Eric Steele says former Derby County boss Arthur Cox deserves a special place in the club’s history for guiding them through troubled water in the 1980s.
The former goalkeeper was with the Rams between 1984 and 1987 and was part of the Division Three and Division Two promotion-winning sides under Cox.
Steele, perhaps best known on a national scale for his role as Manchester United’s goalkeeping coach under Sir Alex Ferguson, held a similar position at Derby between 1997-2001 and 2013-2015.
He also served a number of other elite clubs in his specialist role and now conducts his work with the Football Association’s goalkeepers.
Steele, now 65, looks back on his playing days with Derby very fondly.
Eric Steele began his playing career as a goalkeeper at Newcastle United in 1972, where he was part of the squad that won the Anglo-Italian Cup.
He went on to play for Peterborough United, Brighton & Hove Albion, Watford, Derby County, Southend United and Mansfield Town before retiring and moving into coaching.
Steele joined Derby in the summer of 1984, after their relegation to the Third Division following a season of financial trouble.
A contract dispute saw Cox leave Newcastle United despite guiding them to the First Division, and he quickly set about turning the Rams around.
Derby finished seventh in the Third Division in 1984/85, the following two seasons which proceeded brought back-to-back promotions from the third tier back to the top-flight.
Steele played his part along the way, playing 13 times in 1985/86 and the final eight games of the season in 1986/87.
Derby went on to retain First Division status for the next three seasons too and the former Derby goalkeeper has heaped praise on Cox’s work, which saw him in the hotseat for over nine years between 1984 and 1993.
“I drove up to meet Arthur Cox and Roy McFarland ahead of signing for Derby and Arthur was doing a massive rebuild – that was very clear” Steele told RamsTV Meets.
“The club had fallen to the Third Division and Arthur had left some massive names at Newcastle United to come to Derby.
“You had sense there was something about Arthur taking on a challenge. The likes of Charlie Palmer and Rob Hindmarch signed, while Bobby Davison and Kevin Wilson were there too. We had some very good players.
“We looked around the dressing room and felt a team was building. I remember we didn’t have many players when I first signed and if we had a game on the Saturday, Arthur and Roy would have been playing!
“I don’t think Arthur did get the credit he deserved for what he did. To see where we ended up, a rebirth of a new team rose through from the Third Division to the First Division, is incredible.”
Looking back, Steele says the way Cox recruited was particularly impressive during his time as Derby’s manager.
Cox made some shrewd additions in the transfer market and also knew when the time was right to cash in on players to help build for the future.
For example, Kevin Wilson’s move to Ipswich Town in January 1985 funded three important signings in Trevor Christie, Gary Micklewhite and Geraint Williams.
Under Cox, Derby also added quality when they reached the First Division by bringing in the likes of Dean Saunders, Mark Wright and Peter Shilton - while he also made some intelligent and perhaps understated additions too.
“Arthur has huge respect from myself for building two teams during his time at Derby,” Steele said.
“Not many managers get the time and chance he had.
“The foundations were laid in the first season and after that we really kicked on. The players we signed added to what we had and you live and die by your recruitment.”
He added: “We had a turnover of players and what remained was the camaraderie in the dressing room.
“There was a real mix of personalities, but when we crossed the white line on a Saturday we were all together to get a result. The club grew back into the local community as well at that time.”
Derby remains very much in Steele’s DNA.
He has lived in the area ever since his arrival in the 1980s and says Derby County is a club very much close to his heart.
“I have a feel for the football club; I’ve lived in the area for 30 years or so,” he said.
“It’s part of your DNA. It’s the first result I look out for, always.”
Want to hear more from Eric Steele on his life in football and time at Derby County under Arthur Cox? Watch the full RamsTV Meets in the videos embedded in this article.