Derby County 1884 to 2000
The commemorative work for, and at, the former Baseball Ground, previously home of Derby County Football Club.
Pride Park Stadium.
Formed in 1884, Derby County were one of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888. However, the club was actually an offshoot of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, in an attempt to secure extra revenue during the winter months.
Originally playing their matches at the Racecourse Ground, they finished tenth in the first ever season of the Football League. In 1892, Steve Bloomer signed for the club and he remains to this day, Derby’s all-time leading goalscorer with 332 goals in all competitions and 293 of them league goals. He was also a great success for the England team with 28 goals coming from just 23 caps.
On March 19, 1892 a clash with a race meeting at the Racecourse Ground led to Derby playing their first ever match at the Baseball Ground. The Baseball Ground had originally been built by Sir Francis Ley as part of his aim to establish professional, organised baseball in the United Kingdom. Derby County ultimately moved to the Baseball Ground for the start of the 1895/96 season as clashes with race meetings became more common.
Derby reached the FA Cup final in 1898, 1899 and 1903 but unfortunately lost on all three occasions. The 6-0 defeat to Bury in the 1903 final is still the largest margin of defeat in FA Cup history.
Due to financial issues, Steve Bloomer was sold to Middlesbrough during the 1905/06 season and the following season, Derby were relegated for the first time. They regained their top-flight status in 1911. In 1914 they were relegated once more but gained promotion back to the First Division the following season. It was 1919 before this season could commence however, due to the First World War.
With another relegation in 1921, it wasn’t until the 1925 appointment of George Jobey as manager and the subsequent promotion in 1926, that Derby became a force within the English game. Derby secured high placed league finishes from the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s – including two second place finishes.
With league football still suspended due to the Second World War, the FA Cup restarted in 1945/46 and Derby County reached the final for the fourth time. This time they were successful and defeated Charlton Athletic 4-1 after extra time to claim the trophy for the first, and so far, only time in their history.
When league football resumed in the 1946/47 season, Derby twice broke the British transfer record with the signings of Billy Steel and Johnny Morris and finished fourth and third in the 1948 and 1949 seasons respectively, before a decline began to creep in. In 1953 the club were relegated and then suffered a further relegation to the third tier of English football in 1955. Although Harry Storer led the club back to the second tier in 1957, the club’s progress stagnated under Storer and his successor Tim Ward, until the arrival of the legendary Brian Clough.
In 1967 Brian Clough, and his assistant Peter Taylor, joined the club as manager. Although in their first season Derby finished eighteenth in the second tier, Clough and Taylor signed future Derby icons such as Alan Hinton, Roy McFarland, John O’Hare and Dave Mackay and Derby finished first in the 1968/69 season, gaining promotion once more to the top tier. In their first season back in the top tier they finished fourth, although they were banned from playing in Europe the following season due to financial irregularities. In the 1971/72 season, Derby clinched the title for the first time in their history and the following season reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. Despite the club’s success, Clough’s outspoken ways led to a falling out with the board of the club and both he and Peter Taylor left the club in October 1973. Despite this, Derby won the title again in the 1974/75 season under Dave Mackay.
In the latter half of the 1970s the performance of the club began to deteriorate. They were relegated to the second tier in the 1979/80 season, despite the efforts of a succession of managers – Colin Murphy, Tommy Docherty and Colin Addison – after Dave Mackay left the club in 1976.
During the early 1980s, the club never seriously threatened a promotion push. In the 1983/84 season they were not only relegated to the third tier (for only the second time in their history), but also went out of business due to financial problems. Although relegation couldn’t be avoided, in April 1984 the club went to the High Court, and after an incredible amount of work and effort, Derby were saved and the winding-up petitions were lifted.
Under the helm of manager Arthur Cox, Derby gained promotion back to the second tier in 1985/86, clinching promotion with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Rotherham United at the Baseball Ground. This was followed by a second successive promotion the following season, meaning that they would begin the 1987/88 season back in the top flight.
Under the then chairman, the erratic and now disgraced Robert Maxwell, Derby made notable signings such as Peter Shilton, Mark Wright and Dean Saunders and finished fifth in the 1988-89 season.
Due to a lack of further investment in the club, alongside a belligerent attitude to the club’s own fans, the tenure of Robert Maxwell became deeply unpopular and following another relegation to the second tier in 1990/91, a new board of directors took over. In November 1991 Lionel Pickering became the majority shareholder and in the 1991/92 season Derby missed out on automatic promotion before falling to Blackburn Rovers in the semi-finals of the play-offs.
Under the ownership of Lionel Pickering, Derby began a spending spree to buy new players and signed Craig Short for £2.5 million which was one of the highest fees paid by any English club for a player at the time. The club also acquired players including Tommy Johnson and Marco Gabbiadini in an attempt to secure promotion, but the 1992/93 saw the club unable to make a serious promotion attempt.
When Arthur Cox left the club as manager in October 1993, Derby legend and Cox’s assistant, Roy McFarland stepped up to assume the role. He led the club to the play-off finals in the 1993-94 season where the club were defeated 2-1 by local rivals Leicester. After another unsuccessful season in 1994/95 Cox’s contract was not renewed.
His replacement, Jim Smith – known as the Bald Eagle – joined in the summer of 1995 and with astute signings such as Igor Stimac, led them to a second place finish and automatic promotion to the top tier in the 1995/96 season.
Derby finished twelfth in the first season and then on July 18, 1997 moved into their new home and stadium at Pride Park. Their first two seasons there saw Derby County achieve back-to-back top 10 positions and optimism was bright as they entered the 1999-2000 season. However, as we all know, life for Derby County was never quite that simple.