Your Club Your Lions: Derby RFC
The name Derby may come from the word ‘deer’ originally, but for the city’s rugby club it is now being linked to an altogether different animal.
“At the time I didn’t know what an England player looked like. I have a better idea now!”
Jonathan Joseph will become Derby RFC’s second British & Irish Lion, following in the footsteps of Irishman Dr Karl Mullen – who captained the touring side in 1950 and later played for Derby during a spell working in England.
Bath centre Joseph’s ties to the club came at a much earlier age; he was still only taking his first steps in the rugby world when he joined the club, playing there from Under-9s through to Under-13s when a change of job for dad Ivan saw him move away from the area.
However Joseph’s relationship with the city of his birth did not end there, and he still returns to his first club on a regular basis.
Derby director of rugby Roxy Fearon is a close family friend who played alongside Ivan Joseph, and he was the coach of Joseph junior minis sides.
Fearon recalls: “I used to play with his dad when he first came over and our friendship goes back that far, it was the year that JJ was born (1991).
“Ivan played the same position as Jonathan, at outside centre, and they used to have a very similar running style. JJ’s style has improved since then but there were similarities as a youngster.
“JJ was a very good player but if you had asked me whether in 15 years he would be playing for England, I would probably have said no. But at the time I didn’t know what an England player looked like. I have a better idea now!
“He was a very good tennis player, and they are a great all-round sporting family.
“We had him through to Under-13s when his dad got a job in Bedford but he still came on tours with us until he was 16 and we’re still very close. We went out with him on England age group tours to watch him play.
“Jonathan probably comes down to the club three or four times a year, he will come in and have a beer with the group of lads who knew from back then.
“It’s nice for them to see that he is still just an ordinary guy, and they don’t even talk rugby.”
Very much a community club, Derby are currently in the fifth flight of English rugby, plying their trade in National Three Midlands following promotion two years ago.
Playing their home games at Haslams Lane – on the River Derwent – they have progressed since moving ground back in 2002.
And while the club’s history dates all the way back to the end of the 19th century, rugby chairman Nick Swan is excited about the direction the club is going.
He said: “It’s a community club at Derby and I’m responsible for rugby across all the teams, and I’m grateful for the help I get from a lot of people.
“We moved ground and the facilities at the new place are fantastic. Where we were, the pitch wasn’t great to be honest, and now we have a great club house, we’re right on the River Derwent and the pitch is very good.
“The aim is always to progress, it was our second year in this league so it was important to consolidate and then progress going forward.”
Fearon agrees, and while he admits the financial landscape of rugby has an impact on how teams can build, he has a plan in place at Derby.
He added: “For a club like us the important thing is to get a generation to come through from the youth ranks and then try to keep building behind that.
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“We don’t have a sugar daddy so you have to focus on developing players but it’s not easy.
“I keep trying to tell JJ he should come back here, but no luck just yet!”
1950 – Karl Mullen
2017 – Jonathan Joseph