This is the first ever guest post on derbycountyblog.com and comes from a good friend who was invited to the latest ‘meet the season ticket holders’-type shebang organised by the club…
On Monday evening, I attended a fan forum at Pride Park with current CEO Tom Glick, Finance Director Mal Brannigan, Operations Director John Vicars, Marketing Manager Faye Nixon, Multimedia Manager Matt Reeder, and press officer Joe Questier.
I didn’t really know what to expect – I was half-expecting a glitzy presentation about the new big screen and other exciting off-the-field developments. As it turned out, I was way off the mark.
Only ten fans had been invited and we sat around a table with the DCFC crew, rather than “in the audience” as I’d anticipated. Tom Glick explained that the format was 45 minutes of our questions answered as openly and honestly as they could and then 45 minutes of them picking our brains about “the matchday experience”. A pretty simple and effective idea that meant both the fans and the club got something out of it.
It was meant to be 90 minutes, but ended up being closer to two hours, so we covered a lot of ground – some topics more interesting than others. From heated debate about the pros and cons of a potential Jason Shackell sale to the, shall we say, slightly more mundane, “I noticed at the last three home games of the season that there was some traffic congestion at Roundabout 4…”
The first thing that struck me about Glick is that he is an instantly likeable character. In contrast to formal media interviews, which often feel like nothing more than the audio manifestation of a press release, he was relaxed and clearly answering off the cuff with the honesty he promised.
Obviously the informality of the proceedings meant that there was as much to be deduced from visual cues, tone of voice and things that weren’t said as much as what was said – but in the spirit of the forum, I will refrain from trying too much of the Sherlock Holmes, to avoid any potential misrepresentations that this could lead to.
Friday night games
First up was the hot topic of the Friday night games. Glick started with the same argument as the media statement – they will give us an extra rest day before the next match. However, he also stated that the move was being driven by Nigel, who prefers night games – the atmosphere, the floodlights, build-up, etc. The club thought it was a small tweak they could make to gain some competitive advantage.
A couple of us complained that it made it difficult for fans who take young kids or who travel from distance and he admitted that they’d had several written complaints along the same lines. I pushed the question of how much thought had gone into it beyond “gut feeling” and he confirmed that it hadn’t been taken lightly. They had looked at impact on attendance, takings in the ground etc and with careful selection of the games, were projecting that the change should have a neutral impact in those areas.
Glick concluded by saying that it’s an experiment and if it works, we’ll try it again, but if doesn’t, then we won’t.
The second big question asked was about progress on the sale of Jason Shackell. Glick said, “our valuation has still not been met”. The obvious follow-up question – “what is that valuation?” – was never going to be answered directly. The best we got was, “more than we paid for him (just under £1,000,000) and enough to be able to replace him with someone we feel is good enough, plus money left over to finance another signing and strengthen another area.”
Several people said they felt it sent the wrong signal to be talking about selling an established player. TG replied that the manager feels that if he can do the right deal, then the club will benefit and move forward.
I asked how Shackell felt about being shopped around so openly and did he want to leave? TG said no, he’s happy to stay, but that he “gets it” – “it” being that he’s a saleable asset and that’s how football works.
Another fan pointed that Shackell is hardly a stranger to club-hopping!
Glick thinks we will have a better team without Paul Green. “He’s one of my favourite people in the world – as a person – but from a footballing perspective, we will be a better, more balanced team with Michael Jacobs.”
Glick pointed out that Greeny is turning 30, an international and wanted to be first choice on a good final contract, but we couldn’t guarantee he’d be first choice (central mid) and, as good a job as he did filling in, we needed a more natural wide midfielder.
Again, there are no hard feelings because Green “gets it”.
Stevie D’s departure is still not imminent. It could still be a fair few weeks before we see any positive movement, as clubs are only just now coming back from their summer breaks.
Someone asked why we announced publicly that he wanted to leave, as this weakened our selling position. TG said this was because we had offered him a contract extension which he had turned down, adding, “Maybe it does weaken our position, but don’t forget that he still has a year left so if our valuation isn’t matched then we keep him and he plays out his contract” (I think it’s highly unlikely that he will stay – DCB).
If and when Davies goes, we’re looking at an experienced striker / ‘traditional centre forward’ and have some targets in mind. If we get one of those targets in, Callum Ball might go out on loan to get some games.
Other transfer news
Have we had any interest in Tyson? Yes. It’s 50/50 whether he’ll move on. Again, this will be dictated by what we’re offered for him and who we can find to replace him.
