The FA Cup’s Derbyshire connections - the good, bad and trivial

Painful memory for Derby - the actual ball used in the record-breaking 1903 Cup Final

Painful memory for Derby - the actual ball used in the record-breaking 1903 Cup Final - Credit: Peter Seddon

Donning Derbyshire colours, we cast a whimsical eye over the oldest football competition in the world

Up for the cup - skipper Jack Nicholas is chaired by team-mates after Derby County finally lifted the FA Cup in 1946

Up for the cup - skipper Jack Nicholas is chaired by team-mates after Derby County finally lifted the FA Cup in 1946 - Credit: Peter Seddon

Poetic tradition has it that we are in the ‘Merry Month of May’. That will surely ring true for whichever team wins the month’s showcase sporting event the FA Cup Final. Alas Derby County won’t be at Wembley on the 30th, having been knocked-out by Reading. For Rams’ fans the interminable wait goes on – Derby haven’t graced the ‘Final Tie’ since winning it in 1946 for the only time. And Chesterfield – the county’s other ‘first-class’ club – must still dream of similarly distinguishing themselves.

It’s possible no Derbyshire side will win the FA Cup again. So it’s gratifying that Derby County are one of just 42 clubs to do so, and the only Derbyshire team to contest a final – indeed they appeared in four. In addition the competition’s rich annals yield a clutch of Derbyshire connections – the good, bad and trivial.

When the Football Association Challenge Cup began in 1871, football in Derbyshire was in its infancy. Only 15 sides entered the competition, all but one from the south at a time when ‘gentleman amateurs’ dominated the game. Early winners’ medals were gained by two Old Reptonians - Henry Holmes Stewart (Wanderers 1873) and Arthur John Stanley (Clapham Rovers 1880).

Derbyshire’s first entrant was in 1880-81 when Derby Town – an early ‘ancestor’ of Derby County – fell in the first round to the revered Notts County. The press dubbed the contest Derbyshire v Nottinghamshire – indeed the FA archives still list ‘Town’ as Derbyshire.

Artist's impression of the 1899 FA Cup Final - Derby County 1 Sheffield United 4

Artist's impression of the 1899 FA Cup Final - Derby County 1 Sheffield United 4 - Credit: Peter Seddon

The clash spawned a trend of misfortune which seemed to dog Derbyshire clubs for years, for after losing a replay ‘Town’ claimed to have been brazenly denied by inept officials. At Nottingham on 4th November 1880 Derby ‘won’ the first game 4-3 – but Notts appealed to the FA that it had really been 4-4 because a disallowed goal was ‘good’. Astonishingly the FA favoured the senior club and ordered a replay.

Played at Derby’s own County Ground it ended 2-2, but Notts emerged 4-2 winners after extra time. But again controversy raged, for Derby claimed to have scored a third in normal time which would have gained victory, the ball according to witnesses ‘a full yard over the line’. Derby appealed to the FA – but the ‘high-hats’ again backed Notts – poor old ‘Town’ were dumped out.

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In a more eloquent echo of today’s radio and online comment, disgruntled fans fired off letters to the Derby Daily Telegraph. ‘A. Spectator’ observed that ‘the umpire and referee were evidently strong partisans, for when Notts obtained their first goal they manifested delight by throwing up in the air their hats and sticks, and repeated this remarkable performance for Notts’ second goal.’

And ‘Looker On’ was ‘exceedingly astonished at the singular conduct of the officials, who allowed fouls to Notts every five minutes, whilst Derby scarcely had any. I was reliably told by a visiting spectator that the referee was an ardent member of the Notts club!’

Winning combination - programme and ticket for the 1946 Cup Final won by Derby County

Winning combination - programme and ticket for the 1946 Cup Final won by Derby County - Credit: Peter Seddon

On a more positive local note, one of the Notts’ side was Old Reptonian Henry ‘Harry’ Cursham (1859-1941), scorer of the most FA Cup goals of all time. Between 1877 and 1888 he bagged 49, which pegs Liverpool legend Ian Rush into second place with 44 – even Steve Bloomer managed ‘only’ 41. In addition Cursham played eight times for England and is Notts County’s all-time leading scorer with 208 goals – a reflected honour for Repton School often overlooked.

During the time Cursham garnered his record, entry to the ‘English Cup’ expanded greatly. But after Derby County was formed in 1884 they suffered a disastrous baptism – in November that year losing their first ever tie 7-0 at home to Walsall Town. With the Football League not formed until 1888, the Cup was then considered ‘the’ prize, and a volley of discontent was duly dispatched to the Derby press. ‘Replace the defence’, ‘play some youngsters’, ‘shoot more’... sounds familiar.

