Its fair to say that supporters of Derby County have been put through the mill and have their patience tested over recent seasons – from the painful 2007/08 Premier League season where they tallied a shameful 11 points across the season, to countless Championship play off losses, managerial changes and other instances of controversy and disappointments.
But the latest episode from the drama that is Derby County virtually beggars belief. It was a week ago when news broke that two of the Rams senior players, Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett (above), had been involved in a late night crash and were found to be drunk driving – seriously injuring passenger and Rams captain Richard Keogh in the process. Such was the injury sustained to Keogh that his season has been ended, and it seems highly likely that by the time he recovers, his Derby and Ireland career will be over. This from a player who has barely missed a game for club or country in several seasons.
Lawrence and Bennett escaped the incident unharmed – though are facing court action for their actions and, apparently, internal discipline from the Club also.
Both missed Derby’s 3-2 home win against Birmingham City on Saturday, both were included in the Rams matchday squad against Barnsley last night. Tom Lawrence played the full 90 minutes, whilst Mason Bennett came on for the last section of the game as substitute for Duane Holmes, as the Rams conceded a last gasp goal, the game ending 2-2.
But it is their selection that has angered Rams fans – with many believing that they should never play for the club again, outraged at their actions as they are. Derby fans took to Twitter to vent their outrage at the decision of boss Phillip Cocu to play the disgraced duo :
Tom Lawrence could bang a hat-trick in tonight and I’d still be disgusted, embarrassed and ashamed to support the club I have supported for 30 years of my life, all time low this is #dcfc
— Pete Jackson (@dcfcpete82) October 2, 2019
Tom Lawrence starts and mason Bennett on the bench for @dcfcofficial am I missing something? Could have sworn they were arrested for drink driving and left the scene of an accident with their mate trapped in a car! Wow just wow
— Just Craig (@JustCraigyp) October 2, 2019
Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett both played for Derby today despite putting themselves, their club captain, and their community in danger by drunk driving and despite being currently under police investigation.
What an absolute disgrace.
— Zach Lowy (@ZachLowy) October 2, 2019
Tom Lawrence starting for Derby and Mason Bennett on the bench is an absolute disgrace.
Should be behind bars, not playing the sport they love for thousands of pounds.
Makes me sick
— FauxniqueJenkins (@FauxniqueJ) October 2, 2019
Tom Lawrence starting and Mason Bennett on the bench! Kids there’s a life lesson there. If you’re names in the public domain or you have a bit of money behind you, you can get away with most things in life!
— Phil While (@philwhile) October 2, 2019
Meanwhile, following the draw with Barnsely, Rams boss Phillip Cocu attempted to explain his decision when interviewed by BBC Radio Derby as to why he started Lawrence and picked Bennett in his matchday squad, stating the he felt the pair ‘owed’ something to the Derby masses. The Dutchman said it was his decision to include the pair and that they need “to give the team, the fans and the club something back”.
“That’s why I did it [selected them],” he added. “It still doesn’t change the fact of what we said as a club. They are not off the hook. We made it very clear that there will be disciplinary sanctions and actions for the players. But you have to move on after a certain time and they weren’t included in the last game. They are affected by it very much. I spoke the last few days a lot with the players and they were eager to go and play.”
Lawrence was booed by fans at Oakwell virtually every time he touched the ball – even when winning the penalty that Tom Huddlestone converted to give the Rams a 1-2 lead. Bennett was shown no mercy when he entered the fray late on – again receiving a loud and clear message from the travelling Derby support.
Ire has been drawn from the wider circle of football fans also as news broke that Tom Lawrence has been included in the Wales squad also by boss Ryan Giggs.
It is this writers opinion that, no matter how valuable players are to clubs, swift and decisive action must be taken to send a clear message to all concerned that this type of behaviour cannot be condoned in any way shape or form. Footballers live a privileged life – and the actions of Lawrence and Bennett were terrible. But the action – or apparent lack of it – from the club since then isnt far short of the same. It is pretty clear that Derby fans feel the same. It will be very interesting to see what happens when Derby next take to the pitch, which is this Saturday against Luton Town at Pride Park.