Given the depth of talent at the club, it was no surprise that Derby County secured their second Football League Championship in four seasons in 1975. But it was not their charismatic and controversial manager of 1972, Brian Clough, that led them to the title. Clough and his number two, Peter Taylor, left the club in the autumn of 1973 and in October of that year, Dave Mackay was appointed as manager.
Mackay, who had been so important to Derby’s rise into the first division between 1968 and 1971, moved from Swindon Town to take on the job. He signed a handful of players to reshape the Derby team: Welsh international full-back Rod Thomas arrived from Swindon in November 1973, goal-scoring midfielder Bruce Rioch joined from Aston Villa in February 1974 and forward Francis Lee, a member of Manchester City’s championship side of 1968, was signed in August 1974. In addition, Clough’s last signing, Henry Newton, an England under-23 international, had established himself in the team.
The 1974-75 season was one of the most open in the league’s history. At the final count, only 11 points separated mid-table Queens Park Rangers and Derby on 53 points. Furthermore, the leadership changed hands almost weekly, with more than half a dozen teams in with a chance of winning the title in the closing stages. Consistency seemed to be a problem among most clubs and Derby only topped the table in the final weeks.
Ipswich Town’s fine side made the early running, but fixture congestion and a relatively thin squad got the better of them. Champions Leeds and 1971 winners Arsenal were in decline and Liverpool were rebuilding. Manchester United were in the second division. The title race brought new, less-fancied teams to the fore, such as Stoke City, Burnley, Middlesbrough, Everton and Sheffield United.
Derby’s early season form did not hint at a serious challenge. They were beaten by newly promoted – and eventually relegated – Carlisle United (0-3) and Luton Town (0-1) and, at the turn of the year, they were in ninth place, three points behind leaders Ipswich.
Into 1975, Derby were still at the back end of the chasing pack come March and when they were beaten at home by Stoke City, teams like the Potters and Burnley seemed to be better placed. But such was the intensity and unpredictability of this title race that hopes fluctuated with every result. The Easter period was especially productive for Mackay’s side. They scored 12 goals in three games, beating Luton (5-0 – Roger Davies scoring a quintet of goals), Burnley (5-2) and Manchester City (2-1) to jump to third in the table, level on points with Ipswich and Everton.
Derby went top for the first time on April 12 after Bruce Rioch’s goal beat West Ham at the Baseball Ground. Derby were on 51 points and had two games remaining, Ipswich were in fourth, three points behind but with three to play. Derby edged closer on April 19 when they drew 0-0 at Leicester but crucially, Ipswich, Liverpool and Everton all lost. It meant that Derby’s 52 points were too much for the Merseyside duo, who were both three points behind, and only Ipswich could delay the celebrations by winning their game in hand at Manchester City. Derby’s final game was at home to relegated Carlisle. It was all academic, as Ipswich drew at Maine Road and a lack-lustre Derby drew 0-0 on the final Saturday to rubber-stamp the title with a low points total of 53.
Derby were deprived of influential captain Roy McFarland for most of the season through injury, although he returned in the final four games of the campaign. The regular line-up was from:
Boulton, Webster, Thomas, Daniel, Todd, Nish, Newton, Powell, Rioch, Gemmill, Hector, Davies, Lee and Hinton.
Colin Boulton (28): Boulton was the only player to play all 84 of Derby’s title-winning games over the two seasons. He was a dependable goalkeeper, often overlooked, but his handling and ability to deal with crosses were sound. He played 344 games for the Rams, joining the club in 1964 and leaving in 1977.
Ron Webster (31): Belper-born Webster was a hard-tackling defender and the only local man in the Derby title side. He served eight managers in his 17 years with the club and played well over 500 games for Derby. He was named player of the year in 1974.
Peter Daniel (27): An unsung hero of a player who filled in for Roy McFarland in 1974-75 and played almost 250 games for Derby between 1965 and 1979. A steady, unspectacular player who could always be relied upon.
