George Clooney to buy Derby County? Here's the true story

April's Derbyshire Life included a high profile name

April's Derbyshire Life included a high profile name - Credit: Archant

Is George Clooney buying Derby County Football Club? 

It’s an unlikely sentence – and scenario - on so many levels and not one I could have envisaged when pressing the ‘publish’ button a few days ago. 

Whether you’re a football fan, George Clooney fan, both, or neither, you’d be hard pressed to have avoided the Clooney/Derby juggernaut since it rolled into town on Friday evening. 

It’s featured in practically all the national titles – The Sun even leading with a front page ‘exclusive’ on Saturday morning. It’s even gone international, appearing in Marca in Spain.  

It’s been discussed on BBC News 24, Sky News, BBC radio 4 and TalkSport - the world’s biggest sports radio station – to name but a few prominent and high-profile media outlets. 

Even Ant and Dec got involved - ‘which Hollywood star is reportedly keen on buying Derby County?’ they asked a contestant on their prime-time Saturday Night Takeaway show. I could barely believe what I was watching. 

Quantuma, Derby County’s administrators, have acknowledged the story (although declined to give it any substance), local MPs have excitedly had their say and even Derby manager Wayne Rooney – Manchester United and England’s record goal scorer – is said to have been ‘surprised’ by the news. 

Our George Clooney interview appears in April's edition

Our George Clooney interview appears in April's edition - Credit: Archant

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But how did it all start and what are the origins of a story that went truly viral? 

The answer can be found on the evening of February 17 when, in a friendly exchange with former fleet street journalist Bernard Bale – who has done several pieces for Derbyshire Life including an interview with Timothy Dalton (of James Bond fame) – Mr Clooney’s name casually came up. 

Ever since being inspired by Michael Parkinson’s autobiography, which I read as a teenager, I’ve wondered what it must have been like to have been a journalist on Fleet Street in those halcyon days, and Bernard has wonderful tales to tell.  

It led to the inevitable question of who he has interviewed in the past and, pertinently, who he could potentially interview for Derbyshire Life in the future. 

The list Bernard sent back included some seriously high-profile names but it was George Clooney that immediately grabbed my attention. 

Perhaps because, well, he’s George Clooney, but probably also because I knew there was a Derbyshire link that would justify a piece – namely the film he worked with Derby’s Jack O’Connell on.  

I was also aware that Jack has gone on the record in the past as saying he watched Derby matches on TV with George whilst working together. 

Derby supporters were praised by George in the interview

Derby supporters were praised by George in the interview - Credit: Ben Margett

Just five days later the interview dropped into my inbox and I scanned it frenetically, desperately hoping there would be enough substance to George’s quotes to justify publishing it. I wasn’t disappointed. 

I couldn’t, of course, have dreamed that these quotes, currently accessible to myself only, would go on to be read by presumably millions as the story gained traction in ever-fanciful ways in the national press. 

Aware that Friday 25 April saw the magazine – and with it the George Clooney exclusive (yes, our exclusive) - hit the shop shelves we made the call to put a shorter piece online to guard against any other media outlet hijacking it over the weekend. 

We were the first to get something online but others would rapidly follow.  

On Friday evening I went from watching a re-run of Great British Menu with a cup of tea one minute, to staring with utter incredulity and bewilderment with a Thatchers Gold Zero (the hardest thing I could get my hands on due to my charity alcohol abstinence!) as the Paper Preview on BBC News 24 showed a full-page splash courtesy of The Sun, who had directly lifted all our quotes and strapped a big ‘Exclusive’ banner on it. 

And from that point on the touch paper was lit. What had started with a friendly chat about journalism on a Thursday evening weeks previously had gone seriously big and the narrative had changed drastically from Clooney’s ‘soft spot’ for Derby, as we had accurately portrayed it, to (and I paraphrase) ‘George Clooney wants to buy Derby County’. 

One argument I have heard for how the story ‘evolved’ is the interesting timing of our story – released on the day Derby’s administrators had set for all bids for the club to be received. 

George's quotes in Derbyshire Life quickly spread far and wide

George's quotes in Derbyshire Life quickly spread far and wide - Credit: Archant

That was pure coincidence. It just so happened April’s Derbyshire Life was published on the same day – a date that had been set in stone for over a year, pre-dating when Derby even entered administration. 

Despite my initial dismay for how our piece had been characterised and taken over I didn’t want to rant and rave, preferring to remain philosophical and accept that the additional exposure Derbyshire Life - a much-loved, trusted 91-year magazine deep-rooted in our wonderful county’s communities - would receive could not do us any harm. 

I did however send out a tweet that Friday evening from my personal account as I thought it important to uphold our integrity by disassociating Derbyshire Life with the ‘creative’ ways in which our quotes had been used and questioning what now apparently constitutes an exclusive. 

Yet now, just four days later, it’s water under the bridge as far as I am concerned. Sometimes it is important to refocus and if our Clooney piece has been enjoyed by our readers, we’ve done our job.  

And what must George Clooney think of it all? There are numerous potential scenarios.  

He may find it all highly amusing, he may be slightly perturbed and it’s not beyond the realms that this global superstar is blissfully unaware of the stir (and mild hysteria!) his innocent comments to Derbyshire Life has caused. 

April's Derbyshire Life

April's Derbyshire Life - Credit: Archant

The past few days have been infuriating, perplexing and, all things considered, quite good fun in equal measure. 

I’ll certainly never watch a George Clooney film with the same eyes again and, to answer the question directly, if he is keen on buying Derby, he certainly made no such suggestion in the piece he kindly did with us. 

Perhaps his interview with Derbyshire Life has planted a seed in his head? Now what a great sequel to the story that would be! 

And what of May’s edition of Derbyshire Life? Just maybe we have another Hollywood A-lister with Derbyshire connections up our sleeve... 

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