Most of the pre-match talk before Saturday’s City v Derby East Midlands clash has centred on one Robert William Savage.
He was a Fox during the best of times and now he is a Ram… a fact that is guaranteed, if you believe what you read, to ensure him a hostile reception at Filbert Way. Except that isn’t really the case, as was proved when Spencer Prior played against City in a white shirt.
The reason Savage will almost certainly be booed on Saturday is that is the sort of player he is. No one is better at getting under the skin of the oppostion than Savage, we have seen him do it as a Leicester player: the 1999 League Cup Final against Spurs saw him demonised in the London-based press; and there was that time when he had the whole of Derby after him, having been tripped for a last minute penalty at Pride Park that won the game for Peter Taylor’s side.
We have also seen him do it for the opposition – engineering the sending off of former team mate Matt Elliott while playing at the Walkers Stadium for Birmingham. He is very, very good at the art of winding up and can easily reduce opposing players and fans to a gibbering rage if you let him.
So don’t let him. Give him a round of applause. Imagine what would happen if the Pantomime Villain came on to the stage and the kids all cheered him…
FOX: After three years at Blackburn you moved to Derby where it is safe to say you weren’t the most popular figure in the past…
RS: Well, I had a great reception at the club, but I did have to win some of the fans over. Part of it went back to that game where I was fouled late on and we scored the penalty and won 3-2. It was Higginbotham who tripped me and although there wasn’t much contact there was some and I am going to go down. It was a penalty, you see them given every day of the week. Because it was Derby v Leicester it all went off.
There were some Derby fans who said they would never forgive me, but I think most of them have now.
FOX: There seemed to be an incident in the tunnel after that game, what was going on?
RS: Well, I couldn’t get in there. They wouldn’t let me in, it was as simple as that. I wasn’t worried because we had some big lads in there like Matt Elliott and Gerry Taggart. I don’t think much would have happened to me.
FOX: Do you have any regrets from your time in the game?
RS: Not many. I should have signed for Everton but I signed for Blackburn instead because of Mark Hughes. That was a missed opportunity to sign for a genuinely big club because I never really have.
FOX: Was there any truth in the rumours linking you with Leicester last season?
RS: Yes, I would have jumped at the chance to go back to Leicester at that stage. I was phoning Paul Dickov saying: ‘Get me to Leicester!’
But the manager didn’t fancy me. As it turned out maybe that was for the best. Leicester are doing well under Nigel Pearson and I have come back at Derby and I’m having one of the most enjoyable times of my career.
I don’t blame Nigel for not wanting me, as I was at most lowest ebb, but I always knew I could still play and I am proving it now. I think Milan quite fancied the idea of me signing but Nigel didn’t want me. In his position I don’t think I would have wanted me either.
Any club could have had me on loan for two grand a week with Derby paying the rest of my wages, but no one wanted me. I ended up going over to Beirut to have a look at things there, that’s how desperate I was to keep playing.
FOX: What has been the highlight of your career to date?
RS: Winning the League Cup with Leicester; beating Italy with Wales in front of 75,000 at the Millennium; and now winning those Derby fans over when I never, ever thought I would. When your name is being read out before the game and 33,000 of your own club’s fans are booing it is hard to come back from.
FOX: How will you know when to stop playing?
RS: When this two year contract is up that will be it. I’ll be 37 and that’ll be me.
I’ve had twelve years in the Premiership so I don’t really want to go down the leagues. I don’t need to play for a League Two club. I’ve looked after my money. Invested well, mostly, also invested badly. If I lost everything then I would still have to do it.
I live near Macclesfield so I could imagine that if I needed to I could turn out for them for £1,000 a week and I wouldn’t mind that because I really love playing football.
But I’d rather finish at a great club like Derby. I remember Ian Rush, one of the greatest players ever, signing for my team Wrexham. He is remembered in Wrexham as the guy that never scored for them, rather than as the Liverpool legend.
I don’t want that happening, because this time last year that’s what was happening, I was finished and gone. It was too soon and I knew I could still do it. Next time I’ll know.
FOX: What will you do when you retire?
RS: I’m looking to do stuff in the media. I’m doing Five Live stuff now and I really enjoy it. I love football. I love watching it, talking about it. I can go down to the pub and talk about football all night long. I’m not one of those players who don’t want to talk about the game when they are in their own time. I think I can hold down a conversation about any league in the world with any person.
There are not enough people playing football who really love the game. Things have changed. It’s more about what is the quickest and best car you can buy as quickly as you can. Saying that I did turn up in a pink Porsche at Leicester, so who am I to talk?!
The kids in the game now see the rewards too early. They have bought their rewards
before they have earned them and they don’t love the game enough, for me.
They need to go back to painting the grounds and cleaning the boots. They are not allowed to do that today, they are too mollycoddled.
I think I have had a great career. I’ll never forget Leicester because they gave me that big chance. I wish I still lived in Leicester, I had all my friends here and I had a great house. It’s the best place I ever lived. I should never have left the area… and I can’t wait to come back as a Derby player!