Finest hours, finest teams: Derby County

DERBY COUNTY’s financial situation is dire and most football fans will be hoping they come through their current crisis. Derby is a passionate football town and the club was one of the original 12 Football League clubs. They have been champions twice and have lifted the FA Cup on one occasion. The club has given the game some great characters, from Steve Bloomer in the late 19th century to Brian Clough in the 1970s. It’s hard for Derby teams to live up to the club’s glory years when they won the Football League twice between 1972 and 1975. Here’s some of the notable Derby teams of the past:

1897-98  to 1898-99

Jack Fryer, Jimmy Methven, Joe Leiper, John D Cox, Archie Goodall, Jimmy Turner, John Goodall, Steve Bloomer, John Boag, Jimmy Stevenson, Hugh McQueen, Jonathan Staveley, Robert Paterson, Johnny May, Tommy Arkesden, Billy MacDonald, Harry Allen. Manager: Harry Newbould.

Achievements: FA Cup finalists in 1898 and 1899

Steve Bloomer – One of the great figures from the early years of the professional game, Bloomer won 23 England caps, scoring 28 goals. A forward who had all the right qualities – speed, accuracy, goalscoring prowess and strength. Born January 20 1874 in Cradley, Worcestershire, he started his career with Derby Midland FC who merged with Derby County in 1891. He also appeared for Derby Swifts on occasion. In his long career, bloomer scored 392 goals in 655 games and only Jimmy Greaves netted more goals in the top division of English football.

Assessment: Derby went close to winning the league in 1896, finishing second to Aston Villa, who were in their prime and would go on to win the double in 1897. The bulk of Derby’s 1896 team appeared in the 1898 FA Cup final. Derby were primarily a cup side and in 1898, they beat Villa, Wolves, Liverpool and Everton on the way to the Crystal Palace. Their final opponents, Nottingham Forest were considered slight underdogs, but they were in command for much of the game. They took a 19th minute lead through Arthur Capes, but in the 31st, Derby levelled when a free kick by Joe Leiper sailed into the area and “Bloomer headed it cleverly into the net”. Forest regained the lead through Capes and controlled the second period and four minutes from time, they sealed victory with a third from John McPherson. The Times reported that Derby “have the consolation of knowing that the cup is resting among neighbours”!.


Vic Woodley, Jack Nicholas, Jack Howe, Jim Bullions, Leon Leuty, Chick Musson, Reg Harrison, Raich Carter, Jackie Stamps, Peter Doherty, Dally Duncan. Manager: Stuart McMillan.

Achievement: FA Cup winners 1946

Raich Carter – A legendary player in the game either side of the second world war, Carter was 32 years old in the FA Cup final of 1946. He was a very vocal figure on the pitch, normally encouraging his team-mates to play better. He won 13 England caps, but for the war, he would surely have won many more. Many critics considered he was one of the most natural footballers to represent England. Carter started his career with Sunderland, with whom he won the Football League title in 1936 and FA Cup in 1937. He signed for Derby in December 1945, the Rams paying £ 6,000 for him. His stay at the Baseball Ground was brief and in 1948, he joined Hull City.

Peter Doherty – The pipe-smoking Doherty arrived at Derby after the second world war and his stint with the club lasted around 18 months before he moved to Huddersfield Town, earning the club a £ 9,000 fee. He had previously played for Blackpool and Manchester City, winning the league with City in 1937. Renowned for his “body swerve”, ball-playing trickery and tireless energy, Doherty won 16 caps for Ireland between 1935 and 1950. He also possessed tireless energy. 

Assessment: Derby’s team included six players aged 30 or over, including goalkeeper Vic Woodley and winger Dally Duncan, as well as Carter and Doherty. Derby met Charlton in the first proper FA Cup since 1939 and it was the fitter, more determined team that won – Derby by four goals to one. Carter and Doherty were in fine form, their artistry apparently “bewildering” the London side. Charlton’s Bert Turner made history in scoring for both sides, first of all putting Derby ahead and then levelling for his team. The game went to extra time and Derby’s energy won the day, with goals from Jackie Stamps (2) and the outstanding Doherty. Just before the end, the ball burst, a moment of great amusement for the media. The Sunday Mirror summed up Derby’s performance: “Cool, calculated genius and perfect training slowly sapped the strength from Charlton”. 


Colin Boulton, John Robson, Colin Todd, Ron Webster, Terry Hennessey, Roy McFarland, Alan Durban, Archie Gemmill, Alan Hinton, John McGovern, Kevin Hector, John O’Hare. Manager: Brian Clough.

