TFN’s Piers Barber recalls Derby County’s 2007-08 season, the worst in Premier League history…
Ungainly own goals, inevitable late defeats, Dejan Lovren’s defending: each passing week seems to confirm the idea that practically every team in this season’s Premier League is almost entirely useless. Perhaps, then, a little perspective is in order. Derby County, relegated at the end of the 2007-08 season with a record low points total of just 11 points, may be just the tonic.
Despite a foreboding late season slump, Derby secured promotion in 2006-07 thanks to a narrow play-off victory against West Bromwich Albion. Despite operating on a proverbial shoestring budget, manager Billy Davies made a few not insubstantial outlays over the summer, bringing in Kenny Miller from Celtic and Robert Earnshaw from Norwich City to bag the goals to keep them up. Peculiarly, the club also deemed it sensible business to part company with £3 million to secure the services of Claude Davis from Sheffield United.
The whole thing started hopefully enough, with the Rams coming from behind to grab a draw at home to Portsmouth in their first game of the season. “Now we find ourselves competing against the best teams, players and managers and we have to enjoy it,” Davies said after the game. Unfortunately for the Pride Park faithful, this would be essentially as good as it got.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall long before the season had even really got going. Bookmaker Paddy Power certainly thought so – they decided to pay out on Derby being relegated as early as 1st September in the wake of an ugly 6-0 defeat to Liverpool. With the likes of Ryan Babel and Andrei Voronin on the scoresheet for the Anfield side, Derby supporters could perhaps have been forgiven for concluding that their time was already up.
Comprehensive loss followed comprehensive loss, with 5-0 defeats to both Arsenal and West Brom proving to be particularly mortifying days at the office. A first and only win of the season came in September at home to Newcastle, yet after scoring twice in their first match, the Rams managed just four more by mid-December. The morning of an October draw with Fulham proved to be the last moment they’d spend off the foot of the table.
Davies was relieved of his duties by November following an ugly breakdown of relations with chairman Adam Pearson. It was, all things told, a sad end for a manager who, by his own admission, had never realistically envisioned having to deal with the heady heights of the Premier League so quickly after arriving in June 2006. Just months after realising the most monumental achievement of his career, a baffled Davies was out of work.
The appointment of Paul Jewell turned out not to be the answer – is it ever? – despite his arrival being backed up by a wave of brave and foolish reinforcements in the January transfer window. They included Laurent Robert, Alan Stubbs, and Robbie Savage, who, resplendent in his new no.44 shirt, was even handed the captain’s armband after Matt Oakley abandoned ship for Leicester City.
It was, quite inevitably, all in vain. Savage gallantly led his new club to relegation in record quick time, with their 29th March execution date the first time any team in the division had been sent down before April. Regrettably, this still left plenty of time for more defeats, with the hapless Rams shipping six goals to both Aston Villa and Arsenal and falling to a desperate 4-0 loss to fellow relegation victims Reading before the season was out. Jewell would have to wait until the following season to record his first win at the club.
It had been a dire nine months. For some, it saw Davis quickly cement his place as the unrivalled candidate for the accolade of the club’s worst ever signing. Neither new striker set the league alight, with Miller and Earnshaw notching just five goals between them over the course of the year. Savage in particular chased and kicked his way through a number of repeatedly hopeless performances: “You listen to people saying ‘you’re awful’ and it’s not nice,” poor Robbie complained as the season drew to a close.
In truth Derby’s final record makes for frankly quite uncomfortable reading. As well as their unprecedented point tally, they also conceded 67 goals – a record high – and scored just 16 – unsurprisingly, also a record low. Their one win equalled the lowest ever total, set by the mighty Loughborough 108 years previously. It was, all told, as grim a season as there has ever been.
Of course, Derby’s pitiful return is an interesting statistical quip, not to mention, well, completely hilarious. Still, their essentially inevitable failure to ever get to grips with life at the top level is little more than an extreme example of the plight faced by many clubs promoted to a top division which ruthlessly punishes any team lacking the sufficient funding, fan base or planning. Derby’s fans lived through a common dilemma for the promoted side: was that one afternoon of ecstasy at Wembley in May ultimately worth the year of misery which followed?
With even the likes of Burnley showing impressive levels of fight this season, it seems unlikely that the Rams’ unhappy record will be beaten any time soon. Still, although no doubt a chilling memory for anyone remotely involved with the club, at least the rest of us will always have their 11 point season to turn to during our darkest moments: it was, after all, undeniable proof that there’s always someone worse off than ourselves.