Geraint Williams was one of a number of inspired signings made by Arthur Cox to kick-start Derby County’s rise back to the top-flight under Arthur Cox in the latter stages 1980s.
Derby had endured a tough time both on and off the field in the early years of the decade, which resulted in the club being relegated to the Third Division in 1984.
Cox’s appointment, ahead of the 1984/85 campaign, proved to be a masterstroke.
After a season of rebuilding, Derby kicked into life in the 1985/86 season as they gained automatic promotion to the Second Division in third spot.
And just 12 months later, they were celebrating once again as they sealed back-to-back promotions with a return to the First Division as Second Division champions.
It was some rise and Cox, who left his position as manager of Newcastle United to take over at the Baseball Ground, was the man who masterminded it all.
One player who played his part, as well impressing as Derby subsequently established themselves back in the top-flight, was midfielder Williams.
The Wales international joined the Rams from Bristol Rovers in 1985 as one of three players brought in with the money raised from the sale of striker Kevin Wilson to Ipswich Town.
In addition to his arrival, Trevor Christie and Gary Micklewhite also added to the squad before the end of the campaign.
Williams went on to rack up just over 300 appearances for the Rams in all competitions before eventually leaving to join Ipswich Town in the summer of 1992.
Now 58, Williams can still recall clearly how his move to Derby initially came to fruition in March 1985.
“I played against Derby the week before I signed at Bristol Rovers in a 0-0 draw,” Williams told Colin Gibson in the latest edition of RamsTV Meets.
“I remember the noise and atmosphere, even though there were only about 10,000 fans in the Baseball Ground. The fans were so passionate and every time I kicked a Derby player, they looked like they wanted to get on the pitch and get hold of me!
“I remember thinking it would be amazing to play at Derby with the crowd, and a full stadium, behind you.
“A few days later I had a call from Bristol Rovers to say a bid had been accepted for me and I was allowed to talk to Derby, having just got a new house in Bristol!
“I drove up to Derby and I recall having to go into a pub to ask for directions to the ground. There was a reserve game going on at the time, so while it was being played I was sat in Arthur Cox’s office chatting away.”
He added: “Arthur was so positive about what was going to happen in the future that it didn’t feel like it was a rebuilding job that was taking place. It felt like the club was going places. I was very excited and when I got back to Bristol, I knew I’d be signing for Derby.”
Williams quickly established himself as a key player in the famous black and white.
In his first full season, he racked up 40 appearances from Derby’s 46 league games and netted four goals in the process.
Derby secured promotion, in the third and final automatic promotion spot, following 2-1 victory over Rotherham United at the Baseball Ground in early May 1986.
That evening proved to be a bittersweet one for Williams; Derby gained promotion from the Third Division, but he sustained a knee injury which forced him off early in the game.
“It got very, very close as we went for promotion,” Williams said.
“As the expectation rose, so did the pressure. I think some of us just were not used to it; we went from joining from teams that were doing alright to a club in Derby that needed to get out the division.
“It was tight, and a big turning point was our captain Rob Hindmarch calling all the players together before the away game at Swansea, when we had three matches left. Rob put it on the line that the manager and staff were doing all they could for the players, so it was down to us to stand up.
“We went and won 3-0 at Swansea and that set up the game against Rotherham at the Baseball Ground a few days later where we knew if we could get a victory, we’d be promoted.”
On what proved to be a bittersweet night for Williams, he added: “I got injured early in that game with my knee and I had to come off, despite trying to carry on.
“It took a bit of the shine off the night even though I’d played all season. I’ve got the pictures of everyone celebrating in the dressing room afterwards and I’m the only one in there with a suit on!”
With momentum on Derby’s side, they won the Second Division title at a canter 12 months later in the 1986/87 campaign.
Williams was again a key player, featuring in 40 of the Rams’ 42 league fixtures.
Derby were on a roll and a feel-good factored surrounded the club in what proved to be a memorable season.
Promotion was secured at the start of May with a 2-1 victory over Leeds United at the Baseball Ground and the title was secured a week later with a 4-2 defeat of Plymouth Argyle.
“The crowds were coming back and we really heard the Baseball Ground at its best,” Williams admitted.
“Pre-seasons were always really hard at Derby and I think that got us ready. I always used to do extras before I came back for pre-season to make sure I was at the front for the running; I didn’t want to be in the middle or at the back.
“We were used to winning and we felt there was no reason why we couldn’t do it again in the Second Division with the players we had. There were strong characters in that dressing room.
“The day we got promoted against Leeds, the place was bouncing. It was a wonderful afternoon.”
Derby didn’t stop there, either.
England internationals Peter Shilton and Mark Wright were signed from Southampton within a few months of promotion and Dean Saunders became the club’s history million-pound signing in 1988.
Derby went on to finish fifth in the First Division in 1988/89, their highest finish since the glory years under Brian Clough and later Dave Mackay.
Williams looking back on those years, putting on impressive performances and gaining results at some of the biggest clubs in English football, with as much satisfaction and pride as the Rams’ back-to-back promotions in the years beforehand.
“When we were in the First Division, we continued to sign good players,” Williams said.
“We went to some great places and expected to win. We never went to grounds in fear of the opposition, even going to places like Manchester United and Arsenal, and we knew we could keep it tight and score goals.
“We had Peter Shilton, Mark Wright and Dean Saunders. Peter was a top goalkeeper and Mark was flying for England and Dean lived for scoring goals. They were great times.”
Despite being named David Geraint Williams, he was affectionately known as ‘George’ to his team-mates and supporters.
After all these years, Williams has revealed exactly why he was given the nickname.
“I used to tell everyone that people called me George because it was easier to say in England,” he joked.
“It started in Wales when I was a young boy, about eight, playing against the older boys and I am a bit embarrassed about the real story!
“I used to like dribbling around with the ball and there was a certain gentleman who liked to do that, and did it very well, called George Best.
“It stuck a bit and I didn’t like telling anyone why I got the name George because if anyone saw me dribbling as a player, they’d know I was nothing like him.”
Want to hear more from Geraint Williams on his career with Derby County and life under Arthur Cox? Watch the full RamsTV Meets interview in the video embedded within this article.