• Joshua Schneider-Weiler

Football, Morality and Derby County

Ex-Derby Captain, Richard Keogh
Ex-Derby Captain, Richard Keogh

On September 24th, Derby County players met for a team meal at Joiner's Arms pub in Quarndon. Later that night, after some drinking, Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett attempted to drive home. While driving, Lawrence crashed into a light post and then Bennett drove his car into the back of Lawrence's. They fled the scene for around 45 minutes before returning because they forgot their teammate, and club captain, Richard Keogh was in the back of Lawrence's car.

Keogh would sustain a knee injury in the crash and be ruled out for the rest of the season. Bennett and Lawrence would be fined 6 weeks pay by the club and sentenced to 180 hours of unpaid work, given a 12-month community order and banned from driving for two years by the courts.

However, both would only miss one game with Derby and Lawrence would get called up in the October international break by Wales manager, Ryan Giggs. The consequences for Keogh would be more severe. On October 30th, despite not driving either car, Keogh was sacked for 'gross misconduct'.

We look at the moral components in the case and ask what do that say about football? Jon Mackenzie spoke with writer/broadcaster Daniel Storey (BBC, iNewspaper, Totally Football Show, Football365) to find out. Listen to the full episode here:

So that's what happened, but is it fair?

Daniel Storey: I wasn't wholly shocked. My suspicion, and it is just that, all along is that they were probably going to look to move on Richard Keogh when the severity of his injury became apparent.

I wouldn't be surprised if having made that offer, they expected him to reject it and expected him to leave the club. I assume that Keogh will make a legal challenge to that, his effective dismissal and that he will end up taking a settlement which is somewhere between the offer they made and his full wages. From what I've heard, it became pretty clear that they wanted to move Keogh on as a kind of line in the sand to make a point about the case. It should be said, he was the easiest one for them to move on because he wasn't fit and because he was very old, other than he was club captain.

A few weeks ago you wrote an article for iNews about Tom Lawrence in the Wales squad. In that piece you wrote, "Derby's response, internal punishment followed by near immediate reselection, does contain some logic. Bennett and Lawrence are assets and Derby were in a difficult league position. They feared cutting off their nose to spite results. Once Derby had made the call not to sack the two players, reintegration was inevitable, but Giggs had the chance to do the right thing." I'm interested in the logic behind Derby playing Lawrence and Bennett. Do you think that the market necessity excuses them in this case?

Daniel Storey: I'm not sure about excuses because I think that that raises that moral point and people will sit on different sides of that line, and personally I don't think they should have picked them as quickly and I think they've been dealt with incredibly leniently by the club. But it certainly explains it because they are, I suspect, assets valued between £10-15 million by the club combined.

As I wrote, the reality of Derby's league situation and Phillip Cocu's part struggles to remain relevant at Derby County, and let's face it, keep his job, relied upon them getting results. Lawrence and Bennett are two first-teamers.

As always happens in these scenarios, if it had been a an academy player, I suspect the punishment may have been bigger but it's very easy to show up and go, "Well, that's business", but I think that probably was Derby's conclusion.

Do you think any club would have made a different decision?

Daniel Storey: I think there are certain clubs who might. The obvious club I always jump out to is St.Pauli, which is a very extreme example of left wing club and obviously they did recently sack a player for a social media post, which is depending on how you view it, certainly very different to a drink driving charge. Certainly less tangible than a drink driving charge and a club like that may well have reacted differently, but I am of the opinion that clubs probably err on the side of, "We'll let the courts decide and we will do what's good for the club on the pitch."

What about Lawrence's call up for Wales then? You obviously made a distinction between that and the Derby County situation. How do you think the difference emerges there?

Daniel Storey: On a very practical level, he is employed by the club, has a contact with them that doesn't exist at international level and I think even moving away from that practicality, international football comes with an added responsibility and an added honor more than a right to play.

Tom Lawrence for Wales
Tom Lawrence

This is an odd distinction to make, but it struck me as odd because Lawrence is by no means a fixture in the Wales team and didn't actually play in those two games, but what was most disappointing was the way that Ryan Giggs came out and almost as in cliches said 'he's really disappointed. He's pretty low at the moment. That's not nice.'

And he almost sold Lawrence as the victim in the case, which is nonsense.

