Pride Park Stadium has been Derby County’s home for the last 22 years - but the Baseball Ground will forever hold a special place in Chris Powell’s heart.
Powell, who is now a member of Gareth Southgate’s coaching staff with the England national side, was part of the Derby squad that made the transition across the city back in the summer of 1997.
The Baseball Ground had been where the Rams had plied their trade since the late 1890s but, as part of the club’s evolution under Lionel Pickering, they moved to the start-of-the-art new home for the beginning of their second year back in the top flight under Jim Smith.
Powell was signed from Southend United midway through the 1995/96 season and he contributed heavily towards Derby’s promotion and subsequent retention of their Premier League status.
The former England international quickly became a fans’ favourite and in Derby’s final season at the Baseball Ground he was crowned as the Jack Stamps Player of the Year winner for his dependable displays at left-back.
Despite playing just a season and a half at the Rams’ famous old home, it was enough time for the now 50-year-old to enjoy some of the best moments of his football career.
During his brief spell back at Derby as assistant manager to Nigel Pearson and later Steve McClaren in the 2016/17 season, Powell was keen to revisit the site of where the memories were created.
Speaking to RamsTV Meets, Powell admitted: “I’m actually still in love with the Baseball Ground to be honest because that’s where it all started for me at Derby County.
“When I came back as assistant manager in 2016, I drove over there (to the site of the Baseball Ground) because I hadn’t been over to it (after it was knocked down in 2003).
“Not only was it the place where I started playing for Derby, but it was where I got my first taste of the Premier League and I was also the last Player of the Year at that ground.
“That season in the Premier League, 1996/97, we knew the club was moving to the new ground in the following summer, so I think there was that little bit of pressure on us to make sure that we survived.
“In the end not only we did survive, but we also made our mark and laid the foundations for the next few years.”
He added: “I do miss the old place as it holds so many great memories for myself and many fans alike. I still have a great affinity for the club and the city. Derby County will always be special to me.”
Powell made 101 appearances for Derby in total, scoring twice, before leaving to join Charlton Athletic in the summer of 1998.
While talk of the Baseball Ground evokes plenty of memorable moments and stories, he was also able to recall some memorable moments from the move to Pride Park Stadium.
Notably, both of his Derby goals came in the 1997/98 campaign against Everton in the Premier League and Southampton in the FA Cup.
He said: “You have to move with the times and we totally outgrew the Baseball Ground.
“I was part of the Derby side to move to Pride Park and also met the Queen upon its opening, so I am very proud of that.
“I also managed to play in the opening game at the stadium, a pre-season friendly against Sampdoria, and I recall Jim Smith wasn’t too happy that we lost!
“When I look out at Pride Park whenever I am at the stadium, I remember my first goal for the club at home to Everton in what was our second competitive game at Pride Park.”
Powell is forever indebted to his former manager Smith for bringing him to Derby.
Signed from Southend after a five-and-a-half seasons at Roots Hall, Powell’s move to the East Midlands saw him accelerate his career towards the top-flight and, later, international football with England.
Powell, who has also managed in the EFL during spells at Charlton, Huddersfield Town and Southend, believes Smith’s qualities as a manager were at the time up there with the very best.
The Bald Eagle masterminded the Rams’ promotion in his first campaign in charge and he went on to establish the club in the top tier during the following seasons.
In particular, Powell not only remembers the free-flowing football but the spirit within the dressing room.
He said: “It was sink or swim with Jim, he was brilliant. He was a hard task master, but he wanted to play good football and certainly cared about his players.
“The fans bought into the way Jim wanted us to play. We scored lots of goals and were progressive as a side. Importantly, we had a good blend within the team and that continued as we moved up to the Premier League.
“While I think the financial rewards are much bigger nowadays for going up into the Premier League the principle is still the same that we did incredibly well to come up and establish ourselves like we did.”
He added: “Jim fostered the camaraderie that we had in the dressing room, which was clever. He encouraged us to go out as a group and then also with our wives too; we had a great spirit.
“When we meet up as ex-players, we always talk about Jim. He was integral part of my footballing career and I love the man.”
Want to hear more from Chris Powell? Catch the full interview with the popular former Derby defender on RamsTV Meets!