Born in Wolverhampton, developed in Leicester, back to Wolverhampton – twice – where overall he won two promotions, and still now, giving his all with Derby County.

There probably isn’t a patch of West or East Midlands which Richard Stearman isn’t aware of!

Given the respective meteoric developments of both Wolves and Leicester in recent years, it may feel like a different timezone when Stearman was gracing the pitches of Molineux and the Walkers Stadium.

But such was his impact with both – and his professionalism and performances at both – he is still remembered fondly at both. And the feeling is mutual.

For now though, at the age of 35, his focus is not so much the memories of an excellent career so far but a drive and ambition about what is still to come.  Stearman’s focus is very firmly fixed on the fortunes of the Rams.

Following some troubled times, Derby moved into new ownership during the summer, their future secured, but for Stearman, his own status was very much up in the air.

After a decent first season at Pride Park, he was keen to stay on, and returned for training without a contract in the hope of impressing sufficiently to land a new deal.

Keeping himself in good shape during the summer paid dividends, and Stearman’s stay was extended, and while there was probably not an anticipation on either side that he would be a regular, he has already chalked up ten first team appearances, and would love to make many more.

Ultimately his ambition – and he is already well down the road with qualifications – is to head into coaching, but for now he is enjoying every minute and doing his bit on and off the pitch at a potentially exciting time for Derby under new boss Paul Warne.

“Yes, I’m still hanging on in there,” he says with a chuckle.

“Obviously nobody quite knew what would happen with Derby in the summer but I kept working and kept myself fit with a goal in mind that, if there was a contract, I would be ready.

“Fortunately, that is what happened and I’ve already played a fair few games which I am delighted about.

“We have a new manager who is a very good guy with an excellent track record at this level and the club are very excited and optimistic about the season ahead.

“I am just going to get my head down, keep working hard and try and help the manager on and off the pitch to help Derby towards the ultimate aim which is promotion.”

Stearman, of course, has history with promotion from League One.

The record-breaking season of 2013/14 during which he played 40 of the 46 league games was one of the many highlights of his Wolves career, which, despite being born in the city, didn’t ultimately start until he was 20.

That’s because whilst his parents initially ran the Fieldhouse Pub based in Wightwick, Dad Paul worked for Banks’s Brewery and was handed a posting in Leicester when Stearman was four.

Picked up by the Foxes at the age of ten, he spent a decade with the club progressing through the Academy ranks and making his debut, in the Championship, at the age of 17.

He became a first team regular, making 130 appearances as well as representing England at junior levels, and thoroughly enjoyed his formative years.

“At the time I was coming through, Leicester had been relegated from the Premier League and didn’t have the sort of money that the club has had in recent times,” Stearman explains.

“That means they were quite reliant on the younger lads, so a few of us from the Academy got chances in the first team.

“That was great for our development, and I managed to grasp my opportunity and play a lot of games.

“Eventually though, we got relegated to League One, and I only had a year left on my contract.

“It was difficult to leave Leicester, but by this time I was involved with the England age groups and needed to be playing in the Championship, and because they needed the money Wolves coming in for me became a good move for everyone.

“I was still quite nervous about heading to Wolves, it was a bit of an eye-opener because it was my first move and all I had known is Leicester, and any player will tell you there are always those feelings of trepidation when you walk into a new dressing room.

“But it was a great group at Wolves with a lot of lads of similar age, and I settled in from the very first day.”

The trepidation had perhaps first started when the initial call came from boss Mick McCarthy, after it became clear the clubs were ready to agree a deal.

Because, at the time, Stearman was on a lads’ holiday in Ayia Napa!

“Thankfully my agent gave me the heads-up and told me Mick was going to call so I had to sober up and find a quiet corner,” he recalls.

“He just wanted to have a chat though and get a feel for me as a person and talk about the role I would have within the team.

“With Mick’s stature in football, it was both exciting and a little nerve-wracking at the same time, but him being a former central defender was also great for me as I knew it would help me progress my game.”

Stearman joined midfielder David Jones and strikers Chris Iwelumo and Sam Vokes as Wolves’ quartet of summer signings, and little could any of them have believed that they would be joining a team which would so spectacularly power its way to the Championship title and a prized place in the Premier League on the back of so much exciting and attack-minded football.

Stearman would later play a lot of his football at right back, but for two-thirds of that season operated in the centre, alongside one of Jody Craddock, Neill Collins, Michael Mancienne and Christophe Berra.   He only lost his place when Craddock returned from injury but was recalled for the memorable final day win against Doncaster to score his first goal for Wolves, in added time, the perfect end to a memorable season. Stearman certainly has an eye for the big occasion.

