Most recent postponements of football fixtures have been due to players or coaching staff isolating due to testing positive for Covid-19, including the Rams’ game at Cardiff City on 18 December. The 1980s saw a total of 25 postponements that involved Derby County. The first of these was in 1980/81, a Division 2 away game at Bolton Wanderers on 17 January 1981, with the original programme reissued for the rearranged game on 24 January (30p, 24 pages). Inside the FA Chairman at the time, Sir Harold Thompson, stated that ‘kissing, hugging and jumping on backs when a goal has been scored should cease’ and ‘racing to the touchline with outstretched arms and clenched fists after a goal should be stopped.’ The author of the article believed this was an attempt to reduce crowd disturbance, rife in football at the time.
The Ram newspaper was in its tenth season when Derby were due to play Swansea City on 14 March 1981 at the Baseball Ground. The Ram had 16 pages and cost 30p, with the main story concerning Alan Biley being stretchered off 12 minutes from the end of the previous home game against Orient. Talks were ongoing over a transfer to West Bromwich Albion in exchange for David Mills plus £150,000 cash, much needed by Derby at the time. The re-arranged game was played on 31 March with a new programme issued.
The front cover of the Ram newspaper against Preston North End on 25 April 1981 exclaimed “Give Roy an unforgettable send-off” as Roy McFarland was due to play his last ever game for Derby. The late Gerald Mortimer speculated that McFarland probably would have won over 100 England caps if it had not been for an Achilles tendon injury sustained against Northern Ireland at Wembley in 1974 – McFarland only represented his country another four times after this, giving him a total of 28 caps for his country. A new programme was issued for the re-arranged game with Preston on 6 May. The 1980/81 season was not a bad one for Derby, as the team finished sixth in Division 2.
During 1981/82 the Rams did not play between 5 December and 16 January, with five games postponed during this period. The front cover of the Ram from the Division 2 home game against Oldham Athletic on 12 December 1981 gives the reason for the postponement – blizzards and iced up roads. It was the first time in the almost 12 year history of the Ram that a full issue was not produced for a rearranged game. Instead, a four-page wraparound was sold with the original 16-page programme on 23 January 1982 at 30p (normal price 35p). The front page of the postponed programme reproduced a letter of an ‘anonymous threat with a London postmark written in an educated hand’ which threatened Derby fans who travelled to Stamford Bridge in April. The article stated that Derby County would actively encourage visiting fans to stay away from the Baseball Ground after the experience of ‘Chelsea hooligans’ a fortnight previous. Prices for away fans were to increase to £4 minimum for all ticket games involving any visiting team with large numbers of support whose behaviour had been questionable in the past.
Derby were 16th in Division 2 when they were due to travel to second placed Watford on 19 December 1981. The programme from the postponed game (24 pages, 30p) saw Watford manager Graham Taylor claiming that 1982 ‘could be the year we have all been waiting for.’ Prescient words as Watford won the re-arranged game 6-1 on 26 January and gained promotion as runners up to Luton Town. The original programme was reissued with a four page black and white insert.
The front page of the Ram for the Boxing Day game against Barnsley (35p, 16 pages) reports on the sale breakdown between Derby and Crystal Palace of striker David Swindlehurst. Manager Colin Addison stated that he wanted to use the transfer fee to sign three ‘calibre players’ from first Division clubs and that only Steve Powell was indispensable. Ultimately Swindlehurst was not sold until over two years later. A new programme was issued, which doubled as the Cardiff programme, for the rearranged game against Barnsley on 28 April 1981.
The Medicine Man is an interesting feature in the Rotherham United away programme from 28 December 1981 (35p, 24 pages) featuring the Brazilian great Socrates who qualified as a doctor of medicine while playing professional football. The Brazil captain is quoted saying ‘it’s much more important to me to follow a vocation than search for glory on the football field.’ Socrates continued playing for Brazil until 1986, retiring in 1989 before practising medicine in Brazil. However in 2004, a 50-year-old Socrates agreed to a one month player-coach deal with Garforth Town of the Northern Counties East Football League and made one substitute appearance against Tadcaster Albion. Socrates died in 2011 aged 57. The rearranged game between Rotherham and Derby was played on 2 February 1982 where a new programme was issued. Rotherham defeated Derby by 2 goals to 1.
