One man, one ball, one dream. That was the combination that took Brian Derby from the rough streets of Glasgow to playing professional football for Barnsley FC. Guided by an uncle, he became a seasoned footballer before devoting himself to coaching and development. Ben Donaldson talked to him in his ‘football man cave’ about life goals, “own goals” and how he transformed a passion into a career ...
When I was a child, I told my uncle that I wanted to be a professional footballer, and he just laughed at the notion that I knew so emphatically what I wanted to do. We lived in Glasgow where Dad was a ship builder at Govan and Mum spent a lot of time playing the piano at parties. I got my first football one Christmas when I was four, and I used to play with my younger brother. When we were older, he would drink Dad’s whisky, replace it with water and I would get the blame. As kids, we played on an icy crossroads using the lamppost and pavement as a goal. It was freezing and often the ball would just turn into a big snow ball. At school once, my teacher pulled me up in front of the class and said, “Do you know how long you’ve been staring out that window looking at the field?” All I wanted to do was play football.
For a while I would just play at lunch-time and after school, but not for a proper team as I didn’t have any guidance around the sport. At nine, I discovered my uncle was playing professional football in Scotland. When I turned 11, he started taking me along to his team trainings. He would let me join in if they were doing an easy drill. If he was injured and couldn’t train, I would just twiddle my thumbs all day.
Eventually I started playing for both my school and club team. I would go straight from the school game with dirty knees and boots to the club match. The club coach never wanted anyone to play both games because of the fatigue, but I just wanted all the football I could get. A lot of my mates were actually better than me, but as we got older they were all more interested in going to the pub than training. Glasgow was rough and I got stabbed behind my shoulder once when I was out with my mates. My uncle always kept me on the straight and narrow though. He took me to a third storey balcony once with a tennis ball. He told me to kick it back to him and when I accidentally passed it off the edge of the balcony he gave me 30 seconds to go down and bring it back up. He would always ask me questions like, ‘Have you got a girlfriend?’ ‘Are you smoking?’ ‘Are you training in your own time?’. I had to give all the right answers, but it kept me out of trouble. When I was 17, I was spotted playing club football and trialled in a couple of games for the Barnsley FC Youth team.
I got the call to play my first senior game for Barnsley FC against Swansea Town in Division Three. It was on the Friday before the game so I didn’t sleep much before the match. I started at right midfield, which meant I was marking a 40 cap Welsh International, Ivor Oldchurch. He knew I was young and I thought he was going to crucify me. I remember him telling me, “If I get the ball I will take you on the left side”. I thought he was tricking me so I went right when he got the ball. His touch was perfect and he went left, straight past me. He kept telling me which way he was going and it was doing my head in. He turned me inside out about five times and mentioned it was lucky I had caught him on a bad day. After the match he came into our changing room, gave me his whole kit and said, “That’s the closest you’re going to get to me”.
I will never forget my first professional goal. My team mate passed me the ball and I then played it back to my goalkeeper. When I looked up though the goalie wasn’t standing near the goal. The ball curved right into the back of our own net. All I heard was laughter and my team mates reminding me which way we were playing. We didn’t have any psychological training back then. The closest thing was when the manager took the new players to a mine and I got put in a cage that went underground. It felt like I was going to the centre of the earth, and I was holding on so tight my knuckles were bleeding. When I got to the bottom, the manager was waiting. All he did was point out a man shovelling rocks to me and the boys and said, “You see him? He used to be a Barnsley player”. That was enough to keep me training hard.
The team lived in houses across the road from the stadium and I went home every fortnight to see my parents. There was a lot of moving around to play matches and one time the team was staying in the same hotel as Manchester United in Sheffield. We passed the players on the way to the dining hall and everyone gave handshakes, except for me – I gave my football idol George Best a huge hug. I was earning £25 a week, which was more than Dad. My parents came to watch me play a home game once. I left the tickets at the gate, but they were late because Dad decided he needed to go to the pub first. After a two-year spell at Barnsley I moved back to Scotland as I was getting a bit home sick. I continued to play professionally for East Sterling and played against Sir Alex Ferguson once.
From there I moved to the Scottish Highland League playing semi-professional football. I met my wife to be, Sue, through my mate’s girlfriend. She was a hairdresser and we were married in 1982. When I was 30 I played guitar with a band called the Wranglers. I ended up recording a song for Inverness Caledonia after we won the league. They used play it over the loud speaker at the stadium before every home game. At the pub, they would tell me to stick to football and on the field they would tell me to stick to playing the guitar. Sue and I eventually moved to England with our daughters, Melanie and Joanna. I got a job as a coach at the Leeds United FC Youth Academy while living on the outskirts of Halifax. It was an amazing £5 million establishment. I found the key to working with players was to get on well with each individual so they trusted you and your methods. Once you gain that trust, your guidance has to be spot on.
We moved to New Zealand in 2005 when Melanie married a Kiwi guy in Auckland. Both our daughters live out here now. Once again I wanted to get involved with football so I joined Fencibles United AFC as a coach and development officer. It was a weird experience going from the set up in Leeds to a comparatively small club in Auckland. Since then I have worked with a number of clubs and schools, and held a development role at New Zealand Football. Back then I was the only coach in NZ with an Academy Director’s licence. After visiting Warkworth a few times, Sue and I decided to move to Snells Beach about a year ago. Once again I got myself pitch side by starting an academy at Mahurangi College and taking on the First XI team as coach. They have improved a lot this season. I would like to help grow football in this area and provide some coach development opportunities. I’ve moved around with football so much, but I can see Sue and I settling here for good.