It was October 1968 – Derby 3 Chelsea 1 in the League Cup third round replay. Possibly the greatest night of football in Derby, certainly in my living memory. And I was there! Nobody had any real expectations of what was to come – it was just the flash Londoners up for a routine replay. Brian Clough’s young side were not really expected to win. But what happened was simply stunning! We won 3-1 and under that old Popside corrugated tin roof that said Offilers Ales on it, we absolutely ROCKED.
We were jammed in on that terracing in a manner that would have ‘elf ‘n safety’ personnel wringing their hands in horror these days. We didn’t care – we couldn’t have got out to go to the toilet if we had tried! I had never been in such an atmosphere before as the crowd roared themselves hoarse cheering on the team. I couldn’t speak for several days afterwards – but who cared?
We went on to defeat Everton in the next round too. Another great night, but nothing can ever compare with that Chelsea night for passion, noise and sheer power of atmosphere. Although we then went out to Swindon and a Don Rogers goal, we went on to become top of the league and there was no stopping us as we went on to be promoted to the First Division and eventually take the Championship twice in the next few years. They were the greatest Derby days ever – the town (it wasn’t a city then) was absolutely buzzing and was the place to be.
Some years ago I was lucky enough to be able to go behind the scenes and meet Igor. I was looking after two Croatian girls who were devotees of Igor and Aljosa Asanovic and, courtesy of Stuart Webb, they were able to have seats in the West Stand at Pride Park. I went along to chaperone them. The match was on a Sunday and the opponents were Leeds United – always much loathed by Rams fans and especially by those of us who could remember the Sixties rivalries with Revie, Bremner and company, and that fight between Francis Lee and Norman Hunter.
There’s always a cutting edge to games with Leeds and we dread losing to them. The girls were almost hysterical with excitement as Igor led the team out. They took numerous photos and had to be told to sit down and settle by people around them when the game started. Sadly it all went wrong on the pitch and we lost 5-0, which most definitely wasn’t in the script.
Igor was known as a bad loser and when we went into the Players’ Lounge afterwards and there was no sign of him, I thought he had probably forgotten about meeting the girls in his furious disappointment. His wife Suzi was there though and she assured us he would honour his commitment. He was just having extra treatment on his injured back. After what seemed ages Igor appeared, as handsome as ever and with his personality (some would say ego) filling the room. He was the man. He was charming, courteous and despite all his anger over the result, he posed for photographs with us all. For the Croatian girls it was a day to remember forever. And for me too. Then, to top it all, Igor and Asa went on to star in the Croatia side that came third in the 1998 World Cup in France.