Late-Victorian Rams, 1884-1900

A football club is born… 1884-1889

Derby County began life in 1884, as an off-shoot of Derbyshire County Cricket Club – formed some 13 years earlier – with football growing more popular and a means of fundraising during the winter months. In those days there was no Football League, so the Rams had to make do with a series of friendly matches and the FA Cup.

In 1888 came the introduction of the Football League, a 12-team competition formed with clubs from across the Midlands and the North-West. Preston North End, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Accrington FC, Everton, Burnley, Notts County, Stoke City, and of course, Derby County.

Bolton were the first league opponents, a game Derby won 6-3 with doubles for Cooper, Bakewell, and Lawrence Plackett, and the first ever league goal. The Rams would ultimately finish tenth in the debut campaign.

The following season saw improvement on the field – the Racecourse , Derby’s first home – as the club finished seventh.

In 1889/90 Derby made their most significant signing thus far with the capture of England international John Goodall, a star of the Preston side that had won the double in league football’s first season.

Bloomer and the Baseball Ground, 1890-1900

A clash with a race meeting meant March 19 1892 saw Derby County grace the Baseball Ground for the first time, offered by local business man, Sir Francis Ley.

They lost 1-0 to Sunderland and eventually moved to the Baseball Ground for the start of the 1895/96 season.

The 1890s was the decade that saw football’s first superstar come to prominence.

Steve Bloomer made his debut, aged 18, on the opening day of 1892/93, and at the end of September he scored his first goal – a penalty – in a draw with West Bromwich Albion.

It was the first of 332 goals over distinguished Rams career, a tally that stands today as the club’s all-time highest. Bloomer was the leading scorer in 1893/94, the first of 13 consecutive seasons he topped the chart.

1895/96 was the most successful season of Derby’s fledgling life. They finished second for the first time, four points behind Aston Villa, and reached the FA Cup semi-final but lost 2-1 to Wolves. Third spot and another semi-final defeat followed the next year, before in 1898 came the first of two successive FA Cup finals.

Bloomer netted in the Crystal Palace clash but Derby went down 3-1 to Nottingham Forest.

Twelve months later they were back at the Palace again but were beaten again, this time 4-1 by Sheffield United.

Into the Twentieth Century, 1900-1920


The turn of the century saw Derby maintain their position in Division One while Bloomer continued to see off all who faced him. He scored his 200th goal in November 1901, a figure only one other Derby player – Kevin Hector – has passed.

Derby were back at Crystal Palace for another FA Cup final in 1903 but had Bloomer out injured and a goalkeeper that was injured throughout the game. Bury’s 6-0 success still stands as the highest winning margin in an FA Cup final.

Midway through 1905/06 , Bloomer was sold to Middlesbrough, and the following year his loss was felt as the club suffered relegation for the first time. Jimmy Methven was appointed manager in August 1906 and played the last of his 511 games for the club that season, but couldn’t prevent them losing their Division One status.

In 1909/10 they were a solitary point away from winning their first promotion, having been beaten by Oldham Athletic in game 36 of 38. Derby finished fourth on 53 points, tied with Hull City and Oldham, and the Latics celebrated promotion via goal-average.

In that same season Alf Bentley became the first Ram to reach the 30-goal mark – something even the great Steve Bloomer hadn’t managed.

A hero’s return, 1910-1920

Steve Bloomer was back at Derby in October 1910 aged 35, and made an immediate impact with two goals in a 5-0 victory over Lincoln City in his first game.

The following season his presence was evident as Derby won promotion back to Division One as champions. Bloomer scored 18 league goals as the Rams clinched the title with a 2-0 win at Barnsley on the final day of the season, thanks to a superior goal average over second-placed Chelsea. 

On April 26 1913, Ernald Scattergood became the first – and so far only – goalkeeper to score for Derby when he netted a penalty in a 1-1 draw at Manchester City. Scattergood went on to net two more goals in a Rams shirt – both penalties.

Bloomer remained a prolific scorer past his 40th birthday but played only five times in 1913/14, scoring twice, as Derby finished bottom of Division One and suffered their second relegation.

Bloomer scored 332 goals in 525 games while only three players – Kevin Hector, Ron Webster and Roy McFarland – have made more appearances.

After relegation in 1914, Derby bounced straight back as Division Two champions again.

The 1914/15 campaign was the last in league football until 1919/20 due to the First World War.

