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Derby County Football Club History

A history of the Derby County Football Club, the ups and the downs of our Super Rams - from the Racecourse Ground to the Baseball Ground and on to Pride Park. By Peter Simcox

Derby County Football Club History

It`s been a roller coaster 122 years for the club from the East Midlands, and presently the Rams sit in third spot in the Championship. All Derby County supporters can look back with some great memories, but in 1983 the club dipped to its lowest ebb which almost saw the club go out of existence. Being one and half million pounds in debt, a winding-up petition was brought in the high court in London by the Inland Revenue and VAT authorities, who had grown tired of the Rams empty promises. The club chairman Stuart Webb then pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute when he coaxed newspaper millionaire Robert Maxwell to bank roll the club and as they say the club was 'back from the brink`

The club was formed in 1884, Queen Victoria was on the throne and William Gladstone was prime minister and Derby took the first steps in the world game. It was the players from Derbyshire County Cricket Club who formed the club and for the first few weeks the side was called Derbyshire. But after the Derbyshire FA refused permission it was changed to Derby County, and their first ground was at the Racecourse Ground in Derby. A different looking kit for the first side and the players took to the field in the cricket club colours of amber, chocolate and pale blue. Their first competitive game was on September 13th 1884 when they played Lancashire side Great Lever and were beaten 6-0.

In 1888 the Rams became founder-members of the Football League, and in the historic first league game the Rams came back from 3-0 down at Bolton Wanderers to win 6-3 and went on to finish 10th in the league. In 1892 a pale faced youngster called Steve Bloomer (left) joined the Rams and went on to be one of the clubs greatest ever players. In 18 seasons at Derby, Bloomer played 524 games and scored 331 goals. He also earned 23 England caps and scored 28 times for his country.

In 1895 the club were forced to move from the Racecourse Ground when racing prevented them using the ground. The new ground was called The Baseball Ground. It was called this because baseball had been played there, and it became their home for the next 102 years. When they moved, Derby County changed their club colours to the black and white they use today. The first game at the BBG was on September 14th 1895 when 10,000 fans turned up to see the Rams beat Sunderland with Bloomer scoring both goals. It was claimed when the Rams moved to their new ground they had moved gypsies off the site and that they had cursed the club that they would never win a major trophy.

In 1898, Derby got to their first FA Cup final, but lost 1-3 to local rivals Nottingham Forest. The same happened again in 1899 and a 1-4 loss against Sheffield United and 1903 a 0-6 loss to Bury, which is still the heaviest loss in an FA Cup final, was the curse fact?. Derby`s first-ever manager was appointed in 1900 when Harry Newbould stepped up from his clubs other job as their assistant secretary. His reign ended in 1906, and Derby was relegated to the Football League's Second Division for the first time in 1907, after Bloomer was transferred to Middlesbrough for 1,000, but they were promoted to the First Division in 1911.

Financial problems hit the club in the early 1920s and it was that bad the club`s directors had to fund a trip to Southampton out of their own pockets. In 1925 George Jobey became manager and the club bounced back. Some astute signings by Jobey brought a number of England international players to the Baseball Ground. Three of them were Jack Barker, Jack Bowers and Sammy Crooks. All three played with distinction for the Rams, Bowers and Crooks both being prolific goal scorers with 183 and 111 goals respectively.
Again controversy hit the club in 1941 when a joint FA-League commission found the club guilty of irregularities stretching back to 1925. The Rams were fined 500, several directors were suspended and manager Jobey was banned from football management.

The first major trophy for Derby came in the first season after the Second World War. The FA Cup restarted in the 1945-1946 season, and new manager Stuart McMillan took Derby to the final for the fourth time. Before the final some of the Rams players asked the gypsies to lift the curse that had been put on the club when moving to the Baseball ground, and it seemed to have worked with the Rams beating Charlton Athletic 4-1 after extra-time to win the Cup. The Rams went ahead late on in the game when Dally Duncan`s shot deflected off Charlton`s defender Bert Turner, but Charlton were level sixty seconds later when Turner scored, in the right end this time. In the last minute of normal time something happened that will probably never be repeated. Jack Stamps` shot was goal bound before incredibly the ball burst and fell at the feet of the astonished keeper Sam Bartram. But the Rams took control in extra-time and two goals from Stamps, and Peter Doherty`s effort gave the Rams their first trophy in their history.

The Football League began again the next season, and McMillan twice broke the British record transfer fee bringing in Billy Steel from Greenock Morton for 15,000 and then smashed that bringing in centre-forward Johnny Morris from Manchester United for 24,500. But the Rams fortunes dipped and they were relegated in 1953. Things went from bad to worse and in 1955 they were relegated to the Football League Third Division (North) for the first time in their history. The Rams looked to a former player to lift the club and Harry Storer was appointed manager. He took the Rams to promotion in his second season and by the time he retired in 1962 his astute business ethic had reduced the club`s overdraft from 60,000 to 23,000.

