The World Cup with a Derbyshire Twist

As the World Cup begins in South Africa soccer sleuth Peter Seddon takes a sideways look at some county connections to football's greatest global event

When the 2010 World Cup begins in South Africa on 11th June it will be the nineteenth occasion on which rival nations have competed for the crown of football World Champions. Millions revel in every moment of an enthralling spectacle. Countless others remain indifferent to a single kick. Staunch ‘soccerphobes’ express a vehement loathing of the entire circus. Yet each of these disparate groups shares a common thread – it is impossible to remain untouched by ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.

Since the inaugural event at Uruguay 1930 – won by the host nation – the competition’s history has been intimately chronicled. But there is always another angle – like this whistle-stop journey through World Cup history with a ‘Derbyshire twist’. No British nation graced the World Cup until 1950 – but a quirky whiff of Derbyshire influence arose much earlier via ‘The Father of Italian Football’, Vittorio Pozzo. Shortly before the First World War – when travelling as a young man – Pozzo taught at a language school in Derby. His memoirs recounted: ‘Several times I watched Derby County and had illuminating discourse with their famous player Steve Bloomer on the way the game should be played. By talking to such English greats I formulated my ideas for Italian football’.

Bloomer’s pearls of wisdom bore fruit. Pozzo went on to manage his country, and when the second World Cup was held in Italy in 1934 he led the host nation to victory. He repeated the triumph at France ’38 and remains the only coach to win two World Cups.

More serious international battles precluded the tournaments for 1942 and 1946. Normal service resumed at Brazil ’50, when the ‘modern era’ began in earnest. England competed for the first time – sensationally beaten 1-0 by ‘soccer minnows’ United States – and the trophy was lifted again by Uruguay.

Once England had given their tacit blessing, the other British sides followed. Scotland competed in 1954, then Wales and Northern Ireland in 1958. The Republic of Ireland finally made replete the home nations’ participation when they made it to Italia ’90.

The delayed British entry denied some of Derby County’s finest internationals a rare experience – Raich Carter, Sammy Crooks, Peter Doherty, Dally Duncan and Hughie Gallacher remain starkly absent from the World Cup playing ranks.

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Later Derby County men were more kindly blessed. None appeared for England at Brazil ’50, so it fell to a Scot to indirectly forge the first Rams link. Derby’s future manager Tommy Docherty – then a wing-half with Preston North End – played in all Scotland’s matches at Switzerland ’54.

Alas that amounted to a mere two games – a 1-0 defeat by Austria and a 7-0 humiliation by Uruguay. Scotland were eliminated at the first hurdle and their legendary ‘back before the postcards’ form has continued ever since.

Typically the waggish Docherty had an interesting take on the thrashing by Uruguay: ‘We thought because Switzerland had mountains it would be cold, so we played in thick woollen shirts. But it was 100 degrees. We melted. Uruguay’s light tops with short sleeves were the deciding factor.’ When he managed Derby County in the late-1970s Docherty was equally ‘unlucky’ – nor were his excuses any more plausible.

When Scotland tried again at Sweden ’58 they included ex-Rams winger Stewart Imlach and future club captain Dave Mackay, then at Hearts. Neither prevented the inevitable – Scotland again departed early. Northern Ireland fared better – although denied his chance as a player, Rams legend Peter Doherty managed his countrymen to the quarter-finals.

At Chile ’62 former Derbyshire pit-worker Ray Wilson served England well, but the defender’s finest hour was reserved for the memorable 1966 tournament when host nation England lifted the World Cup for the first and only time. Shirebrook-born Wilson had a solid game in the historic final, and remains the only Derbyshire native to gain a World Cup winners’ medal.

Also noted by Derbyshire football enthusiasts were the confident performances of legendary England goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who had started his illustrious career with Third Division Chesterfield in the late-1950s.

Another less obvious link left enduring memories. The West German team beaten 4-2 by England in the final made Derbyshire their base. The party stayed for eighteen days at the The Peveril of the Peak Hotel near Thorpe and trained at Ashbourne. The ‘Gateway to the Peak’ made its guests feel at home – the German flag fluttered freely about the town, pubs served German food, and the local newspaper observed that ‘the girls of Ashbourne are hopelessly in love with the dashing Franz Beckenbauer’.

After the 1966 triumph, England hopes for Mexico ’70 were high. Banks again performed heroics in goal, while future Rams striker Francis Lee played in three games. His last was the heartbreaking quarter-final defeat to Germany when – with Banks controversially sidelined by a ‘mystery bug’ – England squandered a two goal lead to lose 3-2. ‘Expert opinion’ considers that English international football has never recovered from that crushing blow – Brazil, after success in ’58 and ’62, lifted the World Cup for the third time.

