Thursday, September 20, 2007

History of Derby County F.C.

Early years
The club was formed in 1884 as an offshoot of Derbyshire County Cricket Club. They originally wanted to name themselves directly after the cricket club as Derbyshire County FC, but objections from the local football association (who thought the name was too long) led them to choose Derby County FC.

The Rams, as Derby County are known, initially played at the Racecourse Ground, like their parent cricket club. As well as competing in a number of friendly matches and informal competitions, Derby County also entered the premier British football competition of the time: the FA Cup.

Derby County were founder members of The Football League when it was launched in 1888. In 1891, they absorbed another Derby club, Derby Midland F.C., who had been members of the Midland League. Steve Bloomer, generally considered to be Derby County's best-ever player, joined the club in 1892. In 1895 the club moved to a new stadium, The Baseball Ground (so called because it was previously used for baseball), which became their home for the next 102 years, and adopted their traditional colours of black and white.

On 16 April 1898, Derby appeared in their first FA Cup final at Crystal Palace, but unfortunately lost 3-1.They were losing finalists again on April 15, 1899 (4-1 to Sheffield United) and April 18, 1903 (6-0 to Bury). Derby's luck didn't get any better and they were relegated to the Football League's Second Division for the first time in 1907, but under Jimmy Methven's management they re-signed Steve Bloomer and regained their First Division place in 1911. Bloomer's captaincy of the side that contained 'The 5 Bs' of himself, ('Major' Frank Buckley, Tommy Barbour, Horace Barnes, Jimmy Bauchop) was a feature just before World War I.

In 1914 they were relegated again, but instantly won the Second Division to get promoted (though World War I meant that they had to wait until 1919 to play First Division football again). After just two seasons, they were relegated yet again in 1921.

However, more successful times lay ahead, instigated by Derby's promotion in 1926. Despite not winning anything, the club became a formidable force, with constantly high finishes, from the late 1920s and all the way through the 1939-1940 season, which was abandoned due to World War II. For example, in the 1929-1930 season Derby County finished in second place in the First Division with 50 points behind Sheffield Wednesday on 60 points.

FA Cup triumph
The FA Cup restarted in the 1945-1946 season. Derby got to the final again, but this time managed to go all the way and win by beating Charlton Athletic 4-1 after extra time. (Derby's previous lack of success in the FA Cup — they also regularly lost at the semi-final stage — gave rise to a superstition that the club was subject to a gypsy curse, supposedly because of Gypsy anger that the Baseball Ground was built on a Gypsy camping ground. Prior to the 1946 final, Derby County players went so far as to ask the Gypsies to lift the curse.)

The Football League restarted the following season and, despite the Cup win, Derby could not reproduce their pre-War form and were eventually relegated in 1953. Things went from bad to worse and in 1955 they were relegated to the Third Division North for the first time in their history. The third tier proved easy for Derby, though: they finished second at the first attempt and then bettered it by finishing first (and gaining promotion) the following season.

The Brian Clough years
In 1967, the now-legendary Brian Clough took over Derby County (in partnership with assistant manager Peter Taylor) and led them to their greatest glories. When Clough took over the team, the Rams were treading water in the Second Division and the club's only honour, the 1946 FA Cup win, was becoming a distant memory. There was little expectation that the young manager was going to lead his team to the club's first League Championship.

With Clough having clinched the influential signing of Dave Mackay, Derby were promoted to the First Division in 1969, finished fourth in 1970, got banned from competing in Europe due to financial irregularities in 1971, and won their first ever Football League Championship in 1972. With their season ended, Clough traveled to the Scilly Islands with his family while his Derby side flew to Majorca. Back home, Leeds United and Liverpool failed to get the results necessary in their last games and the Rams clinched the title on May 8, 1972.

Though Derby did not retain their title the following season, they did reach the semi-finals of the European Cup, eventually losing to Italian side Juventus in a controversial match which was subject to subsequent allegations that the Italian club had bribed the match officials, leading Clough to call the Italians "cheating bastards".

Clough's frequent outspoken comments against football's establishment (which had led to Derby being threatened with expulsion from the Football League) eventually led to him falling out with the board of directors at the club, and Clough and Taylor both left in 1973, to widespread uproar from Rams fans, who demanded the board resign and Clough be reinstated.

