On Saturday 26 January 2019 the Rams play Accrington Stanley, currently 14th in League One, in the fourth round of the FA Cup at the Crown Ground (known as the Wham Stadium under a sponsorship deal). Having come back from 2-0 down at home to Southampton in round 3 to draw 2-2, Derby needed extra-time and penalties in the televised replay to beat the Saints at St Mary’s Stadium after another 2-2 draw.
According to Accrington Stanley’s official website, the origin of the ‘Stanley’ name is unclear but evidence suggests that patrons of the Stanley Arms on Stanley Street formed a club called Stanley Villa in the early 1890s. Accrington FC, one of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888 along with Derby, resigned from the League in 1893 and it is thought a number of local amateur teams, including Stanley Villa, took up the name Accrington Stanley. The club joined the Football League in 1921, before resigning mid-season in March 1962. After playing in the Lancashire Combination, Accrington Stanley collapsed four years later in 1966 before today’s Accrington Stanley FC were formed in 1968. Promotion to the Football League was achieved in 2006, followed by elevation to League One in 2018 as champions of League Two.
The Rams and Accrington Stanley have met four times in the League, all in Division Three North between 1955-1957. The first meeting was at Peel Park on 26 November 1955 with the official programme highlighting that this was the first ever meeting between the sides. The 14 page issue, however, makes a vague reference to a possible previous encounter – ‘it is recorded in the dim and distant past Stanley played Derby County on one occasion.’
Derby were third in the table, three points behind Stanley, with both teams favouring an attacking style – the Rams had netted 49 times, and Stanley 43. Whilst Derby had lost five away games in total, Accrington were in imperious form at home having only dropped one point all season on the opening day. Stanley also had a mean defence, conceding only five times in the league by that point. In confident mood, the programme claims ‘our boys will be all out for their 10th successive home win and, on form, should do it’ also commenting that the Rams had played a mid-week FA Cup replay against Crook Town which might have a bearing on the game. The prediction proved to be correct as a crowd of 10,282 watched Stanley win 2-0.
By the time of the return fixture against Accrington at the Baseball Ground on 7 April 1956, Derby were top of the league with a two point lead over Grimsby with five games to play. However, Grimsby had 7 fixtures remaining and Accrington 8. Derby’s programme of the era featured a plain grey cover, and, like many other clubs, contains prominent local advertising. Driway, Aquatite and Marlsbro raincoats were available from Derby’s ‘leading outfitter’ Alec Jackson on 67a London Road, and Mennux Snuff was claimed to ‘clear the head like magic’. Club notes discussed recent form and gives a brief report on victories away to Tranmere and Carlisle, and a 0-0 draw at home to Tranmere, where the crowd were hoping Derby would achieve a century of goals. The programme makes an interesting observation – Stanley’s probable eleven all hailed from Scotland. George Stewart was leading the division scoring charts with 33 goals and is described as ‘a native of Paisley, deadly with his head and very fast’. Derby’s Jack Parry was third in the goal scoring list with 27.
Despite Stanley leading 2-1, the Rams ended comfortable winners with four goals from South African Alf Ackerman and two from Ray Straw in a 6-2 victory in front of 22,993. In the end Grimsby Town achieved promotion, with Derby and Accrington finishing the season in second and third place respectively.
The first meeting between the two teams in the 1956/57 season was again at Peel Park, on 3 November 1956. Stanley’s programme welcomes the Rams ‘in anticipation of a thrilling tussle with the side we regard as our chief rivals, despite the fact that they are six points behind leaders Hartlepools and three behind ourselves.’ Stanley were hoping for their best gate of the season and comment Derby had so far not been the ‘prolific goal-scoring combination they were last season’ with an average record away from home of two wins and two draws from eight games. Accrington, on the other hand, were on a run of five straight wins. 9,945 were in attendance to see a 0-0 stalemate.
Derby’s form had improved by the time the two sides met again at the Baseball Ground on 16 March 1957. The Rams, leading scorers in the division with 87, were second on 46 points, one point behind Workington, with Stanley sixth on 43 points. Anton Rippon’s excellent article about this match, a 2-2 draw in front of 24,272, describes how Accrington took the lead after seven minutes through a close range Wattie Dick shot. Derby equalised after 34 minutes when left winger Dennis Woodhead drew three defenders before pulling the ball back to Albert Mays who scored with a fierce drive. Just before half-time, Tommy Powell won possession and played the ball to Reg Ryan who met the ball perfectly to give Willie McInness no chance. Accrington drew level on 67 minutes despite a last-ditch attempt by Ray Young to clear the ball off the line. Wilf Shaw of the Derby Telegraph reported how close Rams striker Ray Straw came to scoring the winner with a last-minute header hitting the woodwork:
“Ray Straw had one of the greatest disappointments any footballer can experience during the last few seconds of Saturday’s Baseball Ground game. He jumped high and steered a powerful header past a helpless goalkeeper, but instead of plaudits there were ‘oohs’ as the ball struck the upright. For this to happen once was frustrating. But there had been something similar just previously – and one or two desperate goal-line clearances. Yes, Accrington were lucky to get away with that 2-2 draw.”
The Rams ended the season strongly with ten wins from the final 14 games to gain promotion as Division Three North champions, four points ahead of Hartlepools – Stanley again finished in third place. Derby also scored 111 goals in the 46 matches, setting a club record. Ray Straw, a former pitman, scored 37 league goals to equal Jack Bowers’ club record in the 1930–31 season. Straw had an interesting goal bonus incentive – his brother offered him half a crown (12.5p) for every goal scored, and ten shillings (50p) for every hat-trick – and went into the final game needing only one goal in the league to beat Bowers’ club record, but failed to score in a 1-1 draw at York. After scoring 57 goals in 94 games for Derby, Straw moved to Coventry City in November 1957 and was Coventry’s top scorer in all four seasons he spent at the club.