ONE OF THEIR OWN

Owner and boy­hood fan Mel Mor­ris has big dreams for Derby County

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

IT’S A WET NIGHT in Derby and the au­tumn breeze is fun­nel­ing driz­zle into the front rows of the stands, but noth­ing can dampen the spir­its of an­other bumper crowd at the iPro Sta­dium. Bor­row­ing the Harry Kane song from Spurs, they raise arms and roar “he’s one of our own, he’s one of our own…” as Derby County move to­wards their eighth win in ten games.

But this adu­la­tion doesn’t be­long to any star striker, it’s for owner-chair­man Mel Mor­ris.

At­ten­tion

He ad­mits to feel­ing a lit­tle awk­ward with the at­ten­tion and isn’t sure whether or not to ac­knowl­edge it, but he can af­ford a smile. In fact, Mel Mor­ris can af­ford pretty much any­thing he wants.

The Sun­day Times Rich List es­ti­mated his worth at £400mil­lion from soft­ware and tech­nol­ogy – and to top that, on the very day of Derby’s QPR match this week, his King Dig­i­tal En­ter­tain­ment, mak­ers of the game Candy Crush, an­nounced a pro­posed sale to US firm Ac­tivi­sion for £ 3.8 bil­lion. Mor­ris owns 12.5 per cent of King...you do the maths!

He is the sup­port­ers’ per­fect owner, the lo­cal kid from the ter­races who made a vast for­tune and bought the club he loved. And not just any club; Derby, twice Cham­pi­ons of England and boast­ing a legacy of leg­ends, Dave

By Mark Shar­man

Mackay, McFarland and Todd, Archie Gem­mill, Kevin Hec­tor, Char­lie Ge­orge – and the two men whose bronze stat­ues grace the iPro, Brian Clough and Pe­ter Tay­lor.

Derby’s his­tory is a back­drop to Mor­ris’ life; his roots go back 46 years and a cou­ple of miles, to the old Base­ball Ground, a swamp of a pitch where the spec­ta­tors were so close they could smell a winger’s af­ter-shave and where, at five to three on any given Satur­day, emo­tions soared as the Rams took the field to The Dam Busters March.

“Derby County 5 Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur 0, that was my first match,” says Mor­ris. “Jimmy Greaves was play­ing and I ex­pected us to lose 9-0.”

In fact, that match in Septem­ber 1969 is a bea­con in Derby’s past. Clough’s Rams were new to the top flight and skip­per Dave Mackay was up against his old Spurs team-mates. A record crowd of al­most 42,000 wit­nessed a re­mark­able per­for­mance – no won­der the 13-year-old Mel was hooked. Did he have a sea­son ticket? “No, I couldn’t af­ford it,” he said.

“I sneaked in a few times with­out pay­ing. Also, I some­times went on the roof of the Leys fac­tory next door, from where you could see some of the match. My fa­ther was a builder and we knew some lads who worked there.”

He now has a very clear view, both of the game and the club’s fu­ture.

“We want Derby County to achieve pro­mo­tion and be peren­nial per­form­ers in the top half of the Pre­mier League,” he says.

In­vest­ing

Mor­ris took a phone-in on Ra­dio Derby this week, where the tough­est ques­tion was about the price of a cup of tea (he promised to re­view the cater­ing). As he out­lines his vi­sion, his lan­guage is un­der­stand­ably that of the cor­po­rate world: growth, in­creased value in the club’s as­sets, lead­er­ship groups, chang­ing work­ing cul­tures, in­vest­ing in peo­ple. He sup­ports UEFA’s Fair Play Rules – and he says he bought

Derby County “with my eyes wide open…. I don’t in­tend to lose my money”.

This man is, re­mem­ber, first and fore­most an en­trepreneur. He knows which Pre­mier clubs are op­er­at­ing at a profit (there are 12) and why their mod­els are work­ing.

And, with the new multi-bil­lion TV deal kick­ing in next sea­son, he’s bold enough to stake mil­lions up front to try and earn Derby a slice. He prom­ises that if head coach Paul Cle­ment needs to fur­ther strengthen in Jan­uary, he’ll be sup­ported.

Mor­ris is, though, a true fan and is en­tirely be­liev­able when he says it’s not about the money. He’s us­ing his man- age­ment ex­per­tise to im­prove the phi­los­o­phy and prac­tices at Derby County from top to bot­tom.

“I don’t feel as though I own the club,” he says, “I’m the cus­to­dian. I en­joy the pride in what we’re do­ing. ”

He em­pha­sises that it’s not his style to mi­cro-man­age, “but it’s im­por­tant that we sort out tar­gets and a time frame”.

So, with that in mind, and with Derby’s pas­sion­ate foot­ball pop­u­la­tion fully ex­pec­tant of suc­cess, is there ex­tra pres­sure on Cle­ment?

Tal­ent

Mor­ris replies: “Paul was on our short list of one… this is a man with a lot of tal­ent. He’s keen to learn, he’s go­ing to grow with us, he’s go­ing to take this team and im­prove it. We’re not think­ing short term. If we don’t achieve this year, we must think how we can do bet­ter.”

And, in a state­ment that should shock the foot­ball world, he adds:“Points and league po­si­tions can’t be the only mea­sure of suc­cess. If the squad is im­prov­ing, then the value in­creases and the cost of fur­ther im­prove­ment is less.

“If we don’t get pro­mo­tion this sea­son, we won’t get rid of Paul Cle­ment.”

As you’d ex­pect from a man of such phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess in busi­ness, Mor­ris an­swers ev­ery ques­tion with clar­ity.

Equally, he doesn’t shy away from tough de­ci­sions – ask Steve McClaren about that – but he re­mains a man of the peo­ple, as be­fits a lad who left school at 16 to work in a pork pie com­pany. He talks to as many mem­bers of staff as pos­si­ble, ex­cept the play­ers, on match days and al­ways greets the grounds­man.

“He’s the last man the play­ers see when they run out of the tun­nel, we want him cheer­ful,” Mor­ris ex­plains .“He said I’m the first chair­man in 25 years to do it.”

Mor­ris read­ily ad­mits he hates los­ing, but tries to learn lessons ev­ery time. He should know – he’s the man who in­vented the equiv­a­lent of Face­book and didn’t re­alise it.

“uDate was a suc­cess for me, but I thought ev­ery­one would only be in­ter­ested in meet­ing new peo­ple – I didn’t think they’d want to chat to peo­ple they al­ready knew,” he ad­mits .“So we sold for mil­lions rather than the bil­lions Zucker­berg made. It was the big­gest mis­take of my life.”

Last night’s de­feat at archri­vals Not­ting­ham For­est would not have gone down well for the man who says he was in­spired by his school re­ports – a re­cur­ring ‘could do bet­ter’.

Doubt­less that’s a mes­sage he’ll have taken back across the 16 miles of Brian Clough Way. But don’t ex­pect one re­sult to knock Mor­ris, or Derby, off their am­bi­tious track.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

RAM RAIDERS: Mel Mor­ris, right, with Derby head coach Paul Cle­ment

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