Colin Todd (25): An excellent defender who ranks among the finest of the 1970s. Signed by Derby in February 1971 from Sunderland for a £170,000 fee. He was capped 27 times by England and would have won more but for strong competition in his position. He had a good turn of speed, a strong sense of anticipation and was very strong in the tackle. He was [surprisingly] sold to Everton in 1978 for £ 300,000, a decision not well received by Derby’s supporters.
David Nish (26): Derby paid £ 225,000 to Leicester City for this accomplished defender in August 1972. An elegant player, he captained his former club at the age of 21 in the 1969 FA Cup final. He also won five England caps, possibly deserving more. He left Derby in 1979 for Tulsa Roughnecks.
Rod Thomas (27): Welsh international full back (50 caps) Thomas was one of Swindon Town’s star players when the Wiltshire club beat Arsenal in the 1969 Football League Cup final. He joined Derby in November 1973, earning Swindon an £ 80,000 fee in the process. He stayed with Derby until 1977 when he was sold to Cardiff City.
Henry Newton (30): Newton was very close to winning a full cap for England throughout his career, but did not quite make the breakthrough with the national team. A fierce-tackling midfielder, he played for Nottingham Forest and Everton before arriving at Derby in September 1973, costing the club £ 100,000. He moved to Walsall in 1977.
Bruce Rioch (26): Midfielder Rioch joined Derby in February 1974 from Aston Villa and was top scorer in the 1974-75 season, his explosive shooting a set-pieces proving invaluable. He had also played for Luton Town earlier in his career. Although born in Aldershot, he was capped 24 times by Scotland, appearing in the 1978 World Cup. He was sold to Everton in December 1976 but returned to Derby for a second spell nine months later. He eventually left the club in 1979.
Archie Gemmill (27): Few players have made such an impact across two clubs as Gemmill did with Derby and – latterly – with Nottingham Forest. A hard-running midfielder with perceptive passing ability, Gemmill joined Derby in September 1970 from Preston North End for a bargain £ 60,000. He won 43 Scotland caps and will forever be remembered for his contribution in the 1978 World Cup. He played more than 400 games for Derby – across two spells – with a highly successful period with Forest in between.
Steve Powell (18): A versatile player who captained England Schools and England Youth. He made his debut for Derby in 1971 aged 16 and in a 14-year career with the club, made almost 400 appearances.
Kevin Hector (29): Hector cost Derby £ 40,000 when he joined them from Bradford City in 1966. A swift forward with fine balance and strong finishing, he scored over 200 goals in almost 600 games for the club. He was briefly capped by England, bizarrely making his debut in the closing seconds of the ill-fated World Cup qualifying game against Poland in October 1973.
Roger Davies (23): Plucked from non-league Worcester City by Brian Clough in 1971, Davies was a tall centre forward with good aerial skills and was a handful for opposition defenders. He was sold to Bruges in 1976 for £ 135,000 and subsequently played for Leicester before returning to Derby in 1979. He scored 44 goals in 166 games for the club.
Francis Lee (30): Francis Lee, in his prime, was an outstanding forward who won 27 caps (10 goals) for England when he was with Manchester City. Although at the veteran stage of his career when he arrived at Derby, he had two excellent seasons with the club, scoring 30 goals in 82 league games. And aggressive and incisive front-runner, he was also renowned for his ability to win and score penalties. Retired from the game in 1976 to concentrate on his business interests.
Alan Hinton (31): One of the best crossers of the ball in the game, Hinton joined Derby in September 1967 from Nottingham Forest for £ 35,000. He had already won three England caps before arriving at the Baseball Ground. A superb creator of goals, he was also proficient at free-kicks and corners. He made over 300 appearances for Derby, scoring more than 80 goals.
