< Back to all news

7 Of The Best Players To Ever Play For Derby County

Podcast Blog Post 19

7: Peter Shilton

“What can you say about Peter Shilton? Peter Shilton is Peter Shilton, and he has been Peter Shilton since the year dot.”

Former England manager Bobby Robson’s quote is both comically nonsensical and yet also sums up perfectly a player whose record-breaking achievements meant he needed no introduction.

One of the game’s greatest goalkeepers, Shilton’s ability was matched by his longevity – he played 1,390 times for eleven clubs during his career, finally calling it a day well into his late forties.

He remains England’s most-capped player, making 125 appearances in a 20-year career, a tally that would have been significantly larger had it not been for the presence of fellow legend Ray Clemence, with whom he alternated in the England goal during the 1970s and ‘80s.

‘Shilts’ was a brilliant shot-stopper who bossed his area and was renowned for his dedication to training. In his 125 games between the sticks, England won 66 times, conceded only 80 goals, and he kept a record 65 clean sheets.

He bowed out on a high in 1990, helping the Three Lions to reach the World Cup Semi-Final, the team’s best showing since 1966. Shilton’s domestic career was littered with honours, most notably at Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest from 1977 to 1982, where he won the League Championship, the League Cup, the European Cup twice and was voted PFA Player of the Year in 1978.

In 1989 He helped the Derby side of Mark Wright, Dean Saunders and Ted McMinnfinish fifth in the league, and they only missed out on competing in the UEFA Cup due to the ban on English clubs in European competition 

6: Igor Stimac

Perhaps the most influential of all Jim Smith's signings, Igor Stimac brought a new dimension to Derby County. He was a regular member of the increasingly successful Croatia team when a fee of £1.57-million brought him from Hajduk Split. If Stimac was alarmed by what he saw of his debut, a 5-1 defeat by Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park, he did not show it. The defensive formation changed after that and Derby embarked on an unbeaten run of 20 League games, putting them well on the way to the Premiership.

Stimac had an unshakeable faith in his considerable ability and his confidence affected those around him. Especially in the First Division, it often appeared to intimidate opponents. When he arrived at Derby, Stimac spoke little English but, within a matter of weeks, became fluent. Although he did not believe he should play unless fully fit, Stimac could always point to the results when he was there. He had a presence, style and class, a magnificent player. He was of five Derby County players at the 1998 World Cup finals in France where, to his pride, Croatia finished third.After a brief spell with West Ham United, Stimac returned to Split to attend to his many business interests.

5: Alan Durban 

Alan Durban was 22 when Tim Ward signed him from Cardiff City for £10,000 in July 1963. It was money well spent, for Durban was one of the few to survive and play a significant part in the Clough era. He had two distinct phases at Derby, the first as a goalscoring inside-forward and the second as an intelligent midfield player. In his first role, he formed a productive partnership with Eddie Thomas which is brought them 24 goals each in 1964/65 after Thomas had arrived from Swansea Town. Durban went on to score more than 100 goals for Derby, including four hat-tricks, but his best days were in midfield. He had no great pace, nor was he a particularly good tackler but he had a wonderful feel for the flow of the game and a delicate touch. Perhaps his greatest attribute was an ability to find space in crowded penalty areas, arriving late to score a large percentage of his goals from close range.

He earned 27 Welsh caps before joining Shrewsbury Town, where he became player-manager and steered them out of the Fourth Division in 1974/75. Durban played more than 550 League games (on all 92 grounds) before he retired. He became manager of Stoke City in February 1978, and was involved in another promotion success in 1978/79, third place in Division Two. After an unhappy spell with Cardiff he became manager of the Telford Tennis Centre but returned to football with Derby, helping Roy McFarland after back trouble ended Arthur Cox's time as manager.

4: Roy McFarland

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had seen Roy McFarland had seen Roy McFarland playing for Tranmere Rovers when they were in charge of Hartlepool and made him their second signing at Derby. He was then 19 and had been snatched from under the noses of Liverpool, the team he supported. For less than £25,000 Clough and Taylor bought a player who, they felt sure, would develop into the best centre-half in England. With Dave Mackay alongside him to speed up his maturing process in 1968/69, McFarland was a key-figure in the team that romped away with the Second Division title. He made his England debut in Malta in February 1971 and led Derby to the 1971/72 League Championship. McFarland had the football world at his feet, although he suffered a black week in 1973 when Clough and Taylor resigned and Engladn were knocked out of the World Cup in the qualifying stages because they were unable to beat Poland at Wembley. It was also at Wembley, in May 1974, that McFarland sustained the severe Achilles tendon injury which was to keep him out of all but the last four games in the 1974/75 Championship triumph. He was able to regain his England place briefly and his 28 appearances constituted a record for a Rams player, passing Alan Durban's 27 appearances for Wales but was later overtaken by Peter Shilton and others. 

