Voice of football tells of love for Rams and why Old Big 'Ead was always happy to talk
Mike Ingham, BBC radio’s chief football correspondent, was recently awarded an honorary degree from the University of Derby. Jill Gallone talks to a broadcaster who grew up in Belper and Duffield and, as a young man, watched the Rams soar to league glory.
MYSTICAL and magical aren't words usually associated with football but then Mike Ingham, who mentions them when talking about how the game first gripped his soul, is no ordinary fan – or man.
When it comes to pearls of descriptive brilliance, there are few people with more clarity and perception than him –, a football commentator par excellence who is living a boyhood dream.
As a child, football meant the world to him. It was his love, his obsession, his life.
He says: "I used to play for the Wolf Cubs in Plymouth. We played on a parks pitch next to Plymouth Argyle's ground. When Argyle were at home you could hear the noise from 20,000 people. It was mystical, magical. It made you want to go inside. As you were playing you'd pretend the cheers were for you.
"My dad, Marshall, took me to my first football game at Plymouth in 1958. He made me a box to stand on. I've still got it. The kids used to stand at the front, sometimes away from their parents but it was safe."
When Mike was 10 his family moved to Derbyshire – Belper followed by Duffield and Quarndon to be exact. His deep connection with the Derby County was about to begin.
"I think if I had been 10 years older it would have been hard to transfer my allegiance to another team but because of my age I could make the switch to Derby. I wanted to watch my local team. The first game I saw at the Baseball Ground was in 1961 – the Rams versus Plymouth. Derby won.
"The first season I watched Plymouth they got promoted to the old Second Division. I remember seeing Derby for the first time. They beat us 5-0. I hated them that day!
"In those days it was more like theatre. The teams didn't warm up before the game, they just ran out."
Like any young lad, Mike treasured his football cards and programmes. "I still have all my programmes – every one tells a story. I used to write to people to get autographs too, sending a stamped addressed envelope. The first reply I got was from Brian Clough who sent me autographs of the Middlesbrough team."
At the time, Mike had no idea how important Clough would become in the world of football – or his life as manager of the team he watched home and away throughout his formative years. Even now he speaks about Old Big 'Ead with extreme reverence and reveals a tale of what he terms, with a smile, "excruciating embarrassment".
"When I left Derby to take a job with the BBC in London, my family was living in Quarndon, just down the road from Brian Clough. My dad decided to do a This-is-Your-Life-style send-off for me. He got someone at Radio Derby to do a tape with Tommy Docherty and one Sunday morning my dad marched up Brian's Clough's drive with a tape recorder in hand.
"I think a young Nigel (Clough) opened the door. If he had been a journalist dad would probably have been machine-gunned down but Brian let him in and, as a great family man, he was touched by the fact that my dad was showing love for his son. Brian allowed him to do a little interview with him!
"Years after, whenever I had to interview Brian he always asked after my dad. He also never refused me an interview, though I didn't ask very often."
Mike first met Brian Clough and Peter Taylor as a youngster in Plymouth.
"They came to the sports department at the Co-op before a game that day and signed autographs. It was 1960. Twenty years later I was interviewing them at Forest and I told them about asking for their autographs all those years ago. Clough turned to Peter and said 'ay, we remember you don't we Peter. You were the one who didn't say thank you'. They were a great double act."
Mike, who was at school with Simon Groom, of Blue Peter fame, and actor Timothy Dalton at Herbert Strutt Grammar School – "I tell people James Bond gave me detention" – watched the Rams soar to glory in the golden era under Clough.
However, before the "Messiah" arrived, Mike was on the pitch with hundred of fans at the Baseball Ground chanting "We want Ward" in support of Tim Ward who managed Derby from 1962-67.
With a football expert's eye for accuracy, Mike points out that the player whose arrival proved to be a defining moment for the Rams – Kevin Hector – was signed by Ward.
"Talk to anyone my age who supported the Rams in the 60s and they will tell you about the day Kevin Hector made his debut on December 24, 1966 – my 16th birthday. He scored the type of goal you would never normally see a Derby player score. It was a half chance but, somehow, it ended up in the back of the net.
"He had this incredible pace and the crowd purred along with it. It was completely different. He cost £40,000 which is about a fifth of what John Terry gets a week these days. I had a bet that Hector would play for England before his 21st birthday. I lost the bet but he was playing for England a couple of years later.
"When I was working for Radio Derby I got to interview Hector. He was a very self-effacing, modest man."
Back to the 60s and Mike, who used to stand on the Osmaston end at the Baseball Ground with his dad before joining the "choir" on the Popside later, recalls the Rams' transformation to a top side.
"I think when the likes of Ron Webster and Alan Durban arrived the seeds were being sown for what was to come. I used to cycle from Duffield to the Baseball Ground to watch the reserves game. I'd leave my bike outside, unlocked, and it would still be there after the game.
"In the 60s, watching the reserves was the only way to keep in touch with the first team because there wasn't the amount of media information there is today. I remember sitting behind Peter Taylor and he kept shouting the same thing, almost monotonously – 'hold it, hold it'. They bought John O'Hare in and that's what he did. O'Hare represented a change to a more sophisticated style of play.
"The first season Clough and Taylor were here was not fantastic. The big turning point was the arrival of Dave Mackay."
Mike recalls that the Derby Telegraph's former Rams correspondent, Gerald Mortimer, once pointed out that fate played its part in a team's fortunes. So it was with Mackay.
