Are Derby County the worst team in top flight history? Danny argues that their tragic 2008 season proves that it is the case.
Nine years ago yesterday; Derby County became the first team to be relegated before April as they would then become known as ‘The Worst Team in History’. Season 2007/08 was a season that broke all the records, but unfortunately for the Rams, they were not records you would want to go into the book for.
They went on the longest run without a win (32 games) and their relegation on March 29th was the earliest a team has ever dropped out of the top flight. And, of course, their total points – a whopping eleven, was quite frankly pathetic. Only one side has ever managed less, and that was when only two points were awarded for a win. If it was three points per win back then, it would have bested Derby’s legs eleven.
In fairness to Derby, no one expected them to go up in the first place. Promotion was never on the cards and Billy Davies’ first season at Pride Park was meant for consolidation, but instead they found themselves defying the odds and winning the Championship Play Offs, beating West Bromwich Albion in the final. Suddenly, this unfashionable club had found themselves in the biggest league in the world. Their fans were on Dream Street, especially as hated rivals Nottingham Forest were, at the time still languishing in the third tier. But the good times didn’t last for Derby. In fact, they didn’t even begin.
In pre-season, manager Billy Davies made a number of signings; Robert Earnshaw, Tyrone Mears, Andy Todd, Claude Davies, Lewis Price and Kenny Miller for £2.5million, amongst half a dozen or so others, whilst also keeping hold of all of their important players. But Davies, who has been known during his managerial career for falling out with his clubs’ chairmen – as well as players, local media, the tea lady and even his own shadow – was making it public that he wanted even more money to spend, and was throwing a bit of a paddy; the beginning of the end for ‘King’ Billy.
The opening game of the season was a 1-1 draw with Portsmouth (one point gained, just ten more to go) but a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool dropped the club into the bottom three – which they would never get out of alive. Even Paddy Power paid out on bets backing the East Midlands outfit for relegation, after just five games of the season. Every man and his dog knew they would be going down. Especially Davies, who was becoming quite the awkward customer – seemingly trying to force the Derby board’s hand, assuming so as to avoid a relegation on the CV.
Derby then hosted Newcastle United, and a single Miller goal was the difference between the two sides, as the Rams recorded their first (and what would ultimately be their last) win of the season. Were Derby now finally finding their feet in the big leagues? A 5-0 hammering at Arsenal in the following fixture said ‘absolutely not’. And a draw with Fulham on 20th October would be their last point for two months. Billy Davies, inevitably, parted with the club half way through that losing run, one week after a 5-0 pumping by a struggling West Ham side. The angry Scot was then replaced by Paul Jewell, but results did not improve.
They would gain their first point in two months just before Christmas. Newcastle having the embarrassing dishonour of not being able to beat them over either fixture. The New Year was not to be a happy one either, despite signing no less than eight players. Most Derby fans had accepted relegation when they signed Robbie Savage, a player not really known for his football ability (although he later claimed on live television that he was ‘world class’), but instead he was mainly known for his wind-up tactics, as being a pantomime villain. But perhaps this was exactly what Derby needed? But they lost every game until the 30th January, when they drew 1-1 with pre-money Manchester City. It wasn’t what Derby needed.
At the end of January, Derby had been taken over by an American company, but an installation of a new ‘president’ and chief executive would not make a difference to proceedings on the pitch. The Rams were knocked out of the FA Cup, losing 4-1 to Championship side Preston North End in El Billico, to coincide with their loss in the League Cup to lower opposition Blackpool earlier on in the season.
Jewell would suffer defeat as he travelled to his old club Wigan, but would get a draw against Roy Keane’s Sunderland. It seemed that was to be the pattern for the season; lose half a dozen or so, grab a draw, repeat. The following week, Derby were panned 6-1 by Chelsea, and then lost to Manchester United and Middlesbrough before a 2-2 draw with Fulham – that result confirmed relegation, which must have been a bit of a relief for all involved. Despite the embarrassment of suffering the quickest drop since the dawn of time, it was like a fox that lay dying on the side of the road that you have to go and finish off with a jack.
With relegation finally confirmed, Derby could go out and play with some pride and two weeks later, they lost 6-0 to Aston Villa. The remaining games resulted in losses (obviously), losing 6-2 to Arsenal on the way – meaning they’d conceded eleven goals (ironically how many points they finished the season with) over the two games with The Gunners. They finished the season with a 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Reading – a club who had also been relegated along with them.
Derby haven’t been back in the top flight since that fateful ’08 season, despite being one of the biggest spenders in the Championship. But with that sort of money, it won’t be too long until they’re back in the English top flight. And when they do, all eyes will be on them, as those eleven points will hang over their heads for a long, long time.