Sadly for McFarland, the best part of his playing career came first, and in a declining side, he was increasingly susceptible to injuries. He came player-manager of Bradford City, and promptly led them from Division Four in 1981/82 before returning to Derby in controversial circumstances. Derby were fined for an illegal approach. He played a few matches when he was Taylor's assistant in the first part of the sad 1983/84 season. At his peak, he was one of Derby's all-time greats, skilful, consistent and ruthless; a superb professional and of England's best post-war defenders. McFarland was caretaker manager after Taylor's dismissal and worked successfully with Arthur Cox as Derby rose back through the divisions. He became manager in his own right when back trouble forced Cox's resignation but the days of lavish spending were over.

3: Kevin Hector

Kevin Hector had scored 113 League goals in 176 games for Bradford when Tim Ward astonished supporters by signing him for £38,000. Derby, pottering along unambitiously in the Second Division, were not expected to pay fees of that size but Hector was an instant success. He was christened the King by supporters and retained the nickname, even when he became one fine player among many in the great days of the early 1970s. He did more than survive the advent of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor; he was an integral part of the teams, which won the Second Division and two League Championships. He was gifted with pace and a marvellous balance, so the goals flowed regularly.

Between 1970 and 1972, he played in 105 consecutive League games; from August 1967 to December 1974, he missed only four of 314 League games, an astonishing record for a striker. Sir Alf Ramsey should have given him an earlier England run and his debut, against Poland in October 1973, was farcical, a couple of minutes as a substitute to try and get England through to the World Cup finals. He nearly did it too, being denied only by a Polish kneecap on the goal-line. His only other cap was also as substitute. Tommy Doherty sold Hector to Vancouver Whitecaps and he spent the English seasons playing for Boston United and Burton Albion before Colin Addison brought him back in October 1980. By the time he bowed out, with a goal against Watford in a match Derby had to win to ensure their Second Division place, Hector had made more appearances than any other player in Derby's history and scored 201 goals, a total surpassed only by Steve Bloomer. He gave supporters immense pleasure through his style, his goals and his manner on and off the field.

2: Archie Gemmill

Archie Gemmill cost Derby County £66,000 when he was signed from Preston to take over from Willie Carlin in midfield. So keen was Brian Clough to complete the deal that he stayed overnight in the Gemmills' house. Pace was the first important ingredient Gemmill added but he soon developed into one of the finest midfield players in Britain. He began running every August and did not stop until the following May, urging the rest of the team, competing in every area of the field and using his speed as the ace. After a stunning UEFA Cup performance against Athletico Madrid in Spain, their Argentine manager, Juan Carlos Lorenzo, embraced and embarrassed Gemmill as "Magnifico".

Gemmill made 40 appearances for 1971/72 Champions, and, in the absence of Roy McFarland, was an inspirational captain when the title returned to Derby three years later. He won a third Championship medal in 1977/78, after joining Nottingham Forest in what was for Derby a disastrous exchange deal that brought goalkeeper John Middleton and £25,000. He played 43 games for Scotland, 22 of them while with Derby, including six as captain, and gained a League Cup-winners' medal with forest but was disappointed to be left out of Forest's 1979 European Cup final team. He was the first signing after Peter Taylor's appointment as manager did more than most in a successful fight against relegation. In 1983/84, Taylor fell out with Gemmill and although McFarland restored him to the team, his career ended sadly with relegation to Division Three. He was on Clough's coaching staff and, after two years as joint manager of Rotherham United, returned to Derby as overseas scout under Jim Smith.

Derby’s greatest ever player: Steve Bloomer

Steve Bloomer moved to Derby as a child, learned his football at St James' School and played with Derby Swifts in the Derbyshire Minor League, scoring 14 goals for them in one match. That form brought him to the Rams' attention and his first game in a Derby County, against Darley Dale, he scored four times. Bloomer made his League debut at Stoke in September 1892 and soon established himself as a favourite with the crowd. Pale-faced, almost ill-looking, Bloomer's appearance belied his worth to the side.

He scored goals from all angles, plundering them from close range and launching rockets from 25 yards. He was Derby's leading scorer in all matches for 14 seasons and won the first of 25 England caps in 1895, scoring twice in a 9-0 win over the Irish at Derby. Bloomer took his fair share of digging elbows and clogging feet, but nothing could stop this peerless footballer whose big shot was matched by exquisite, defense-splitting passes. Some critics said that he played too much for himself and colleagues dreaded a Bloomer stare when the ball was not put to his feet. Yet Bloomer was a legend.

In 1906 he went to Middlesbrough, rejoining Derby to a hero's welcome in 1910 and skippering the Rams to promotion. In 1914 he went to coach in Germany where he interned during World War One. After the war he played with and coached the Rams, at reserve and first-team level, then enjoyed a successful spell with Real Irun in Spain, winning the King's Cup, before returning to the Baseball Ground as a general assistant. In failing health, Bloomer was sent on a cruise, but in April 1938, three weeks after returning home, Derby County's greatest player was dead. 

He is 7otb and The Football Hour’s greatest Derby player.