Result: Derby County 4-1 Barnsley (EFL Championship)
Venue: Pride Park (Sunday 6th May 2018, 12.30pm)
The second part of the early May Bank Holiday trifecta of matches saw me heading to the county town (should really be city, shouldn’t it?) of Derbyshire and to Derby County’s Pride Park home for a game that saw high stakes on the line. This was the case for both sides, but for very different reasons; the Rams looking to secure a play-off place and a shot at promotion back to the Premier League, while the Tykes, travelling the short distance down from South Yorkshire, were hoping they wouldn’t be travelling down the leagues come around half-past two.
I was given another lift into Manchester during the morning due to the trains’ Sunday hours not being particularly helpful early on, before catching the more scenic stopping service through the Hope Valley to Sheffield, where I’d catch the service over to Derby. All went smoothly and with temperatures steadily rising once more, all looked set nicely for a decent day out in a city I’m certain I’ve visited before whilst in school at some point, but have no real recollection of. With my selective memory, who knows where it was?!
Anyway, I arrived into Derby at a little before half-eleven and embarked on the walk over to the ground, following the crowds in taking the riverside walkway there. I arrived a fair bit less fresh than I was when I’d got off the train and after doing an unintended lap of the ground, I eventually located the ticket office (this despite the very large sign bearing “Ticket Office” above it) and after going through the motions of setting up an account, was soon in possession of a ticket up in the corner between the West and South stands. A few quick pictures of the outside were taken, a programme was bought (£3) and a quick look at the Mercian Regiment’s ram mascot was had before I headed inside ahead of kick-off.
After stopping off at the food kiosk for a Baseball Burger (£3.80), which is of course named after Derby’s former home ground, I headed up into the Gods up towards the very back of the stand and found my seat just in front of a couple of banners which were proclaiming some slogans that I didn’t take too much notice of, if I’m honest. Polishing off the burger (complete with surprising spicy bit) around the time of “Igor’s” interview, the aforementioned ram soon led the players out onto the field of play, guided by two soldiers in full regalia uniform, whilst a guard of honour by some junior sides, fireworks and flag waving all welcomed them out onto the sun-baked Pride Park pitch. Pleasantries were exchanged between the sides and we were all set to go but first let’s delve into the history of the Rams of Derby County Football Club….
Derby County Football Club was founded in 1884 as an offshoot of Derbyshire County Cricket Club in an attempt to give members, players and supporters a winter pursuit & interest, as well as gaining that all important money. The original intention was to name the club Derbyshire County FC, but after an objection from the County FA on the grounds it would be too long and cause confusion over if it was an FA representative side, the club took on the city’s name instead and so Derby County came into being. They started life at the cricket club’s Racecourse Ground and 1884-’85 saw the club start competing in friendly contests, though their firsts weren’t entirely memorable for favourable – their inaugural game ending in a 6-0 defeat to Great Lever and their first competitive outing, in the FA Cup, ending in a 7-0 reverse to Walsall Town.
What could arguably be considered the club’s most important match came in the following season’s Cup competition, when Derby defeated the emerging force of Aston Villa two-nil to put their name on the map, helping attract bigger names for friendly contests and, in turn, enabling the club to be considered for an invite to become a founding member of the Football League. This duly came around and Derby County joined the League in 1888, and this time had a far more favourable first game, winning on the opening day of the inaugural Football League season after coming from three-nil down to defeat Bolton Wanderers 6-3 away in Lancashire, though the club would only end up 10th come the end of the campaign.
1891 saw them absorb another local side, Derby Midland, leaving County as the city’s sole professional representative. Four years later, the club moved to their long-term home, the Baseball Ground (yes, it was used for Baseball beforehand) and adopted their colours of white shirts and black shorts. They finished League runners-up in 1896 and competed towards the top on a regular basis from then on in, finishing third on numerous occasions whilst also reaching the FA Cup final in each of 1898, ’99 and 1903, but lost all of them to Nottingham Forest (3-1), Sheffield United (4-1) and Bury (6-0) respectively.
