Rams striker reflects on his career
On the eve of the Rams play-off final against West Bromwich Albion Steve Howard has revealed how he took a hefty pay cut to becoming a professional footballer.
The Rams leading scorer was a roofer and labourer on the roads working 12-hour shifts before being joining Hartlepool United in 1995 - but his first pay packet proved something of a shock.
Howard said: 'I was 18 or 19 at the time and my job was putting a few quid in my pocket but when I went to Hartlepool I looked at my wage and thought 'is this it?'
'I had less money in my pocket, which I wasn't happy about, but it was my dream to be a footballer.'
With Howard only one victory from the Premier League the cut in wages has proved worthwhile and the 31-year-old is now hoping to finish a dream journey. The 19-goal striker is looking forward to Monday`s final play-off at the home of English football.
'Playing at Wembley is special and will be a dream come true,' said Howard who was rejected by Sunderland and Middlesbrough as a youngster and played non-League football with Tow Law Town, Chris Waddle's old club.
Howard was recommended to Pool by former Manchester United and Scotland defender Gordon McQueen 'At the time, I was working from 6am to 6pm on the roads in all weather - it was tough work and nearly killed me!' said Howard.
'I was doing all sorts of things like digging holes, it was hard graft.
'I trained twice a week at Tow Law and had to go straight from work, still wearing my work clothes.
'Things like that make you appreciate being a footballer more, without a doubt. Many players start in the Premiership and eventually move down but, hopefully, I am working my way up.
'Playing at Wembley and hopefully helping Derby to win promotion would be a very special day.'
Howard went to the old Wembley Stadium to watch Newcastle United in successive FA Cup finals in the late Nineties. They lost 2-0 to both Arsenal and Manchester United. 'Hopefully I'll do better on Monday,' he said.
All Rams fans hope Howard can score a couple of goals on Monday, and his and their dreams will come true. The big man has lead the line superbly for the Rams this season, and he has won the club and fans 'Player of the year`. He also had success off the pitch with the birth of a second child; he can make it a hat-trick on Monday.