Derby County Football Club Women

“Becoming a Formal Part of Derby County has been Huge!” Gibbo’s Memoirs Part 7

Today sees the final chapter of our seven part insightful and humorous look behind the scenes, in which CEO Duncan Gibb or ‘Gibbo’ as he is affectionately known to club personnel and supporters alike, shares memories of his time at the club.

Today he completes the interview by reflecting back of the highs, lows and most humorous moments that he has experienced during his tenure.

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In terms of highs and lows, you’ve been quoted as describing your time at Derby as an addictive rollercoaster. What do you mean by that and what have been the key highs for you?

(Sighs) Crikey, we’ll be here all night and half of tomorrow in terms of those!  I guess the key one for me has to be the progress that the club has made over the past few years and seeing us all able to celebrate those achievements together at the end of season awards each year. I go as far as to say that it’s given me more highs and a sense of pride than anything that has happened in my work career, and is right up there behind things like the birth of my son and marriage.

In terms of individual things, managing to secure home games with Arsenal (twice), Liverpool and Everton as well as playing Forest at Pride Park Stadium twice. Most people laughed when I said that I was going to get the then League Champions and FA cup holders to come to Borrowash, but we did it, whilst given where the relationship with the main club was back in 2013, people would also have laughed if I’d have said that we’d be playing competitive games at Pride Park Stadium within 5 years.

In terms of those marquee games, I can still remember Becca Lombard-Thompson coming up to me after the first game with Arsenal an saying “Gibbo, that was totally surreal. Towards the end of the game when we won that corner, Alex Scott was marking me and pulling at my shirt. When I get home tonight I’ll walk into my bedroom and see the picture of her that sits on my wall!” Things like that make it all worthwhile.

Winning the Club of the Year awards at Wembley and the Barbican are memories that will never go away. I don’t mind admitting that I actually cried the second time that we won it on the back of becoming the first club in history to do it twice.

Clearly becoming a formal arm of Derby County has been huge and is without question the greatest achievement of all. Given where we were, I still have to pinch myself that the clubs CEO, Stephen Pearce sits on the clubs Governance Board and that he’ll ring or drop me messages to congratulate us on various things.

I guess in terms of more light hearted ones, appearing and scoring for the Derby County Legends team against a team of actors in a charity match counts as a high! The Legends team has been going for years; however as those have passed the number of legends has diminished to the point where the teams manager and former Rams player, Dick Pratley rang and asked if I’d play, due to my role with the female arm of the club. I said “I’m made up Dick; however you’ve gotta be scraping the barrel haven’t you?” to which he replied “I’m digging around at the bottom with a tea spoon Gibbo!”

Ted McMinn refereed and I was selected to play right midfield; however thankfully I had Olympic swim medallist, Ross Davenport playing right back behind me. Ross was the fittest person on the pitch by a country mile, so just before we kicked off I said to him “Are you familiar with the boy Cafu Ross?” Upon him advising me that he was indeed au fait with the legendary Brazilian attacking wing back, I said “Good, because Dick wants you to bomb forward at every opportunity with me dropping in.” This was absolute rubbish of course; however Ross didn’t need inviting twice and it worked for me in terms of frequent breathers!

The best part of the game had to be scoring. I’d watched Mark Stallard play for Derby as a fan, so when he set me up for my goal, trotted over, patted me on the back and said “Good finish mate” I felt about 10ft tall!

The final funny or irony is that our Partnerships Director, Rich Pope or ‘Face’ as he is known to many ended up managing the team, as Dick had to play. Rich then went on to manage a Derby XI in a sponsors game up at Moor Farm and team from Merril in a game that we organised at Pride Park Stadium, where they played in Derby shirts. As he often tells people “Cloughy, Coxy and Jim Smith may be legends; however only Face has got a 100% record!”

The First game at Pride Park

And in terms of the lows?

I guess most people will think the answer to this one will be our not being awarded a place in the Women’s Championship in 2018 Tier 2; however that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We’d put a strong application in; however our enhanced relationship with the main club was still relatively new, and a number of other clubs were simply further ahead of us in terms of their journey.

As such, when it was announced who had and hadn’t been offered a place, I was more than comfortable with the outcome. When we subsequently received our written and verbal feedback, that we’d been very close with only a couple of minor areas where progress was required, I was delighted.

