Derby County Football Club
Derby County Football Club was founded back in 1884. Since then, the club has had to contend with crippling financial difficulties, rifts between managers and the board, and even rumours of a gypsy curse being put upon the club in the late 1890’s.
Despite this, Derby County has never succumbed to external pressures, and throughout the decades has always produced a battling team, who are capable of matching anyone on their day. Indeed, Derby has previously been able to compete with some of the finest clubs in the world during notable European Cup campaigns in the 1970’s.
Derby County Football Club
However, Derby has not been the only successful side from the East Midlands. Over the years, they have also enjoyed a fierce rivalry with neighbours Nottingham Forest and Leicester City. Many top players, including Charlie George, Bruce Rioch and Peter Shilton, joined Derby’s black and white revolution, and this helped to establish the Rams as a European force, as well as achieve domestic success.
The formation of Derby County
The Rams originally began life at the Racecourse Ground in 1884, and are widely recognised for being one of the founding members of the Football League, back in 1888. The team began by playing in a rather bizarre amber, chocolate and pale blue kit, as these were also the traditional colours of Derbyshire County Cricket Club at the time. It was at this time, that the now legendary Steve Bloomer joined the club, and the free scoring Englishman regularly produced captivating performances, sealing his place in Derby fans’ hearts forever.
The time soon came for Derby County to move to pastures new, and in 1895, the team re-located to the Baseball Ground. This also coincided with the decision to scrap their previous colours and introduce a new black and white strip, which is still used today. The Rams didn’t take long to settle into their new home, beating Sunderland in front of over 10,000 fans. The good form continued, and this led to Derby finishing as Division One runners-up in the 1895/96 season.
Hard luck in the FA Cup
Steve Bloomers’ goals ensured that the club performed consistently well in the FA Cup in the late 1890’s, managing to reach their first ever final in 1898 and again in 1899, before being beaten by Crystal Palace and Sheffield United respectively. Another good cup run saw the Rams reach the final again in 1903, but this time they were convincingly beaten 6-0 by Bury.
Derby then became what modern day experts would call the proverbial ‘yo-yo’ club for the next few seasons, as the club struggled to keep up the high standards they had previously set themselves. This culminated in the Rams losing the iconic Steve Bloomer to Middlesbrough in 1906 (although he rejoined the club in 1910), and subsequently falling into the second tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history. Immediately following World War I, things began to improve dramatically for Derby, under George Jobey. After being installed as manager in 1925, Jobey oversaw a Rams’ resurgence, which resulted in promotion back to Division One in 1926.
Derby County was now beginning to stabilise itself as a club, and great players, including Jack Bowers, ensured that the Rams consistently produced the level of football which had been noticeably lacking since Steve Bloomer ended his Derby career in 1914.
After the previous heartbreaking attempts at cup success, the Rams finally managed to win the FA Cup in 1946, following a comprehensive 4-1 win over Charlton Athletic after extra-time.
Unfortunately for Derby, the glory of FA cup success was soon to become a memory firmly rooted in the past. Indeed it proved to be the beginning of a steep slope, which left the club languishing in the Third Division North in 1955.
The Brian Clough effect
Although the Rams were able to haul themselves back up to the Second Division, they still desperately needed that final ingredient, in order to ensure that the club was to reach its ever growing potential. Enter Brian Clough. The challenge he undertook was enormous, but despite this, he was to be the man who oversaw some of the finest years in Derby County’s history.
Clough systematically dismantled the current team and went about moulding a new team, with the essential blend of youth and experience. It was at this time that Roy McFarland was drafted in from Tranmere Rovers, alongside Dave Mackay from Tottenham Hotspur. These signings proved to be pivotal for Derby and it was not long before the Rams were celebrating their first success under Brain Clough.
In 1969, Derby were promoted back to the First Division after a 16 year absence, and in 1972, Clough’s star studded team clinched the First Division Championship for the first time.
The following season, the Rams fired their way to the semi finals of the European Cup, eventually losing to Italian giants Juventus. Up until his death, Clough was adamant that the West German referee had been bribed into booking key players for Derby which would leave them suspended for the second leg.
By 1973, Clough was famous for never shying away from controversy and this ultimately led to his inevitable downfall. Fans of Derby County will always remember Brian Clough as the greatest manager the club has ever had, and probably will ever have.
