From the depths of despair and teetering towards the abyss, County Derby is reborn and growing again.
After a harrowing nine months of administration, point deductions and player sales, the rebuilding job is well underway with longtime fan David Clowes’ rescue mission in July.
Derby face West Ham in the FA Cup on Monday night after going 19 games unbeaten, including six consecutive wins under manager Paul Warne, a promotion specialist in League One.
Caution [known as Warneiola in some quarters] he has revitalized the club with his unique brand of management, and this newly assembled squad is fully on board for the journey.
Over 20,000 season tickets were bought by supporters who feared their club – a founding member of the Football League – was sliding towards extinction.
Away games were sold out across the country – over 6,700 fans were at Milton Keynes Dons and 5,600 traveled to Anfield for the Carabao Cup match against Liverpool in November.
The mood shifts on and off the pitch, and there is no one in the best position to talk about the breakthrough of Curtis Davies, the captaincy.
Davies has been a hugely significant figure in the club’s recent history – a seasoned leader who was named Player of the Year for his performances during a crisis campaign.
Finally, you can sense better times ahead.
“The feeling around the place is totally different and now there is stability. People don’t look over their shoulders anymore,” he said Sports Telegraph.
“Are the laundry staff, kitchen staff and scouts not hedging their bets and thinking ‘I’ll be next to go’?
“It’s a much better feeling and it has given us a platform to rebuild and to be competitive again.”
Davies, 37, has seen a lot during his career, but last season was a nightmare filled with setback after setback.
After administration was confirmed, Derby were then hit with two separate points deductions from the English Football League, totaling 21, after breaching financial rules.
Players were sold to provide cash flow and academy youngsters were thrown into the deep end as the club struggled to survive. Staff were fired as others feared for their future.
Amidst all the negativity, the Derby players feuded under manager Wayne Rooney, but relegation from the Championship was confirmed in April.
“We were hiding in nowhere,” Davies says. “After the first point deduction we thought we could top him, but the extra 12 points were the killer.
“We tried to prove people wrong and it would be a miracle if we survived, but we couldn’t. If we hadn’t taken away the points we would have finished 17th in the standings.
“We did everything we could and in the end it was the powers above who let us down.”
After months of broken promises and missed deadlines from bungling Quantuma administrators, it was finally Clowes, a local businessman, who completed his acquisition on July 1st. Clowes quickly moved to rebuild a crumbling club.
Fifteen new players arrived over the summer, while huge debts to HMRC and US loan company MSD Holdings were repaid.
Derby operate under a strict £8m EFL corporate plan over the next two years. No transfers can be paid and only free agents and loans are allowed.
The maximum wage is £12,000 a week which includes bonuses and social security.
These will be mouth-watering figures for other clubs in their division, such as Burton Albion and Morecambe, but Derby are determined to ensure that excessive exuberance is never a problem again.
Derby’s infrastructure is also gradually improving, with a new head of recruitment, Mark Thomas, arriving from Oxford United next month. A performance manager will be appointed shortly.
Warne, described as the Pep Guardiola of the division by Derby fans, has revitalized the club with his unique brand of management, and this newly assembled squad is fully on board for the journey.
A dramatic 2-1 win at Port Vale on Tuesday night keeps Derby in the play-off places and they continue to dream, if dimly, of automatic promotion.
Premier League wrestlers West Ham’s visit to Pride Park on Monday offers another opportunity to extend the feel-good factor.
“The owner is a nice guy and doesn’t want to get too involved, but he did it to save his football club,” says Davies.
“He has a manager in Paul Warne who is family oriented and cares about the group. His mantra is that if you are all together you can get that extra 5%.
“The unity inside the locker room hasn’t changed. We signed many new players over the summer, but there is still a sense of community.
“We’re coming back strong and the future looks bright.”