A Changing of the Guard, 1920-1940


The turbulent run continued in 1920/21 as Derby, still under Jimmy Methven’s management, dropped out of Division One again. Methven departed the Baseball Ground the following season following 31 years at the club, as player and manager, and a final 12th in Division Two was Derby’s lowest-ever finish.

Derby finished third for two successive seasons but when George Jobey took over from Cecil Potter for 1925/26 they went one better. Jobey’s Derby finished second in the table and top-flight football returned to the Baseball Ground – now owned by the club after they purchased it from Francis Ley in 1924.

The BBG was beginning to take shape and a then-record 30,557 packed in to see Derby take on Bolton Wanderers in December 1926, a couple of months after the new main stand on Shaftsbury Crescent opened.

Jobey’s Rams were scoring goals for fun but they were also conceding them at an alarming rate too, but they were establishing themselves in the upper-reaches of the top-flight.

In 1929/30 they finished second in Division One for only the second time, ten points behind champions Sheffield Wednesday, having scored 90 and conceded 82 in 42 games.

On the eve of war once more, 1930-1940

Jack Bowers smashed the club’s goalscoring record with 37 league goals in 1930/31 and 39 overall, at more than one per game.

Derby were continuing to sit solidly in Division One, never threatening honours but not threatened by relegation, and in 1932/33 Bowers extended his goals-in-a-season record to 43 in all games. That tally still stands today.

Derby were FA Cup semi-finalists that season, where they lost 3-2 to Manchester City, and in the quarter-final the Baseball Ground’s attendance record was broken when 34,218 witnessed a 4-4 draw with Sunderland. That figure was beaten the following season when Wolverhampton Wanderers were beaten 3-0 in front of 37,727 – this after a double-decker stand at the Osmaston End had been completed.

Bowers suffered a knee injury in 1934/35 so Hughie Gallacher arrived for £2,750, but he was soon scoring goals regularly with 23 goals in 27 games.

Derby finished second again the following year and the attendance record was broken as 37,830 were present to see Nottingham Forest beaten 2-0 in the FA Cup.

Jobey was in charge as Derby finished sixth in 1938/39, only for football to be interrupted due to war once more.

And in September 1932, Jack Nicholas had embarked on a run that saw him play an amazing 328 out of 331 league games up to the end of 38/39.

Cup success at last, 1945-1950

1946 FA Cup Winners

With league football still suspended, the FA Cup restarted in 1945/46 and it saw Derby enjoy their finest moment since formation the previous century.

Ties were played over two legs that year and the Rams, now managed by Stuart McMillan, scored plenty of goals as they saw off Luton Town, West Bromwich Albion, Brighton and Hove Albion and Aston Villa to earn a semi-final against Birmingham City.

The first game, at Hillsborough, finished 1-1, setting up the Maine Road second leg nicely.

Two goals each for Peter Doherty and Jack Stamps, coupled with a clean sheet, sent Derby to their first FA Cup final since 1903 and their debut at Wembley.

Charlton Athletic stood in the way of Vic Woodley, Jack Nicholas, Jack Howe, Jimmy Bullions, Leon Leuty, Walter ‘Chick’ Musson, Reg Harrison, Raich Carter, Jack Stamps, Peter Doherty and Dally Duncan.

Almost 100,000 people witnessed a tight affair that looked destined for extra-time, before an own-goal by Charlton’s Bert Turner put Derby in front with just minutes remaining.

Turner, however, made immediate amends as his free-kick deflected in off Doherty to level the scores.

Then came one of the most dramatic moments in FA Cup final history.

Stamps had with a great chance to win the cup for Derby and he looked to have done so with a shot that beat keeper Sam Bartram.

Amazingly, the ball burst on its way to the goal, the first time it had ever happened in a cup final. Amazingly, it happened again in the following year’s final, with Charlton once again involved. Extra-time came and Derby were in the ascendancy once more.

Doherty added the second, and two strikes from Stamps gave the scoreline an emphatic look and it was left to skipper Nicholas to become the first – and so far only – Rams captain to get his hands on the FA Cup.

Reg Harrison is the only survivor from the team on duty that famous day.

There or thereabouts, 1946-1950

Derby threatened a return to Wembley in 1947/48 but lost 3-1 to Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, with their goal that day coming from Billy Steel.

Steel had joined the Rams from Greenock Morton in 1947 for what was then a British record fee of £15,500, and Derby were starting to become big spenders.