There was no Derby County involvement at West Germany ’74. But there would have been if only England had made it to the Finals. Alas they infamously failed to qualify by only drawing 1-1 with Poland at Wembley in October 1973, the crucial game in which a host of Rams personalities were ‘implicated’.

Derby legend Roy McFarland defended gamely but future Rams goalkeeper Peter Shilton was badly at fault for the Polish goal. Rams striker Kevin Hector, on as a late substitute, almost won the game for England in the final seconds. Even Derby manager Brian Clough – about to sensationally leave the club – got in on the act. Before the game he dubbed the Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski ‘a clown in gloves’. Naturally the flying Pole proved the hero of the night!

That debacle heralded a barren spell for England. They were absent from Argentina ’78, but habitual hopefuls Scotland gave the tournament a real Derby flavour. Rams midfielder Bruce Rioch captained the side in their opening game alongside his clubmate Don Masson and Nottingham Forest men Kenny Burns and Archie Gemmill, both Derby players at different times. Future Derby winger John Robertson also made an appearance. But it all ended in tartan tears yet again, despite a wonder goal by Gemmill against Holland. His mazy dribble and neat finish inspired both poetry and a piece of ‘modern dance’ – and was famously given a cameo airing in the cult film Trainspotting.

Nothing as remarkable happened at Spain ’82. Future Rams keeper Peter Shilton was by then a fixture in the England goal, but unable to prevent Ron Greenwood’s lacklustre England falling in the second round. John Robertson again appeared for the hapless Scots, whose pre-booked return flights needed no alteration.

Then came Mexico ’86 and the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal illegally scored by Argentina’s Diego Maradona against England. Curiously the two Englishmen involved in the incident both had Derby County links. The miscued clearance which set up the chance came from future Rams midfielder Steve Hodge, and the furious beaten goalkeeper was again Peter Shilton, then at Southampton.

At Italia ’90 England’s fate was even worse – defeated by West Germany on penalties in the semifinal after the game had finished 1-1. By bizarre coincidence the vital German goal by Brehme again had a double-Derby link – England defender Paul Parker (QPR and later Derby County) wickedly deflected a looping ball over the vainly clawing hands of that man Shilton, by then a Baseball Ground favourite.

Also in that unfortunate England side was Shilton’s club-mate Mark Wright. With more luck the duo could have become the first and only Derby County players to appear in a World Cup Final.

Italia ’90 was notable too for a participant who heralded a sea change in Derby County’s links with the World Cup – John Harkes of the USA. When Harkes signed for Derby three summers later, he became the Rams’ first full international overseas signing. That prompted an ongoing flow of ‘foreign imports’ who for a time made Derby County their adopted home.

As a consequence the club has had player representation at every World Cup since – USA ’94, France ’98, Japan and South Korea 2002 and Germany ’06. Only a devilish quizzer would ‘list the lot’ – but that international brigade includes – Darryl Powell and Deon Burton (Jamaica), Lars Bohinen (Norway), Jacob Laursen (Denmark), Taribo West (Nigeria), Igor Stimac and Aljosa Asanovic (Croatia), Branko Strupar (Belgium), and Paulo Wanchope (Costa Rica).

Not all World Cup appearances are memorable for the right reasons. In 2002 former Derby County midfielder Lee Carsley came on for just one minute as a Republic of Ireland substitute – and there his World Cup dream ended.

Alas there will be no Derbyshire ‘dream boys’ in the England squad for South Africa 2010. But Derby County credentials are sure to surface somewhere. Coach Johnny Metgod has been drafted in to assist Holland. Rams captain Robbie Savage will surely nab some air time as a pundit.

And should the search for ‘local flavour’ begin to falter, then Castle Gresley-born classical-pop singer Thomas Spencer-Wortley could yet save the day. His rousing We’re England Underneath World Cup anthem might just inspire England to victory.

All of which trivia overload provides a timely cue to close the book on Derbyshire’s eclectic World Cup pedigree. To lovers of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ I leave a simple message – may your team lift the trophy, especially if it’s England. While to any ‘soccerphobe’ condemned to endure this particular ‘flaming June’ I can only convey my heartfelt sympathy – and grateful ‘thanks’ for reading to the bitter end!

Peter Seddon is the author of The World Cup’s Strangest Moments: Extraordinary but True Tales from more than 75 years of World Cup Football – published by Portico on 7th June.

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