Second Football League Championship
With the high profile signings of Francis Lee and Bruce Rioch, Derby's League success was repeated in 1974-1975 season when they won the title again, this time under Dave Mackay. Before the 1975-1976 season the Rams made another big name signing in Charlie George and that season saw the Rams face mighty Real Madrid in the European Cup. In one of the greatest games at the Baseball Ground, Charlie George scored a hat-trick as Derby ran out 4-1 winners. Progress in the competition was halted by a 1-5 loss in the second leg at Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

Declining fortunes
Derby's form declined towards the end of the 1970s and they went down to the Second Division in 1980.

Though they challenged well in their first season, Derby's stay in the Second Division was not a happy one and they were relegated to the now-national Third Division in 1984, their centenary year and just nine years after their last Championship.

Return to the top
After the relegation, the club appointed former Newcastle United manager Arthur Cox to stop the rot — and stop it he did. After a two year stint in the Third Division, Cox's emerging side were promoted to the Second Division and won it at the first attempt, returning to the old First Division in 1987.

The club finished fifth in the 1988-1989 season, with the team now containing stars like Peter Shilton, 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.

This was Cox's team at its peak; a lack of further investment from controversial chairman Robert Maxwell lead to a decline shortly after. With Maxwell soon dead from suspected suicide, the club was relegated back to the Second Division in 1991 (which became the "new" First Division a year later when the old First Division clubs broke away to form the FA Premier League). At this time, local newspaper businessman Lionel Pickering became the majority shareholder of the club.

Derby's hopes of earning immediate promotion to the new FA Premier League in 1992 were ended when they lost to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers in the play-off semi-finals. The same year, Derby paid £2.5 million for Notts County's central defender Craig Short. At the time — and for five years afterwards — he was the most expensive player to be signed by a club outside the top flight.

The FA Premier League (or, more precisely, the money it brought) made it even more difficult for Derby to gain promotion to the Premier League, let alone stay there. Cox resigned in late 1993 citing health problems, and Roy McFarland returned as manager. Despite big spending, however, McFarland failed to get the side anywhere near the top of the division apart from a defeat at the hands of Leicester City in the 1993-1994 play-off final and was sacked in 1995 after a mid-table finish. Jim Smith was appointed as the club's new manager. Although the season started slowly, the hugely influential signing of sweeper Igor Stimac proved pivotal. Throwing his brief of 'a top-half finish' out the window, Smith guided the Rams to a second-place finish and, more importantly, the Premier League.

Premier Rams and Pride Park Stadium
Derby County made an excellent Premiership début in the 1996-1997 season, finishing 12th in the final table with a side containing quality players like Paulo Wanchope, Aljosa Asanovic, Igor Stimac and Jacob Laursen.

The club moved into the new 30,000-seat (later upgraded to 33,597-seat) Pride Park Stadium for the 1997-1998 season and was able to attract quality signings like Stefano Eranio and Francesco Baiano.

Progress continued in the next two seasons. The Rams finishing ninth and eighth places before a decline in form saw the club finish 16th at the end of the 1999-2000 Premiership campaign. Another relegation battle followed in 2000-2001 when Derby narrowly avoided the drop by finished 17th in the Premiership — one place clear of relegation.

Jim Smith resigned as manager in October 2001 after rejecting an offer to become the club's director of football. He was replaced by assistant manager and former player Colin Todd. Todd remained in charge for just three months before he was sacked in the aftermath of a humiliating FA Cup Third Round home defeat against Third Division strugglers Bristol Rovers.

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.

Back in The Football League
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 and Lee Grant. 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.

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. 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. 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 United. Terry Westley, the academy coach at the time, took over first team duties until the end of the season and saved Derby from relegation.

Recent times
Derby's Chairman, John Sleightholme, resigned in April 2006, saying his position had become untenable. The rest of the board followed him later that month. A popular consortium of local businessmen led by former vice-chairman Peter Gadsby bought the club, reducing its 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 County's new permanent manager, with Julian Darby as his first-team coach. In his first season, Davies took Derby to the Championship play-offs, where they beat Southampton on penalties in the semi-finals before defeating West Bromwich Albion 1-0 with a second-half Stephen Pearson goal (his first for the club) at the new Wembley Stadium to secure a return to the Premier League and the £60m windfall that achievement is reputed to bring.

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