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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 29/08/05, 3.00pm
Derby County
Your Ever Well Wisher
By Mike Peter

Thursday, and I'm meandering down Southampton high street, pondering about the potential purchases I could make, when I spot a balding, scruffy, thirty something man looking at me. Not glancing either, really staring. Many of you would find this flattering, no doubt, but I don't and so I accelerate slightly. But he moves towards and before I can dive into Carphone Warehouse...

"Not trying to get away from me are you buddy?"
Of course I bloody am! I don't take kindly to strangers following me, but I'm English so...
"No, no, of course not."
(Wouldn't want to upset the strange, potential-murderer, would I?)
"I'm Max, I've just got over from America..."
Oh, thank God for that! He's just a tourist, looking for directions!

"I'm kinda like a monk."

Now, I don't know about you, but "I'm kinda like a monk" ranks fairly high in the list of things I don't want to hear from strangers. My mind is already filling with images of him taking me back to Utah and making me worship an earwig. Or something. Meanwhile Max is telling me about some monk who "left India at the age of seventy for America, had two heart attacks on the way, died, and then travelled around the world fourteen times and became a mentor to George Harrison."

Soon, however his purpose becomes clear. Thrusting his groin towards me (along with bum bag), he tells me he needs donations. Now, I'm fairly suspicious of Max, from what I can deduce he's not from a conventional religious order and, although I may be young, I'm not entirely unaware of what George Harrison used to get up to. And besides, he's disobeying the rules of monkdom by not wearing a habit. But still monk he claims to be, and thus society's rules kick in and tell me I have to give him money. So I gave him 2 for a copy of his book and we went our separate ways.

Society has hundreds of unwritten laws and, although you may not realise, they shape our lives. They tell you that you should give to monks, even if they are wearing a grubby fleece and smelling a bit fishy. They tell you not to run the wrong way up escalators. They tell you that playing golf once you're over thirty-five is probably a good idea. And, I think, they tell you not to like Derby County.

It's a silly law, this one. As far as I can't tell there's nothing to dislike about Derby, really. Indeed, much like Watford, they are a small town club who, having flirted with Premiership adventure, found themselves down in the dumps financially speaking. Much like Watford, they face the new campaign with a degree of uncertainty and under a new manager.

Phil Brown is the new man in the hot seat, having taken over from George Burley during the pre-season. Burley dragged Derby from relegation candidates to play-off semi-finalists in just over a year but left in a storm of controversy after a row with the board. Over what, the Derby fans don't really know and so, much like Watford, Rams fans are not particularly pro their board.

Brown's appointment was not met with much enthusiasm either. The former Bolton assistant has a great deal of experience as a coach but this is his first job as a manager and many Derby fans were unhappy not to see a more established name arrive to work with a squad which, whilst talented, overachieved last term. At the time of writing, however, Derby lie third and unbeaten.

Lee Camp will start in goal for Derby, having firmly established himself in this position last season. This should mean Lee Grant will be on the bench. The Hemel born keeper is unsettled due to lack of first team football and thus, for some reason, aroused Blackburn's interest. In the unlikely event that Grant should have left by Monday, ex-Bolton man Kevin Poole will step up to fill his place.

Marc Edworthy should fill the right-back berth. The one-time Watford target was signed in the summer after being released by Norwich. Jeff Kenna, a fixture in this position last season, is only just returning from a hamstring injury, although he did play in a mostly reserve line-up in the League Cup defeat to Grimsby. Long-serving Richard Jackson will play left-back, reserve Paul Boertien is out with long-term ligament damage.

With Tom Huddlestone leaving to join the Tottenham-Hotspur-Young-Englishman-Mortuary, Brown has brought in Andrew Davies from Boro to fill the gap. The young centre-half won praise from QPR fans after his loan spell there earlier this year - indeed, Rangers are bit miffed that the much talked about permanent move has not come to fruition. Michael Johnson, a member of the Birmingham play-off side, will play alongside him. Bosnian "cruncher" Mo Konjic is in reserve along with the versatile Pablo Mills, who can fill in across the defence.

In midfield, Iniago Idiakez is considered far and away the club's best player. Wolves (amongst others) were sniffing around the former La Liga player, but the Spaniard signed a new contract in the week. Idiakez alternates between the left wing and the centre of midfield, the former seems more likely, although either academy product Lee Holmes or Tommy Smith may slot in here should he play in the centre.

On the right, Morten Bisgaard seems like a fairly safe bet, the Dane has impressed since he signed last summer. Adam Bolder, who's come in for some stick of late, has been playing in the middle with Paul Thirlwell, who fell off the Bramall-Lane-Player-Roundabout this summer. However, one may be dislodged by Seth Johnson, who returned to the club where he may his name a week ago. Johnson, who reportedly made-up a fifth of Leeds' wage bill, was injured for a fair amount of time at Elland Road but arrived at Pride Park fit and raring to go after Ken Bates managed to get rid of him. Young Nathan Doyle and very young Giles Barnes are also options in the middle.

Up front, Smith is well known to us, although not remembered too fondly by some, clearly; he's been booed on his two returns to Vicarage Road. Derby fans seem to like Smith, who scored eleven goals last term. Alongside him will be Grzegorz Rasiak, the other jewel in Derby's crown, he's more dangerous in the air than when the ball's at his feet. Poisonous dwarf Paul Peschisolido and Marcus Tudgay featured against Grimsby, although neither impressed.

This game is the second of the Bank Holiday pair against early high flyers. One doesn't want to put a dampener of the electric start, but should we get through these games with two points, it'll give a lot of hope for the rest of the season. Mundane in comparison as draws may be, they would show a solid determination and ability to get points off the division's best. And that'll be far more important this season than playing attractive football.

"Prabhupada: Your Ever Well Wisher" is available on all good high streets and, according to the inside cover, costs 4 to print, which means I thoroughly ripped him off.