He was replaced as boss by Tim Ward. The former Grimsby boss had an unsteady five year reign at the Baseball Ground, with financial restraints put on him by the then board. In his time at the club Ward made a number of great signings which would help the Rams in the future, and he somehow persuaded the directors to buy 22-year-old Alan Durban from Cardiff for 10,000 in 1963. But to everyone`s amazement in the town he pulled off the signing of Bradford City`s talented young striker Kevin Hector for 40,000 in 1966. Hector would go down in the folk law of the Rams making 581 appearances and scoring 201 goals. Ward also brought in youngsters Peter Daniel and goalkeeper Colin Boulton. All these players played parts in the Rams next chapter with the arrival of Hartlepool United boss Brian Clough (left) and his assistant Peter Taylor in July 1967.

Clough and Taylor`s partnership is legendary in the East Midlands and they set out to rebuild the club and take it back to the First Division. The partnership made some significant signings, with the first being young Sunderland striker John O`Hare for 20,000, followed by Roy McFarland from Tranmere Rovers in August 1967 for 25,000. Clough added young full back John Robson, midfielder John McGovern from his former club Hartlepool and Sheffield United midfielder Willie Carlin joining the brigade at Derby. The final piece of the 1967 jigsaw, saw Spurs and Scotland defender Dave Mackay join Clough and Taylor`s new look Rams side and the club surged up the table and won the second division title in 1968-69.

Back in the top flight again the brash young manager made himself a house hold name and the Rams finished fourth in their first season in the top flight and Clough brought in Colin Todd from Sunderland for 170,000 and Prestons Archie Gemmill for 60,000 and their presence pushed the Rams to the top of the table.
Better was to follow and in 1971-72 the Rams won the Championship for the first time in their history. It wouldn`t be that simple for a club who had had its fare share of drama over the years. The Rams won their last game of the season a 1-0 win over Liverpool at the Baseball Ground and went top of the table. But both Leeds United and Liverpool had one game left and could overtake the Rams with victories. Clough took the players to Majorca for an end of season holiday, where they were informed both teams had fallen in their games and Derby County Football Club was the First Division Champions. The managerial partnership had taken five years to perform a football miracle, lifting the Rams from the lower reaches of the second division to the peak of English Football.

There first venture into Europe was a great success, and a stunning 3-0 second round victory against Portuguese giants Benfica was one of the club`s finest moments. The Rams totally dominated their illustrious opponents and with goals from McFarland, Hector and McGovern set them up and a 0-0 draw in the Stadium of light in Lisbon in the return leg sent the Rams through. But their campaign ended in controversy with a loss to Italian Giants Juventus in the semi-final. In the first leg at Juventus the Rams were beaten 3-1 with Hector on target, but some referring decisions went against the Rams and foul play was suspected but it had been a great first step on the European stage for Clough and his men.

Clough who was also a TV pundit in those days upset, then club Chairman Sam Longson and cracks began to show in the their partnership and it came to a head in 1973. The Football authorities warned the club about certain claims Clough had made on the television and told them to sort it out. The scenes that followed will never be forgotten at the club as Clough and Taylor resigned and there followed some unparalleled scenes. The town of Derby was shocked and the players even wrote to the club in an attempt to have the pair reinstated, but to no avail and Clough left for greener pastures.

The club appointed former player Dave Mackay to succeed Clough and with new signings Bruce Ricoh from Aston Villa and Manchester City striker Francis Lee, Mackay won the Rams second Championship in 1974-75. The man to stand tall in the side was Peter Daniel. He was only brought in to the side after McFarland was injured playing for England early in the campaign, but his season was rewarded not just with a championship medal but the Rams 'Player of the Year` award. At the presentation night manager Mackay said that Peter winning the award gave him as much pleasure as winning the league title.

Another memorable night in the clubs history came on October 22nd 1975 when Spanish giants Real Madrid left the Baseball Ground with their tails between their legs after the Rams thrashed them 4-1. It will probably go down as the best night at the ground and with the new signing Charlie George (left) and Colin Todd inspirational. George (hit a hat-trick, two from the penalty spot the other a stunning strike from the edge of the area, the other coming from David Nish. It all ended in despair when Madrid beat the Rams 5-1 in the return leg and sending them crashing out of the competition.

The Rams began to slip and after a disastrous FA Cup semi-final loss in April 1976 against Manchester United the wolves were at the doors. Many saw this defeat as a watershed in the clubs affairs and Derby County began their slide to near oblivion.
The managerial merry-go-round then set in as the Rams dropped from one low to another. Tommy Docherty`s two year reign saw more players in and out of the door as the club plummeted. In a five year period the Rams had five different managers and fell from the First division to the Football League Third Division for the first time in their history in 1984, and beat a winding-up petition at the eleventh hour at the high court.

