Cast your eye back to February 2000. Pride Park was rocking as Derby County stunned Sheffield Wednesday in a 3-3 draw, two Premier League regulars in a battle between Yorkshire and Derbyshire.
Sheffield Wednesday were in their ninth consecutive top-flight season, Derby County were in their fourth. Both were former top-flight champions, both had won the FA Cup on at least one occasion.
Now, both are scrapping it out like two drunken hooligans in a bar for the right to stay in the second tier.
And at the end of that fight, they could both end up going down anyway.
That 3-3 draw was the last time Wednesday and Derby met in the Premier League. It also happened to be the Owls’ last top-flight season and the Rams’ highest finish in all of the years that have followed.
In line with their form this season, the Owls were 3-1 up with 89 minutes played. Then a quickfire double levelled things up and they went on to win just four of their remaining matches on the way to relegation.
Wayne Rooney is the 16th manager (including caretakers) to take charge of Derby since Jim Smith – who was in charge that day – left in 2001, while Darren Moore is the 16th that Wednesday have had since Paul Jewell took over in 2000.
The two sides both occupy that often-used tag of sleeping giants that gets slapped on those teams who used to have something about them but have since slipped into mediocrity, and these two in particular are now staring right down the barrel of League One.
One must go. Maybe both.
Given the money spent, given the squads assembled, given the wages paid out, probably both deserve to go down. The two teams have had torrid 2020/21 seasons in which they have so often been the masters of their own downfall, while Rotherham United and Wycombe Wanderers have scrapped on limited resources to take this nonsense of a season to the final day.
It’s on a knife edge.
Wycombe 40 points, goal difference -33.
Sheff Wed 40 points; GD -21.
Rotherham 41 points, GD -16.
Derby 43 points, GD -22.
Rooney’s side have picked up a grand total of two points from losing positions this season, while Wednesday – under various managers – have managed to *better* that by failing to secure a single one.
These are two big clubs. Big clubs with big followings and lots of history. But make no mistake, nobody ends up in a relegation battle like this without deserving to be in it. Derby and Wednesday have a big shot at redemption, and – who knows – maybe it could be the shot in the arm (survival or not) that they need to start moving back in an upward trajectory.
But maybe it won’t. Big teams stumble and fall, and ultimately your history means nothing if you’re not looking after the present.
Wednesday’s battle with the English Football League could effectively see them relegated, and Derby’s still rolls on as they also run the risk of a points deduction of their own. Whatever happens, it’s been a season to forget.
Former First Division champions? Former FA Cup winners? It doesn’t matter. You’re never too ‘big’ to go down.