Derby County Football Club Women

Gibbo’s Memoirs Part 1

Today sees Part One of our 7-Part look behind the scenes, in which CEO Duncan Gibb or ‘Gibbo’ as he is affectionately known to club personnel and supporters alike, clears up a puzzling question that many have, talks about his unconventional introduction to Derby County and shares his initial findings when he joined as the then Chairman.

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Before we start on all matters Derby, can we ask you a personal question, albeit a quirky one? Can you clear up the ‘Australia and Wales thing’ please, as to most people you sound like a southerner?  

“Ha ha, I knew that might be coming! In short I was born and initially raised in Adelaide, South Australia and have always supported them, regardless of whether its football, cricket or tiddlywinks! The family moved to England and I spent the majority of what you’d call my growing up years in Milton Keynes and then Cambridgeshire.

Baby ‘Gibbo”

The ‘Welsh thing’ comes on the back of my re-locating to Newport for work. My son Jordan grew up there from being a baby and both he and his brother quickly developed strong Welsh accents, so things both at work, socially and in the home felt Welsh.

Socially and at work the locals quickly took to me because I didn’t support England, and I took to them because it’s simply impossible to live in Wales and not get hooked into the Welsh culture. The passion and pride of the people kind of sucks you in.

Friends that I’ve since taken back there quickly understand it, and learning an element of the language whilst I was there has certainly proved handy on occasion!”

Thanks for clearing that up. So onto matters Derby County and where did your obvious passion and love for the club come from, that was to eventually led you to the clubs women’s arm?

It all started in 1983, when I travelled up from my Cambridgeshire home to meet up with a mate whose family had moved down there from this place called Derby a few years before, only to move back.

I was a Peterborough United fan at the time; however on the back of him taking me to Rams home game with Leeds United I was absolutely hooked on both the club and the city, and I never looked back since. I spent the next 20+ years following the club both casually and then as a season ticket holder from Cambridgeshire and South Wales, before eventually moving to the city in 2005. As one of my mates in Peterborough has since said “Gibbo, you were always destined to live in Derby!”

Isn’t there a funny story about the club and its floodlights?

(Laughs). I used to travel up from Cambridgeshire with another Derby fan called Ian Roberts, or Pug as he was better known to all. You know what young people are like in terms of dreaming, and one day I said to him as we were walking down Cambridge Street to the old Baseball Ground, “Puggy, one day we won’t have to make this long trip, as I’m going to buy a house up here that will be that close to the ground that you’ll be able to see it.”

That was around 1991 time; however fast forward 30 years and Jacqui (my wife) and I were moving furniture into our new house on City Point. The main bedroom is on the third floor and we were moving this chest of draws into place when I happen to look out of the window and spot the very top of one of the floodlights on Pride Park Stadium! I literally stopped in my tracks, told Jacqui the story and then went and rang Pug Roberts…..we both had a good laugh at the irony!

The Chief Executive and Club Founder, Sheila Rollinson

So eight years after you move to the city, and your sat in the players’ lounge at Pride Park Stadium discussing taking over the clubs women’s team. How did that come about?

From nowhere is the answer. I basically got a call from a friend of mine Melissa, whose daughter Becca Lombard-Thompson was captain of the clubs Reserves squad at the time. I say call; however it only lasted about ten seconds. I answered and this voice went “Get a copy of today’s Derby Telegraph Gibbo and read the small piece on the back page. It’s got your name written all over it. Bye!”

I duly did and saw a small article that said that Derby County Ladies FC were on the lookout for a new chairman. I knew hardly anything of the female game; however I rang this lady called Sheila Rollinson, who I now know as the clubs founder and heartbeat, and the next thing I know I’m sat in the players’ lounge at Pride Park Stadium discussing the role with a committee of club parent volunteers.

A few days later I’m in a hotel room in Whitby on a Friday night preparing to go out and my phone rings with Sheila on the end of it. Ten minutes later I turned to my wife Jacqui and said “I’m not sure how this will pan out love, but I’m the new Chairman of Derby County Ladies!”

