W.hen your club is on the brink, it can shape your attitude towards football. I was playing for Bournemouth in 2008 when we heard something was wrong. Our wages were paid too late and rumors spread. We had a meeting with the hierarchy and our fears were confirmed: we are going to the administration.
I was 24 and had just taken out a mortgage for the first time. I had to borrow money to keep up with payments while many of my teammates at home had their mouths to feed. It was a turbulent time: We were 10 points deducted and although our squad pulled together and fought to the end, we were relegated to the second division. The club was on the verge of extinction.
The dire situation at Derby has rekindled these memories, even if the causes are not identical. The administration can intervene in the heart of a community, no matter what level of football they are at. Hence, this will be a fearful time as those in charge consider what cuts to make. The workers of a football club are its heartbeat and often the extension of its environment. When people start losing their jobs, it all starts to ebb.
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Bournemouth was and is an establishment with great family values but became a ghost club for a while. You would know everyone in the offices, on the training ground, and in the club shop, but one day people would be missing with whom you had made meaningful relationships. It was horrific and you felt deeply connected to those involved. As a footballer, you can usually find a new employer, but it’s not always that easy in other jobs. You watch and wonder how this could have come about. Clubs need to remember that if they don’t keep a tight ship, they are playing with people’s lives.
I was our PFA representative and I learned a lot from the conversations between the players, the club and the administrators. The boys weren’t happy when I explained the extent of the situation, but I tried to convey the best I could. We agreed to postpone our wages for a while: we had a great group of people, many of whom had Bournemouth in their blood, and we saw it as our responsibility to keep the club going. We knew that we were lucky enough to still be able to work, even if the money didn’t come in immediately. We stuck together and tried everything to stabilize things again in a way that we had some control over.
Derby’s players will do the same as you can see from their recent appearances. Make no mistake, the guys will have agents offering them a way out and some of them might see this as a way to get a better deal somewhere. But anyone who assumes that footballers put down tools in this position is wrong. Players and coaches have professional pride like everyone else. When things don’t go well, you feel like you’ve let yourself, your fans and your family down. People in football are sometimes seen as separate from normal people, but we also have feelings and emotions.
As a manager at Hereford, I can draw on these lessons from the past, particularly regarding financial stability and value to the local community. Our club was re-established in 2014 after Hereford United, to whom I was on loan after leaving Bournemouth, was dissolved. The pain of that time still shapes the way we work: We are very careful with our budget, knowing that the city of Hereford cannot lose its club a second time. There’s a proud history of the Football League here, so it’s not always easy to explain to our fans that we can’t buy the best players in our division – the National League North. But we have to make sure the club will exist long after we’ve all left, so that’s how we run it.
Fans just want to be proud of their club and feel close to it. At the highest level, players can break away from the public, but we have people who are relatable. At our level, they may not deserve more than those who see them.
On Saturday, after our 1-1 draw against Leamington, we had a boxing night where the boys and the fans watched Anthony Joshua’s fight. We have a number of other initiatives in the works that go beyond football, such as a series of events trying to build bridges between ethnic minorities and the police. Our fans stayed with us in dark times and we will do everything for them: Our club must be in the heart of the community.
The same was true for us in Bournemouth and also for Derby. There is a long way to go, but I’m sure you will find the right buyer: hopefully one who understands how much the local people need their club.