Accounts and Accountability
Some thoughts on recent club developments

The news that our club has probably completed a sale and leaseback deal on the stadium broke on Friday after much recent speculation on that subject. That speculation was also linked to the late publication of the accounts for 2017/18; the end February date was avoided by putting the reporting period back by 2 months to end April, now they are later than that, with a club spokesman suggesting they will be released in the next few weeks. Yes, it’s only a small financial penalty but it’s not great business practice and it looks like we have something to hide. Remember the 2018 close season when we told about plans to make early signings, then there was a wall of silence until we were advised in August we had been under a transfer embargo since April? As a minimum I suspect they just don’t want speculation or public discussion re the club’s FFP position.  There were also reports in The Times on Friday that the club had also not submitted FFP information to the EFL on time either – we will see if that is true. It might be Mr Chansiri’s business but it’s our club (without us it wouldn't be much) and this doesn’t feel like good practice or accountability to fans.

The evidence on Friday appeared to be that fans were split on how to respond to these developments. One camp goes with the “we trust Chansiri, good on him to have found a loophole, and anything to make us competitive at top end of the Championship is ok” line. The other camp is more “history tells us that separating club from ground ownership is not good, owners should never be trusted absolutely, and this is another gamble on top of the other gambles” thought process. I am in the latter camp. Both camps probably agree that FFP arrangements in the Championship (and probably EFL as a whole) are not fit for purpose and that EFL as a regulator is equally not fit for purpose. But from there our views we diverge.

 As I look at it, we should campaign against the current FFP rules, we should campaign for them to be changed, but whilst they are there we should operate within them and not play cat and mouse around them. The club gambled on trying to achieve promotion with a high wage bill and players with little re-sale value, the gamble failed. Mr Chansiri told us at the December Fans Forum that we have an 8 figure FFP problem. We need an answer to that problem or we will have a transfer embargo and probable points deduction. Finding the answer in a one-off loophole in the FFP regulations might appear to be clever solution but what if that fails too? Under this arrangement ownership of the stadium is legally separated from the club and I have seen too many clubs suffer as a consequence of doing this. How much will it be sold for, how does that compare to fair market value, can the club buy it back at less than fair market value? We will see what safeguards have been built in. The club owes significant amounts of money to Mr Chansiri in 'soft' loans already provided and then he will own quite separately our biggest fixed asset. Owners do get bored, owners fall out with fans, owners can stop investing, owners can decide to move on – I just don’t like the risks of too many things being in one basket. Others may be comfortable with it, but I’m not.

If other clubs are at this game then it won’t be long before EFL close the loophole, not the least because some clubs will complain. I have no truck with telling Steve Gibson where to get off given his club has been in receipt of parachute payments and has benefited from higher allowable FFP losses, but there will be other clubs who don’t have those benefits but who are playing the FFP game by the rules. Reputation wise this isn’t great for our club; now some fans may not care about that but I do – I don’t want our club to be regarded as arrogant, to be regarded as 'cheats' or to have pariah status. I can live with a couple of seasons in which we have to re-trench and change the squad and the operating model, we may have to sell players and get the wage bill down. I would prefer that than gambling long term sustainability by trying to compete with clubs that have in-built financial advantages. The ‘Derby Way’ shouldn’t be the Wednesday Way in my book.

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