“That was an incredible season,” he recalls.

“We were doing so well and then hit a bit of a stumbling block and Mick changed it up around February/March time and while you never want to come out of the side, his man management was excellent.

“If you were coming out of the team he would always talk to you and give you the reasons and that made the disappointment a bit easier to swallow.

“And then he brought me back in for the Doncaster game which he didn’t need to do.

“I think he was wanting to reward those who had played a lot during the season, and hopefully I rewarded him by scoring the goal which won the game!  It was the perfect way to end such a great year.”

There followed three seasons in the Premier League, where Stearman, moving from his early to mid-twenties, chalked up 77 appearances.

His athleticism and pace dovetailed perfectly with a determination and ambition that saw him striving to succeed at the highest level, part of a team packed with youthful energy and enthusiasm.

It was a tough three years for Wolves battling against the Premier League tide but included some memorable results.

Stearman started in wins against Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea at Molineux, and away at Tottenham and Liverpool, an Anfield feat he would repeat several years later.

So often a seemingly unbreakable team spirit helped make Wolves so much greater than the sum of its parts.

“We did have a lot of talent in the majority of positions across the pitch, as well as options from the bench, but talent can only get you so far,” Stearman says.

“We had an unusually tight-knit group who got on great and bounced off each other in a drive to succeed but were also pretty resilient as well.

“We were young lads, going to big stadiums and playing against Premier League teams but often holding our own and especially getting some great results against the big boys.

“I don’t think I have experienced anything like that at any other stage in my career, and even today I am still in touch with the majority of that team.

“Several of us still live close together, our families socialise together, and that all comes from the togetherness and team spirit which probably helped us over-achieve in those Premier League years.”

Eventually however, Wolves’ Premier League resistance buckled.

After the departure of McCarthy, remembered by Stearman as an “emotional day”, the team were relegated, and the following season proved the start of what might be termed his ‘hokey cokey’ years. In and out the club, at different stages and for different reasons, pretty much all of which were out of his control.

Under Stale Solbakken, Stearman rotated right back duties with Kevin Foley before, after the arrival of Dean Saunders, he was allowed to head out on loan to reunite with McCarthy and Terry Connor with Ipswich.  Wolves were relegated, while Ipswich survived.

Back at Molineux he became an integral and experienced part of the team during Kenny Jackett’s first season and that League One Championship, and was comfortably Player of the Year the following campaign when Wolves went agonisingly close to reaching the play-offs.

But he was then sold to Fulham, returning on loan a year later for one final Wolves season and one final goal, in a sensational FA Cup win at Liverpool.

It was quite a few years. And quite an Anfield swansong.

“With that first loan to Ipswich, I hadn’t been playing at Wolves and was at a time in my career when I needed to be playing every week,” Stearman explains.

“It was a good move to a good club where Mick and TC (Connor) did a great job helping the team survive having previously been bottom.

“But then Kenny brought me straight back into the fold at Wolves, he made me a big part of the team and the club, and I loved every minute of it.

“I hadn’t been part of that downward spiral in terms of the second relegation, and I also had a point to prove as I felt it was the wrong decision to let me out on loan.

“It was a bit difficult at the start, with a lot of friends and fellow professionals finding themselves pushed out as the club went through a transition, but for me, I was fortunate to stay on and play my part as Wolves were promoted.

“The lads like myself who had been at the club a while took it upon ourselves to drive the dressing room and Kenny gave a chance to a lot of young players, just like I had been given at the start of my career.

“That season was probably one of my best, playing alongside Danny (Batth) in defence, and hopefully it is remembered as the year which started the revival for Wolves to where they are now.

“Back in the Championship I also felt I did well, I’d had two really good years back-to-back, and certainly hadn’t been thinking I’d be on my way again just a month into the new season.”

Ironically, it was whilst on his way to pick up his Player of the Season awards that Stearman first took a call from his agent to relay the news that Fulham were interested, and that even though he was extremely happy at Molineux, Wolves hadn’t necessarily batted the enquiry away.

Stearman started the season in the team, captain on occasions when Batth was absent, yet Fulham’s interest didn’t disappear and, in the final week of the window, a bid came in.

“Kenny called me into his office to tell me and I said I didn’t want to go and he said he didn’t want me to go,” Stearman recalls.

“I was in the last year of my contract at Wolves, with another year’s option which didn’t have any guarantees, and the club received a good offer particularly when you take that into consideration.

