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IVAN GASKELL ON HIS BELOVED DERBY, LAMPARD, ZAMORA AND SAUNDERS

14 February 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Ivan Gaskell looks ahead to Saturday's game.
Brighton & Hove Albion fans have always loved the sight of Bobby Zamora wheeling away in triumph after scoring a goal, as he did on 90 occasions in Brighton colours.
 
But a Bobby Z strike at Wembley in 2014 brought TV broadcaster and lifelong Derby County supporter Ivan Gaskell to his lowest point as a football fan.
 
“The most devastating day I have ever had both as a father and as a football fan was the year we beat you in the play-off semi-finals and played Queens Park Rangers in the final,” he says.
 
“We bossed the game, we were the best of the play-off teams, we deserved to get promoted and I was there with my wife and son to see it happen. But when it got to 85 minutes you could just feel what was coming.
 
“We’ve all been there as football fans, saying, ‘We should be winning this game’ with a growing sense of dread. And then you saw this move unfold from our end of the pitch, mistake after mistake after mistake. There seemed to be at least three in our own penalty area. It all seemed to happen in slow motion and Bobby Zamora was there saying ‘Thank you very much.’
 
“This wall of noise came at us from the Queens Park Rangers end. You saw the reaction of the fans first and the sound came up Wembley a split second later and hit you. I went into a sort of dream state for about half an hour.
 
“I’d been so convinced that this was the perfect day to go up. We were the right team, we played great football, we were going to do it this time and I was there with my boy on his first trip to Wembley. And at that moment everything changed.
 
“It was a fantastic day only spoiled by Bobby Zamora. There was frustration, deep heartbreak, and a bit of me died that day as a fan. It reminded me how cruel it is. Charlie ended up consoling me.” 
 
 
Derby-born Ivan, a regular on BBC shows like Match of the Day, Football Focus and Final Score, plus many other media outlets, for the past three decades, has never felt his Rams loyalties waver, but has tried to alter his perspective since then.
 
“I thought: ‘I can’t allow myself to be that heartbroken again.’ Of course then it all starts once more and you get drawn back in,” he said.
 
“But I have become more philosophical and resolved to try to enjoy the ride a bit more, not just think about the prize at the end.
 
“I kind of want to get to the Premier League but all I see there is endless anxiety, losing more than you win, trying to stay out of the bottom three. Whereas if you’re in the top half of the Championship, you win more than you lose and if you stay in the play-off mix, and maybe throw in a cup run, that’s almost nirvana.
 
“I’ve got a friend who is a Huddersfield fan and the day they got promoted was the greatest day of his life. I loved it for him and it was good to see a great old name back. But look where they are now.
 
“It’s grim, it’s a battle and do you see many of their fans smiling right now? All that work to get there and the prize at the end is so mixed. Getting to the Promised Land is more enjoyable than being there.”
 
 
 
He admits that his view of the top flight may be tainted by the Rams’ most recent experience, after going up through the playoffs in 2007. Their 11 points the following season was an all-time low, and they lost 29 games.
 
Even the play-off final victory over West Bromwich Albion was a let-down. “That day was grey, cold and miserable and we won with a scrappy goal,” he said. “It summed up the season and was a foretaste of what was to come.
 
“Even as the champagne was flowing in the dressing room, manager Billy Davies was suggesting that all was not quite right in the camp. And true enough, he didn’t last very long.
 
“The season was a disaster. We beat Newcastle for our only win. We lost 5-1 at home to West Ham. You knew early on it was a hopeless cause.
 
“But there’s a gallows humour to being a football fan, and watching Derby that season was almost a badge of honour. I’m no longer embarrassed by it. I almost embrace it.
 
“You have earned the right to call yourself a football fan when you have been there for the good and the bad. It’s part of the journey. That was what I told Charlie when I finally got over the QPR defeat: ‘You know what? This is what being a football fan is about.’" 
 
 
This season, under Frank Lampard, has been far more enjoyable. “I thought it was a Hollywood appointment,” he admits. “I was in the camp that asked if it was right that someone untried and untested should be able to walk into a very good job just because he was a great player. I admire Sol Campbell for cutting his teeth in the lower divisions.
 
