🕵️‍♂️ Football League Focus: Derby County

Logo: OneFootball


Alex Mott

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Welcome to our latest series here at OneFootball where we’ll be shining a light on one Football League club each week.

It’s our chance to go in-depth on sides that don’t normally attract our attention and hold up a magnifying glass to the plethora of brilliant stories outside the Premier League.

Last week we looked at Cardiff City, now our attention turns to former European Cup semi-finalists Derby County.

Can you tell me a bit about the club?

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One of the 12 founding members of the Football League in 1888, Derby have completed all but four of the seasons since in the top two divisions.

Some intermittent success in the early 20th century – an FA Cup victory in 1946, two Second Division titles pre First World War – was really just an appetiser for their greatest period of triumph in the 1970s.

Much like their hated rivals Nottingham Forest, Derby’s time in the spotlight came during Brian Clough’s time as manager.  Taking over with the Rams embedded in the Second Division, Clough guided them to promotion in 1969 and then the First Division title just three years later.

That was followed by a European Cup semi-final defeat to Juventus that was lost in extraordinarily controversial circumstances and another First Division triumph in 1975.

A period of relative decline followed, with relegation to the Third Division in the early 80s but by the mid-1990s Derby were a solid Premier League outfit who moved to their new state-of-the-art stadium, Pride Park, in 1997.

Any great moments from their history?

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The pre-war years brought a couple of Second Division titles to the east Midlands but it wasn’t until 1946 that Derby could get their hands on one of the country’s finest prizes.

Their FA Cup win over Charlton in the first final since the Second World War is still their only Cup success and included one of their more bizarre moments from the tournament’s history.

Jackie Stamps, a subsequent Derby hero, thought he’d won the game in normal time for the Rams, only for the ball to burst on its way to the line. They did, though, beat the south London outfit 4-1 after extra time.

But no précis on Derby’s success throughout history would be complete without mentioning Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor.

The coaching dream team took a Derby side languishing in the second tier from nobody’s to champions of England within four years.

It was a remarkable turnaround aided and abetted by some astute signings – hello Dave Mackay – and the sheer force of personality emanating from one of football’s most charismatic men.

There were two First Division titles in total and a glorious continental escapade to the semi-finals where they beat the mighty Benfica and reached the European Cup semi-finals.

And surely there must be some lows as well?

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Well, as you mention it, yeah, that semi-final.

Brian Clough called Juventus “cheating bastards” and accused the Italian giants of trying to bribe German referee Gerhard Schulenburg after striker Helmut Haller was seen entering the official’s dressing room on two separate occasions.

Derby would go on to lose 3-1 with midfielder Archie Gemmill and central defender Roy McFarland – their two most important players at the time – getting booked and subsequently banned for the second leg.

A slide down the pyramid followed with three seasons, between 1984 and 1987, in the Third Division – the lowest they had ever been in their history.

And then, of course, there was the infamous 2007/08 season in the Premier League. Paul Jewell’s Derby would go down in history as the worst to ever play in the top division of English football, claiming only 11 points and winning just one game all season.

It doesn’t really get any lower.

Who are the club legends?

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Kevin Hector made a record 589 appearances for the Rams over two spells and was crucial in their two First Division titles.

Steve Bloomer is the club’s record goalscorer, having netted 329 times for Derby in a pre-war career that lasted until 1914.

Brian Clough spent six years at the Baseball Ground where he won two titles and took Derby to the semi-finals of the European Cup.

What about the current squad? Any players to look out for?

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It’s Wayne Rooney who garners most of the attention nowadays at Pride Park, but a look behind the headlines will show you that there are other players worth watching this season.

Louie Sibley is a 19-year-old striker who starred for the club’s brilliant youth side and has since netted five in 12 first team starts.

Jason Knight is another superb young player – a commanding teenage central midfielder who will undoubtedly claim a Republic of Ireland cap in the next few months.

If Derby do one thing well at the moment, it’s give youngsters a chance.

Is the manager any good?

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A big-name manager with a big reputation, Philip Cocu was brought in last summer in difficult circumstances and did a relatively steady job in helping Derby finish 10th.

However, 20 wins from 56 games so far is not getting many people excited in the east Midlands and it would be a surprise to see the Dutchman still in charge come next term.

Player/coach Rooney is waiting in the wings.

Finally, how are things looking this season?

Two defeats from two so this this term is not the start that Derby would have wanted, and in all honesty, they didn’t look like winning either game.

Derby won’t be in any danger of going down, but a place in the play-offs looks very unlikely unless things dramatically improve.