Former goalkeeper and fans’ favourite Mart Poom will be forever grateful to Rams legend Jim Smith, who moved to make him a Derby County player 23 years ago today.
It was transfer deadline day in 1997 when the Bald Eagle moved signed the Estonian international, along with Paulo Wanchope and Mauricio Solís.
Smith had already worked with Poom in his previous job at Portsmouth, however, work permit issues prevented his appearances down on the south coast.
And with the Rams fighting for survival in their first season back in the Premiership, following promotion from the First Division in 1996, Smith called on a familiar figure to help prevent his side from dropping back down to the second tier.
“Jim Smith, who signed me for Portsmouth, kept an eye on me and followed my performances,” Poom recalled, chatting to Colin Gibson during his RamsTV Meets.
“Jim asked Alan Hutchinson, who was the Scottish goalkeeper coach at the time, to have a look at me and he told him that I was ready and he should sign me.
“I remember driving to Derby, having a medical and signing before the transfer deadline in March 1997.”
Poom made an immediate impact, famously helping the Rams beat Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford on his debut.
Smith’s decision to bring in Poom and Wanchope was immediately vindicated as both put in solid displays, the latter scoring a wonder goal to help Derby to a valuable three points.
From that game on, Derby would go on to claim 11 points from a possible 21 to stay in the Premiership, eventually finishing 12th in their final season at the Baseball Ground.
However, Poom wouldn’t feature as much after suffering an injury against Southampton in his first home game the following week.
“I got injured in the first half and had to come off and then the next game I played there was the last game of the season against Arsenal which we lost 3-1,” he recalled.
“It wasn’t nice but for the fans, it was a very emotional day. The fans came on the pitch but it was good to play at the Baseball Ground.”
Poom would go on to make 166 appearances for the Rams in all competitions over a six-year spell which ended in 2003.
Derby fans still hold the goalkeeper in high regard, despite him coming back to haunt the club as he scored a late goal against the Rams for Sunderland in a 1-1 at Pride Park Stadium the following season.
And Poom still holds the late former Derby manager Smith close to his heart.
“Jim was a character,” Poom said. “I’m forever grateful that he brought me to English football. He gave me a chance to prove myself and was brave enough to bring me to Derby County, which at the time was a Premiership club.
“He threw me in at the deep end and trusted me. He was an old-school manager, but even though he was very emotional, he had a good heart. He just needed to let out his energy, emotions and frustrations.
“At the beginning, it was a big shock for me. When I was at Portsmouth, his choice of words and language made it hard for me to tell whether he was happy or unhappy but at the end of the day, he had good staff around him, especially with Steve McClaren, Eric Steele, Steve Round and Billy McEwan.
“They all helped him. We had a very good working environment and was very professional. I will be forever grateful to Jim and Derby County.”
Want to hear more from Mart Poom as he takes a trip down
memory lane to look back on his playing career? Sit back, relax and watch the
RamsTV Meets videos embedded within this article.