Arthur Cox began the revival of the club when he was appointed as the Rams boss in 1984, in the Rams centenary year. After a two year stay in the Third Division, they were promoted to the Second Division. They won the league in the next year, going back up to the First Division in 1987.

The club managed to finish 5th in 1989, with the team now containing stars like England internationals Peter Shilton and Mark Wright, Dean Saunders and Ted McMinn. However, English clubs were banned from European competition at the time, so the Rams missed out on a place in the UEFA Cup that their high-finish otherwise would have earned.
The club was still owned by businessman Robert Maxwell, who was having money problems. He stopped spending money on new players, and sold the club not long before his death. The club was relegated back to the Second Division in 1991 (which changed its name to the First Division a year later when the First Division clubs left to form the FA Premier League). At this time, local newspaper businessman Lionel Pickering became the majority shareholder of the club.

Jim Smith became Derby's manager in 1995 and the 'Bald Eagle` took the Rams up to the Premier League for the first time. Derby County performed well in the 1996-97 season, finishing 12th in the final table with international players like Aljosa Asanovic and Igor Stimac contributing greatly. The club moved into the new 33,000-seat Pride Park Stadium for the 1997-98 season, and went on to finish ninth. Next year they did even better, finishing eighth, with Italian pair Stefano Eranio and Francisco Baino staring but the season after that Derby struggled, and finished 16th. Another bad season followed in 2000-01, as Derby finished 17th in the Premiership - just one place clear of going down.

Jim Smith left the club in October 2001 and his assistant manager Colin Todd took over. He kept his job for just 3 months before he was sacked. At the end of January 2002, John Gregory was appointed Derby manager less than a week after walking out on Aston Villa. Derby won their first two games under Gregory's management and also held title chasing Manchester United to a draw, suggesting that Gregory might be able to save Derby from relegation. But seven defeats from their final eight fixtures condemned Derby to relegation from the Premiership after six successive seasons of top division football.

Derby County's relegation back to The Football League saw the club enter a serious financial crisis - which forced them to sell many key players and build a team mostly of home-grown youngsters like Tom Huddlestone, Chris Riggott and Malcolm Christie. Gregory was suspended from his managerial duties over alleged misconduct and former Ipswich Town boss George Burley was drafted in as a temporary manager. An 18th place finish was secured. At the end of the season Gregory's contract was terminated and Burley received the job on a permanent basis.

Again the club were on the front pages of the newspapers after the club's parent company went briefly into liquidation in October 2003 and the majority shareholder Lionel Pickering gave way to a new board of John Sleightholme, Jeremy Keith and Steve Harding, who bought the club for 3. Riggott and Christie were sold to Middlesbrough to help balance the books, as Burley continued his job under great pressure. The police even investigated whether any illegal payments were made at this time, as the club went into free-fall. Derby finished 20th in the 2003-2004 First Division campaign, but improved dramatically in the 2004-2005 season and finished 4th in the Football League Championship (the new name for the Football League First Division) and qualified for a promotion play-off spot, though lost in the semi-finals to Preston North End.

Soon afterwards, Burley resigned citing differences between himself and the board, and the selling of Tom Huddlestone and Grzegorz Rasiak to Tottenham was probably the final straw. He was replaced by Phil Brown. Brown failed to find much success in the job, however, and was sacked in January 2006, after a bad run of results, including a 6-1 hammering at Coventry City and an embarrassing 3-1 FA Cup exit to League One side Colchester. Terry Westley, the academy coach at the time, took over first team duties until the end of the season, when Derby finished 20th in the Championship - just two places above the relegation zone.

The club entered a new chapter of their roller coaster life when Chairman John Sleightholme, resigned in April 2006, saying his position had become untenable.
The supporters of the club, who had stuck by them through thick and thin protested inside and outside the ground before games and Sleightholme was given little option but to resign. The rest of the board followed him later that month, and a popular consortium of local businessmen led by former vice-chairman Peter Gadsby bought the club to huge popular acclaim, reducing the club's debt and returning Pride Park Stadium to the club's ownership in the process.

In June 2006, former Preston North End boss Billy Davies was appointed Derby`s new manager. Davies had taken Preston to the Championship playoffs in both of his seasons as manager, and the Derby faithful will be expecting him to win promotion to the Premiership before too long. The Rams have been starved of success for too many seasons and Davies will be expected to succeed at Pride Park if his tenure there is to be a lengthy one.

Writer:Peter Simcox
Date:Tuesday December 26 2006
Time: 3:56AM

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