In terms of the actual ‘lows’, whilst there have been some real frustrations along the way, the biggest ones are probably linked to results. Whilst we’ve enjoyed some exhilarating highs on that side of things, when you put everything into drawing large crowds to winnable home games, it can be extremely hard to take when you subsequently lose them; however that’s football!

Turning to current matters and obviously the Covid 19 crisis has and will be game changing for both people and clubs. Are you concerned for the future of both the club and the game?

As I say to my son Jordan “What’s happening now is the biggest thing in the lives of your 80+ year old grandparent lives, let alone your own. It will also be talked about in educational lessons for generations to come.”

Naturally I’m concerned for both the game and the club, as finances come into play on so many levels, with both the main club and our external investors all being hit in ways that are totally unprecedented and unforeseen. I guess the only thing that tempers that is that the same thing is happening to differing degrees to clubs across the country, so to a point it’s a level playing field. I say to ‘a point’ as some will clearly be hit harder than others.

I guess the biggest frustration is that at Derby we have come so far, and were on the cusp of taking things to the next level. The ground development at Mickleover is so exciting, whilst we we’re inching ourselves ever closer to Tier 2 both on and off the pitch; however as I often say ‘man always finds a way’ and that will be true of football and Derby County FC Women.

A ‘Surprising’ FA Club of the Year Award

Thank you for what has been an amazing and open insight into your time overseeing the club. It’s no surprise that the interview has been laced with humour, so on that note and given the current mood at the club and in the country, can you finish off by sharing your most humorous memory of your time at the club?

(Gives it some thought) Well I guess the stand out one if I have to name one relates to the FA Women’s Awards in London back in 2018. Although I can only tell half the tale.

As a rule in the build up to these type of events, you get a nod or a wink to a degree as to whether you are in with a chance of winning something. Calls or e-mails asking if you will ‘definitely be attending’ or ‘if you would like more places’ normally land, which is almost like an unofficial code in itself.

In 2018 no such communications were received and as such we had no idea that we’d be walking away with an award, let alone one of the major ones. As such it’s fair to say that our delegation relaxed, kicked back and enjoyed ourselves for a few hours prior to the awards in licensed premises various located in close proximity to the venue. Nothing daft; however upon entry to the event the only drink available was wine, which doesn’t overly agree with me.

Towards the end of the evening we are having a great time sat alongside our newly found friends from Aston Villa when they announce that the next award is the ‘Club of the Year’ one. We tell Villa that we won this back in 2015 before the compere Clare Balding says “and our shortlist is” at which point the Derby County badge appears on the big screen! 

Whilst the other two shortlisted clubs are being announced I’ve grabbed our Academy Director, Dave Cholerton and said “Dave if we win this you’re going to have to go up” to which he raises his wine glass, laughs and replies “You’re having a laugh aren’t you!”. The next thing Clare’s up to bat again and says to a hushed room of over 1,000 people from across the female game “and the winners are…..Derby County!” as the club badge once again appears on the screen.

Having weaved (literally) my way to the front, I’m now up on stage in front of Clare desperately hoping that it’s going to be a case of a quick question along the lines of ‘you must be proud’ followed by some pictures and stage left; however given that we’d become the first club to ever win it twice, it turned into a full interview before I was allowed to leave the stage.

At that point I was greeted by an FA official who congratulated me and asked me to come with him. As we walked presumably to do a few more photo’s I asked him how the interview had gone and on the back of him saying that it had been good, I relaxed and informed him of my drinks list to that point!  At that juncture he turned, chuckled and said “Oh dear Mr Gibb, I’m taking you to the press room now where you’ve got five interviews lined up with the nationals!”

Thankfully I got through unscathed, and was later joined by the England manager, Phil Neville and head of the women’s game, Baroness Sue Campbell, who were glowing in their praise of what Derby had achieved. Given that the week before we’d not been granted a place within Tier 2, I couldn’t resist suggesting to Sue that to name us ‘Club of the Year’ on the back of that knock back had taken some balls (or words to that effect), which made her laugh.

Suffice it to say when our badge appeared on screen at the 2019 awards for shortlisting in the ‘Contribution to Women’s Football Growth’ category, I was as sober as a choir boy and more than prepared; however sods law subsequently dictated that Blackburn Rovers won the award!