By Anton Rippon
There is nothing quite like a little inside knowledge, especially when you’re about to attend a job interview.
My old pal Steve Nicholson received some when he arrived at the offices of the Derby Telegraph back in 1985, and sports editor Gerald Mortimer spirited him straight across the road to the office pub.
“It was around 11’clock in the morning,” says Steve, who this week marked 30 years at the paper with a series of pieces recalling highlights of covering over 900 Derby County matches and working with 13 managers at the club.
“I wasn’t sure what I was doing was right, but Gerald assured me I would be ok.
“He said: ‘I know the questions you’re going to get asked, so I’m going to give you the answers the editor wants to hear.’ A couple of halves later I was interviewed and got the job and that was it, I was moving to Derby.
“Gerald said to me years later that he did that because he saw something in me when I walked though the door, so I will always be grateful to him. He was a great friend and a fantastic writer.”
Mortimer, who died last year, retired in 2002 having switched from sports editor to chief football writer. Nicholson was his successor in that role.
Nicholson, 54, is so well regarded that the Derby County Former Players’ Association has elected him to its committee.
“My first job of note for the paper was to cover the reserves’ game against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on a Monday night.
“‘Get yourself to the Midland Hotel for 3.30pm to catch the team bus,’ Gerald told me, adding: ‘Introduce yourself to Roy McFarland and you’ll be OK.’
Nicholson had grown up as an Everton fan: “McFarland was the Rams’ reserve team manager. He was also the former Derby and England centre half, and the classy defender I’d watched play against Everton at Goodison Park and for England on TV! Was I nervous? You’d better believe it.
“What would Roy and the players make of me? There was no need to worry because they, along with physio Gordon Guthrie, couldn’t have been more helpful.
“When the team bus pulled up outside Ewood, everybody got off and I stood wondering how I would get into the ground because the players’ entrance appeared to be the only gate open.
“‘Here, help push the kit in,’ said Gordi. “I did, and I was in too.”
Nicholson names John Gregory, Nigel Clough and George Burley as three managers with whom he enjoyed good relationships, while player Robbie Savage “stood out”.
“I remember being on the runway at the airport in Amsterdam, the rain was lashing down and the wind was howling, and Sav wasn’t a great flyer.
“He was sat in the seat in front of me and without turning round he said to me: ‘Nico, if this plane crashes, how many column inches do you think the Derby Telegraph will give you?’
“I replied: ‘A couple of paragraphs, mate. Why how much do you think they’ll give you?’ He said: ‘It will be a big front-page headline that says: “Robbie Savage dies in air crash”, on the front and then there will be a smaller headline under it that says: “Rest of team dies too”.’”
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