Date: 17th June 2007 at 5:35am
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Vital Football`s Derby correspondent down under Nick Christie gives his thoughts on the play-off final against West Bromwich Albion and his expectation for next season. Over to you Nick.

I’ll take the last question first, and state that my expectation for next season does not honestly extend beyond the two words of ‘relegation’ and ‘battle’. A lot really depends on the view that our resident breath of fresh air, being the current board of directors, takes towards the well publicised amount of money which surely seems to be heading towards the coffers of the Co-op Bank and available to Derby County Football Club to………………

Pay off our modest debts? My understanding is that there is a debt of £10M which is currently being serviced. In addition, another £11M is on hold, which was to be activated as current when either one of the following occurred: the first amount of £10M was paid off, or we got promotion to the Premier League – whichever came first.

Spend on players? Is this the £60M question? How far should Derby County go in pursuit of survival of their first season in the Premier League? If the answer from the board is that they should go as far as it takes them in order to survive, then the very first thing they need to do is to secure the services of one Billy Davies. If he wants an assistant, give him two (a double would be good for those occasions when he has to make an impromptu appearance in the stands during the match).

So now that we have cleared that up, let us just pretend, for a very small moment, that I am in charge at Derby County! Given our past history of debt and directors, I would be keen to see the club trading profitably, and being self-sustaining. Pay off the debts. No mill-stones if the more-than-likely scenario of relegation rears its ugly head. Billy Davies has put together a small squad of players who know how to win in The Championship, and most of his imports are on three and a half year contracts. So we go back down, cashed up, with a squad that should have no problem in competing very strongly in The Championship again. Whilst this may all sound rather defeatist, I prefer to think of it as cushioning myself for what I think is likely to happen. Or rather, what would likely happen if I was in charge. There is a big ‘but` in our favour, and that is Billy Davies (if he stays!).

He gave us the slogan for the season, which went along the lines of ‘Pride, Passion, Belief`. Can anybody really argue against Billy Davies, in that he didn`t manage to turn around a very sad excuse of a football club trying to compete in The Championship? We had, not that I have ever mentioned this before, a bunch of crooks in the board room, and I can`t let that rest there, now can I? Two men arrested a few weeks ago, and if only one of those could be FB Keith (remember, FB does stand for Financial Backer – not). Because it involves Derby, it is personal, and I want justice to be done for the way the old board rorted the company system in England, and ripped our club off by selling our assets at knockdown prices, in order to satisfy their own interest payments, for which they paid the princely sum of a quid each to invest in our beloved football club. Okay, blood now right at steaming point, so time to move on.

Where was I, before I was so rudely distracted? Ah, Billy Davies, a name guaranteed to bring a smile to all those who wear the black and white with pride (and passion, and belief!). At last, a bloke who knows exactly what he wants, and how to get it. A motivator, a tactician, a bloody genius in my eyes. His enthusiasm for the game is quite evident when you watch him during a match, and woe betide any player who does not do it his way. Whistling to beat the ref, gesticulations resembling a windmill, shouting louder than most of the crowd – he plays the full game with the team. Yes, the team – that ‘T` word which for so long seemed to have dropped out of our vocabulary. Fair play to Billy – he brought in some real gems, and some others who perhaps weren`t right for what he needed. But on the past twelve months, I have complete faith in this man to take Derby further than any of us could have imagined in April 2006.

I have had the good fortune to see Derby at PPS against Leeds a few weeks back, and then at Wembley for that day, the day which has eclipsed England winning the World Cup here in Sydney. Against Leeds it really was a bit of a party atmosphere, knowing that the result mattered not a jot to either side. What did stand out was the return of Seth Johnson and Stephen Pearson to the midfdield, and all of a sudden there was a very solid unit running the middle of the pitch – which for the previous few games had all too obviously been lacking, either through injury or just plain knackered from a hard season. So Billy Davies played to his strengths, and took down a team to St Marys which was clearly picked to out-muscle the opposition. Why else would you put John Macken on the same pitch as Stevie Howard (da da da da)? Why else would you put Sethlad and Stephen Pearson on at the start, with David Jones on the bench? And tell me how good it was to see Darren Moore restored to the starting line-up? I did not expect even a draw on the south coast, but to come away with a win was just great, but tempered by the reminder from the man himself that this was ‘only half-time`.

