Derby County are redefining the meaning of survival, as their search for a buyer, continues

By James Fletcher

In recent years, we have seen long-standing football clubs being expelled from the football league.

Bury and Macclesfield Town both lost their footballing stature in 2020. Bolton Wanderers came close in 2019. And things right now are looking bleak for the rams, surpassing the EFL’s extension to find a buyer in 14 days.

And as Derby stare expulsion in the face, it’s important to find out why these other clubs went out of business in the first place. Firstly, let’s look at the situation at Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton went into administration in 2019 with an unpaid tax bill of 1.2 million pounds and couldn’t afford the day to day running of the club, having to cancel matches, due to players and staff not being paid. During the summer after being issued with a winding-up order, they were fortunate to find a buyer at the last minute. Which made Bolton the biggest club in recent years to nearly go bust.

Derby on the other hand is still able to pay for the day to day running of the club. Players haven’t gone unpaid, apart from a few isolated incidents in certain months. But this was quickly resolved, and they continue to fulfil their remaining games without any financial difficulty.

The reasons why Bury ultimately went out of business, was many issues off the field. Many players were often being paid late and the agreed settlement of paying their creditors such as HMRC went unfulfilled. Owner Steve Dale was given 14 days to sell the club or provide evidence that they could fulfil the season’s fixtures.

With a mass exodus of players leaving during the summer, Bury was left with only 5 registered players when the season kicked off, forcing the EFL to postpone 6 of their fixtures at the beginning of the season.

Steve Dale said live on the radio that he secured a buyer for the club, but this deal fell through at the last minute. And Mr Dale was quickly labelled as a con man by the Bury fans who saw their beloved club fall out of the football league. Having just secured promotion the previous season to League 1.

Macclesfield Town had similar problems to Bury, being unable to pay players and their creditors. Forcing the EFL to hand them a points deduction, which saw them relegated to the National League that season. During that summer HMRC came a knocking demanding their money of half a million pound which was owed to them and issued Macclesfield with a winding-up order, and when they couldn’t secure a buyer for the club, they too went the same way as Bury did in 2020. Having to re-
establish themselves in the lowest league that would have them.

Going back to 2010 and Sheffield Wednesday who were better off than Derby are right now. Wednesday hadn’t gone into administration; players hadn’t gone un-paid, and the club could afford to see out the season. But relegation back to league 1 saw HMRC knocking at Hillsborough during the summer demanding their money be paid. And the owls were unfairly handed a winding-up order for the half a million they owed HMRC, but unlike Macclesfield Sheffield Wednesday were able to find a buyer for the club when Milan Mandaric bought the club for a pound and paid off the debts
and the current owner which saved the club.

A decade later Derby finds themselves in a much worse situation. Owing HMRC around 26 million. And in desperate need of a buyer. The current administrator has had several enquiries from various potential buyers, but at this moment in time, there’s nothing concrete in terms of securing Derby’s future as a football club. And Mike Ashley remains the front runner to take control of the club.

But the prospect of buying Derby right now isn’t going to be appealing in any business sense that’s why the administrator, who’s currently handling things at the club is working tirelessly to strike a deal with HMRC to have the bill reduced to a more pleasing amount for any potential buyers.

Or could it be these potential buyers are waiting for Derby to be ordered to the high court so they can swoop in and purchase the club for next to nothing? Any businessman will always be looking for the best deal possible and with the massive debt over the club’s head, and the ground being owned by the ex-owner Mel Morris that will be another expense for the new owner. So before money can be spent on new players or improvements. Any new owner will have to spend around 80 million just to secure ownership of the club.

Derby goes into their last 9 games of the current campaign. And Wayne Rooney’s first and only job is to secure safety from the drop but with a tough run of games coming up, they are certainly staring down the trap door. This could mean that Derby faces a much worse fate than just having to play their football in league 1 if HMRC demands payment of the debt during the summer months as they have done to other clubs previously.

Time is ticking on Derby County’s future, who will save this historic ex-premier league club from the brink?

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