Many dreamt that Derby could match Liverpool and become one of the greatest ever sides in Europe, but one comment too many led to a working relationship with the board quickly dissipating. Soon after, Brian Clough was gone.
With the club still in shock, it was up to Dave Mackay to pick the club up and ensure that they continued the sensational form they’d shown under Clough. Sure enough, the Rams won their second Football League Championship in the 1974/75 season and this resulted in another memorable European campaign.
Derby were rewarded with a mouth-watering tie against the ‘galacticos’ of Real Madrid. With Charlie George now in the team, expectations were high, and George himself fired a hat-trick which led to a 4-1 Rams’ victory at the Baseball Ground. Madrid showed exactly why they had become a side to fear, in the return leg, as they crushed Derby 5-1 at the Bernabeu, a result which knocked the Rams out of the competition.
Mackay soon left his post, and many managers came and went, having failed to re-establish Derby County as a domestic force. In fact, the club was fast becoming anything but a force in any league, and in 1984, the Rams yet again slipped into the Third Division.
The man who saved Derby County
Arthur Cox was the man given the task of halting Derby’s remarkable fall from grace. The trap door into England’s lower leagues looked as though it were about to slam shut firmly on Derby County, but Cox was able to steady the ship and after a series of successful domestic campaigns, the Rams found themselves back in the First Division. The sensational turn around in fortunes, meant that Derby were now able to attract top quality players, including Dean Saunders and England keeper, Peter Shilton.
However, following the death of Chairman Robert Maxwell, funds were no longer available for further investment in the team and the Rams faced another torrid season which led to relegation from the top flight in 1991. Lionel Pickering then became Derby County’s majority shareholder and fans became optimistic of brighter times ahead.
It soon became clear that Arthur Cox had taken his Derby team as far as he could, and Roy McFarland took over the reins at the club. Despite his best efforts, he found the task of getting the Rams into the newly formed Premiership, a tough one. Jim Smith soon found himself man on the managerial merry-go-round at Derby County, but his 6 year stay at the club was certainly a memorable one.
Rather than promote Derby’s youngsters to the first team, Smith instead chose to raid the foreign markets and quickly assembled a team he felt would be able to keep the Rams in the Premier League. Stars, including Paolo Wanchope, ensured that Derby gave a good account of themselves in their first season.
After a 102 year stay at the baseball ground, the Rams moved to their new home – Pride Park Stadium. Smith again chose to bring in other foreign imports, whose wage demands were becoming more and more ambitious for a growing club to accept. However, the team was gelling into a formidable attacking unit, with Wanchope again spearheading Derby to consistently high finishes for the next few seasons.
Sensing that European football was becoming an increasingly realistic possibility, the chequebook was again opened to bring in players with real flair, Georgiou Kinkladze and later Fabrizio Ravanelli. The tide turned, however, and the Rams narrowly avoided relegation for the next couple of seasons.
Jim Smith left the club at the end of 2001 and Colin Todd took temporary charge, before John Gregory stepped in to change the fortunes of the club, after his acrimonious split from Aston Villa. Despite a good start under Gregory, the Rams were unable to preserve their top flight status.
The clouds quickly began to gather over the club, and the reality of their new Football League status forced those in power at Derby, to re-think the club’s long term strategy. The Rams had no option but to offer reduced salaries to their highest earners, and this inevitably led to a swift departure of former crowd favourites.
Derby were now suffering the full force of relegation and were all too aware of the ever growing gap between the Premiership and the Football League.
Home grown talent
Derby looked like a club in rehab. The intoxicating smell of European football had consumed all who dared to dream, and with the big name signings long gone, the Rams predictably struggled in their first season back in the Football League.
Derby were forced to assemble a new team, including youngsters Lee Grant, Nathan Doyle, Lee Morris, Izale McLeod and Tom Huddlestone. New manager George Burley hoped to emulate quickly the success he had enjoyed at Ipswich Town, and with a new board headed by John Sleightholme now in place, expectations were soon raised.
The Rams qualified for the Football League play-offs in the 2004/05 season and many believed that Derby were heading back into the big time. However, a 2-0 loss at Preston North End was followed by a 0-0 draw back at Pride Park, and Derby’s dreams were dashed once more.
