Pride Before the Fall by Ryan Conway – book review

Pride Before the Fall by Ryan Conway – book review

The history of most British football clubs will document many periods of success as well as times of trouble. For Derby County, the three years between May 2019 – July 2022 contained enough significant events that, for some clubs, would cover at least half a century. In Pride Before the Fall: How Derby County went from Play-Off Final to Near Extinction, author Ryan Conway, who reported on Derby County for two years as a full-time journalist for The Athletic, charts the tumultuous period experienced by Rams fans after losing to Aston Villa in the Championship Play-Off Final in May 2019.

Most football supporters will be familiar with the general story, if not the specifics. Former Derby County owner, Mel Morris, chose to put the club into administration in September 2021 which, along with an EFL charge for breaching financial regulations, led to relegation to League 1 at the end of the season after a huge points deduction. Derby County were very close to folding due to missing an EFL deadline to show proof of funds that the club could sustain itself until the end of the season. However, after several parties failed in their attempt in taking over the club, on 1 July 2022 – after 282 days of being in administration – local businessman and Rams fan David Clowes completed his takeover, and the club was saved.

Conway concisely draws together a multitude of sources that covered this period of Derby’s history, including articles from The Athletic, the BBC, national and local media, and what seems like countless statements from the EFL. The chapter titles of Pride Before the Fall describe the major events well. ‘A Night of Madness’ covers the ‘Joinersgate’ drink-driving incident which involved three first team players and resulted in the eventual sacking of Derby captain Richard Keogh. ‘The Charge’ and ‘Morris v the EFL’ summarises the charges brought by the EFL for breaching financial regulations relating to the amortisation policy of player contracts which, after months of appeals and counter-appeals, resulted in a 9 point deduction which was added to the 12 point deduction for entering administration.

The three chapters ‘Deventio Holdings (UK) Limited’, ‘Take(over) Two: Erik Alonso’, and ‘The Kirchner Takeover’ review the failed takeover bids which were drawn out over many months only further adding to the costs Derby had to pay administrators Quantuma. It is incredible that the latter two bidders, especially Kirchner, were able to proceed as far as they did without having to provide proof of funds. ‘The March to Pride Park’ chapter is particularly emotive as it uses stories told from the point of view of Rams fans who attended the organised march of 10,000 supporters before the Birmingham City game at Pride Park on 30 January 2022. At the time many fans feared this would be Derby County’s final game before going out of existence, with the march showing the unity, defiance and spirit of Derby supporters.

Three former Rams players who experienced the events between 2019-2022 – Max Lowe, Curtis Davies and Duane Holmes – were interviewed for the book and provide some interesting insights into goings-on at Pride Park. For example, Rooney’s decline in fitness as a player when returning after the enforced Covid lockdown, and the disclosure that previous managers Frank Lampard and Philip Cocu avoided conflict, and in particular Cocu’s unwillingness to hold players accountable for fear of upsetting them.

As a Derby fan, I enjoyed reading Pride Before the Fall despite the nightmarish nature of the content. The book serves as an important document recording this recent dark history of Derby County Football Club. It is an essential read for any football fan concerned about how close a great football club came to going out of existence and should serve as a warning to those in positions of power within the football pyramid to ensure that no club should find themselves in this situation ever again.

This review was originally published in the December 2023 edition of Programme Monthly & Football Collectable – the only magazine for football programmes, memorabilia and history.

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