Colin Bloomfield was kind enough to invite me into the BBC Radio Derby studios for Monday night’s Sportscene Talk-in programme, to offer a fan’s perspective on events at Derby County, alongside the towering Roger Davies.
I made my maiden appearance on the show last year, turning up nervously clutching a folder full of home-made stats, which I remember Roger thumbing through curiously while I answered one of Colin’s questions live on air. This time, I was less thoroughly prepared and possibly still slightly hungover from ‘celebrating another Rams victory’ against Leeds United on the Saturday night.
Overall, I thought the show was really good, with most of the callers very happy with how things are going and making valid points. However, the first caller spoke at length about a report written some weeks ago by the Forest-supporting Daily Telegraph journalist John Percy, which claimed that Clough had been told to raise £1.3m in January and would therefore sell Will Hughes. The caller took this as gospel and spent quite a while complaining about it. Colin consequently spent quite a while explaining that he had already raised this issue with Clough, who had denied the reports.
Anyway, Roger was in fine form and there was a cameo appearance from Darren Wassall, plugging the youth team’s FA Cup game against Gateshead at Pride Park the following evening. And of course, it was Colin’s last Sportscene Talk-in before his well-deserved big transfer to London, so he bade the listeners an emotional farewell.
The hour flew by and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I didn’t get as much time to express my opinions as last time I was on. With that in mind, I thought I’d revisit the questions I was asked by Colin on the night and see if I could expand on the answers I gave live on the mic.
Colin Bloomfield: Are you concerned [about the number of goals conceded] – is it formation, is it personnel?
DCB: We need to score two to win, that’s the problem. The most obvious thing is that we lost the two top centre backs [Shackell and Barker] and got Keogh in, so one to replace two – on the face of it, the defence isn’t as strong. Still the issue with left back, in that there’s no real cover, given that O’Connor is playing out of position. Although when he came, we were told he was comfortable anywhere across the back four, but he said himself he is a right back. And now that he’s made a couple of mistakes, we’re told he’s playing out of position at left back… I think we could do with strengthening [in January], but I don’t think they will. I think that especially now Buxton is injured, they might give O’Brien a little run.
Unsurprisingly given how well he has done this season, there was plenty of chat about Will. I thought the caller Jason from Borrowash was spot on in his assessment, saying that Hughes is clearly enjoying himself, other clubs are getting scared of him and other players might be attracted to play in the same team as Will – all good reasons for us to keep him for as long as possible.
Another caller, a Spurs supporter, said Hughes is good enough to be the captain of England one day and he had ‘never seen anybody that good that young’ – it was also nice that the caller picked up on Jeff Hendrick’s potential and said the two of them together could become a fantastic partnership.
CB: Obviously we want him to stay at Derby, but do we have to be realistic if the right offer comes in? Or should we fend off the big clubs?
DCB: I think from his perspective … He’s obviously good enough to play in the Premier League, that’s the thing. So at some point, if we’re not able to get there, we won’t be able to hold him back and somebody will want to take him…
There’s no point him going to a big club and sitting on the bench, or playing in the under-21 team. That wouldn’t be any good for his development at all… [I then talked about John Bostock, a wunderkind who was snatched from Crystal Palace at an early age by Tottenham, but failed to make the grade there and is now at Swindon Town].
Will’s so good, it’s obvious for everyone to see. The word’s out now, he’s getting highlighted on the Football League Show and all the journalists are picking him out. When he does move on, which seems inevitable that he will eventually, hopefully we get full value for him…
CB: Not a Tom Huddlestone deal.
DCB: Exactly. That would be a mark of the development of the club. The people in charge then were not the sort of people you would want associated with your football club, shall we say. But let’s keep calm, keep him for January and see what happens in the summer.
(I worry that it will be made impossible for us to keep a player with so much quality beyond the summer, unless we can convince him that he will play a leading part in a genuine promotion push next season.)
Colin read out a few texts from fans demanding that money is spent on new players to push us up into the top six, or even keep us in the top ten. One asked Colin whether the board match the fans’ ambitions.
CB: I’m going to leave that one to Ollie… I guess you could say they’re being sensible, they’re being prudent, they don’t want to end up like Portsmouth…
DCB: The talk for some time has been about Financial Fair Play, how we have to fit into that and how we can’t lose stupid amounts of money like Cardiff and Leicester are doing and QPR did successfully – well, I say successfully – but what we don’t want to do is go into a longer period where we stagnate and just stay mid-table in this division.
You want to see us push towards the top of the league. This season, we’re doing pretty well, but over Christmas, there’s a lot of fixtures in a short space of time, you might get one or two injuries, one or two suspensions…
CB: There is a fine balance, isn’t there, between sensible investment and under-investment. It depends which side of the fence you sit on as to where Derby are when it comes to that.
DCB: It could be incremental, because we’ve got the nucleus of a decent squad and if we can add a little bit to it – maybe they won’t do much in January, but if we can improve on last season’s position of 12th, we can look at it in the summer and say, ‘OK, we’re in a decent position now, we’ve got assets within the squad, we’ve got good young players…’
On this last point, I’d like to add that it’s fair to say that we haven’t heard much talk of a promotion push coming out of the club for some time now. There’s probably been an element of trying to take pressure off Nigel while the club shifted out the old, failed squad and brought in a new, younger, cheaper group.
However, fans need to feel excited about the future. If they are not revved up about a club that is gunning for promotion, they may think twice about renewing their season tickets. Why should I sign up for another season of mid-table mediocrity, some might think.
It would be nice to believe that the board want us to get back to the Premier League, but I think there is currently a disconnect in that sense between them and the supporters. Billy Beane was right when he said that nobody wants to hear about the business being run well until it turns out it wasn’t being run well, but I’ll also never forget the following online comment from a Derby fan – ‘I don’t support a balance sheet, I support a football team.’
Given a reason to truly believe they are going to see a winning team, the fans who have deserted the club in recent seasons will start to come back. A new chief executive is coming in and we will soon find out more about his vision for our future.
Just finally, I’d like to thank Colin for giving me the chance to appear on Radio Derby and for some great commentary moments. I’ll never hear the names Mark Beevers or Danny Shittu again without thinking of Col – and will also always fondly remember the time when he excitedly quoted some stats I’d published on win percentages with and without James Bailey to the great Colin Gibson, who sniffed and said something along the lines of, “Right…” before intoning, “The only statistic that matters is the final scoreline”.
Best of luck in London, Colin!