After selling early star player Steve Bloomer to Middlesbrough in 1906 due to financial constraints, Derby were subsequently relegated the following season but soon re-signed him and regained their First Division place in 1911 as Division 2 title winners. However, they would be relegated again in 1914, only to immediately win the Second Division title once more, though promotion would, of course, have to wait, with WWI putting an end to football for the next few years.
1919 saw the sport resume with Derby taking their place in Division 1. They lasted two further seasons prior to another relegation, however a change of manager in 1925 kick-started a successful period for the Rams and following promotion in 1926 as runners-up, the club again became a force at the top of the table, finishing runners-up twice more in 1930 & 1936, though the title would continue to elude them through the late ’20’s & 1930’s. After initially shutting their doors on the outbreak of WWII, the club did restart again during the early 1940’s and this would help the club in the long run, with recruitment of players stationed nearby enabling the club to amass a strong side which would win the FA Cup upon competitive football’s resumption in 1946 with a 4-1 triumph over Charlton Athletic. This was County’s first major honour.
The Football League restarted the next season and after initially starting well, a steady decline resulted in another drop to Division 2 being suffered in 1953, ending a spell of almost 30 years in the top-flight before 1955 saw them in the third-tier for the first time. They would return to Division 2 in 1957 as Division 3 North champs, though would remain there for the next 12 years, prior to Brain Clough and Peter Taylor joining the club in 1967 and the duo led the Rams to their greatest years, being promoted back to Division 1 in 1969 by again winning the Division 2 before finishing fourth in their first season back in the top-flight. However, the club were duly banned from European competition due to financial irregularities but this did little to stop Derby’s rise and as well as winning the more minor honours of the 1971 Watney Cup & 1972 Texaco Cup, they lifted their first ever Football League title, also in 1972 and despite not defending their title successfully the next season, they did reach the European Cup semi-finals, where they lost out to Italian giants, Juventus. Clough’s outspoken manner would eventually be his downfall at Derby and he left in 1973 having fell out with the then board. They do however have a bronze statue outside Pride Park now, so maybe that wasn’t the greatest decision!
It didn’t look so bad in 1974-’75 though as Derby won their second league championship under Clough’s replacement Dave Mackay, whilst also winning the Charity Shield at the start of the following season, but things soon fell apart, with Mackay and a succession of managers coming and going with Derby resultantly being relegated in 1980. Taylor would return to the club as manager in early 1983, though retired a year later just prior to Derby’s return to Division 3 in 1984. Things were more happy off the field however, as County, in threat of folding due to financial problems, were bought out and thus survived. This also led to an upturn in form which saw successive promotions (the former a 3rd placed finish in Division 3 and the second as Division 2 champions) result in the Rams being back in the top division for Season 1987-’88. A fifth placed finish was achieved in 1989, with Peter Shilton between the sticks, though the club missed out on a UEFA Cup spot due to the ban imposed on English clubs following the Heysel Stadium disaster.
The ’90’s would see Derby begin to fall away, starting with relegation to Division 2 in 1991. The formation of the Premier League in ’92 saw Derby now competing in the newly designated Division 1. After reaching the 193 final of the Anglo-Italian Cup (bring it back) where they lost out to Cremonese at Wembley, they reached the Division 1 play-offs in 1994 under Roy McFarland, but lost out to Leicester City. McFarland was sacked the next year with Jim Smith taking over and he guided Derby to second place and promotion to the Premier League in 1996. Their first season in the Prem was also their last at the Baseball Ground. With plans to redevelop their home sadly not coming to pass, the club instead built a new ground, Pride Park, and moved into their new home in 1997 after finishing 12th in their first season back in the top-flight. The Baseball Ground was eventually demolished six years later and a memorial erected in honour of its role in Derby’s city history.