One of the positive aspects of the case, is particularly how Derby fans booed Lawrence- which is the football fan's only recourse- when he was warming up and when he came on. It took it outside of that, just what's on the pitch matters.

I think Giggs had the chance to do the same. I think he had a chance to say to Lawrence, "Look, you are not going to be ... Don't ignore him, but you are not going in this squad. This is why, you know why. We have to have standards of discipline. We have to set an example to kids coming to watch the game. Sit it out until March. If you do well until March, if you learn your lessons you can come back in." That would have been the easier thing to do and I'm surprised and a bit disappointed he didn't do that.

Do you think that fans would have more sympathy with clubs if spokespeople came out and just told the truth and said, "This is the case, this is why we've made this decision and you can understand why we are making that." The phrase that you used in that piece was being a footballing decision or something, which I think a lot of people just ... they hear that and they think, "We know what you're doing here."

Daniel Storey: Yeah, absolutely they do. It is complete cliche. I think it's an offshoot of growing player power and players and agents understanding their financial value and in an age of, let's face it, with the Derby County example, their meeting FFP criteria is not easy and therefore writing off assets by sacking them is a very difficult moral stance to take. I'm not blaming Derby for this, I think is a football issue and I think it could easily, as I say, have been replicated across the board. I am slightly uneasy with the idea that a player can do something like that and be welcomed back so quickly into the fold.

Obviously the decision by Derby to play Lawrence and Bennett is thrown into sharp relief, I think, by their decision to then sack Richard Keogh. Do you think the Richard Keogh sacking changes anything? Do you think the club should have a responsibility if they're going to protect certain assets to protect others?

Daniel Storey: It certainly makes it come across as an incredibly unemotional decision and a decision that ignores some of the pretty key facts of the case. I mean, it's very apparent and it's common knowledge now that Benny and Lawrence left Keogh at the scene.

It's knowledge that Keogh was only a passenger, that Derby had mentioned his lack of seatbelt being on, which in the great scheme of things seems to be the lesser of the moral crimes to have committed.

Again, in a practical sense, I think it probably helps Keogh's case for any unfair dismissal because he will merely point out that he has been dealt with differently to other teammates based on nothing other than his status in the squad and his ability to play, rather than his contract.

What other examples are there for how disposable footballers are?

Daniel Storey: The one that springs to mind is Jonas Gutierrez at Newcastle who won his case for £2 million against Newcastle when he believed and was proven right in court that his testicular cancer was used as a reason not to play him and therefore put him over the boundary whereby the club would have had to give them a new one year deal. He felt he was being unfairly discriminated against because of his cancer treatment and that he thought the club wouldn't want to or had concerns about his continued ability to play. I mean even from an emotional and decency point of view, he talks about no one at the club, manager, anyone, congratulating him on getting better and just freezing him out. So that was a low, it should be said. That's a club that we might expect that maybe you could spread that behavior from. But it seems that football gives us plenty of opportunities to jump on the moral high horse, let's be honest.

I want to talk about organization's responsibilities in this sort of situation. I've noted down the EFL, FA, and the PFA, do you think these organizations should be doing more to regulate the social responsibility of clubs?

Daniel Storey: I think what it does do is it highlights that those governing bodies are ... they're effectively powerless, I think.

That they all have best practice, that they will have guidelines, that they will try and raise awareness with clubs and get them on side, but that actually when it comes down to the nitty gritty of any incident, they're pretty much powerless. I think that's not just true for this.

That's true for a lot of things. That's true for things even as related to footballers as FFP, that there is a kind of vacuum whereby they have guidelines, but if clubs choose not to meet them, then there's actually very little in terms of recourse that they can do and that's a shame. It would be nice if clubs could be self regulated on this. It would be nice if they always chose the right thing to do, but the reality is that we have to let them get on with it, and pretty much cross our fingers and actually that the EFL is doing just the same as everyone else, which is cross their fingers and hope it works out.

So what do we learn about morality in football from the example of Darby County here?

Daniel Storey: I think we learned that it's a nice idea in theory, but that in the reality it comes down to the individual case, comes down to the mechanics of those individual cases and comes down to what's best for the club. I think it probably hammers home that football is an increasingly a business and therefore will act on pretty cold-hearted balance sheet, black and white business practices rather than maybe what we should or would like to happen. I think that we have this romanticized idea of football that it is a hangover from a by-gone era and in reality, football doesn't follow those rules and probably never will again

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