Paul Simpson certainly contributed in Derby County’s rise to the top-flight under Jim Smith - but he almost wasn’t part of the journey.
The left-winger joined Derby from Oxford United in 1992 and endured a couple of near misses as the Rams sought to secure promotion to the Premiership, as it was known, in the early 1990s.
Under Smith Derby gained promotion via the automatic promotion route, which was secured thanks to a memorable 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace at the Baseball Ground in their penultimate fixture of the 1995/96 campaign.
However, Simpson was close to leaving the club during the campaign in a swap-deal with Leicester City which would have seen Lee Philpott move the other way.
The deal never happened and Simpson went on to play his part in the memorable campaign, particularly over Easter with a crucial penalty in a 1-0 win against Oldham Athletic and a hat-trick in a 6-2 hammering of Tranmere Rovers.
Speaking in his RamsTV Meets interview in 2019, Simpson explained: “We’d had a few near misses in terms of promotion but under Jim Smith that all changed in 1995/96.
“Jim put together a team, rather than a group of individuals, that was able to be successful.
“I nearly left to join to Leicester City in a swap-deal which would have seen Lee Philpott come the other way. I agreed terms with Leicester and was all set to move but Lee didn’t settle on a deal with Derby, so I remained at the club.
“I ended up being involved for the majority of the season and I certainly felt I played my part in the club getting promoted to the top-flight.”
Not only did Simpson contribute with goals in the closing weeks of the season, but also assists.
His wand of a left-foot set up Dean Sturridge and Robin van der Laan’s goals in the promotion decider against Palace.
Recalling the day Derby gained promotion, Simpson said: “The club pushed for everyone to be in black and white and the atmosphere was great.
“We had been a great run to get where we were and we did stutter a bit. I think we were nervous ahead of the Crystal Palace match, but we knew what we needed to do.
“The feeling at the final whistle was crazy and we experienced the feeling we should have had a few years earlier.”
Simpson featured regularly in the Rams’ final season at the Baseball Ground in 1996/97.
However, he failed to make a single Premiership start with all his outings coming off the bench.
He did, once again, prove his worth when called upon and scored in the thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Leeds United in the season opener.
“It was a difficult season personally,” Simpson admitted. “After playing my part to get promoted, my game time was limited.
“To be fair to Jim Smith, he told me to my face he didn’t think I was good enough for the Premiership.
“He was true to his word; I didn’t start a single game but came off the bench a lot! Joking aside, he did a great job and kept us up which was the main goal.”
Simpson’s latter years as a player saw him become player-manager and both Rochdale and Carlisle United before managing Preston North End, Shrewsbury Town and Stockport County.
He also had a spell back at Derby as Steve McClaren’s number two between 2013 and 2015 and was coaching England’s youth teams as part of the FA’s coaching programme before joining Bristol City’s first-team staff ahead of the 2020/21 season.
In 2017, he became a World Cup winning manager as England’s Under-20s lifted the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, thanks to a 1-0 win over Venezuela in the Final.
Simpson, who is now 54, recalled: “It was a wonderful and incredible experience; something that will stay with us all forever.
“We had a good group of players and not only were they a talented bunch but also excellent characters as well. They were so professional and did everything right from the first day to the last.
“I felt like the kid who got the golden ticket in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.”
Paul Simpson’s interview looking back on his playing career, Derby’s promotion to the top-flight and being a World Cup winner is available in full on RamsTV.