In 1971, Brian Clough signed Colin Todd for Derby County from Sunderland for a fee of £175,000, whilst the club’s chairman Sam Longson was on holiday, blissfully unaware of what was going on. Just prior to this deal being concluded, Rolls Royce had announced lay-offs in Derby and the mood around the place was not good. Clough’s rationale for spending big, in the wake of so many job losses? It’s said that he declared, ‘I thought the town needed cheering up’. Longson was alerted to the transfer by telegram.
Cheering up, of course, is something that Derby could sorely do with right now, but Brian’s son Nigel won’t be going to another club with a chequebook and returning with their star player any time soon – and certainly not Saturday’s opponents Leicester City, where money is now seemingly no object. And so as another season ebbs rapidly into nothing, Derby people, down-trodden by the government’s agenda of cuts, tax increases and more cuts, are receiving no cheer from the one institution in the city with the power to bring them unconditional joy – the football club.
These days, Derby County is being dispassionately run as a business. The wagebill has been capped at what is in effect a middling Championship level and the chief executive, Tom Glick, seeks to increase revenues by negotiating all sorts of sponsorship deals and offering “football fans, specifically Derby County fans”, as he recently put it, great deals on anything he can stick a club badge on. The £175,000 that Clough Snr paid for Todd is peanuts in today’s football, but Clough Jnr couldn’t spend a tenth of it without Glick’s direct approval.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but the problem is that somewhere in the midsts of all this book-balancing, the squad got lost. There was little wrong with selling the contract-hopping mercenary Kris Commons and even less wrong with offloading the full back Dean Moxey – who is not very good and at 25, can’t really be regarded as one for the future – but the lack of new signings in January, when we were told the cavalry was coming, was intensely frustrating. And not just for the fans.
After the Portsmouth draw, complete with soul-destroying last-minute equaliser, Nigel’s frustration spilled over into his most personal and questionable beasting of a player yet, with poor Tomasz Cywka the recipient. Fans were shocked – nobody expected a young tryer to get a roasting like that – but it had in fact been brewing for a while. After the City Ground debacle, Clough gave Cywka a dishonourable mention, before expressing his disappointment with the Pole after an unfruitful sub appearance in the defeat to Ipswich Town.
I can think of reasons to defend Clough for his actions. I have no problem with his policy of criticising players when they err – it’s a man’s game, the players are extremely well paid by anybody but banker’s standards and the pressure they pile on the manager with their mistakes could cost him his job – but in my heart of hearts, I didn’t like it. Colin Bloomfield, the Radio Derby journalist, broke with his usual equanimity to publicly criticise Clough and a disgruntled little band of Rams fans are on Twitter, sticking the boot in as we speak.
I stopped using message boards long ago, because I got sick to death of all the moaning. Twitter has started to feel the same. Mostly now, all I read when I search for Rams news on the site is people saying they’ve heard we’re about to sign Nathan Tyson, slating Gareth Roberts, or Clough, or GSE, or a mixture of the above. It’s depressing, but you have to say that the board have brought it upon themselves.
If there are, as is rumoured, to be protests during the televised game against Leicester, Glick has only himself to blame. He had January to bring in players and with the exception of Ben Davies – who might be a good player, but has the misfortune to be stepping into Commons’ shoes – he failed to do so. A couple of unfortunate defeats have been compounded by a slew of colossally demoralising losses and even the point at crisis-ridden Portsmouth was turned into a negative by Clough’s verbal laceration of Cywka.
To the current board, Derby is just another franchise, to be run as a tight ship and sold on if they get a good offer. And it is right not to run at a dangerous loss, it is right to be financially sensible – nobody wants to see a Portsmouth scenario at Pride Park. However, to many people in Derby, the Rams are a personal obsession, a much-cherished, life-long love, with the potential to be a light in the darkness, to raise spirits when times are hard. These passionate, ardent fans are a powerful force when riled, as the criminal Three Amigos found, in days we choose not to think about, but will never forget.
The board would be well-advised to give Clough the two strikers he has asked for before Saturday’s game against Leicester, to give us a chance of arresting a ruinous run of five home games without a win and offer some indication to the people whose money they take that they might actually be worthy custodians of it – because plenty of supporters have run out of patience already.