After back-to-back top 10 finishes, form took a downturn and the club was relegated back to Division 1 in 2002 with both Colin Todd and John Gregory unable to save the Rams from the drop. Further financial issues saw key players sold and Gregory was suspended over alleged misconduct with George Burley brought in to replace him. After being put into receivership, Derby was again saved and after finishing a lowly 20th in 2004, the next year saw County back towards the top, finishing fourth in the Championship and making the play-offs, where they lost out in the semi-finals to Preston North End. Burley resigned early in the next campaign, Phil Brown had a poor run before caretaker-boss Terry Westley kept the club up for another year.
Billy Davies was brought in under a new regime in 2006 and he guided Derby to the play-offs once more where this time they beat Southampton on penalties in the semi-final before defeating West Brom at the “new” Wembley Stadium to ensure a return to the Premier League. That season was a horror show though, the club relegated in March whilst recording the Premier League’s lowest ever points total and equalling Loughborough’s 108-year League record of one win all season. Davies was out by that time with Paul Jewell now in the hot-seat. More new investment came in, but another unwanted record arrived the next year with Derby going most matches without a win in the English league and went just four days shy of a calendar year without a league win prior to a 2-1 success over Sheffield United.
Despite taking Derby to the League Cup semi-finals (the club’s first since major one 1976) where County lost out 4-3 over two legs to Manchester United, Jewell resigned in 2008 and was replaced by Nigel Clough, son of Brian. He led the club to safety at the end of that season but after only managing mid-table finishes in the next four campaigns, he was replaced S(h)teve McClaren in 2013 and he led Derby to the Championship play-offs after a third placed finish, but they lost to QPR in the 2014 final. Since then, they have remained a top 10 side, reaching the play-offs again in 2016, dropping out in the semis to Hull City and again this season, where they will meet Fulham.
The game got underway with Marcus Olsson firing in a fierce drive early on that Barnsley ‘keeper Jack Walton palmed away at full stretch, with the ball seemingly destined for the top corner. However, their reprieve wouldn’t be a lengthy one as, around ten minutes or so later, Cameron Jerome was released by Bradley Johnson and the striker fired the ball high into the roof of the net to spark jubilant scenes in the home ends, though the goal, interestingly, also seemed to make the supporters, around me at least, more nervous than they were at nil-nil. A second was needed, seemed to be the view.
It looked like it had arrived on the half-hour too, as Jerome again found the net after controlling a rebound upon Richard Keogh’s effort coming back off the bar and the Rams faithful were up on their feet once more. But their joy was cut short eventually as the realisation spread around them that the referee wasn’t pointing back to the centre-circle, but was instead signalling the striker had handled the ball, and thus a free-kick to Barnsley was awarded. Jerome’s celebrations were for nought this time and we continued at one-nil.
Olsson soon broke down for a second time in the half, what seemed to be a knee problem putting an end to his day with the half becoming a tighter affair as things wore on, Barnsley only really making a couple of headed half-chances during the half, Liam Lindsay putting his wide and Kieffer Moore forcing Derby stopper Scott Carson into a fairly routine save. Half-Time arrived with nerves still surrounding all ends of Pride Park, one-nil to the hosts.
The second half began at pace with Derby seeing a couple of early forays forward end with attempts being blocked. Jerome then went close once more prior to turning provider when he got clear and advanced into the area, squaring the ball to the unmarked substitute Matej Vydra who, from around the penalty spot, had the simple task of slotting the ball past the helpless Walton. Two-nil and that looked like a play-off place was safe now.
Kieffer Moore and Oli McBurnie continued to create some issues with their height for the Rams defence, seeing headed attempts drift off target though hopes of a comeback were killed off when David Nugent replaced Jerome on 65 minutes, missed a decent chance to take a shot but then almost immediately made amends when nodding in a deep cross at the back post, much to the home fans’ delight as “NUUUUGE” rang out around the ground. The Tykes fans were by this point being “serenaded” by the usual chants from the Rams fans around them (who created a fine atmosphere all match, it has to be said) and things didn’t improve for them when Tom Lawrence neatly side-footed home from the centre of goal, with me just looking up in time to see the ball creeping into the bottom corner, past the despairing dive of the ‘keeper. Four-nil.
