Derby County FC - The men who made The Rams

The completed outfit - having survived the struggles of their first four years Derby County flourished, by 1895-96 in gloriou...

The completed outfit - having survived the struggles of their first four years Derby County flourished, by 1895-96 in glorious black and white replete with the reclining Steve Bloomer - Credit: Archant

A critically-acclaimed new book marks the 130th anniversary of the formation of Derby County in 1884 – here its author, our regular feature writer Peter Seddon, presents a lightning overview of the stirring story and remarkable cast of characters the book reveals

Derby County's first ever home Football League match in 1888 - although only four years old the club was one of the elite 12 ...

Derby County's first ever home Football League match in 1888 - although only four years old the club was one of the elite 12 founder members, a remarkable achievement - Credit: Archant

Derby County Football Club celebrates a significant landmark in 2014 – it is 130 years since the ‘newcomer’ launched itself onto the lively sporting scene in Derby in 1884. The arrival was controversial and by no means welcomed by the high-profile teams already established in the town and county – the railway side Derby Midland, church offshoot Derby Junction, village side Darley Abbey, in the south Long Eaton Rangers and Sawley, and the uncompromising Staveley in the east – collectively they took exception to Derby County’s unbidden formation. Feeling threatened, the concerted view was that there wasn’t room in the Derby hinterland for another club ‘with big pretensions’. Something would have to give – a football war was kicking off... there would surely be casualties.

Other clubs were absolutely right to be nervous. When the innovation known as the ‘Football League’ began in 1888 it was ‘upstarts’ Derby County – then only four years old – who were admitted to the historic band of twelve which made up that inaugural elite. In just four seasons the fledgling Derby outfit had risen from nothing to ‘one of the twelve foremost professional sides in the country’ – the youngest of the League’s founder members.

That unlikely achievement sounded the death knell for other Derbyshire clubs. In turn Derby County’s main local rivals folded or reluctantly consigned themselves to a lowlier level. Against the odds ‘The Chocolates’ – for Derby initially played in chocolate, amber and duck egg blue – had emerged top of the pile. A foundation of Derbyshire’s most prominent sporting institution had been solidly laid, and everything that followed was built upon it.

Without the successful four campaigns between 1884 and 1888, generations of Rams’ fans would have been denied the roller-coaster ride that Derby County so reliably provides – no 1946 FA Cup triumph, neither of the two League Championship titles in the heady 1970s, no smoky nights at the Baseball Ground, or memorable Pride Park moments, not a single heart-breaking cup exit or sickening last-gasp defeat, nothing of what is yet to come at the newly-named iPro Stadium, and none of the ‘Rams family’ camaraderie that Derby County has always organically generated.

So those first four years were the most important era in the club’s entire history. Yet they have routinely been marginalised – the story of that crucial time never fully related, and the players and officials who set the club on its way had remained ‘vanished men’ from a lost age.

But to celebrate the club’s 130th birthday those shadowy figures of yesteryear are at last granted their due reward in their own dedicated volume – the final piece of the club’s colourful jigsaw slotted in. The title tells all – The Men Who Made The Rams – Origins and Who’s Who of Derby County Football Club 1884 to 1888. Previously untold stories, scandals, triumphs and tragedies – and 100 ‘new’ players never before recognised who ‘wore the shirt’ in the pioneering years. Each and every one deserves to be known – they made the club.

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The conditions for germination arose late in 1883 at Derbyshire County Cricket Club. That summer Derbyshire had performed terribly both on and off the field. The club was deep in debt yet had committed to building a new £1,000 pavilion at their County Ground home for 1884. What was to be done? The answer lay in the ‘winter game’ – it had become increasingly evident that the burgeoning pastime football could generate both crowds and revenue. By early 1884 the penny was dropping – but an energetic advocate was yet needed. Late in April 1884 up stepped William Thomas Morley, a clerk at the Midland Railway then living in Repton. He urged his father William Morley senior to lobby the Derbyshire cricket committee to create rapidly a football section ‘before it was too late’. Morley senior – also a Midland clerk (and whisper it quietly a native of Nottingham!) – adroitly steered through the idea. In typically quirky style Derby County had been formed to pay for a cricket pavilion. For his sterling efforts William Morley senior secured the privileged sobriquet of ‘Founding Father’ and became first Chairman.

