Derry will be sick as a parrot - just to help Leeds go up

The midfielder's bizarre pre-match superstition outdoes past Elland Road greats. Victory over Watford will ensure he enters into folklore on the pitch too, writes Phil Shaw
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The Independent Online

Next to Derry's routine, the great Leeds side of 1965-75 look like carefree souls. Their manager's paranoia about provoking malign fate saw him wear threadbare jackets and trousers to certain matches. Revie also walked from the ground and touched a bus stop before games.

Many of the players from that era feared they would suffer bad luck if they did not emerge from the tunnel in a precise order.

Nor are Derry's colleagues immune. Rob Hulse is reluctant to change boots in which he has scored. David Healy will bin a new pair if dissatisfied with his display. Robbie Blake likes his footwear pristine, refusing to wear them even in the warm-up.

Derry, however, is in a different league - as he hopes to be come 5pm tomorrow - so those of a squeamish disposition should look away now. For when the bell rings in the Leeds dressing-room at the Millennium Stadium, the 28-year-old holding midfielder will nip into the toilets, thrust his fingers down his throat and force himself to be sick.

"Not the nicest of superstitions, I know," admits the quietly spoken Derry, "but it's something that has stuck with me since I was 18. Every player has his own way to focus on the game ahead. Mine is just stranger than 99 per cent of the other players.

"I've done it so long that I won't be changing now. I'm fortunate that I don't get nervous about playing. I love it. Out there, I feel free and I can express myself. But I do have to do this daft thing to get me prepared."

What do the other players make of his habit? "When I first arrived there were a few wondering eyes. But now they understand it's just a mental thing to get me right to go out and play."

Revie's latest successor, Kevin Blackwell, will doubtless be delighted to tolerate his self-inflicted discomfort if Leeds regain the status they surrendered two years ago. Derry is an integral member of the side and brings the experience of having been in the Crystal Palace team that went up via the play-offs against West Ham two years ago.

That final stands out in a career that began in his native Nottingham with Notts County, where he served under Sam Allardyce. After spells at Sheffield United (when Blackwell was coach to Neil Warnock), Portsmouth and Palace, he was on loan to Forest when Ken Bates marked his buy-out at Leeds by paying an undisclosed sum for Derry 15 months ago.

Leeds were still in turmoil. "It was a bit of a gamble coming here, knowing the club wasn't really secure. But I knew about the manager from my time at Sheffield. He wore his heart on his sleeve. I thought, 'I fancy that'.

"Another reason I felt positive about it was because Kevin was buying me. When a manager pays money for you, he obviously has confidence in you. That was different to what I had at Palace."

Derry endeared himself to his new public with a late winner against West Ham on his home debut. A chant once devoted to David Batty was recycled in honour of his biting tackles as "Derry's gonna getcha".

"It's a different outlook up north," he suggests. "Down south, they like the flashy, tricky players. Obviously I'm not that kind. I can't always guarantee that things will go to plan but I can guarantee that I'll give 100 per cent every week."

Players who win promotion do not always receive the opportunity to perform at the higher level. Derry, whose contract has a year to run, accepts nothing is guaranteed. "No one can demand that they're a permanent fixture in the Premiership. But I've got confidence in my ability and want to give myself a chance to play against the Lampards and Rooneys."

Domestic contentment has helped put him there. He and his wife, Jolene, are happy in Harrogate and she is expecting their first child next month. "When things go right off the park, they tend to follow suit on it," he says, grinning. "I just hope she doesn't drop the baby in Cardiff."

Given the drama and tension that the play-off final usually generates, that may be tempting providence. But Derry feels three-times inoculated against misfortune. As well as his pre-match "sickener", he has his lucky long hair, grown in response to a challenge by Andrew Johnson and Danny Butterfield at Palace and left uncut when it coincided with an upturn in his fortunes. Then there is his contribution to the CD that will pound out as Leeds prepare to take on Watford.

"We've all chosen a song. I'm into the indie scene - Razorlight, Stone Roses - so I'm embarrassed to say mine's a hip-hop track called 'Big Pimpin' by the American rapper Jay-Z. Dougie Freedman picked it when Palace won the play-offs and I want to recreate the vibe!

"I know that when I'm 50, I can turn around and tell my kids, 'I pulled on that white shirt for Leeds United'. That says it all for me really, because I see this as one of the top clubs in English football, no matter what league we're in."

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