Paul Powell was the best player I ever saw in a yellow shirt. Better than Joey Beauchamp, better than John Aldridge, better than Matt Elliot. He lit up a dour team, all from left back. I thought he’d play for England. At one point he was heading for the Premier League. My Derby-supporting uncle heard rumour that County were in for him; “Is he, y’know, an English Powell” he said referring, I think, to the likes of the ‘foreign’ (or black) Powell’s Chris and Daryl, who were with the Rams at the time.
Powell’s problem is that he didn’t do it for very long. His career ended the night he sustained a bad injury in August 2000 at Walsall. Even though he limped on for another 3 years he was never the same again. He scored the first ever goal at the Kassam, and featured in the first league game, albeit not at the left-back position he often played.
In fact, we didn’t really have a left-back in the first game, unless you count Wayne Hatswell. Perhaps Mark Wright was blinded by Hatswell’s fame. He gained notoriety on Match of the Day as an illustration of the failings of the lower leagues, shanking one into his own net in a cup game playing for Forest Green. He wasn’t a player, more a curiosity. Like Jimmy Glass.
As always, it took Ian Atkins to bring a degree of sanity to the situation. He brought in Matt Robinson, who held the position for four years until we were relegated. In his pomp, Robinson looked like he should have been playing 2 divisions higher up. He struggled to hold his form as the baton was passed from one manager to the next. By the time we were relegated, he looked like a man who was just fed up with it all. As a result, he went off to become a policeman.
Robinson was replaced by 37-year-old Gavin Johnson. For a period he looked like just the player we needed; experienced and capable. When he became incapable – first by injury and then by the march of time – he was replaced by another 37-year-old, Rufus Brevett. By the end of that season, as we clung onto the hope of scraping back into the league, the left-back slot was being swapped between two men with the combined age of 74. And it showed. Both retired shortly after the season ended.
Alex Jeannin, Chris Carruthers and Kevin Sandwich all babysat the position to no great effect. Chris Wilder wasn’t have any of that and finally brought Anthony Tonkin who took us back to the League. Tonkin’s rather laid-back style and occasional lack of concentration meant that in a position that’s been traditionally weak for us since the days of Paul Powell, he’s not getting the nod for the All Star Team.
I’m giving the position to Matt Robinson, for a period brilliant, for most of the time competent. And that, my friends, just about gets you in at left-back.