They splashed out £24,500 to break the record again in 1949, for Manchester United’s Jonny Morris, who went on to score 13 goals in his first 13 games.

That season Derby finished third, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that they were up there again.

The Baseball Ground’s record was smashed in February 1950 with 38,063 crowding in for an FA Cup tie against Northampton Town, a figure that would stand for two decades.

Changing Fortunes, 1950-1960

The start of the 1950s saw Derby decline rapidly and after finishing 17th in 1952, they were relegated the following year.

Stuart McMillan, who guided the club to FA Cup glory in 1946, was sacked in November 1953 with his current team struggling in Division Two.

Jack Barker, a hero of the 1930s, took over, though he was unable to prevent Derby dropping to Division Three North in 1955 after they finished bottom. Harry Storer came in for 1955/56 and guided Derby to second, with a first-ever century of league goals, but it wasn’t enough to take them up. Storer’s side won Division Three North in 1957, aided by Ray Straw’s record-equalling 37 league goals.

Consolidation in Division Two followed, though they endured a difficult campaign in 1959/60 that saw them finish fifth from bottom.

They were beaten 7-1 at home by Middlesbrough – a scoreline that equalled their heaviest-ever home defeat.

On the pitch that day was a certain Brian Clough, whose influence would be felt greatly in the not-too-distant future.

The Rams on the rise, 1960-1970

Derby hovered around the middle of Division Two in the early 60s and made a managerial change at the start of 1962/63 when Tim Ward took over from Harry Storer.

The first roots of the 1972 championship-winning squad began to grow with the emergence of local lad Ron Webster, and the signing of Welshman Alan Durban in 1963. The Rams broke their transfer record in September 1966 when they paid £40,000 for Kevin Hector, a 21-year-old striker from Bradford Park Avenue who already had over 100 league goals to his name.

Another big move came in the summer of 1967, when Brian Clough replaced Tim Ward.

Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor guided Derby to the League Cup semi-final for the first time, though in the league they finished 18th – one place lower than Ward’s last season.

Dave Mackay arrived from Tottenham Hotspur for 1968/69 and proved to be an inspiration as Clough’s Derby romped to the Division Two title.

Mackay, despite playing outside the top-flight, was named as the joint Footballer of the Year that season. In 1969/70 they finished fourth in Division One, their first season back.

That would have qualified them for the UEFA Cup, only for a league disciplinary commission to deny them their first-ever appearance in Europe after finding them guilty of administrative irregularities.

The Baseball Ground was complete with the building of the Ley Stand and housed a record 41,826 in September 1969 as the Rams thrashed Tottenham Hotspur 5-0. The figure was never beaten.

The Rams heyday, 1970-1979

Success unmatched before or since came Derby’s way during a glorious period in their history.It all got underway when Manchester United were beaten at the Baseball Ground as the Rams won the Watney Cup, an out-of-season invitational event and the world’s first sponsored tournament.

Though in the league they finished ninth in 1970/71, with little indication of what was to follow a year later.

The Football League championship came to Derby for the first time in dramatic style.

Brian Clough’s men had finished their fixtures by beating Liverpool, but both they and Leeds United could still pip them to top spot.

The players were away in Majorca when they heard that both results had gone their way, earning not only the title but a crack at the European Cup for the first time.

Portuguese giants Benfica, including the legendary Eusebio, were among those seen off as the Rams reached the semi-final. There they met Juventus, though the journey ended in controversial style with a 3-1 defeat in Turin followed by a 0-0 draw at the Baseball Ground.

1973 – Clough and Taylor depart

That was in April 1973, and by October there was turmoil as Clough and Peter Taylor resigned following long running disputes with the board.

Dave Mackay returned as boss and, alongside his assistant Des Anderson, helped steady the ship as Derby finished third in 1974.

And with some shrewd moves in the transfer market they led the Rams to top spot a year later and a second championship of the decade. The Charity Shield was won at Wembley, and in the European Cup it was Real Madrid’s turn to be destroyed at the Baseball Ground with Charlie George netting a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory. Real won the return leg 5-1 to go through and Derby ultimately finished fourth in the league, while also reaching the FA Cup semi-final , losing to Manchester United.

Despite a club record 12-0 victory over Finn Harps in the UEFA Cup, that was the beginning of the end – Mackay and Anderson lasting only 18 months after winning the title, just as Clough and Taylor had done.

