1942/43 – “Anyone fancy playing for the Rams this week?”
The abridged 1939-40 Football League season saw Derby lying 7th in the First Division after three games (home wins over Portsmouth and Aston Villa and a defeat at Sunderland). The Rams beat Villa literally the day before war was declared – so once it was confirmed, football was the last thing anyone cared about.
There would follow a handful of friendly matches over the next 2/3 years but wartime competitive football didn’t commence for the club until August 1942 when Derby entered the Football League (North) competition – this was regionally segregated with the Rams in the Midland section alongside Birmingham, Aston Villa, Mansfield, the two Nottingham clubs, West Brom, Leicester, Stoke and Wolves.
August 29th 1942 saw the opening game of the season – a visit to Meadow Lane – with a reduced crowd of just 3,000 due to much of the ground being closed off to the public. Ditto the Baseball Ground, where only 8,000 were able to attend the first home game a week later, also against Notts County. Derby triumphed in both: 6-1 away and 2-0 at home but it’s further on in this season of shortened competitions and numerous interruptions that I refer to here.
March 6th, 1943, saw Notts County make their third visit of the season to the BBG for a League Cup 1st round, 1st leg tie (the format of the actual competition being far too convoluted to go into in depth here!)
As per usual, a 4 page programme costing 2d was produced. Now, anyone who collects Derby issues will know that, whilst the pre-war homes had their own quirky character with offbeat stories and a neat turn of phrase when it came to either praising or criticising both individual and team performances, the period between 1946 and the introduction of The Ram newspaper in 1971 saw, to put it kindly, a rather anodyne programme issued by the club (a shame, really, as had we followed the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, even Hull, we would have a wealth of material to draw on all these years later).
So it came as a surprise to find this tongue-in-cheek article reproduced below in this Notts County issue as it rather wryly sums up the many problems clubs faced in actually finding 11 players to put out on the field on a Saturday afternoon, as well as the myriad reasons players might use in calling off at virtually no notice.
Though players were contracted to clubs, the war effort came first and, to cut a long story short, clubs would “borrow” players according to where they might be stationed at any particular point in time. What the behind-the-scenes arrangements were, one can only imagine, but a cursory review of wartime football history brings up some fairly remarkable tales including more than one of player impersonation.
Anyone who collects wartime programmes will be well aware that they often have team changes and this issue is no exception – apart from the fact that the line-up given to the printers had no fewer than three changes to it (as annotated by the original owner), it can also be seen that more than half the Derby XI belonged to other clubs.
The eagle-eyed will notice that the Magpies’ centre-half was Leon Leuty who would go on to give 6 years of sterling service to the Rams before tragically succumbing to leukaemia at the age of 35.
This particular match saw Tottenham “loanee” Colin Lyman give Derby the lead before Rickards, Antonio and Towler replied for Notts in front of a crowd of 9,000. The second leg ended in a 2-2 draw. Unusually, games played in this League Cup (Derby had played 10 qualifying round ties before the Notts match) would be incorporated into the second half of the league championship itself, which had been split into two halves on Xmas Day (well, I did say it was complicated!)
According to Jack Rollins’ comprehensive history of wartime football “Soccer At War”, the Rams used no fewer than 56 players in the 39 games they eventually played that season (with 22 of those 56 just appearing a single match), which puts into context the article in the Notts programme!