Few Derby County fans will want to spend long remembering their disastrous 2007-08 season. But, alas, here we are. It may not be pleasant, but it cannot be denied that this was a historic moment in the Premier League. A record-breaking season for all the wrong reasons which has still not been surpassed.
Derby were promoted to the Premier League after beating West Brom 1-0 in the Championship play-off final. The hastily thrown together squad was never expected to be promoted with some bookmakers having odds as long as 66-1 for them to go up.
The rot seemed to have set in before a ball had been kicked in the Premier League for the Rams. The Chairman, Peter Gadsby, was waiting on a takeover from US investors General Sports and Entertainment and had already been informed by GSE that a managerial change was wanted.
Aside from the ever-looming prospect of his P45, the first challenge which Derby manager Billy Davies faced was trying to sign high-quality players. Many players were reluctant to leave for a club which seemed doomed from the off. Davies ended up signing Robert Earnshaw and Kenny Miller for a sum of £5 million and centre-back Claude Davis for £3 million. Despite spending this much money there was little harvest to reap from the new acquisitions.
It became clear that these new signings were not Premier League quality. Combine this with a middling Championship team on paper and it was a recipe for disaster.
Derby actually started the season quite well; drawing 2-2 at home to Portsmouth thanks to a late equaliser from defender Andy Todd. It was a false dawn however. They followed this up with a 1-0 defeat to Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City and then successive defeats to Spurs, Birmingham and Liverpool. Derby managed to concede 12 goals in these three games including 4 against Spurs and 6 at Anfield- the first of four games that season in which they would concede 6. The nature of their defeat at Liverpool persuaded Paddy Power to pay out on the team to be relegated despite it being less than a month into the season.
On the 17th of September Derby experienced their one, tiny, morsel of joy for the season, a 1-0 win at home to Newcastle. Kenny Miller scored the only goal just before half-time. The 33, 016 people at Pride Park that day witnessed a genuinely once in a lifetime moment- Derby winning in the 2007/08 season.
As bad as Derby’s on-pitch problems were, off the pitch was no better. After pressure from fans, Trevor Birch left his position as Chief Executive and only a week later Gadsby followed suit. The Chairmanship role was filled by Adam Pearson, former Hull City owner. These boardroom changes did not seem to have the desired effect when it came to results however. Derby managed to pick up points in draws against Bolton Wanderers and Fulham but lost to the likes of Reading and Aston Villa and a particularly nasty 5-0 drubbing at the hands of West Ham.
It was after the next result, a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea, that Billy Davies had finally had enough. He left the club my mutual consent shortly after. Pearson had promised Davies funds when he arrived but after the Chelsea match Davies said ‘you have to invest in the playing staff … I haven’t spoken to the new chairman in three weeks. It would be nice to talk before Christmas.’
His request was answered only days later when Pearson invited him in for a meeting. It ended with Davies parting ways with Derby less than 6 months after winning them promotion.
Just two days later, ex-Wigan manager Paul Jewell was announced to have taken the vacant job. Jewell was highly rated, and his appointment was met with some optimism from fans. On the 10th anniversary of the 2007/08 season Jewell told the Daily Mail that taking the job was ‘the worst move I’ve ever made’. He also spoke of David Moyes, then Everton manager, calling him and warning him not to take the job. Moyes went as far as to describe Derby as the worst team he had ever seen.
According to Jewell the atmosphere in the Derby camp was at rock-bottom. Despite it not even being halfway through the season the players were completely shorn of confidence and any sort of team-spirit was non-existent.
As bad as Derby were, they were also woefully unlucky. There were a multitude of games which they lost or drew thanks to stoppage-time goals. This included Jewell’s first match in a charge, a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland. In the Christmas period they threw away a win against Newcastle and a draw at home to Liverpool thanks to two slips from Darren Moore and Benny Feilhaber which gifted the opposition late goals. Another example of the bad luck Derby endured can be seen from their defeat to Blackburn on 30th December. The Rams were 1-0 up before Steve Howard missed a penalty, and they went on to concede two goals.
There were big changes in January as Jewell looked to fill the squad with leaders and experienced players. He brought in the likes of Danny Mills, Roy Carroll and Robbie Savage. Sadly, there were also departures which must be mentioned, most notably Steve Howard and Matt Oakley. These two were key in Derby’s promotion campaign yet both decided to drop down a division to join Leicester.
Responsibility was given to Robbie Savage to step up and galvanise the struggling team. He was made captain by Jewell yet failed to deliver. Despite his media personality he was apparently a shy, quiet player and was not the leader Derby so desperately needed.
Derby’s American takeover was completed at the end of January but by this point the writing had been on the wall for far too long. Everyone involved in the club knew they were going down and it was going to be a major rebuilding job.
They managed to struggle through until a 2-2 draw with Fulham confirmed their fate. They were, and still are, the only Premier League team to be relegated in March. Some of their other achievements that season include: a club and top-flight record of 32 league games without a win, the lowest points total in the Premier League (11) and the least wins in a Premier League season (1).
Their final matches of the season included a 6-0 defeat to Aston Villa, 6-2 to Arsenal and on the last day of the season 4-0 to Reading. All these matches were at home for Derby.
Derby have still never graced the top-flight since their annus horribilus. There was some serious work which needed to be done to a club which was so obviously running itself into the ground. After some near misses at the bottom of the Championship they managed to establish themselves as a strong Championship side with 6 consecutive top 10 finishes. Now with Frank Lampard at the helm and a recent victory at Old Trafford in the League Cup things have not looked so promising for the Rams in a very long time.
It would be great to see such a historic team back in the Premier League and for any fans worried about how they might fare against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs have faith in the fact that it surely, surely cannot be any worse than the terrible season they endured in 2007/08.