Colin Murphy, Tommy Docherty and Colin Addison all had spells in charge but after winning the title twice and enjoying those great European nights, Derby ended the decade relegated to Division Two.

Back down to Earth, 1980-1990

Even by Derby’s standards, the 1980s was a decade of remarkable highs and some worrying lows. They were fighting against the drop to Division Three in the early years and ultimately suffered relegation in 1984.

But just weeks before the end of that season the club was dangerously close to going out of business altogether and only a last-minute intervention saved Derby from complete extinction.

They consolidated in 1985 but a year later they were celebrating a return to the second tier under Arthur Cox.

And in 1987 it got even better as the Rams stormed their way through Division Two to take the title and earn themselves a return to the top-flight.

Big-money signings funded by Robert Maxwell such as Dean Saunders, Mark Wright and Peter Shilton helped Derby push on to fifth in 1989, but miss out on the UEFA Cup because of the ban on English clubs playing in Europe at that time.

That was as good as it got and a difficult 1989/90 campaign gave notice of what was to follow.

Farewell to the BBG and into the Millennium, 1990-2000

The new decade began with the inevitable relegation after chairman Robert Maxwell had imposed a freeze on transfers, though the media baron departed in the summer of 1991 and Derby started afresh.

They came close to promotion to the new Premier League in 1992, visited Wembley for the Anglo-Italian Cup final a year later, and in 1994 they were back under the Twin Towers again.

The Premier League was the prize but although Tommy Johnson opened the scoring against Leicester City, the Foxes came back to earn a 2-1 win in the play-off final.

That was under Roy McFarland, but when his contract wasn’t renewed in 1995 Derby turned to the wily old Jim Smith as his replacement , who brought in former player Steve McClaren as his assistant.

It proved an inspired choice as a 20-game unbeaten run set the Rams up to clinch second spot, and a place in the Premier League, with victory over Crystal Palace at the Baseball Ground.

The top-flight season would be the BBG’s last before a move to Pride Park and Derby were comfortable survivors.

Star names like Paulo Wanchope, Stefano Eranio and Francesco Baiano graced the new home, though the Rams couldn’t quite kick on to the next level after a couple of top-half finishes.

Changing Personnel, Play-Offs and Near-Promotion, 2000 to Present

Derby edged their way to safety in 2000 and were really hanging on in 2001 until an unexpected win at champions Manchester United secured their status on the penultimate weekend.

That summer, Pride Park Stadium hosted an England international for the first time as the star names saw off Mexico 4-0.

But 2002 proved a disaster, despite the arrival of Italian superstar Fabrizio Ravanelli and an opening-day victory.

Jim Smith departed in October, Colin Todd took over but was sacked in January and John Gregory came in, before relegation was confirmed.

Gregory departed a year later, replaced by George Burley, and some difficult times followed on and off the field before the summer of 2006.

A local consortium had taken over, Billy Davies was the new boss, and 12 months down the line Derby were in the Premier League having won the play-off final at Wembley.

Davies left in November 2007 and Paul Jewell came in but couldn’t arrest the slide and the Rams went down after just one top-flight season.

Jewell lasted to the end of the year and was replaced by Nigel Clough, who had been a huge success at Burton Albion and although Derby reached the semi-final of the League Cup (defeated by Manchester United again), their aim was Championship survival – which they achieved. 

Clough had done a good job in reducing the large wage bill whilst showing a steady improvement on the field but it was time to have a different strategy, led by by Chief Executive, Sam Rush. He brought in Steve McClaren with assistance from Paul Simpson and Eric Steele, all three being former players at the club. In December 2013 Pride Park Stadium was re-branded as the iPro Stadium following  a sponsorship deal with the sports drinks manufacturer. The season ended in heartache after setting a new club points record and being the league’s top scorers they were defeated in Play-Off Final by Queens Park Rangers in the last minute.

Local businessman Mel Morris took over sole ownership of the club which brought a host of big money purchases and new a philosophy that managers McClaren, Clement, Pearson, McClaren (a second time) and Rowett couldn’t aspire to.

Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s legendary player, was given his first management opportunity in a bold move that nearly paid off. Astute loan signings from Chelsea and Liverpool saw them reach the Play Off final again in 2019, losing to Aston Villa. Along the way there were famous cup wins at Manchester United and Southampton and a play-off semi-final epic win at Leeds United.