Achievement: Football League champions 1971-72.

Roy McFarland and Colin Todd: Derby had some excellent players in every department of their two title-winning team: Kevin Hector, John O’Hare, Alan Durban, Archie Gemmill, Alan Hinton and David Nish are all legends from the Baseball Ground era. But absolute key to Derby’s success was the central defensive partnership of Roy McFarland and Colin Todd. McFarland was signed by Clough and Taylor in 1967 from Tranmere Rovers. McFarland had set his heart on playing for Liverpool, but the persistent Clough merely said: “Young man, you are signing for Derby County,” as he tabled a £24,000 fee. Derby knew all about Todd. He had, after all, played for the Sunderland youth team when Clough was in charge. When Clough paid £ 175,000 to take the Chester-Le-Street born Todd from Sunderland, it was a record fee for a defender. McFarland and Todd should have won more caps for England. Between them, they appeared 55 times, with McFarland receiving one more than Todd. 

Assessment: The 1971-72 title race was one of the most absorbing in history and could have ended with Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City or Derby County on top. Nobody really anticipated Brian Clough’s side would be champions before the campaign got underway. They had been in the top flight for two seasons since winning promotion but had slipped a little since their fourth place in 1969-70. The destination of the old trophy went to the final game, Leeds slipping up in their last fixture after winning the FA Cup just two days earlier. Leeds lost 2-1 at Wolves and this gave Derby the championship by a single point. Brian Clough, who was on holiday having finished his season, described the triumph as “one of the miracles of the century”.


Colin Boulton, Peter Daniel, Colin Todd, David Nish, Rod Thomas, Ron Webster, Archie Gemmill, Alan Hinton, Henry Newton, Bruce Rioch, John McGovern, Kevin Hector, Francis Lee, Steve Powell, Jeff Bourne, Roger Davies. Manager: Dave Mackay.

Achievement: Football League champions 1974-75.

Bruce Rioch – Midfielder Rioch joined Derby in February 1974 from Aston Villa and was top scorer in the 1974-75 season, his explosive shooting and 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.

Francis Lee – In his prime, Lee 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. An 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.

Archie Gemmill – 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.

Assessment: Given the depth of talent at the club, it was no surprise 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, controversially left the club in the autumn of 1973 and in October of that year, Dave Mackay was appointed as manager. 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.

72 Classic: Clough, Allison, Keegan and co. – why it was special

MALCOLM Allison, one of the pivotal figures of the 1970s, once said that the period between 1967 and 1972 was one of British football’s golden ages. Anyone who lived through that half decade of action will doubtless recall some outstanding players and personalities, memorable teams and the outlandish fashion and hairstyles of the age.

This was, after all, a period that desperately clung to the “swinging Sixties” and introduced the excesses and decadence of the early 1970s. It was played out against an economic background that was deteriorating weekly, culminating in the candle-lit days of power cuts in 1973-74 and the three-day week. From a footballing perspective, England still had enough self-confidence to believe that Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad was still capable of competing at the highest level. 1971 was just five years after the 1966 triumph and some of its key figures were still stubbornly hanging onto their place in the national team.

But if the end of the Sixties, from a cultural point of view, was signalled by the break-up of the Beatles, 1971-72 really killed-off the period with the decline of England, the ageing of some of its icons and the conclusion of the post-66 attendance boom. 1971-72 was two years on from the last football season of the 60s, but football’s two standard bearing groups of the decade – Best, Law, Charlton and Moore, Hurst, Peters, were coming to the end of their time of influence. By the end of 1972-73, the Manchester United trio were no longer at Old Trafford, for various reasons, and only Moore was still at West Ham.

The 1971-72 season looked like the final flourish of the man that epitomised the 1960s, George Best. He scored 26 goals in domestic football and provided some brilliant football, but it was the last we saw of the genius that was the Irishman. As Manchester United declined in the second half of the season, Best lost heart and by the middle of 1972-73, he had retired.

United’s fall from the pinnacle of the game really started in 1970 and their impressive first half of 1971-72 merely papered over the cracks. Within two seasons, they were relegated, although in hindsight, it was the short, sharp shock the club needed to acknowledge that things had changed since the days of Sir Matt Busby.

