All of it is because of the whims and mistakes of one bloke, and yet Morris just goes back to his big house, blaming everybody but himself, relatively unscathed and debt free, while liquidation remains a strong possibility for the club he left behind. This should be on him, it’s his door they should be knocking on, not Derby County’s.
Among the other creditors are the St John’s Ambulance charity. Theirs is a service required for games to go ahead in this country, and yet they exist as a charity. Every single EFL club that has ever gone into administration, including QPR, went in owing money to St John’s Ambulance and while football creditors have to be paid in full, scandalously, others like this do not. These are frequently local businesses, suppliers and charities - Derby, who also owe East Midlands Ambulance money, have a St John’s Ambulance liability of £8,000. On hearing this news, Rams fans have immediately clubbed together online and raised the sum of money themselves in a matter of days. Because that’s what football fans do in this country – they pick up the pieces. When it all goes to shit, when the circus leaves town, when the administrators move in, when the flames of the fire sale die down, and the place is stripped back to brick, who’s left? The supporters, at the mercy of whatever the rich bloke decides to do with their club, now left rattling buckets, starting all over again in non-league, travelling miles to the club’s new temporary home. “You’ve got to feel sorry for the fans” is like an old shoe, dragged out around the block again as another club goes to the wall leaving the people who love it the most clutching its shattered remains. It’s right, of course. It is terrible for the fans, grossly unfair, leaving them to suffer most having had the least to do with it. All you can do, if Bury is your true love, and Steve Dale is in charge of it, is wait for it to bottom out, and then pick up whatever husk is left and start again.
One small caveat to this though – fans have got to get a bit wiser and savvier to this threat. There is absolutely no appetite from the EFL, the Premier League, the FA, or anybody else involved in the sport in this country to do a single thing about any of this. They are incompetent, lazy, comfortable and utterly, utterly useless. QPR owed the St John’s Ambulance money when they went into admin in 2001, and now here we are in 2021 with the shameful situation still the case. Never mind changing the rule to make the owner liable for the debt, the EFL and the FA have neither the power nor the desire to police the meagre rules they’ve already got. A convicted rapist was allowed to asset strip Blackpool and deliberately run them into the ground through four divisions of a competition that is supposed to have a ‘fit and proper owner test’. Reading have been operating at 200%+ wages to turnover for years now and their punishment for this, belatedly, is a paltry “negotiated” six-point penalty after which they immediately showed exactly how many lessons they’d learned by going out and signing Andy Carroll. What sort of competition is this that has a list of rules that you have to abide by to take part, and a list of punishments applicable when you don’t, and yet when a club breaches those rules we go into a long and drawn out period of arbitration to come up with a “negotiated settlement”? Are they the rules or aren’t they? What’s to negotiate? Nick De Marco already has a QPR season ticket, can we bring him down out of the South Africa Road stand to ‘arbitrate’ when we don’t agree with a penalty kick awarded against us? The governance of the EFL, in particular, is shambolic, which is why clubs challenge it legally and often win, at least in part, when it tries to enforce its own rules.
Whether Tracey Crouch’s review of the governance of the game changes any of this remains to be seen but at the moment there is zero desire or ability to do anything about any of this – neither the leagues nor the FA give a single monkey’s toss who owns your football club, or what they do with it.