The 1884-85 competition also threw up the first Derby giant-killing act, when church side Derby St Luke’s beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-2 in a first-round replay. ‘The Saints’ – along with Derby County – were among seven Derbyshire sides to enter that season, an indication of the county’s football strength in the 1880s – the others were Staveley, Chesterfield Spital, Long Eaton Rangers, Derby Midland and Derby Junction.

Derby Junction – grown from Junction Street Sunday School – soon astonished the football world with an even more sensational giant-killing. On 28th January 1888 on their Arboretum Field the ‘Juncs’ beat three-in-a-row Cup winners Blackburn Rovers 2-1 to reach the semi-final. They lost it 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion, but the victory over Blackburn stands in Cup history as one of the greatest shocks. The Derby Daily Telegraph observed that ‘such was the euphoria at the expiry of time that grown men prostrated themselves in the mud in a paroxysm of ecstasy, some even shedding tears of joy.’

England international and Old Reptonian Harry Cursham (1859-1941) - all-time record scorer in FA Cup matches

England international and Old Reptonian Harry Cursham (1859-1941) - all-time record scorer in FA Cup matches - Credit: Peter Seddon

Yet within a few years Junction and other Derby sides had folded, leaving Derby County the town’s sole first-class club. They make the record books on several counts – mostly unenviable. Their 6-0 defeat by Bury in the 1903 Final at the Crystal Palace is the biggest margin of defeat in an FA Cup Final – likely to remain forever.

In the same game Derby became the only team to use three goalkeepers in an FA Cup Final – after starting keeper Jack Fryer departed injured, full-backs Jimmy Methven and Charlie Morris both had a stint between the sticks. It was needs must – substitutes were not officially introduced to English football until 1965.

The Rams’ unwanted Cup records do not stop there. In the second round in December 1955 Derby County were thrashed 6-1 at the Baseball Ground by non-League Boston United, the Lincolnshire minnows including several former Rams’ players. This was one of the most shocking performances in Derby’s history, and remains the biggest home FA Cup defeat inflicted on a League side by non-League opponents – again likely to endure.

Even Derby’s internal records are tainted by the FA Cup. The club’s worst ever defeat was an 11-2 humiliation at Everton on New Year’s Day 1890 in the first round. Supporters soon hatched the theory that New Year’s Eve ‘revelry’ had much to answer for.

Eventually Derby came good – after losing Finals in 1898, 1899 and 1903 they at last laid the hoodoo in 1946 when Charlton Athletic were beaten 4-1 after extra time. Yet ‘doubters’ query whether they won it ‘properly’ – this because up to the semi-final the ties were decided over two legs for the only time. But there is a ready answer to that. Derby did not lose a single one of their 11 games – the record number played by any Cup-winner. The Rams did it the hardest way!

The Cup’s best-loved record is the highest score in first-class English football – Preston North End 26 Hyde 0 – a first-round tie played at Deepdale on 15th October 1887. It would be gratifying to report not a single Derbyshire link to the defeated Cheshire side – but alas the county is sorely ‘implicated’.

The Hyde goalkeeper Charles Bunyan (1869-1922) – sometimes playfully-dubbed ‘the worst keeper in the world’ – was undeniably brought up in the Derbyshire parish of Brimington. He played for both Chesterfield and Derby County, and in the 1890s was Derbyshire County Cricket Club groundsman. The connections are irrefutable, but with true Derbyshire stoicism ‘Charlie’ remained cheerfully upbeat after his nightmare peppering by the famous Preston ‘Invincibles’ – he declared ‘but for me it would have been a goodly lot more’.

Two more of the Hyde team also had Derbyshire credentials. Chesterfield-born Henry Bower (1864-1915) previously played for Derby County, while Derby-based centre-forward James Anderson Wood (1867–1950) – a Derby Telegraph compositor – assisted both Derby Midland and Derby Junction. ‘Jimmy’ Wood joked he was the only man in English football to kick-off 27 times in a single game – on the strength of his ‘fame’ he became in April 1937 the first resident of Derbyshire to appear on television. Completing the links with this farcical game, Preston’s star name John Goodall later played 238 times for Derby County.

Blessedly other Cup ‘records’ carry no shame. When the 1886 Final between West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers ended in a draw, the FA decided to hold the replay at Derby’s County Ground. Rovers emerged winners from a match admirably staged – the first time the Cup Final had been held outside London.

Another Derbyshire ‘first’ belongs to Sawley-born official Arthur G. Kingscott – in refereeing both the 1900 and 1901 Finals he is the only man to take charge of a Final in two different centuries. Those games also gave him a ‘last’ – the last to referee the Final on two occasions, convention thereafter being to choose a different official each year. When his son Arthur H. Kingscott refereed the 1931 Cup Final, the Sawley pair became the only father and son ever to achieve the honour.

We could go on – but the most coveted events have yet to transpire. Derby County to again lift the FA Cup and Chesterfield for the first time – not forgetting friendly neighbours Burton Albion. One can but dream...