Curtis Davies is still trying to make sense of the craziest season. One that started with him nearly quitting football in disgust and lurched from one crisis to the next before ending with a standing ovation despite relegation.
He is still following news bulletins and social media for positive updates. Still praying Derby County will find a saviour after Chris Kirchner’s takeover bid collapsed this week. ‘I am heavily invested in the club, emotionally,’ says 37-year-old Davies. ‘It’s my club whether I’m there or not. I’ve been part of the fabric for five years and those five years feel like 20.
‘I won’t sit there thinking, forget Derby, they went into liquidation, who cares. I’d be gutted. If this takeover doesn’t happen or it’s delayed further, people’s livelihoods are in doubt and with the cost of living crisis it couldn’t come at a worse time.
Curtis Davies has admitted that the most important thing is that the club survives this period
‘Derby is a massive club with a massive following and it needs someone who seriously wants to take it forward in the right way.
‘It’s not Championship Manager. That’s what Mel Morris did. Mel did well with the Candy Crush money, bought his hometown club and ran it as though he had the cheat code on Championship Manager. Unfortunately, there are consequences and we’re facing them now.
‘What we need is the next owner. And I’m not saying I want them to be, but if Derby were to be in League One for the next five to 10 years but survive and stabilise and build, that’s more important than finding someone who comes in and burns another load of money. The key is that the club survives and is run properly.’
Davies is out of contract and keen to continue playing, although he cannot see a way of extending his career at Derby. ‘I’d like to stay in the right circumstances,’ he says. ‘That’s my heart talking. My head says if something comes up at Championship level I’d be silly not to take it. I still have a hunger.’
The centre-back says that Mel Morris treated the club like it was Championship Manager
He excelled in the Championship, last season, despite the most uncertain start when, having trained all summer without a contract at Derby on the understanding he would re-sign once a transfer embargo had been lifted, he was summoned to the canteen by boss Wayne Rooney, along with seven other players operating under a similar verbal agreement.
‘The gaffer said, “I’m terribly sorry but it’s not happening”,’ says Davies. ‘He said, “The chairman can’t do it”. Mel was meant to prove there was money available to lift the embargo, which he couldn’t do.
‘Everyone just left the room. Sone Aluko drove straight to Ipswich and signed for them. Tom Carroll signed for them a few days later. I grabbed my boots and shin pads, and said my goodbyes.
Davies believed he had a close relationship with former owner Mel Morris before he felt he was let down
‘I changed out of my training gear and put everything in my car. I didn’t like the way that had gone down. Pulled into a room with loads of outsiders who were on trial to be told, “It’s not happening so off you trot”.
‘I thought I had a fairly strong personal relationship with Mel and that if that was going to be the case I’d have the heads-up. I was steaming as I was walking out, like, “That’s it, I’m done, I’m going to retire and work in the media”. I was just going to go on a long drive and if I had left the car park I don’t think I’d have gone back.’
Davies was fuming in his car when his agent arrived and they decided to go back in and explore a deal within the confines of the embargo. Derby cobbled together an offer based heavily on appearances and worth roughly half what had been on the table. He signed, retrieved his kit from the car and went back out on to the training pitch.
Derby are a ‘massive’ club with a ‘massive’ following believes Davies as the fans pray for a knight in shining armour
‘Not exactly with my tail between my legs because I didn’t have anything to be ashamed of,’ says Davies. ‘I’d done nothing wrong but I felt hard done by and it was the most reluctant I’d ever been to sign for a club.’
Next day, he was credited with a goal he did not touch in a 1-1 draw against Huddersfield, and, a week later, was launching a furious dressing room rant after Derby conceded twice in stoppage time to lose 2-1 at Peterborough.
‘The maddest start to the season,’ said Davies, and it got worse. In September, Morris sank the club into administration, invoking a 12-point deduction. November delivered another nine-point penalty for breaking the EFL’s financial regulations. There were players sold in January to keep the club operating and more sold in March.
‘I never thought Mel would put the club into administration,’ says Davies. ‘He was a Derby man and a Derby fan with a reputation in the community, and it was gone in one fell swoop.
Despite a miraculous effort, Derby could not overcome the sizeable points deduction they suffered last season and could not survive
‘I found out on Sky. Sat at home when the yellow ticker comes on with Derby going into administration. Oh brilliant, now what? When we lost the nine points, I found out on Sky.
‘At first, I’d be trying to find out what was happening so I could relay it to the lads but the manager didn’t have information, so how was I meant to get any? I found out more through social media and news outlets than I did from an administrator and that’s embarrassing because I was a senior pro.’
Davies cajoled young players fast-tracked into the first team with stories of how his own big break came 18 years earlier when Luton Town were plunged into administration.
Wayne Rooney matured as a manager at Derby and has seen his reputation enhanced
‘We were lucky because they continued to run Derby like a proper club,’ he says. ‘We were paid a couple of days late one month, but creditors stuck by us so we had buses to get to games. People were fed at the training ground, and we had supplements. Usually in admin you’d cut everything off and employ one chef to stick a wholesale lasagne in the oven every day.’
Rooney, meanwhile, matured as a manager before his eyes. ‘He has big shoulders,’ says Davies. ‘This was effectively his first season and it started by having to disappoint those eight players he had planned his team around.
‘He was the spokesperson, pulling staff together for meetings, saying, “This is what I’m told and I’m passing it on to you”, making it clear we were in it together and had to keep doing our jobs, and he did that well because it shouldn’t necessarily be his role.
Davies says that the players were lucky Derby continued to be run as a proper club
‘He pulled in the groundsmen, the laundry people, the office workers, the recruitment, the youth team, everybody into the room and said, “I’m going to lead us out of this”. He made those staff feel important at a time when they were worried about their livelihoods.
‘I don’t know why he didn’t walk away. Maybe that’s the character of the man. Maybe there was a slight buzz from the challenge. You know, “I’ll prove you wrong”.
‘No young manager wants relegation on their record and that happened but the crazy thing was that, by sticking with us, bringing these young lads through in his own style of play, he enhanced his reputation in a relegation season.
‘He didn’t need it. He’s worth a lot of money, had a great career. It would have been a lot easier for him to sit on the beach.’
Derby gave everything under Rooney and the fans were left proud by displays on the pitch
Davies also impressed. Perhaps no longer as quick and mobile as he was when called into England squads but an experienced centre half who knows his craft.
The mantelpiece at his home, crammed with Player of the Season awards from supporters’ groups from last season, proves he still has what it takes.
‘A season like no other,’ he says. ‘The most positive I’ve known in a relegation season. We were play-off chasing when I signed and if we were losing at half-time to a lower team we could be jeered off.
‘Yet we went through this season at the bottom, we lose at Forest and we’re clapped off, we lose 4-1 at Middlesbrough and we’re clapped off, we get relegated at QPR and our fans are cheering. They saw we gave everything and didn’t give up.’