As the clubs new chairman what were your initial impressions and what things did you subsequently look to change during that first year?

“After a week the enormity of the task in hand hit me. The club had something like eight teams, but didn’t have a single sponsor, whilst its media footprint was limited to an odd periodic line in the Derby Telegraph, meaning that it had little or no profile. On top of that the clubs training facilities at senior level were woeful and the relationship with the main club was at best tepid. What it did have however, were some truly incredible people working both behind the scenes. In my eyes the sum part of those people was more important than the things that weren’t in place.

I can remember telling the clubs then committee that we needed a five year plan, that would see us aim to significantly raise the clubs profile, secure large levels of sponsorship and external investment, develop and enhance the clubs then junior section, improve our training and playing facilities and seek to build a much enhanced relationship with the main.

It was clearly a tall order, and I can remember summarising it by saying that we’d need to migrate the clubs whole structure to one in keeping with a male club, which would mean that we’d need to bring in new people in order to realise those ambitions. Thankfully it seemed to strike a chord and from that point on I don’t think we’ve ever looked back.

Taking the first of those objectives ‘profile’, how did you picture that and what did you initially do in order to change it for the better?

That one was quite easy in terms of the principals. I said we needed to improve our media footprint, in line with that we needed to put some big ticket items on the table that made Derby fans sit up and go “We’ve got a women’s team”. We also needed to win things and to then shout about them.

Through a contact, I quickly managed to secure us half a page of editorial in the Derby Telegraph at weekends and I convinced BBC Radio Derby to give us a dedicated programme slot through which to talk about and promote the club. That gave us a voice; however we needed something to talk about.

They say nothing venture, nothing gained, so I made contact with the biggest club in the game, Arsenal and cheekily asked club legend Faye White if they’d be so kind as to play us in a friendly. To my surprise she agreed, before saying that she was sure they could find a slot in their schedule at their Boreham-Wood FC home ground. At that point I basically said “I don’t want you to think that we are pushing our luck here Faye; however I need you to come to Derby and ideally with your full strength side!”  Amazingly she agreed to both requests.

At the time our average gate was about 20 people and the obligatory dog; however 500 people turned up on a night when the men’s team were playing just up the road at Rotherham and they weren’t to be disappointed, as Arsenal fielded a team of household names including Casey Stoney, Kelly Smith, Jordan Nobbs and Rachel Yankey to name but a few. I can remember our recently appointed Technical Director, John Griffiths (now England U17 Manager) turning to me just before kick-off, shaking his head and saying “I still not quite sure how you’ve done this fella; however there are over 600 England caps on Borrowash Victoria’s pitch right now!” 

A year later we got Arsenal to come back, and two weeks later league champions Liverpool. Over the two games over 1,000 supporters crammed into Borrowash for two memorable nights which really got people, not just locally, but within the women’s game to sit up and go “there’s something special happening at Derby County Ladies”. I can vividly recall Kelly Smith coming up to me in the bar after the Arsenal game and saying “Where an earth have all these fans come from? We played Chelsea on Sunday and I don’t think there were this many there!”

The Liverpool game sticks in my mind for two reasons. Firstly they had heaps of away supporters there, with quite a few sporting female player names on their tops. This would resonate with me years later in terms of us achieving our ‘profile’ ambitions, when the same things started to happen at our games.

The other thing was Liverpool manager Matt Beard (who’d I’d arranged the game with) telling me prior to kick off that he’d be fielding a full strength team and they would be “going for it full tilt” as he wanted his players in a competitive mindset for the weekends WSL fixture.  The look on our manager Stuart Wilson’s face was priceless when I told him. I didn’t need to read minds to know what he was thinking!

Join us tomorrow for Part 2 of Gibbo’s Memoirs as we look into the #EweRams Profile and shaping a new-look team behind the scenes!