According to himself, Zlatan Ibrahimović arrived at PSG ‘like a king and left a legend’. Jake Fred Buxton, on the other hand, arrived at Derby County with a plastic bag slung over one shoulder and leaves, if not quite a legend, at least with the genuine, heartfelt thanks of every Rams fan for his seven years of honest service.
Remember the reaction when he joined the club? As I recall, it was mostly incredulity, bordering on contempt, from some quarters. But Clough, of course, believed in character more than anything and was right to back Buxton – like John Brayford – to handle the jump up the league pyramid.
He was 24 then, is 31 now – and I dare say that every Rams fan with any soul will feel sad at his departure. Derby County simply will not be the same without him. In a world where most footballers are so different from you or I that they might as well be an alien species, Bucko was treasured for his honesty, his straight-forwardness – his reassuring, solid, yeoman-like normality. You knew where you were with Bucko.
I will always remember with the greatest fondness that interview he gave before a Forest game, when he expressed his intention to “get in their faces and put them on their arses”. It was startling because it was so much the kind of thing that fans like to hear their players say, but which is media-trained out of them, even if they possessed the instinct. Bucko possessed the instinct and was never taught to avoid saying anything interesting during his time at Mansfield or Burton. He was always 100 per cent, refreshingly honest in interviews. Back then, it was the club which was ‘on its arse’ and was in dire need of heroes.
He became a favourite talking point for Sky Sports pundits, who picked up on his ‘hands-on’ approach to marking strikers at set pieces. He earned the ironic, but genuinely affectionate nickname ‘Buckobauer’ and the equally ironic, but equally affectionate chant of “Jake Buxton’s a football genius” (his brother deserves the chant “Jed Buxton’s a supporter liaison genius“, by the way – but alas, it doesn’t scan).
Jake was the sub who came on against Forest after the injury that ended Shaun Barker’s career and scored the winner – not knowing how to celebrate, he simply clapped his hands in sheer delight. Everyone loved him then. And after Clough was replaced by Steve McClaren, Buxton became an integral part of what Ramspace called the ‘champagne supernova’ of a team who went all the way to Wembley and within a minute of going to the Premier League.
But at the same time, the homespun values of dedication, professionalism and sheer effort can only take you so far. And though it was Richard Keogh who got the criticism for the Bobby Zamora goal, it was a Buxton error which led to the cross which led to the disaster.
Bucko had reached his peak. He may have held off the challenge of Raúl Albentosa, but in the end, a combination of injuries and the arrival of Jason Shackell limited him to the role of ‘squad man’.
His last notable act as a Ram was to clatter a blatantly goalbound Benfica forward (one of those guys who is different enough from you or I to be an alien species). Bucko felled him like he was a lumberjack chopping down a young tree. He thus received a yellow card – no easy feat in a friendly. That was the moment when it seemed very clear to me that he would be leaving this summer.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was curious to see what Nigel Pearson did with the popular Buxton and am not surprised that he has not been kept around for sentiment’s sake. All things come to a natural end and it’s the right decision to let him move on. With a year left on his contract and no realistic hope of an extension, a transfer to Wigan Athletic offers Buxton a deserved financial reward, plus the chance to extend his Championship career and win the hearts of a new group of fans.
Derby County will not be the same without him – but change is inevitable and sometimes, it’s for the best all round. Best of luck and thank you, Bucko. Getting in Chris Martin’s face and putting him on his arse will not be the hardest challenge of your professional career, but I know you’ll enjoy every minute of it all the same.