The Story of Derby County's Record Breaking 2007-08 Season
by Edgar Smith
Pure Phase, £8.95
Reviewed by Terry Staunton
From WSC 289 March 2011
Early on in a top-flight campaign that would ultimately end in a litany of unwelcome "records", Derby County's website did manage to strike a brief note of positivity. Pride Park was (drum roll) the first UK football ground to install a branch of Starbucks. However, as the back slaps and double-espressos-all-round subsided, it was soon time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Bookmakers Paddy Power seemed to have a clue to what was about to unfold when, clearly as a publicity stunt, they announced less than a month into the season that they were already prepared to pay out on the newly promoted Rams going straight down again. Yet not even the brains behind such a PR gimmick could have predicted that, come May, the club's stats would include not just fewest wins in a season (one), but fewest points (11), worst goal difference, longest winless sequence, failure to score in most games and the first team to be relegated from the Premier League in March. As the author points out in the introduction here: "Basically, if being spectacularly bad was a prerequisite, the Derby County side of 2007-08 were on the podium."
It's a rare sentence of post-season analysis from Edgar Smith, who with his brother runs the Ramspace fan website, and the bulk of the text comprises his day-to-day internet entries as the increasing horror reveals itself. It's uncomfortable reading, but makes for a fascinating diary of a club steamrolling towards disaster (although correcting the punctuation and spelling of what originally appeared online might have been an idea).
After August ends with a third defeat in four games, Smith writes of the visit by Birmingham City as a "classic case of a good day being ruined by 90 minutes in the middle", and even as the squad continues to underperform, as Billy Davies is replaced by Paul Jewell, and as the board bring ever greater depth to the meaning of the word "rudderless", the author's stoic humour doesn't waver. He chuckles at Starbucks, enjoys a night out in London picking up a lads' mag Fans of the Year award, and makes good-natured digs at players hiding from supporters in their preposterously large cars.
That's not to suggest Smith and his matchday buddies (a great-sounding bunch of characters who are as much a part of the book as anyone on the club payroll) actually relish Derby's unstoppable spiral downwards, but he serves up an evocative portrait of the lot of the typical fan untroubled by the dizzying heights of trophy potential or European qualification, and the camararderie of devotion to a club that will almost always break your heart. "It seemed the less we achieved, the more I wanted to be there when we finally did score, or even win," he concludes. "After enduring all the torture, I wanted a piece of anything good. Although it never came, I wasn't alone."