The Grass Is Greener: Derby County, It’s Now or Never

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, they say. We may be in love with Italian calcio, but there’s more to football than what happens south of the Alps. In our “The Grass Is Greener” column, we discuss what’s up with international football and its trending news.

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The English Football League Championship kicked off last Friday, with Derby County winning 2-1 at Reading in the opening match. The Championship has been growing year after year in terms of viewing figures, stadium attendances, and moreover in the quality of players joining the teams. Indeed, this is the only domestic second division than can boast the presence of two former European champions; Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest.

Most clubs have received big financial injections in recent years having acquired foreign ownership – mostly from Asian countries and the USA. Three clubs get relegated every year from the Premier League and at the end of last season it was the turn of Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City.

But today I want to focus on Derby County, a club to which I forged a connection when I started sharing an apartment with a Derby fan. We started to watch the games together, and out of the blue I found myself following the club. That’s when I remembered my grandfather mentioning them many years ago, when he told me the story of one of the greatest comebacks in the history of Real Madrid. In 1975, the Merengues lost 4-1 to Derby in the first leg of a European Cup (now Champions League) round of 16 tie, but still managed to advance to the quarter finals after winning 5-1 at home.

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Derby County reached the peak of their European history in 1973 when they faced Juventus in a European Cup semi final. The Rams lost 2-3 on aggregate, blaming some controversial refereeing decisions

Derby County was founded in 1884, its football section emerging from an older cricket club, in order to give their cricket players something to do during the winter break. The ram became the symbol of the club, as well as of the city, due to a traditional tale known as The Derby Ram or As I was Going to Derby, written by Llewellyn Jewitt in 1867.

Over the course of their history, the Rams have won 3 major pieces of silverware; the FA Cup in 1946, and two First Division titles (now the Premier League) in 1972 and 1975. In 1973, Derby even managed to reach the European Cup semi finals, where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to Juventus under controversial circumstances. Those were the glory days of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, who had such a major impact on the club that a statue of both was erected outside their Pride Park home in 2010 to commemorate their legacy.

However Derby have been struggling in their recent history. Their last appearance in the Premier League dates to the 2007-08 season, when they acquired the shameful record of becoming the first team in the history of the English top flight to be relegated in March – ending the season with an all-time low points tally of just 11.

Since then, the Rams have consistently qualified for the Championship play-offs, only to miss multiple promotion chances at the last breath. This happened again in May this year, when Fulham came back from 2-0 down in their play-off second leg, leaving Derby fans in tears once again. Seeing their players performing well throughout the season, and then collapsing in the most important games of the year, has been an increasingly concerning trend for the Rams’ supporters.

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Frank Lampard poses with Derby County’s chairman Mel Morris, after signing a deal to become The Rams’ new coach. For the former Chelsea star, this will be his first experience in management

For the upcoming season, Derby hired former Chelsea legend Frank Lampard as manager, in what is his first experience as a coach. Lampard will need to rebuild the team, and work a lot on the psychological side. His biggest achievements so far were to convince young midfielders Mason Mount (from Chelsea), and Harry Wilson (Liverpool) to join the team on loan, as well as retaining Czech striker Matej Vydra, last season’s Championship top scorer with 21 goals.

Expectations are once again high for the Rams as they attempt to emulate the glory days of the ‘70s. Certainly beating Reading in the first game of the season with a 94th minute winning goal will give Lampard’s team a welcome injection of optimism for the season ahead.

Go Rams go!!!

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