Earn trust and respect — advice from the football reporter celebrating 1,000 matches following Derby County

Steve Nicolson

Derby’s 3–1 win over Hull on Tuesday, February 8 will probably be remembered for the fact Craig Forsyth scoring for both teams on the night. But for Steve Nicolson, Derby County reporter at DerbyshireLive and the Derby Telegraph, the match was memorable for a different stat: it was his 1,000th match covering the Rams…

I can still see Rob Lee thumping a 25-yarder low past the Reading goalkeeper after 61 minutes of a Division One clash on an August afternoon in 2002.

The significance of the goal takes shape now almost 20 years on, but it didn’t at the time. It was the first scored in what has proved to be an unbroken personal run of covering 1,000 consecutive competitive Derby County matches for the Derby Telegraph and DerbyshireLive.

Rob Lee scores in the first of 1,000 games in a row Steve Nicolson has covered for Derby

Further goals from Fabrizio Ravanelli and Malcom Christie completed a 3–0 Derby win in front of a sold out Pride Park Stadium and there was belief the Rams could bounce straight back to the top flight following relegation.

It was not to be, sadly.

Indeed, the Rams have spent 19 of the last 20 seasons in the second tier of English football. The one season in the Premier League in that time saw the club win just one of 38 fixtures and finish bottom with a record-low number of points.

But what a journey it has been.

There have been countless highs and lows, laughter and near tears, and thousands of miles travelled from top to bottom of the country — Newcastle to Plymouth, Carlisle to Brighton, taking in around 80 grounds.

Most memorable of the 1,000 Derby games? The memories are many and varied. The joy and despair of Wembley play-off finals, the tension-packed tussles with neighbours and rivals Nottingham Forest, a penalty shoot-out success over Manchester United at Old Trafford and a final-day escape from relegation.

There have been hundreds of players during the journey and 15 different Derby managers — John Gregory, George Burley, Phil Brown, Terry Westley, Billy Davies, Paul Jewell, Nigel Clough, Steve McClaren, Paul Clement, Darren Wassall, Nigel Pearson, Gary Rowett, Frank Lampard, Phillip Cocu and now Wayne Rooney.

All were different in their way, and this is where putting in the miles to build a working relationship comes in. The role of a football writer has changed markedly over the years and the emergence of social media has brought new and different demands, but certain important fundamentals remain and one of them is building a relationship with the manager of the club you cover, an important skill because trust and respect is not a given, they have to be earned.

This reminds me of the time following an away fixture one season when I found myself giving a certain Derby manager a lift. He had travelled to the game by car but his bag containing his car keys had been loaded onto the team coach by mistake after the match and the coach had set off back to Derby.

He used his mobile phone to contact his assistant on the team coach, but needed a lift to meet the coach and recover his car keys. Fine, no problem but Derby had lost the game in the final minute. Should I talk to him about the match? Should I discuss the mistake that had gifted Derby’s opponents a winning goal? How do I break the ice?

As I carefully considered what to say, he chirped up: “Did you see the ‘Only Fools and Horse’ Christmas special? Ice broken, and for much of the next 20 minutes we chatted about the latest escapades of Del Boy and Rodney!

Festy Ebosele scored against Hull with Steve Nicholson watching on for the 1,000th game in a row

The latest Derby goal in the ‘1,000 games not out’ journey was scored by 19-year-old Festy Ebosele in the 3–1 victory over Hull City.

Ebosele was nine days old when Rob Lee scored the first. Now that makes me feel old.

  • In 2022, Behind Local News aims to celebrate local journalism in all its forms through our 365 Acts of Local Journalism Project. Lets us know what you think should be included. You can email us here or contact us via Twitter on BehindLocalNews or on Facebook here.

>> See the series so far, here

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The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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