So, to a certain extent, as much as possible, you have to. Blackpool ended up being a successful example of this, where the fans were united in a mass boycott of their club, which must have stung the supporters horribly, and support of a court action by shareholder Valeri Belokon which eventually drove the Oyston’s into bankruptcy and relinquished control of the club. Look at Pool go now, feel how that ground rocks every Saturday afternoon, credit to them. Derby fans, without wishing to stick the knife in or kick a man when he’s down, nor make out like this is in anyway their fault when it’s obviously not, should have seen this coming earlier. Protests may have been in vain, it may have made no difference, but they should have at least been happening. There should have been far greater dialogue between owners and supporters, far more questions being asked. Instead, at the risk of judging a club by its online brethren, a section of them rather revelled in Morris’ antics. They got caught up in this modern phenomenon driven by computer games, Sky Sports News and social media that, actually, signing players is the real sport – spending money and signing more footballers is more important and more exciting than the actual matches and if you’re not bringing them in by the truckload you’re “lacking ambition” and not doing it right. Almost every player Derby spent money on under Morris is either still there, or left on a free transfer. The sell-on value for all the outlay was zero. The last time Derby sold a player for money who wasn't from their academy was Matej Vydra four years ago, and even that only washed its face of the £8m+ they'd paid for him in the first place. Signing players and sacking managers to solve every problem is celebrated by the modern fan, fetishised by the league's host broadcaster, but more often than not doesn't work and is almost always ruinously expensive.
Look at the other clubs that have tried that trick of selling a stadium or training ground to the owner to bail themselves out: Sheff Wed, now in a mess in League One; Reading, as stated; and Villa, who would have been in the shit but for a play-off victory against Derby. A club is only doing that if it’s in the last chance saloon. It’s another scandal that the EFL changed its rules, under woefully inept CEO Shaun Harvey, to actually encourage clubs to do this to generate more cash flow. Ignore them. That’s the point, if not before, that it’s time to start getting the flaming torches and pitchforks out. When owners are covering their failure, and bringing in yet more money for yet more wanker footballers and their agents, by separating your club from its single biggest asset, requiring it to pay a rent just to play its home games… you should be getting bloody angry, not preparing ‘HMS Piss The League’ megabantz memes for Twitter. When a usually quiet, publicity-shy, chairman like Steve Gibson – who, say what you like, has run Middlesbrough pretty flawlessly for more than 30 years now – is coming out publicly and saying what your club is doing is wrong, illegal, shouldn’t be allowed and must be stopped, that’s another time to pay attention. Instead, a chunk of Derby fans hailed Morris as some sort of genius, lorded his antics, and targeted Gibson and Middlesbrough for abuse and ridicule.
“Mel’s got the EFL on strings” memes did the rounds, the perpetrators absolutely delighted that another workaround had been found to enable more spending, more players, more wages, more blood. Signing former gambling addict Wayne Rooney from the MLS at 34 on £90,000 a week because an online casino has agreed to pay some of it, and it doesn’t count on the FFP calculation as long as he takes some of the academy lads to Greggs a couple of times a week, is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s not a thing to be celebrated. Your club is broken at this point - start panicking, start sending up flairs, start getting women and children into the boats. Don’t start waving 32Red replica shirts in the air because you’ve got “Roooooooooney” and fucking Forest haven’t. Even now there persists this idea that the league is pursuing some sort of vendetta against Derby – “Gibson’s EFL” is common parlance. I’m sure we’d be pissed off as well but, guys, come on, the reality here is Derby are fortunate it’s only this season and it’s only 21 points. By rights, we should be away at Wycombe tomorrow. And, yes, before you start, we did say and write all of this when QPR were doing similar, as both regular readers will testify to.
I didn’t start LFW 20 years ago because I wanted to do financial journalism in my spare time. I wanted to write match reports, not pore over sets of accounts. But at clubs like QPR, and Derby, that’s what supporters have to do now in this mucky, detestable modern version of our sport. If you’re waiting for the German 50+1 model to come here as a cure-all, you’re going to be waiting a long time and eventually disappointed. Mobilise, scrutinise, protest, hold to account and question. Question, question, question. One thing you can count on for sure is nobody else gives a shit.