"Clough and Taylor were planning to sign Graham Cross from Leicester but he turned them down and they signed Mackay instead. I often wonder what would have happened if Cross had come in."
As history now tells us, Mackay went on to do a remarkable job for the Rams. Revitalised by the move, he became the lynchpin of the side and nurtured younger players to glory.
"The great thing about Clough, like Alex Ferguson (Manchester United's manager), was that he knew when it was time to make changes," says Mike. "Archie Gemmill and Colin Todd came in for Carlin and Mackay and the team moved on.
"You would have paid your admission just to see Colin Todd's tackles. When Clough signed him for a British record fee (£175,000), Derby was in the middle of a Rolls-Royce crisis and it lifted the city."
After gaining a law degree and hospital radio experience, Mike knocked on Radio Derby's door in 1973. "I was in the right place at the right time. I got a job working with reclaimed tape. I had to make sure tape was not wasted."
Mike's arrival at Radio Derby occurred in the year Clough and Taylor made their controversial departure from the Rams.
"It was scandalous that Clough was allowed to leave Derby," Mike says. "It was a clash of egos with (Sam) Longson. They needed a Henry Kissinger-type figure to intervene.
"Derby was Clough's spiritual home. He never left the area and he should never have left the club. I know Clough and Taylor regretted leaving. I don't think things were ever the same again after that.
"Mackay did fantastically well at first and made some great signings but eventually things started to fracture. I broke the news that Derby had clinched the league championship on Radio Derby in May 1975.
"It depended on the result of a match between Man City and Ipswich and it went the right way. The broadcast went out over the loudspeakers at Baileys nightclub."
Mike worked his way up the ladder at Radio Derby to become its sports producer, which changed things for him as football fan.
"At first I had to pinch myself when I was interviewing players I had looked up to on the pitch like McFarland, Hector and Alan Hinton but, as you get to know people, it becomes a job. You lose the fan worshipping side of it and you have to be impartial.
"If I am commentating on Derby now I am so conscious of my links to the club, if anything I go the other way to avoid being accused of bias. I was working when Bruce Rioch was a pundit once and he said 'everyone knows you are a Derby fan, Mike'.
Ever the professional, Mike was mortified but, when pushed, admits: "I suppose the first results I look for first are Plymouth, Derby, Torquay, where my parents Marshall and Madge live now, and Macclesfield, where my family originate from."
Though Mike lives in Buckinghamshire now, he was delighted to travel back to the area in January to collect an honorary degree from the University of Derby. His wife, Lorna, is a local girl with family in Mickleover and they have two sons, Marshall and George.
"The honorary degree meant so much to me because Derby and Derbyshire means so much to me. I was a teenager through the 60s and had so many life-changing experiences there."
But it's not hard to get him talking about football again. "Two of my favourite Derby players in the 60s were goalkeeper Reg Matthews and Eddie Thomas. Reg was a real eccentric. He was known for having a fag before the game and would chat to the fans.
"The atmosphere at the Baseball Ground was amazing. It gave the team a real advantage which I don't think Pride Park does.
"The fans were so close to the pitch and it was so muddy. When the likes of Spurs and Liverpool came they were almost beaten before they'd got on to the pitch.
"Derby is a genuinely huge club. There is a real intensity about football in Derby. I am sure Brian Clough is looking down over Nigel (Clough, current Derby manager) now. I hope they give Nigel time."
At 61, Mike, who received an MBE from the Queen in 2010 and is held in high regard in the broadcasting profession, is still excited and fascinated by every twist and turn in the world of football.
Like Kevin Hector, despite his talent Mike is modest and self-effacing. And, like Brian Clough, he puts family first.
"Can you send me a couple of magazines when it comes out because I'd like one for my parents," asked the eloquent broadcaster in his polite, humble and familiar tone more usually heard on national radio and TV.
No wonder Cloughie senior could never turn down an interview request from Mike Ingham.
`Fathers and sons died in front of me'
Mike has commentated at seven World Cup finals and in numerous countries where England or Premiership clubs have played.
But his saddest moment was in 1985 at the European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
Thirty-nine Juventus fans died when supporters stampeded before the game. The match still went ahead and Juventus eventually won 1-0.
Mike says of that game: "I have no memory of describing any of the football played that night. It was a complete irrelevance.
"I still find it unreal to think that the game went ahead after scenes that will live with me for the rest of my life.
"Fathers and sons died in front of me – 39 in all – and more than 600 others were injured. I had prepared for a football commentary and found myself in a war zone."
MY TOUGHEST INTERVIEW OF ALL? IT HAS TO BE BRIAN CLOUGH!
In his decades working for the BBC, Mike has interviewed and got to know the most famous names in the world of football.
So which manager was, or is, the trickiest to interview post-match, Brian Clough or Alex Ferguson?
"Clough," he says after a momentary pause. "He's the only person I have ever had to deal with who had you on your toes the whole time. You could never feel you were mates. It was a mixture of feeling intimidated but inspired, so you could understand how a player would have felt.
"If you interviewed him for the first time it was like going through an audition for the first three questions – if you were still standing!
"You had to think about how you phrased every question. If you started with something like 'people might think...' he would immediately say 'which people?'. He would pick up on every single word.
"And you knew when it was the end of the interview because, after finishing his last sentence, he'd reach over, turn off your tape recorder and say 'and that's a very good out'."