Ex-Bolton Wanderers Assistant Manager, Phil Brown, took charge following George Burley’s resignation. Eyebrows were certainly raised at this appointment, and the general consensus among fans was that the club lacked direction and this proved to be the case.
Brown struggled to adapt to life as a full time manager and was sacked after an awful run of results in January 2006, with the board fearing that Derby were heading for yet another relegation. The Rams were in freefall but narrowly avoided the drop, under the stewardship of academy coach Terry Westley.
Planning for the future
John Sleightholme and the rest of the Derby board were feeling the pressure of running the club on a shoe string and decided soon after, that they could no longer work under those conditions. Peter Gadsby then bought the club and quickly set about reducing the club’s debt and planning future stability for Derby County.
With that in mind, the club went on a thorough search for a new manager whom they felt was best equipped to take the club forward. Preston North End boss, Billy Davies, was immediately targeted after his well documented success, and in June 2006, Derby finally got their man.
A new three year plan was devised to get the Rams back into the Premier League and Davies immediately began ripping apart the previous squad and brought in the talismanic front man, Steve Howard, bought from Luton Town for £1 million, as well as Dean Leacock, Robert Malcolm and Matt Oakley.
The team outperformed everyone’s expectations and soon rose to the top of the Championship table. Derby realised that if they were to sustain their title challenge, they would need to add depth to the squad. Reinforcements arrived in the January transfer window, with Celtic midfielder Stephen Pearson, Craig Fagan, Gary Teale, David Jones, Jon Macken, Jay McEveley and Tyrone Mears all joining the club.
Derby narrowly missed out on automatic promotion but still qualified for the play-offs where they beat Southampton on penalties, before Stephen Pearson scored the winning goal to beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in the final at the new Wembley Stadium.
Struggle so far in the Premiership
Although Davies and the Derby board were ecstatic at the club’s immediate success, they were also keen not to repeat the mistakes of the past, by bringing in withering big name players wanting one last big contract. Instead Davies largely kept most of his squad, only choosing to release a select few, including Morton Misgaard, Seth Johnson and Paul Peschisolido.
Davies did, however, add Andy Todd (son of Derby favourite, Colin Todd), Claude Davis, Andy Griffin, Benny Feilhaber, Kenny Miller and £3.5 million record signing Robert Earnshaw to his squad, all on more realistic contracts than previous stars.
The Rams have so far struggled to match their opponents this season and are currently bottom of the Premier League, having failed to score a single goal away from home, including heavy defeats at Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
However, with former Hull City Chairman, Adam Pearson, now on the board, there is increased optimism amongst the Derby faithful that new players will be signed in January, in a last chance bid to preserve their hard earned Premier League status.
- Football League Division One Champions: 1971/72, 1974/75
- Football League Division One Runners-Up: 1895/96, 1929/30, 1935/36, 1995/96
- Football League Division Two Champions: 1911/12, 1914/15, 1968/69, 1986/87
- Football League Championship Play-Off Winners: 2007
- Football League Division Two Runners-Up: 1925/26
- Football League Division Three (N) Champions: 1956/57
- Football League Division Three Runners-Up: 1955/56
- FA Cup Winners: 1946
- FA Cup Runners-Up: 1898, 1899, 1903
- Football League Cup Semi Final: 1968
- Texaco Cup: 1972
- Record League Victory: 9-0 v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Division One, 10 January 1891. 9-0 v Sheffield Wednesday, Division One, 21 January 1899
- Record Cup Victory: 12-0 v Finn Harps, UEFA Cup 1st rd 1st leg, 15 September 1976
- Record Defeat: 2-11 v Everton, FA Cup 1st rd, 1889/90
- Most League Goals in Total Aggregate: Steve Bloomer, 292, 1892-1906 and 1910-1914
- Most League Goals in One Match: Steve Bloomer, 6 v Sheffield Wednesday, Division One, 2 January 1899
- Most League Appearances: Kevin Hector, 486, 1966-1978 and 1980-1982.
- Youngest League Player: Lee Holmes, 15 years 268 days v Grimsby Town, 26 December 2002
- Record Transfer Fee Received: £7,000,000 rising to £9,000,000 for Seth Johnson from Leeds United, October 2001
- Record Transfer Fee Paid: £3,500,000 for Robert Earnshaw from Norwich City, June 2007