One thing I think we can safely say is that all those with dicky hearts will have met their maker by now, because the second leg at PPS was just a roller coaster of emotions. Never mind the early goal, and the rest of the game which culminated in Gregorz (bless him) smashing one in at the death of normal time. What about extra time? And as if that wasn`t enough, we then went to what I personally despise as a method of deciding a game of football, the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Shame it was Inigo Idiakez who put Derby into the final, and I have to say I genuinely felt for all those Southampton supporters and Uncle George, because it is the cruelest way to lose a match, especially when the stakes are so high. Mind you, following England has prepared most of us for what it feels like to lose in this way. Honestly, I would say that Southampton played the most attractive football out of the two sides, and they scored some cracking goals, and they were unlucky to lose. But, there always has to be a loser in the knockout stages, and if Derby are involved then it has to be the other team.

Quite what my neighbours made of that one word which I roared when Idiakez missed I do not know, but WEMBLEY was the word and WEMBLEY was where I was heading. It`s a long awayday, leaving at 1435 hrs on Sunday afternoon Sydney time, to arrive at 0530 hrs London time Monday morning, to depart again 2230 hrs London time on Monday evening, arriving back in Sydney at 0630 hrs on Wednesday morning. Nervous, pumped up – and that was just getting on the plane. So much rested on this one match, and the last time I was at Wembley was in August 1975. I certainly wasn`t old enough to enjoy a few beers before the game then, so it would have been rude not to make up for some lost time in the pub on Euston Road near St Pancras. The build up in the atmosphere in the pub was a pretty good rehearsal for what awaited us in the afternoon (damn, does that give away the morning start in the pub?), as people started to cram in to the bar, coming in from both Euston and St Pancras with Derby and West Brom shirts in abundance. Absolutely no trouble whatsoever, and I can honestly say that I neither saw or heard of any aggro, either before, during, or after the game, and both sets of supporters mixed freely outside the stadium. But I am ahead of myself.

The walk from Wembley Park tube to the stadium has changed. Gone are the imposing twin towers of Wembley Stadium, and the exterior is now a rather bland glass façade. Mind you, once inside you know that you are in a proper stadium, and with the level of noise increasing in direct proportion to the amount of time left before kick-off, the anticipation mounted. Actually, it was the sound of ‘Steve Bloomer`s watching` being played around Wembley that finally got it into my head – believe it, we are at Wembley, and this is the final for the play-off. What is the point in rabbiting on about how the game unfolded, because we`ve all seen it, and we know the result. I would like to make a public retraction on my thoughts regarding Tyrone Mears, who had a sensational game (but in my very humble defence, why did he not play like that at Crystal Palace?). What people won`t know who did not make the pilgrimage is just how fantastic the explosion of noise was when Derby scored. Yes, we all know what it is like when they score in a normal game, but this just seemed to be louder and longer, only to be eclipsed by the full time whistle. Not that we heard the whistle – all we saw were the hands of Graham Poll rising in the air to wave good-bye to the West Brom fans. You could not hear anything in the cacophony of cheers, yells, screams, clapping, and whistling, and then at least 35,000 sets of hands thumping along to the chant of ‘we are going up say we are going up`, which I have to add very quickly changed to ‘we are Premier League say we are Premier League`. Those very simple actions and lyrics really did encapsulate what it all means to the fortunes of our club. Whether it was the result, or the vast amount of champagne that followed, I am not sure whether I floated back to Sydney on a plane or on a cloud. What I do know is that I had a thumping hangover on arrival in Hong Kong, and it is the only time that I have ever been able to display a permanent smile in the throes of feeling like death. Wearing the shirt with pride, I took the congratulations of those in the know with great pleasure (as though I had played and scored the winner).

Explaining to Australian Immigration that I really had flown out and straight back for a football match was a challenge – but then, it is difficult explaining to anybody what Derby actually means to those who support the club. Maybe another rendition of that well known anthem might help: ‘We are Derby, super Derby, super Rams`. The whole experience was fantastic. I would willingly accept relegation, drop of a hat, for the chance of another awayday like that one. This is what makes all the heartache (and Derby fans get more than their fair share of that) worthwhile, for days like that at Wembley. Consistently beating the Florist is good, racking up a record number of away wins in a season is good (which we did if you count the play off win at St Marys), and everything else that being up at the top brings with it. However, nothing but nothing beats seeing your team win at Wembley, and for that we have the pride, passion, and belief of one man to thank – Billy Davies, thank you


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