Paul Blades made over 200 appearances for Derby County between 1982 and 1990 – and was a key and influential figure as the Rams bounced back from disappointment and rose through the divisions.
The defender made his debut for Derby as a 17-year-old early in the 1982/83 campaign, having previously been a trainee prior to penning professional terms.
The early years of his time in the first-team were at a difficult time for the club, with the Rams experiencing financial difficulties and went on to taste relegation to Division Three.
However, the turning point during his time at Derby was, undoubtedly, the arrival of Arthur Cox for the start of the 1984/85 campaign.
From there, Derby rose from the Third Division with back-to-back promotions before they went on to establish themselves at the top table of English football once again.
Blades clearly owes a lot to Cox personally for what he did for him in the maiden years of his career.
Speaking to dcfc.co.uk back in 2017, he said: “Early on it was a pretty grim time to be honest.
“It was a tricky time and on occasions we didn’t know if we were going to be paid or who was running the club, so it wasn’t easy.
“However, the appointment of Arthur Cox was a masterstroke. He had previously taken Newcastle United up to the top-flight and all of a sudden he was at Derby in the Third Division.”
Not only was it an achievement to see Derby climb the divisions, but to stay in the First Division was another in itself.
Cox added more quality to his squad, including the likes of England internationals Peter Shilton and Mark Wright amongst others, but Blades says the team unity was always a constant.
He said: “Arthur put a great team together. We had England internationals like Peter Shilton and Mark Wright, as well as players like Dean Saunders, George Williams and Ted McMinn.
“He was very astute when it came to picking players. How he got some of those top players to join us, only he will know.
“He was a great motivator and you felt great about yourself and the team, regardless of who you were playing.”
Being part of the back-to-back promotions is, without doubt, Blades’ stand-out memory from his time with Derby.
Clearly, he holds a great deal of affection for the Baseball Ground and the atmosphere generated during those exciting years.
He said: “The back-to-back promotions were fantastic, and it was a memorable time at the Baseball Ground.
“The atmosphere was always amazing and even more so when it was packed, so it was a great time to be in the first-team.
“I remember when we got up we finished fifth in the second season and if I recall, we had one of the best defensive records as well.
“For me, it was all a great experience as a fairly young player. We had a good camaraderie in the group and it was a super time to be playing football.
“We were a team and did everything together. We went out as a group and drank together, we had a real united group.”
He added: “The moments that stand out for me were when we were getting promoted back to the First Division. We beat Plymouth Argyle at the Baseball Ground and that stands out in my memory.
“We didn’t have a good first half that day and I got a bit of a roasting from Arthur at half-time. I remember that well! We actually went out in the second half and beat them convincingly.”
At the end of his contract in 1990, Blades moved on to pastures new and linked up with Norwich City as he sought a fresh challenge.
He had two years at Carrow Road before heading to Wolverhampton Wanderers, where he made over 100 appearances during three years.
The back end of his career saw him appear for Rotherham United and then non-league Hednesford Town before hanging up his boots.
However, he admits that leaving Derby was possibly a mistake.
He said: “I went to Norwich and I was a record signing for them, £700,000 which was much higher than their £200,000 previous record.
“I was out of contract and had been at the club nine years. I felt it was time to move on but, hand on heart, I probably should have stayed.
“You live and die by your decisions. To be honest, Norwich had a great side at the time. I was there for a few years and I ended up at Wolves in 1992.
“Like Derby, Wolves is a massive club. There’s a great history and tradition there. Sir Jack Haywood was putting money in when I was there, developing the team and the ground. It was a period where they were pushing for the Premier League.”
Looking back on his career as a whole, he added: “I loved it. I fulfilled my dream as a child.
“It wasn’t about the money in those days; I just wanted to be a footballer.”
Blades, who is now 55, has a life completely away from football these days.
He is in the Health & Safety trade and admits going back to school to earn his qualifications was something which took him outside of his comfort zone.
He said: “I am currently a Health & Safety Consultant and I clearly needed to find a career after football.
“I ending up helping a friend out for about eight years. I had to go back to school and do exams, which was obviously a big challenge as I was used to just reading the newspapers!
“I managed to pass the exams and I now have a business and we employ a few people. It’s a million miles away from football!”
Blades’ career with Derby saw him amass 160 appearances in the league, as well as 200 in all competitions.
His only Rams goal came in a 1-0 home win over Coventry City in April 1989 at the Baseball Ground with a thunderous free-kick into the top corner from the edge of the box.