“They wanted the money at that stage, which is understandable, and while I didn’t want to leave, football is a business and I respected the decision which the club had taken.

“Fulham is a fantastic club and I enjoyed it when I got there but I was settled at Wolves and was devastated to leave.

“It all happened very quickly and I managed to say a few farewells to different people but obviously not to the fans, which was difficult, because they had always been so good to me through the good times and the bad.” 

The Wolves fans did get a chance to show their appreciation very soon afterwards, in a 3-0 win at Craven Cottage, and yet, football being football, Stearman’s Wolves journey had not yet reached its final destination.

Less than a year later, with Walter Zenga now in charge at Wolves, and Fulham suffering their own period of instability with managers coming and going, Stearman was coming home.

“It started with another call from my agent, asking me what I thought about Wolves wanting me back,” he says.

“Apparently they had been trying for a Portuguese centre half which had fallen through and I was like ‘wow – do whatever it takes to get me back home’!

“I think I have a lot to thank Kevin Thelwell for, he must have put me forward having known me from before, and that gave me the chance to come back and wear the shirt again.

“And I had an amazing second return.

“I was warming up for my first game back and they read my name out and I heard the South Bank roar and I was choking up again – I was home.”

It was perhaps another difficult season in many respects, the transition into Fosun’s ownership seeing Zenga depart and Paul Lambert steady the ship and, at the end of the year, there was no fresh deal on the table to make Stearman’s loan permanent.

But there was still one more moment, one utterly glorious moment, for the defender and the Wolves fans to share.   Anfield in the FA Cup fourth round, and with 53 seconds on the clock, a bullet header into the back of the net in front of the Kop.  Stearman’s last dance.

“One of the biggest things for me about coming back to Wolves was wanting to score again,” he explains.

“I wanted to soak everything in during that season but I also wanted to experience that feeling, the euphoria and the jubilation, but I probably didn’t think it would be in front of the Kop at Anfield!

“Every time I think about that game, I can still picture Helder (Costa) sending in a lovely ball and finding myself on my own and just concentrating on heading it back from where it came from across the goal.

“Luckily it found the back of the net and I was away with the ‘Shearer’ celebration, even now I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

“What an incredible feeling and one which will live with me for the rest of my life, especially as we went on and won the game – those sorts of special days don’t come around too often in a career.”

In total Stearman made 234 appearances for Wolves, and has also gone on to more successes since, as he won promotion with Sheffield United and his exuberant celebrations coined the phrase ‘Let’s get Stearman-ed’ among the Blades faithful.

He then spent a season with Huddersfield before moving on to Derby, where he now harbours hopes of helping the Rams become upwardly mobile at the end of this season.

There was one appearance last season which didn’t go unnoticed back in gold and black territory when he was named Man of the Match in a televised win against West Bromwich Albion.

Which was far cry from the time he found himself taking a tumble when steaming forward in the closing stages of a Black Country derby win at Molineux. A different kind of getting Stearman-ed!

“I’m never going to escape that one, am I?” he laughs.

“I used to think I was quite good at carrying the ball forward until that point.

“I think I rode a tackle, never quite regained my balance, lost my stride pattern, and over I went.

“Even at the time, as I lifted my head, I knew it was something that was going to haunt me for a while!

“It wasn’t one of my finest moments in football but at least we won the game and everybody could laugh about it afterwards!”

It is however appreciation rather than amusement which is the overriding feeling among fans when they consider Stearman’s contribution during his different and sometimes difficult spells at Molineux.

And it’s a club that remains very special to him too.

“I have enjoyed my time wherever I have played and am still enjoying it now but obviously Leicester – where it all started – and Wolves will always be special,” he explains.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, and, after Derby, they are the two results I look out for first.

“My time at Wolves has been the bulk of my career, a lot of my life was connected to Wolves and I will be forever grateful for what they did for me.

“It was often a rollercoaster, but I hope the love that I have with the fans is still there and I’m just glad I got that chance to go back and have that final season to finish things off.”

For now though, Stearman is focused very much on playing, whilst having his coaching aspirations in the background, ready to go when needed.

He has his UEFA ‘A’ and ‘B’ licences, and also the UEFA Elite Youth A diploma, and, on top of the hours spent coaching to achieve those qualifications, has also been mentoring some of Derby’s young professionals.

That looks likely to be his next chapter, and with his experiences as a player – much of which was honed at the two clubs who will be battling it out at Molineux on Sunday – and abilities as a coach, few would argue against it being a success.

Until then however, there is plenty more work on the pitch still to be done.