Even without United, though, English football served up an exciting championship race, possibly the most tense and open for years. Arsenal went into the campaign as double winners in 1970-71, but they were never really involved in a bid to retaining their title, although they returned to Wembley for the FA Cup final. However, Arsenal’s pursuit of European success suggested that there was a degree of stagnation settling in across English football. In 1970, when the Gunners won the Fairs’ Cup, they beat Ajax over two legs with some ease. Two seasons on, Arsenal were beaten twice by the Dutch team, who were holders of the European Cup. Something had changed and the spirit of progressive football wasn’t to be found in England, it was across the Channel.

The Dutch, with Johan Cruyff in his pomp, may have been leading the way in club football, but the West Germans had emerged as the team to beat on the international stage. There were signs that an irresistible force was in the ascendancy in Mexico in 1970, but in 1972, the Germans were European champions and they had signalled the end of Ramsey’s England in the quarter-finals, winning 3-1 at Wembley. West Germany had their own dynamic playmaker to rival Cruyff in the form of Günter Theodor Netzer, and he made England’s own midfielders look very pedestrian. That tie was, effectively, the end of Geoff Hurst – he left West Ham in the summer of 1972 – but also struck at the heart of English confidence.

Derby County players show off their League Championship medals aas they pose with the trophies won by the club during the 1971-72 season: (back row, l-r) ?, John McGovern, physio Gordon Guthrie, trainer Jimmy Gordon, Ron Webster, John Robson, Terry Hennessey, Alan Hinton, John O’Hare, Colin Boulton, Alan Durban; (front row, l-r) Peter Daniel, Archie Gemmill, Kevin Hector, ?; (trophies, l-r) Central League, Football League Championship, Texaco Cup Photo: PA

In terms of self-confidence, Derby County’s outspoken manager, Brian Clough, had few equals, although his style wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Nobody predicted that Derby would become genuine title challengers, although Clough had assembled an exciting team at the Baseball Ground. Leeds United, who had become serial bridesmaids in 1970 and 1971, were most people’s idea of champions, although they remained unpopular. Don Revie had instilled in his squad something of a siege mentality, largely built on the “us and them” philosophy and the desire to create intense loyalty and togetherness. It worked, but Leeds never had the strength in depth required for a campaign fought on multiple fronts and accompanying their intensity was high drama – a Leeds defeat was invariably greeted with schadenfreude by the rest of English football, which only served to bond Revie’s troops even closer. This often clouded the fact that Leeds were a extraordinary footballing team and in 1971-72 they produced some of their best performances. They won the FA Cup and were beaten at the death by Wolves in their final league game when the double was at stake. Once more, they had fallen short at the final hurdle.

Returning to Malcolm Allison, his Manchester City team had the title within their grasp, but to some extent the signing of Rodney Marsh, the coveted Queens Park Rangers forward, cost City the title. Signed in March 1972, for a record £ 200,000 fee, March joined a team that was four points clear at the top of the table. Marsh himself admitted that the transfer was a mistake and that it had been detrimental to City’s championship credentials.

While Marsh, despite his skill and charisma, upset the shape of Allison’s team, a new and relatively unknown forward had injected fresh impetus into Bill Shankly’s Liverpool. His name was Kevin Keegan and he would become British football’s hottest talent and the successor to George Best as the face of the game. Keegan was a different proposition to Best, though. He didn’t have Best’s natural virtuosity, or his maverick tendencies, but he made the most of his attributes and he knew his worth. Keegan was wholesome, reliable and energetic and Liverpool’s Kop loved him.

Liverpool were one year away from beginning their ruthless pursuit of silverware, but in 1971-72, they had enough to finish painfully close to the top spot. That belonged to Derby County, but not before no less than four teams stake a claim to the title, right up until the final week. Derby were, perhaps, the least likely to finish in first place, but there could be no denying the quality of their football. Players like Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Archie Gemmill, Kevin Hector and John O’Hare would become household names, while Clough, with his emphasis on skill and hard work, would go on to prove that his success was no fluke.

The party was not quite over, but the guests were gradually leaving. Within a decade, attendances in division one had fallen by 10,000 per game. Clough left Derby in 1973-74, Allison resigned from City, Revie took on England in 1974 (after a second title with Leeds), Shankly retired in 1974. United were relegated, Chelsea followed them in 1975 and Tottenham lost that doyen of managers, Bill Nicholson. And to cap it all, England failed to qualify for World Cup 1974 and Ramsey was sacked. In 1971-72, who would have predicted such a chain of events, even in the unpredictable world of football.

Coming soon: Chapter 2 – Lifting Leeds