Links >>> Home to roost – Interview >>> Running round the Baseball Ground – History >>> Simpson eh – Referee >>> Official Website >>> Derby Telegraph – Local Press >>> Derby County Blog – Contributor’s blog >>> DCFCFans – Forum
Below the fold
Team News: QPR named an unchanged team on Wednesday night against Huddersfield for the first time since the consecutive away wins against Hull and Middlesbrough back in August. Whether they’re able to do so again rather depends on whether Stefan Johansen’s late impact injury, interrupting his best performance of the season, has recovered in time for this one. Andre Gray, Lyndon Dykes and Moses Odubajo face late checks again but other than that it’s likely to be much the same set up. Jordy De Wijs has now been ruled out until the New Year with his calf problem.
Derby’s already threadbare squad is stretched further still by injuries to half a dozen players. Sam Baldock has gone into shock after the comeback win against Bournemouth and will be out for a few weeks. Lee Buchanan blew his knee out in the same game and will miss two months. Festy Ebosele has suffered wanker’s cramp in the last two matches but should be ok for this one. Jack Stretton has the squits while Krystian Bielik probably qualifies for ShopMobility by now. Wayne Rooney would like very much to call up Luke Plange from the U23 squad after the former Arsenal trainee scored against his former club during the week to continue a fine run of recent form, but is forbidden from doing so by the many complicated terms of Derby’s registration embargo.
Elsewhere: A potentially stellar weekend for QPR in which only one of the other teams in the top ten won their game, and even that was Blackburn away at fellow play-off contenders Stoke so wasn’t in itself bad news at all.
The top two were both pegged back late, with our much-loved former full back Todd Kane mishitting a cross into the net to get Coventry a last-gasp 2-2 draw at Bournemouth, and referee Chris Kavanagh missing two handballs and a foul on the keeper as Preston Prestoned a 1-1 out of Fulham at Deepdale. West Brom continued to make a mockery of Sky’s insistence on showing every one of their games on a Friday night by turning in another turgid performance in a 0-0 draw with Florist – Jordan Hugill’s last minute lean-back-and-sky brought back a lot of memories.
Eighth-placed Sporting Huddersfield lost at home to Middlesbrough as Chris Wilder got his first win at the third time of asking, Swanselona in ninth were beaten 3-2 at home by Reading with Andy Carroll registering his first away goal since April 2017, The Marxist Hunters were beaten 2-1 by a suddenly resurgent Hull (four wins in a row now), and Blackpool slipped to a narrow defeat at Birmingham. All that means Blackburn’s impressive 1-0 win at Stoke lifts them to the dizzying heights of fourth – which makes their complete lack of ambition to get anything other than a point at Loftus Road all the more bizarre. It also means QPR could go third with a win at bottom-placed Derby, though there are shades of that game at Swindon which deprived us of the chance to go second in the Premier League all over this one.
That winning run being put together by Hull, and a third win in four games for Steve Morison at Cardiff, is starting to apply pressure to different teams at the bottom. Peterborough and Barnsley rather cancelled each other out in a dire nil nil draw in which a floodlight failure was easily the highlight but proved to be false hope – Barnsley now eight points adrift of safety and Peterborough four. Reading are fourth bottom despite their win, owing to the six point deduction.
Sheffield Red Stripe and Bristol City hover just above this whirlpool ahead of their Sunday lunchtime meet at Bramall Lane. The “his teams always start slow” excuses have run out for Salvisa Jokanovic in South Yorkshire, though replacing him with Paul Heckingbottom on a four-and-a-half-year contract seems every bit as rash as stating “he won’t be judged by what happens on the pitch, just how the football department is running” at his opening press conference. Sheff Utd were doomed as soon as we tipped them for the title in our pre-season preview – two LFW torpedoes slammed right in the side of the ship straight out of the harbour, nobody stood a chance. But few could have expected it to go quite this farcically.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson takes time out from his main pastime of refereeing QPR against Preston to take charge of us against Derby instead. Details.