Initially named Derbyshire County Football Club, the birth was announced in the press on 7th May 1884 – so ‘The Rams’ have bullish Taurus character. But to avoid confusion with the Derbyshire County Football Association, the name was quickly modified. On 13th May 1884 the lively infant ‘Derby County’ was officially christened – the scene of this auspicious occasion was a meeting at the ancient Bell Hotel in Sadler Gate. Given that this iconic hostelry has recently re-opened after major refurbishment, a commemorative adornment might well be appropriate. After all, Derby County has touched so many lives – what better place than the cradle of its existence to raise a glass in tribute?

Once formed, players had to be acquired – no easy task, for the best footballers were already engaged with other clubs. So Derby County turned poacher – and in stealthily purloining talent from local rivals the ‘upstarts’ alienated almost every club in town, and some beyond. Acrimonious disputes and petty squabbles characterised the first four seasons – but Derby County brushed off such irritations in the name of progress. Several times the club might well have disbanded due to rival under-handedness and lack of funds, but through dogged determination it emerged triumphant as the sole fully-professional club in Derby, a status Derby County holds to this day.

All the drama of the first four seasons is related in colourful narrative in The Men Who Made The Rams – alas no room for previews here – and the book also presents mini-biographies of the 100 players and key officers who propelled the ‘Chocolates’ into the mighty ‘Rams’, the latter nickname bestowed in the 1890s after the club finally settled on its famous white shirts with black ‘knickers’.

What characters the cast contains. Special mention must be made of the club’s first President the Hon. William Monk Jervis (1827-1909). An Old Etonian descended from a noble Staffordshire family, he brought to the club a distinct ‘County’ air which contrasted beneficially with the townsman approach provided by founder William Morley (1821-1912). Jervis helped get Derby County ‘recognised’ in influential circles and several times bailed them out from his own pocket. For many years he resided at Quarndon Hall and is buried in Morley churchyard.

Jervis was rather hindered by Derby County secretary Sam Richardson (1844-1938) – first captain of Derbyshire CCC – who seemed to think it part of his remit to regularly dip into the football gate money. When finally rumbled, Richardson fled to Spain and rests eternal in Madrid, an unlikely link to Derby sport far from his native town.

Other officers make ‘good reading’, but the players steal the limelight, each with a tale to tell. An early standout was another Old Etonian gloriously named John Barrington Trapnell Chevallier (1857-1940) – in Derby County’s first ever encounter with Nottingham Forest, on ‘Reds’ territory in January 1885, centre-forward ‘J.B.T.’ bagged a hat-trick in a 6-1 humiliation. A Forest spokesman afterwards lamely blamed the strong wind, an excuse the Derby Telegraph labelled a ‘ludicrous assertion’. Thus the famous rivalry was early-conceived.

Other public school and Varsity men also graced the early ranks, but they played happily alongside more earthy characters like Amos ‘Jammer’ Smith, the son of a farm labourer from Sawley. As leading scorer in the opening season ‘Jammer’ became Derby County’s first cult hero after the club nabbed him from great rivals Long Eaton Rangers.

Overall the earliest Derby County sides were of a social mix totally different to what later developed – Repton School and Trent College both passed on key players, the rail industry provided everyone from senior clerks to riveters, and Darley Abbey was always good for mill-workers if they could get the time off.

Many of the characters and episodes might almost be fictional – rampaging cleric Revd. Gwynne who scored four on Christmas Eve, another vicar Walter Weston who gained celebrity climbing mountains in Japan, a ‘Burmese’ goalkeeper, several players who committed suicide, the Trent College old boy who drowned with his wife in the Derwent, and another goalkeeper Edward Farquharson who somewhat carelessly perished falling from a train in India.

As the saying goes – ‘you couldn’t make it up’. But of course with Derby County there is never any need to! As 2014 unfolds, the ‘daily doings’ of the Rams will be followed as keenly as ever they have been. But now the DNA has been finally traced we can understand the real roots of it all – take that belated bow ‘The Men Who Made The Rams’.

The Men Who Made The Rams

Peter Seddon has followed Derby County for 50 years. An acknowledged authority on football in the Victorian age, he was inspired to be the first to capture fully the story of Derby County’s pre-League existence so that the ‘missing link’ in the club’s documented history could finally be put into print for posterity. Most of the meticulously-researched material is new to the market. Written in an easy and entertaining style with over 100 archive photographs it will appeal to all who enjoy vintage sport, but especially those with an interest in Derbyshire-related history and Derby County FC in particular.

The Men Who Made The Rams – Origins and Who’s Who of Derby County Football Club 1884 to 1888 – 158 pages priced £14 available at Waterstone’s and online via eBay and Amazon.

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