Barnsley were given something of a life-line when it came to their chances of survival though as Bolton went behind to Forest and George Moncur’s fine curling effort found the top-corner with Carson rooted to the spot. With Burton also drawing with Preston, a huge cheer went up from the away end along with chants of “We are staying up!” emanating from the ranks of red shirts. However confusion reigned, with tables on many apps showing it was in fact Burton who would still be staying up on goal difference and not the Tykes, leading to a….not so flattering chant about their math skills being aimed at them from the vocal home support alongside them. To be fair, they took everything as well as they could, given the situation.
But that was that and the joy from 3 and three-quarters of Pride Park wasn’t shared by the final quarter, as Barnsley suffered the drop, with boss Jose Morais and his assistant coaching staff departing the club soon after. They were a shadow of the side who comfortably saw off Sunderland (maybe not that impressive in hindsight) early on in the season. Derby meanwhile look well set for a shot at the play-offs, though Fulham will obviously be a stern test for them in the semi, but all the best to them, especially as I do like Gary Rowett as a manager. Bolton were the ones that eventually stayed up, having completed a memorable comeback at home to Forest, consigning Burton to the drop alongside the Tykes.
I headed out quickly at the end of the game and ticked off the few roundabouts that pop up on the walk towards the A road that leads through to the City Centre. Eventually arriving in the shadow of the large shopping centre that almost creates a city wall around the area, I soon came across a pair of much-needed watering holes – namely the White Horst and Noah’s Ark – the two pubs neighbouring each other. A quick Kopparberg (£4.10) was had (thus foregoing the need for a plastic glass) in the Horse, before a stop-off in the very music-based Ark was enjoyed, with the place quickly filling up soon after my arrival. A pint of Coors (£3.30~) was fine in here before I continued on my tour of Derby and headed up towards the cathedral where I was to, hopefully, visit the Olde Dolphin. It’s apparently haunted, you know? Wooooooo.
I came across the Dolphin and its somewhat threatening-looking fish thing handing from the timber-framed exterior, finding the 16th century inn to be what you’d expect from a place of that period. Small, cosy and wood all around, I was soon in possession of a Hop House (£4.20), once it had eventually settled down. Alas, I saw nor felt anything from another realm and soon took off over the river Derwent and to the Tap, which sits close by the riverbank. Indeed, you can see it from the roof terrace, though it is somewhat obscured by trees at this time of year. I doubt it’s used too much when you can see it either! Anyway, a pint of the fine Mercian IPA (£3.75) was highly enjoyed whilst up on the roof (did anyone else sing that?) before I popped back over the bridge and back towards the cathedral for a quick Spoons venture.
Located in an old bank, the Standing Order was a decent enough branch of the chain and with time beginning to run a bit tight, I opted to go for a Hooch and swiftly return back towards the station. Unfortunately, my phone’s time-keeping decided to let me down and with it not updating, I thought I had a good five minutes more than I had. As such, I dipped into the Alexandra pub on the corner of the road leading to said station and got a bottle of Veltins for the train back….only to get there and find it had left a few minutes beforehand. Great. Oh, what’s that? I’ve got an hour to wait and there’s a pub just there? Oh, go on then!
The Brunswick would be my final stop of the day and, upon entering, was met with a pretty widespread amount of cask ale and cider. I fancied a pint of the latter for a bit of a refresh and so asked the girl serving what she would recommend. As such, I eventually ended up with a “sweet cider” of some description and it was a spot on choice too. A fine accompaniment in a nice pub and for just the £3.50 too. No complaints there.
Eventually it was time to get back to the station once again, this time giving myself a little extra time just in case, and no problems were encountered this time, with the Veltins seeing me through the whole trip back to Manchester (via the medium of Stoke). So there ends my median trip of the weekend and it also means I have just one league ground left for the year. The game was pretty good, the ground was excellent in my opinion and the city of Derby is a lovely place too. Beers and pubs all fine and food and programme just as such. So there we go. Palace to round the league trips off next week, but before that, there’s a couple of shorter trips to complete….
Value For Money: 8