Championship clubs angry at EFL as Derby escape punishment over ground sale

Derby were facing a possible points deduction, after the EFL charged the club with breaching its financial rules

The sale of Derby County's Pride Park is subject to an independent investigation
Image: The sale of Derby County's Pride Park was subject to an independent investigation

A number of Sky Bet Championship clubs have told Sky Sports News of their anger at the EFL for pursuing a fruitless legal case against Derby County which has ultimately cost all sides in the division around £1m in legal costs.

At a time when football revenues have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and with no immediate prospect of paying fans returning to grounds, an extra £50,000 bill per Championship club has led to criticism of the EFL's decision to pursue the case.

Derby were cleared by an independent review panel on Tuesday, after a dispute with the EFL which dragged on for more than seven months.

Separately, just as many club bosses have been left frustrated at the panel's decision, after they pushed the EFL to take punitive action against Derby.

It is another example of the increasingly divisive mood between clubs in the Championship.

The EFL still has more than a week to decide whether to appeal against the independent panel's verdict, though doing so would risk further legal costs.

Derby County owner Mel Morris watches on from the stands
Image: Derby owner Mel Morris is preparing for the new Sky Bet Championship season

Derby were facing a possible points deduction, after the EFL charged the club with breaching its financial rules by selling Pride Park to a subsidiary firm run by owner Mel Morris, which then leased the stadium back to the club for a regular fee.

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The EFL felt Derby's £80m valuation of the stadium had been inflated, meaning they could spend more money on player wages - but the independent panel decided the valuation was fair.

Barrister and solicitor fees for both sides stretch into seven figures - a bill which in legal battles is typically paid by the losing side. That cost is now almost certain to be spread across all Championship clubs.

Derby: EFL have wasted 'hundreds of thousands of pounds'

A statement released by Derby echoed the sentiments of their fellow Championship clubs, accusing the EFL of wasting "hundreds of thousands of pounds" on legal costs.

"The case brought by the EFL has taken almost eight months to deal with and the way it was pursued meant that both sides incurred substantial legal costs," Derby said.

"The club estimates that the EFL's failed proceedings has cost it hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"Ultimately, that is money all the member clubs will be asked to pay, and that could have been used by those clubs in these difficult times.

"It is regrettable that clubs who had no involvement in these proceedings ultimately have to pick up the bill for the EFL's legal costs, and that those clubs who strongly encouraged the EFL to bring proceedings against Derby ought to ask themselves whether they think that outcome is fair."

The independent disciplinary commission cleared the club of any wrongdoing in terms of both the stadium valuation and the amortisation of player registrations.

On the latter, Derby added "the commission criticised the EFL for pursuing the second charge without first seeking 'information and clarification about the club's amortisation policy'."

Image: Wayne Rooney and Derby are preparing for the 2020/21 campaign

No 'agenda' against Derby found

The EFL has refused to comment but in its written reasons, the commission rejected any suggestion the EFL had an "agenda" against the club and their owner.

The commission also dismissed the club's allegations during the hearing that the EFL charges had been "an abuse of process" and that "the EFL was entitled to bring the second charge against the club as it did".

Derby added their player registration embargo had been lifted and that after "many months of costly (and apparently unnecessary) disciplinary proceedings" the club was now fully focused on the new season.

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