Derby: The Rams have been deducted 21 points this season, without which they’d be on 22 and nineteenth in the table, below Bristol City but above Hull. They’re the division’s draw specialists – even Millwall can’t match their total of ten, including six of the last nine and five separate 0-0s. One thing Wayne Rooney has shown himself capable of doing as a manager so far is setting a team up to frustrate – 11 draws from 21 league and cup games this season including five 0-0s, to go with another eight stalemates in his time in charge last season of which four were goalless. The defence, led by veterans Richard Stearman and Phil Jagielka (stand up Jags, everybody look at Jags), is good – 18 goals conceded is easily the best total in the bottom half of the table, only top three Fulham, Bournemouth and West Brom have conceded fewer league goals. The attack not so much – 16 goals scored is the worst total in the Championship bar Barnsley (13) and Hull (14). They have proved awkward opponents at Pride Park where only Blackburn have won this season – there have been three victories against Stoke (2-1), Reading (1-0) and most recently Bournemouth (3-2) and five draws. QPR are the only team in the top six the Rams are yet to face this season and they’re yet to lose – beating Bournemouth 3-2 at home, drawing 0-0 at both West Brom and Fulham, beating Stoke 2-1 at home and drawing 1-1 at Coventry. The Bournemouth result last weekend is their only win in nine games, but six of the other eight have been drawn. Tom Lawrence is the top scorer here on four, one ahead of centre back Curtis Davies. Former QPR delinquent Ravel Morrison (best player Fergie ever did see) is, ominously, currently on no goals and one assists in the league from 14 starts and one sub appearance.
QPR: Rangers have lost just two of the last 11 games and are unbeaten in six, with three wins from the last four. They have lost only five of 23 league and cup games this season, and three of those have been away at the top three in the division. Recent improvements have coincided with a significant uptick in the defensive record – six clean sheets in 11 games, three in the last four, four goals conceded in eight games post Fulham thrashing. Rangers conceded 20 goals in their first 12 league games which was the Championship’s worst record bar Peterborough, but they’ve shipped only four in eight since then which means eight sides now have a leakier defence than ours. Blackburn, with 33, have now joined Fulham and Bournemouth as the teams to have scored more goals than our 31, but Luke Amos became the twelfth different Ranger to score already this term with his midweek winner against Huddersfield. That was his first goal since a brace at Barnsley in December 2019, and his only goal for the club at Loftus Road. It also extended our scoring run to 30 consecutive league games, three shy of the club record which was set in 1961/62. Yoann Barbet made his eightieth consecutive league start for the club during the week, and has played all 7,200 minutes of those games. Andre Dozzell has lost only one of his 16 appearances for QPR, and that defeat was at West Brom where he only played 12 minutes. Lee Wallace has lost only four of his 23 appearances in 2021, winning 16. Mark Warburton’s side won two and drew one of their first three away games in the league this season to continue an unbeaten record on the road to eight matches. They then lost four in a row to Bournemouth, West Brom, Fulham and Peterborough but have since rebounded with a win at Cardiff and draw at Blackpool. Fourth after 19 league games is QPR’s best league placing since 2013/14 when they were promoted in the end of season play-off final at Derby’s expense. QPR’s record at Pride Park is really mixed. Initially it was – like Cardiff City Stadium and whatever Leicester call their monstrosity these days – one of those soulless, identikit new grounds that Rangers love to win at – they were unbeaten in their first six visits here, winning three and drawing three. The R’s then went on a run of five consecutive defeats here without scoring a goal, four of them 1-0, before Ebere Eze scored in a 1-1 draw in 2019/20 and Macauley Bonne’s last minute winner here last season brought a first maximum since that remarkable Jim Magilton comeback game in October 2009.
Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. You can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Here’s last year’s champion Mick_S and his thoughts on Derby…
“This could be a proper banana skin of a game. We should win given the way we are currently playing and all the rubbish that Derby and their fans are going through. Are we through the Charity Park Rangers days? I’ll say yes to Monday and a 1-2 win with Chair to score first, but I’m a bit twitchy about this one.”
Mick’s Prediction: Derby 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Ilias Chair
LFW’s Prediction: Derby 1-0 QPR. No scorer.
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