We’ve also had offers for Brayford and Hendrick, but Clough sees them as key young players and they’re not going anywhere – hence we have extended their contracts.
We’re currently looking at somebody who would be a good understudy for Roberts at left back, but could also fill a utility role (I guess a left-sided equivalent of Naylor). This was as close to a name as we got, so my interpretation was that this could be the closest deal to completion.
A fan complained that because player turnover had been so high in the past few years, he didn’t feel a connection to the team. TG said that the current team has a great nucleus of young players who are all growing together, have great relationships and will be around for some time yet. High turnover had been necessary in recent seasons, but the situation was hopefully stable now.
I asked a question about foreign scouting – have we given up on it? The blunt answer was “yes”! They feel that the risks are too high and said they’d had bad experiences previously. They said that you can pay people to watch players 100 times to be sure they are good enough, but if the player then comes over and feels isolated / doesn’t settle / doesn’t perform, etc, then it ends up as a waste of time and money.
Mal Brannigan pointed out that in the past, overseas players were a good, cheap option, so you could take the risk, but now it’s actually going the other way – overseas players wage demands are through the roof, while domestic wages are finally going down (at least at Championship level).
Current squad / Academy
On Frank Fielding, the club pointed out that he had played more than 100 league games at the age of 21, which is very rare for a keeper, so they feel they got a great deal – he has talent, experience despite still being very young and will improve with age. Frank is another one they see being here for some time.
Bryson was mentioned as “captain material”, so my assumption would be if Shackell does go, then Bryson is in with a shout of the armband while Barks is out.
The club are very pleased that the Academy is starting to produce again. The ones we know about were mentioned, but a few of the younger kids who might break through soon were also discussed. DCFC were very complimentary about the work Darren Wassall is doing.
Someone asked if they would allow more public access to Academy games and Glick said they’d love to, but Oakwood residents are unhappy with the traffic issues already (“as well as the staff, players and families, we also have an army of scouts turning up to every game now!”) They might try to play a few more games at Pride Park though, as Nigel likes to give the kids a taste of the big stadium.
Same with the reserves – they’ve had loads of positive feedback about playing games around the county (Belper, Alfreton, etc), but Nigel would still like to get the odd reserve game played at PPS for the experience. Maintaining pitch quality is the key to all this, however.
Long term future / ambitions
Has there been interest from anyone wanting to buy the club? Yes – there are always people coming around ‘kicking the tyres’, as Glick put it, but it’s never gone any further than that.
The Arena / Plaza development is something the club are hoping to proceed with. It may be done in stages, but it’s a commercial venture that the club want to pursue, in order to create a substantial revenue stream that would be invested in the team.
Promotion is still very much what we’re building for and when the time comes that we’re in a strong January position, the club already have a strategy in place for how we will push on.
Someone questioned whether we’d be strong enough to stay in the Premier League next time we go up. Glick replied that all three teams did it last season and his honest view is that it’s easier to stay in the PL than it is to get out of the Championship. He acknowledged that getting out of this league is incredibly difficult and added that throwing money around is not a guarantee of success – Leicester, as an obvious example, spent £20m and it bought them two more points than us last season.
‘The matchday experience’
The second half of the session was taken up with questions from the club to the fans about the “matchday experience” – what did we want to see on the big screen at half time, etc. I don’t intend to document this section in any detail as it’s pretty subjective (for instance the old guy sat next to me doesn’t like “the rap music” they play). However, of some interest might be that they’ll be upgrading to multi cameras for the highlights/match footage shown on Rams Player.
There are strict rules about what you can show on the big screen mid-game (contentious decisions, etc), but the club intend to “push the boundaries”. Depth of the concourses is a design flaw that they continually struggle with. They hope that more people will stay in the stand at half-time now, with the screen showing entertainment. The half-time entertainment will change overall and not just consist of schoolkids dancing in the distance.
The key thing is that the club are after opinions, so if you have strong feelings or ideas about what you’d like to see happening off-the-field on a matchday, get in touch with the club.
Glick is at the club until mid-August and he seemed genuinely sad to be saying goodbye. There didn’t seem to be even the slightest whiff of snake oil about him, despite what some fans still think about “the Yanks”. I think he will be sorely missed by the club and I hope his successor is as open and honest. He listens and takes things on board and while not everyone will like every decision he makes, the bottom line is that Glick shows total respect for the fans (an anti-Ken Bates perhaps?) and that’s good enough for me.
Thanks very much to my excellent source for this rundown of events at the Fans Forum! – DCB