Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has been asked by a Derby supporters’ group to act as an independent mediator in a bid to resolve a dispute which threatens the club’s future.
Buyers interested in taking Derby out of administration are understood to be wary of the legal claims from Middlesbrough and Wycombe which hang over the club, and that could mean significant extra liabilities landing in their lap.
At the same time, administrators have been asked to provide a funding plan by the EFL by February 1 to demonstrate they have sufficient finances to fulfil the rest of their fixtures this season.
The Rams Trust has approached Crouch – a Conservative MP and the chair of the fan-led review of football governance – “to bang the heads together” of the parties involved and break the deadlock.
We have been approaching MPs including Tracey Crouch herself to say: 'Would you be able to do this? Could you call them all together and just bang their heads together?'Jim Wheeler, Rams Trust
Trust chair Jim Wheeler said the EFL had given the Trust a commitment to be involved in such dialogue in a meeting on Wednesday night, and so have the administrators.
Wheeler told the PA news agency: “It needs to be thrashed out and it needs somebody independent to probably lead that and get them all together and banging their heads together.
“And we have been approaching MPs including Tracey Crouch herself to say: ‘Would you be able to do this? Could you call them all together and just bang their heads together?’
“I noticed in the debate (in Parliament) the other day, she kind of distanced herself a little bit and said, ‘well, that’s not my daily role, you should be going to the Sports Minister’, which is the other avenue that we could approach.
“I think there is a view though that actually having a woman in there might just sort of get a bit more sense from otherwise potentially very entrenched views from a group of guys around the table, especially when they’re all multi-millionaires and all don’t want to lose face.”
Wycombe and Middlesbrough have lodged separate claims against Derby. The clubs claim they were disadvantaged as a result of County breaching financial rules – in Wycombe’s case, by being relegated to League One instead of Derby last season and in Middlesbrough’s case, in missing out on a play-off place to the Rams in the 2018-19 campaign.
The EFL issued a statement on Thursday saying it had written to all parties proposing independent mediation in a bid to negotiate a deal. It added it also needed urgent clarity from the administrators at Derby on funding by February 1 and who the preferred bidder was.
“By the administrators’ own forecasting, the club will run out of cash by February,” the EFL said.
“This is not an artificial EFL deadline, but the reality of when we have been informed the money runs out.”
Wheeler said he had a degree of sympathy with Wycombe and Middlesbrough and could see why they felt “wronged”, but that it would be a “dangerous precedent” if either claim succeeded.
The EFL has again faced criticism over the situation that has developed at Derby, but Wheeler could understand why the league had asked the administrators to provide a funding plan setting out their ability to fulfil this season’s fixtures.
Wheeler added: “Nobody wants to see Derby County die, so if by February 1 they are close but haven’t got it across the line, I’m sure they would give them time to resolve that.
“But as the EFL has said, what they can’t do is allow the club to just continue without sufficient funding and then drop out of the league at a later date because that then affects all the other teams in the league. So the EFL are doing the right thing in that respect.”
A statement from Middlesbrough FC https://t.co/K1VLy0Hy7k— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) January 18, 2022
Wheeler says he has been impressed by how manager Wayne Rooney has galvanised the team and given them a shot at survival despite being docked 21 points for entering administration and breaching financial rules.
However, he says Rooney’s exit, amid reported interest from his old side Everton, could save the club.
“If Everton came in now, and we got a compensation payment from them for taking him off our hands, that actually might save us,” Wheeler said.
“I mean, it would be greeted very badly by Derby fans, but if it saved the club… it’s the same as a lot of the players. They have said: ‘We want to stay, we want to see this through and do a job for the Derby fans but if it saves the club, we’re prepared to go if that’s what it needs. And that’s kind of the situation we’re in.”
Supporters have been sharing their memories of following the club, and what it means to them, under the hashtag #myderbystory.
Wheeler said: “We’ve had some really harrowing messages come through to the Trust saying, ‘I don’t know what else I’ve got to live for’.
“I mean that is really sad, but it is the reality for some people. It needs to be resolved.
“All Derby fans at the moment are petrified over what might happen in the next couple of weeks.”