“As it has unwound, the season has surprised me. We’ve got some great players here for the season and we’ve had some great days. The likes of Harry Wilson and Mason Mount are really good players, spectacular goal-scorers. There’s a vibrancy and enthusiasm.
 
“I can’t remember enjoying a night in recent years as much as when I watched us beat Manchester United on penalties this season [in the Carabao Cup]. Okay, it was a good time to play them but we looked a proper team and took penalties to die for.
 
“And we played so well at Stamford Bridge even though we went out. We’re thereabouts in the playoffs – we might, we might not. But the entertainment has been fantastic. So it has been a very good appointment as far as I’m concerned because I’m enjoying watching my team again.
 
“Frank has some depth and has earned his spurs. He has won people over and is the real deal as a person as he was as a player. He is great front man for the club.”
 
 
 
And Derby, remember, have had some great front men over the years, going back to Brian Clough – days that Ivan can just about recall.
 
“I vaguely remember both our League titles. My grandparents used to live in the streets that led to The Baseball Ground and my dad played on Saturday afternoons so he would drop me off there about midday.
 
“I would see the crowds walking to the game and then hear them while I was kicking a ball around in the back yard. So I had that attachment from a very early age.
 
“My favourite times were from the mid-eighties onwards, with Arthur Cox in charge during the Robert Maxwell years. What a time! With Maxwell’s money, Cox took us from the old third division to fifth in the old first division.
 
“We had Dean Saunders, Peter Shilton, Mark Wright, Ted McMinn - week after week of great wins. Not only was I a fan but I was also just getting into broadcasting, doing bits and pieces, and managed to get a job as matchday announcer at The Baseball Ground.
 
“Ian Maxwell, Robert’s son, was the gentler face of the Maxwell empire and always had time for me and would come in before a game and check what I was going to be saying.
 
“Then, ten years on, there were the Jim Smith years. I remember a game against Crystal Palace in 1996. They were third, we were second and if we won they couldn’t catch us and we’d be back in the Premier League.
 
“Robin van der Laan, who was a bit of a folk hero, this long-haired Dutchman, headed the winner in the second half and I was so excited that I almost fell off the upper deck of the Osmaston End at the Baseball Ground.”
 
 
The Rams left their famous old home in 1997 just as Albion were forced out of The Goldstone Ground. But unlike the Seagulls, they were able to move straight into their handsome new stadium at Pride Park.
 
“I loved the old place but in 2019 it feels right that we are where we are, in a big ground that can handle big crowds and big games,” Ivan says.
 
“And when we were first there, Jim Smith and Steve McClaren presided over three successive years in the top half of the Premier League, with players like Igor Stimac and Paolo Wanchope, which is perhaps difficult to believe for Derby fans now.
 
“I think we’re due another good spell. We’ve been knocking on the door. Whether Frank is the long-term answer I doubt. I think he’ll move on if he does well, and the same with the players. It feels temporary to me. And so I turn to the FA Cup.
 
“Frank probably sees these cup ties as an opportunity to enhance his personal reputation, and each time one has come long he has seized it. And I don’t blame him at all for having one eye on his own career prospects.
 
“If he’s doing well then we’re doing well and if he gets it right on a few days that coincide with the FA Cup rounds, then I’m all for it.
 
“There’s a little feeling this year that this team can be very good when it’s on form and that’s the perfect recipe for a cup team. We’ve got the Frank Lampard back story, a bit of showbiz: all the ingredients are in place.”
 
Ivan will be hoping for a strong Derby line-up at The Amex, despite their hectic Championship programme.
 
“We got to the semi-finals in 1976 and were beaten by Manchester United,” he says. “I was heartbroken. I have yearned to see Derby in a cup final all my life. Look at clubs like Wigan – they’ll always have that FA Cup win.
 
“If you could offer me a chance to see Derby win the FA Cup or have four or five years of mediocrity in the Premier League, I’d take winning the FA Cup.
 
“I might even take just getting to the final, just having that day, and saying: ‘I was there.’ Those days are so precious.”

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