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Interview: Shaun Derry

20 August 14 interview: Stu Brothers

Born and bred in Nottingham, Shaun Derry cut his teeth at Notts County before setting off on a career that took in Sheffield United, QPR, Crystal Palace – a few times – and Leeds United. An aggressive, defensive midfielder in his day, he’s come home to sort out the Magpies as player-manager. We spent some time with him to see what his game plan is…

In the tunnel at Liverpool, you pass the famous ‘This Is Anfield’ sign as you go out on to the pitch. Have you done anything similar to try and inspire the players and instil pride in the club?
In terms of plaques, no. But what we have done is get a training ground [Eagle Valley, home of Arnold Town] which enables us to turn Meadow Lane into a special place. It’s a place we’ve gone in every day, using the home and away changing rooms, walked past the pitch, used the small gym every single day... it becomes familiar. Now we’ve got this great facility, we’ve escaped from Meadow Lane until we go back every other week and I want it to really become our special place to play football.

All players that break into management say they’ve picked up bits and pieces from the managers they’ve played under. What tricks of the trade have you put into action?
When you get to a certain age, around 28, you make your own judgements. You’re quite led as a younger player but as an older player you have your own opinions. I’ve been fortunate enough to play for some fantastic managers and I’ve learned from every one of them. You have to respect the manager and his wishes but ultimately, if you have aspirations to be a manager or a coach, you have to look and ask what you would do if you were lucky enough to be in that position.

Stuart Pearce has taken over across the river, meaning there’s a legend in the dugout on both sides of the Trent. What would happen if you two went in for a 50/50 ball on the field?
I can vaguely remember a County Cup game at the City Ground where I was right back and he was left back – he won’t remember me but I certainly remember him because he’s still such a legend in Nottingham, one I have nothing but the utmost respect for. In our heyday I think I’d be nursing a dead leg at the very least.

If you were to bring in a foreign player to the club, how would you go about selling Nottingham to them?
I’d ask them to enter from the A52. I love coming into Nottingham from that angle. I’m a Basford boy and I always come in at Junction 26. But having lived away for the best part of forteen years, to come back down the A52 to get to West Bridgford, to see the lights of Trent Bridge, then a fantastic football club in Nottingham Forest, and thirty seconds later reaching Meadow Lane – I don’t think there are many sights like that in the country. The brand of sport in this city is fantastic, it always has been, but that sight alone sells what this city is all about.

A few years back, Notts were asked to play Juventus to inaugurate their new stadium. If you could have any side in the world come to Meadow Lane, who gets your invite?
If you were to look on a European stage for a global brand then you can’t look any further than Real Madrid or Barcelona as the two standout European clubs. For me, though, I still feel Manchester United holds that special kind of brand in English football. It’s still right at the very top, despite its knockers. On a worldwide stage United are massive – it’d be great to have a top, top team of theirs come to Meadow Lane.

How long prior to coming back to Meadow Lane had you planned to get into management?
I knew I wanted to get into management when I hit thirty. I knew what direction I wanted to go in as a player, and I certainly knew what direction I’d go in as a manager. Now I’m here I’m thankful and I’m trying to work every day to stay in this position. You can only have a certain amount of managers or assistants in the game – there are lot of good people out of the game, and I’d like to think of myself as a good person who is very grateful to be where I am.

Neil Warnock has recommended managers to the club in the past – Keith Curle and Craig Short, for example. Did you speak to him prior to your return?
Yes I did, in depth leading into my talks with the board. He spoke about certain things that I needed to ask. He was a fantastic source of experience that I was able to gauge my own questions off. But again, Greg Abbott [Assistant Manager] is a similarly fantastic source given his years in the game, and I’m fortunate to have that on tap for me every single day.

What was the biggest task facing you and Greg when you arrived at Meadow Lane last year, given we only had seven points on the board nearly three months into the season?
Changing the mentality of the players was the hardest job. You feel that you’ve turned corners but you take two steps back when you get walloped 6-0 away at Rotherham or 5-1 at home against Walsall. We had to go back to basics, ask what was holding us back – and we decided to go down a different route. We’ll let people make their own assumptions of what avenues we went down, but people will look at the last seven or eight games in particular, see the players that didn’t play any part in that, and make their own judgements on the decisions we made.

Did a time ever come where you thought you might have bitten off more than you could chew?
No, I didn’t. I always believed. And I know people question me, but Greg and I always believed we would achieve what I wanted us to last year. At times, of course, it looked difficult. Even the strongest minded people questioned us, but I never questioned myself – failure was never an option. I know we’re going to have ups and downs this upcoming season, but we’re not going to fail.

What’s the dynamic like between yourself and Greg Abbott? Is there a good cop/bad cop relationship there?
No, not at all. We fully respect the players and I’d like to think that the players respected us last year. I just want us to be a pair who try and get the best out of the players’ abilities. On day one we talked about driving each other on, that it comes from within, because too many hours were wasted last year with us grabbing lads and trying to get as much out of them as we could. It becomes sapping. Fighting fires is negative and I don’t want us to have those hours in training.

Do you believe there’s a glass ceiling for a club with Notts’ finances?
Absolutely, and I’d argue with any fan who says anything different. We have to thank our lucky stars that we have a family who have put millions of pounds into this club just to keep it going. How far can we look through that ceiling? I’d argue that in time I think we can get this club back into the Championship with the right backing. You need a lot of luck to get above there, though.

And your hopes for the season?
I don’t want us in a situation like last year, where we needed snookers at times. I want us to be a team that’s value for money and with this hard work ethic that brings enjoyment to the fans. I’m not going to sit here and say we’ll get promoted – I’d be a fool to say that – but I want to see a vast improvement on where we were last year.

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We went to the great dugout in the sky to get Jimmy Sirrel’s lowdown on the new season.

What sort of state are Notts in heading into the new campaign?

Pretty good. The wee shirkers and weak of heart are gone, the fans are pulling in the same direction, and there’s no a hint of bank holidays stopping us paying our staff.
 

What's the best case scenario for the season?

Winning League One by February.
 

And the worst-case scenario?

Winning League One by March.
 

Whose breakout season will this be?

I like the cut of Kyle Dixon’s jib. He’ll follow young Curtis Thompson and Haydn Hollis

through the ranks and into the first team. No question about that. Fabian Spiess is in the same boat too.
 

Which player holds the key?

Jimmy Spencer is a good’un, right enough. His new deal will get a buzz about the place.
 

Where are Notts looking thin?

Right now they look about as narrow as Posh Spice after a trip to the Red Hot Buffet. We

need wingers!
 

Which great from your era would you like to back-to-the-future in to the current squad?

John Chiedozie. Get some chalk on your boots, son.
 

Advice for the gaffer?

Och, stop running rings around the youngsters in training. We get it, Shaun! And let’s aim to have more points than live TV games by three months in this time.
 

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