Ian Evatt is understandably proud to be one of the many players to have come through Derby County’s Academy and represent the club at senior level.
Evatt’s long and successful playing career began at Derby in the early 2000s and he racked up well over 500 games as a professional
After hanging up his boots in 2018, he is now plying his trade as a manager and has already had success.
The 39-year-old, after guiding Barrow back into the EFL last term following two seasons in charge, is now the manager of Sky Bet League 2 side Bolton Wanderers as he looks to revive their fortunes.
It will be 20 years ago this May that Evatt made his professional debut for the Rams as a substitute against Ipswich Town at Pride Park Stadium in the Premier League.
The central defender went on to record 37 appearances at first-team level before moving on in the summer of 2003. He racked up a significant number of appearances for Chesterfield over two spells, while he also returned to the Premier League with Blackpool just over ten years ago.
Highs and lows are part and parcel of any players’ career and Evatt has enjoyed a fascinating journey to get to where he is today.
Evatt originally joined Derby at the age of 11 after being spotted playing for Coventry Schoolboys and, despite most of his family being Coventry City supporters, there was only one place for him.
“I remember I came up to Derby after I had been scouted, had a trial, looked around and signed,” Evatt told Colin Gibson in the latest instalment of RamsTV Meets.
“I was driven up twice a week by my dad and grandad; a lot of sacrifices were made for me to make a career for myself.
“As a kid, all I wanted to do was play football. I used to practice, practice and practice and I was at Derby County at a time where the Academy produced several players that went on to play in the first team and have good Premier League and EFL careers.
“I would say our group was the first age group for some time that saw Derby produce more than one player to go into the squad.”
“I missed out on being at Moor Farm by one year and my time was spent at the old Training Ground on Raynesway. I had some great memories and times there. We produced some great talent, and I can still recall Jim Smith coming out with a big cigar on to watch training!”
“It was the making of me really and a fantastic education,” he added.
Evatt recalls having a talented number of coaches to work alongside to aid his development.
He explained: “The likes of Gerry Summers, Steve Round, Steve Taylor and later John Peacock and Steve McClaren all really helped develop my career. We had some fantastic coaches.
“Alongside myself there were players like Chris Riggott, Adam Murray, Lewis Hunt, Marcus Tudgay, Lee Camp and Lee Grant in our age group. Those are just some of the names and they all played at a very good level in their careers.”
He added: “There were others too like Pablo Mills, Tom Huddlestone and Lee Holmes, who were not too far behind me in terms of age.”
Evatt says he will always be indebted to Smith for giving him his professional debut.
The Bald Eagle, as he was affectionately known, passed away in late 2019 and Evatt only has fond memories of the former Derby boss.
Smith’s old-school mentality, mixed with his ability to implement modern methods, are some of the skill-sets Evatt is now drawing on in his own managerial career.
“At the time, when I made my debut, Derby were a settled Premier League team,” he recalled.
“What a fantastic man Jim Smith was. He had an aura about him and I was scared of him, I think everyone was apart from Igor Stimac. I remember going into his office a few times and the brandy was on the side!
“He was feared, but respected. Jim taught me some of those old school values as well as having the coaching of his staff like Steve Round and Steve McClaren. I’d say it was the old-school mentality with modern methods.”
Evatt’s debut appearance on the final day of the 2000/01 season gave him a taste for more.
He spent time on loan at Northampton Town early in the 2001/02 campaign and by the time he returned, Smith had moved on.
Colin Todd had a brief period in charge before John Gregory took over the reins, but he was unable to stop Derby from avoiding the drop.
After two brief appearances off the bench near the end of the season, Evatt made his first Rams start on the final day of the campaign in a 1-1 draw at Sunderland.
Although the curtain was coming down on a success period for the club, it was Evatt’s chance to shine as Derby had to cut their cloth accordingly for the 2002/03 season after returning to the second tier.
Evatt went on to make 33 appearances in all competitions and scored his first, and only, goal for the club in a 3-1 League Cup victory at Mansfield Town.
“We had some very good players,” Evatt said. “I went out on loan to Northampton Town and came back and unfortunately we started to struggle as I broke into the team.
“We had some big names like Georgi Kinkladze and Fabrizio Ravanelli, but we didn’t adapt to the Championship quickly enough after being relegated. John went on to lose his job as we did not have a great season.
“For me, it was great to be playing. I played in the Derby-Forest games and it was the first taste of the local derby matches for me. That season was an eventful one.”
Evatt also had a brief spell in goal for Derby in October 2002 too, after Mart Poom was sent off in extra-time in a 2-1 League Cup defeat at home to Oldham Athletic.
“Mart Poom was sent off and I went in goal; I think they picked the biggest and tallest player, and it was me!” Evatt joked.
“I remember watching the game unfold in the opposition half at some point, as you do. What I didn’t realise is that I had drifted too far and the goal was about 25 yards to my right!”
After a disappointing season for Derby, George Burley was appointed to replace Gregory towards the end of the 2002/03 campaign.
The Scotsman was looking to make changes and with Evatt out of contract, he was informed he would not be offered a new deal.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but that does not make any difference to his affinity with the Rams which remains strong to this day.
“I had played a lot under John Gregory and then George Burley took over,” he explained.
“He had a mass clear-out, and I was one of them. I had previously had a double hernia and underwent an operation; it did not really heal so I needed more surgery and that didn’t help.”
He added: “I went to Chesterfield after that, under Roy McFarland, and I kicked on again there. I was still a young player at the time, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth to leave.
“As a club and as a place, I love Derby County and they gave me opportunity and I’m very grateful.”
Ian Evatt’s interview looking back on his time with Derby County and his entire playing career, as well as the early years of his time in management, can be found in the RamsTV video embedded within this article.