Football League Appearances
|Boulton, C||42||Hinton, A||8+5||Rioch, B||42|
|Bourne, J||7+10||Lee, F||34||Thomas, R||22|
|Daniel, P||37||McFarland, R||4||Todd, C||39|
|Davies, R||39+1||Newton, H||35+1||Wesbter, R||24|
|Gemmill, A||41||Nish, D||38|
|Hector, K||38||Powell, S||12+3|
Goalscorers: Rioch 15, Hector 13, Davies 12, Lee 12, Daniel 3, Newton 3, Bourne 2, Hinton 2, Nish 2, Powell 2, Webster 1. Total: 67
Football League Results
|Aug 21||Coventry City||Home||D||1–1||Lee||25,717|
|Aug 24||Sheffield United||Home||W||2–0||Hector, Davies||23,088|
|Aug 27||Coventry City||Away||D||1–1||Davies||18,586|
|Aug 31||Tottenham Hotspur||Away||L||0–2||20,770|
|Sept 7||Newcastle United||Home||D||2–2||Davies, Lee||21,197|
|Sept 14||Birmingham City||Away||L||2–3||Rioch, Davies||27,345|
|Sept 21||Burnley||Home||W||3–2||Hector, Rioch (pen), Lee||21,377|
|Sept 25||Chelsea||Home||W||4–1||Rioch, Webster, Daniel, Hector||22,036|
|Sept 28||Stoke City||Away||D||1–1||Lee||23,589|
|Oct 5||West Ham United||Away||D||2–2||Lee, Hector||32,900|
|Oct 12||Leicester City||Home||W||1–0||Rioch||24,753|
|Oct 15||Sheffield United||Away||W||2–1||Lee 2||21,882|
|Oct 19||Carlisle United||Away||L||0–3||13,353|
|Oct 26||Middlesbrough||Home||L||2–3||Hector, Hinton||24,036|
|Nov 2||Leeds United||Away||W||1–0||Lee||33,551|
|Nov 9||Queens Park R||Home||W||5–2||Hector, Rioch, Lee||23,339|
|Nov 16||Arsenal||Away||L||1–3||Rioch (pen)||32,286|
|Nov 23||Ipswich Town||Home||W||2–0||Hector, Rioch||24,341|
|Dec 7||Liverpool||Away||D||2–2||Bourne, Davies||41,058|
|Dec 21||Luton Town||Away||L||0–1||12,862|
|Dec 26||Birmingham City||Home||W||2–1||Bourne, Rioch||26,121|
|Dec 28||Manchester City||Away||W||2–1||Newton, Lee||40,188|
|Jan 11||Liverpool||Home||W||2–0||Newton, Lee||33,463|
|Jan 18||Wolverhampton W||Away||W||1–0||Newton||24,515|
|Feb 1||Queens Park R||Away||L||1–4||Rioch||20,686|
|Feb 8||Leeds United||Home||D||0–0||33,641|
|Feb 22||Arsenal||Home||W||2–1||Powell 2||24,002|
|Feb 25||Ipswich Town||Away||L||0–3||23,078|
|Mar 1||Tottenham Hotspur||Home||W||3-1||Rioch, Daniel, Davies||23,000|
|Mar 8||Chelsea||Away||W||2–1||Daniel, Hinton||22,644|
|Mar 15||Stoke City||Home||L||1–2||Hector||29,985|
|Mar 22||Newcastle United||Away||W||2–0||Nish, Rioch||31,010|
|Mar 29||Luton Town||Home||W||5–0||Davies 5||24,619|
|Mar 31||Burnley||Away||W||5–2||Rioch, Nish, Davies, Hector 2||24.276|
|Apr 1||Manchester City||Home||W||2-1||Rioch 2||32,966|
|Apr 9||Wolverhampton W||Home||W||1–0||Lee||30,109|
|Apr 12||West Ham United||Home||W||1–0||Rioch||31,336|
|Apr 19||Leicester City||Away||D||0–0||38,943|
|Apr 26||Carlisle United||Home||D||0–0||38,000|
FA Cup: Round Five
Football League Cup: Round Three
UEFA Cup: Round Three
Average home attendance: 26,719