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Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 14:26 GMT
Derby counting the cost
Malcolm Christie was one of Derby's key players - but was sold last Friday
Christie could have been sold last summer

It is the Chinese Year of the Ram, but Derby fans do not feel like celebrating.

The closure of the transfer window on Friday was preceded by a flurry of activity.

The headlines were dominated by Jonathan Woodgate's transfer from beleaguered Leeds to Newcastle.

But in the background Derby's story was continuing to unfold, every bit as sad as Leeds' swift fall from grace.

PRIDE PARK EXODUS
Darryl Powell
Horacio Carbonari
Mart Poom
Brian O'Neil
Deon Burton
Danny Higginbotham
Chris Riggott
Malcolm Christie
For while Leeds still have their Premiership status - and with it the chairman's talk of rekindling the dream - Division One Derby sold off more of their own crown jewels, and at equally knockdown prices.

Malcolm Christie, Chris Riggott and Danny Higginbotham - all worthy Premiership players - left Pride Park on Friday.

Higginbotham - bought from Manchester United for 2m in July 2000 - was last season's Player of the Year but departed for 1.5m.

Christie, with pace to burn, and Riggott, an accomplished defender, left Pride Park for 3m.

The fee could rise to 5m, but had Derby cashed in last summer Christie would probably have commanded at least that fee on his own.

They followed the likes of goalkeeper Mart Poom in leaving Pride Park for an instant return to the Premiership.

But for Derby a return to the top-flight seems more remote than ever.
Defender Danny Higginbotham
Derby lost 500,000 on Higginbotham

Relegation from the Premiership last season ended a six year spell in the top-flight - and began a dark chapter in the club's otherwise proud history.

Offers were on the table for Christie and Poom at reasonable market prices last summer, but the club did not sell.

"We could have sold two players and got through to the end of the season," Nick Sellors of the Derby County Supporters' Trust told BBC Sport Online.

"The result of turning down those offers is that we have lost eight senior professionals since the start of the current season."

And it is going to get worse.

It's sad because three years ago we were on the verge of something

Nick Sellors
Derby Supporters Trust
"There is not a chance of a return to the Premiership in the foreseeable future.

"Next season, if things continue the way they are going, we are going to have between 12 and 14 professionals at the club."

The problems began at the start of last season, when the club budgeted for a fourth-bottom finish in the Premiership - in other words banked on the preservation of their top-flight status.

The drop into the Nationwide caused an acute cash shortage and the problems have intensified ever since.

Players have not been paid, others have left and more key members of the team, such as Lee Morris and Rob Lee, seem likely to leave when their contracts expire in the summer.

"The football side, the financial aspect and the way the club interacts with the fans - all have gone horribly wrong," said Sellors.

"We have been relegated, the club is effectively trading insolvently and the club are treating the fans with contempt by telling them nothing.

John Gregory had endured over a turbulent time at Derby County
Derby boss Gregory has seen his squad decimated
"It's sad because three years ago we were on the verge of something.

"We had the likes of Igor Stimac, Stefano Eranio, Francesco Baiano and Paulo Wanchope and from that peak things went down very quickly."

And Leeds fans calling for the resignation of Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale might consider what Derby fans have to say on the matter.

"You might not like what Ridsdale did but at least he came out and explained himself.

"Our chairman, as far as I am aware, has not been to a game for two years and hides behind PR and spin."

The situation might seem bleak at Elland Road but their failure to qualify for the Champions League - and the subsequent cash shortfall - appears almost trivial when compared with Derby's current predicament.

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