The cover of the Ram for Derby v Shrewsbury Town on 9 January 1982 (35p, 12 pages) features a photo of a marquee on the Baseball Ground pitch. Underneath were heaters trying to thaw the heavy ice described by the club as a ‘thoroughly worthwhile gamble’ with the expense being justified as weather forecasts predicted thaws – this turned out to be incorrect. With no home match day income in almost 6 weeks since November 28, a ‘serious cash flow deprivation’ had been created and players’ fitness was also a concern. The rearranged game was eventually played on 10 March 1982 with a new programme issued which also covered the Crystal Palace match. By then, Rams’ manager Colin Addison had been sacked and replaced by John Newman. Derby finished the season in 16th place.
There was only one postponement involving Derby in the 1982/83 season. The main photograph on the cover of Charlton Athletic issue of the Ram on February 12 1983 (35p, 12 pages) showed the ‘joy and anticipation on all the faces’ of the players, who were sat in the director’s lounge at the Baseball Ground watching the FA Cup fifth round draw where Manchester United had been revealed as the opponents. In other news, Uttoxeter clairvoyant Doreen Shadbolt predicted a good 1983 for the Rams, but only if a player on the team ‘prays and believes’. Her forecasting abilities must have been a bit off at the time, for as well as failing to predict this postponement, Derby finished 13th that season in Division 2, then third bottom the following season to fall into Division 3. A four page wrap around was issued for the rearranged game against Charlton on April 13 1983.
The first postponement of the 1983/84 season was a friendly away to Heanor Town on Valentines Day 1984. An A5 single sheet insert was issued for the rearranged game on 26 March. The original programme was a Centenary Celebration Game with 28 pages, half of which were adverts. No price is shown. The Heanor Secretary’s notes described the facilities at the Town Ground as ‘second to none in this area of non-league football’. There is a report on the January 1892 4-1 defeat to Aston Villa in the FA Cup first round proper (equivalent to today’s third round), as well as a report on the friendly between the two sides in May 1965 which resulted in a 6-4 win to the Rams.
The original programme for Derby’s away game at Sheffield Wednesday on 24 March 1984 was reissued for the rescheduled date on 10 April (40p, 24 pages). The content contains only 12 pages of reading material with the majority of the rest advertising. The opposition comments include mention of the ‘blackest week in Derby County’s long history’ which saw Derby lose an FA Cup quarter final at home to Division 3 Plymouth, followed by a home league defeat to Brighton leaving the Rams in the relegation zone. Derby were five points from safety with 11 games left and were eventually relegated to Division 3 after finishing the season in 20th place.
Five games were postponed in 1984/85. The Ram newspaper had been replaced at the beginning of the previous season in favour of a more standard size programme. The home issues for Derby County’s centenary year featured a special logo in the top left corner. In the programme covering the home game against Doncaster Rovers, due to be played on 3 November 1984 (50p, 24 pages), club secretary Michael Dunford reported that home attendances averaged between 11,000-12,000. The original programme was reissued for the rearranged game later that month.
A new programme was issued for the rearranged game away to Burnley on 23 April after the original postponement on 26 January 1985 (50p, 20 pages). Despite losing 8 of the first 12 away matches, Derby were on the fringe of the Third Division promotion places after 9 home wins and 3 draws. The original programme from this game is quite difficult to obtain but there is little interesting reading material inside. It does feature a report about Diamond-Dry, a fine powder that could make a waterlogged pitch ‘disappear in minutes,’ promoted by the former Palace and Bournemouth striker Dickie Dowsett. It claimed to absorb 10 times its own volume of moisture, with no long term damage to soil.
Derby were due to play Bournemouth at the Baseball Ground on 9 January 1985, but the game was instead played on 30 January with the original programme reissued (50p, 24 pages). Arthur Cox describes a ‘generous’ offer from Division 1 Ipswich for Kevin Wilson leading to an inevitable acceptance, although all of the cash from the sale was available to spend on new players. Inside, the Division 3 New Year’s Day gate of 16,113 against York at the Baseball Ground exceeded Leicester and Coventry’s attendances in Division 1 on the same day.
The programme from Derby’s home game against Reading, dated 9 February 1985 but played on 17 April, was reissued for the rearranged game with a one-page insert. This is the only home game this season where this was done. Michael Dunford explains that the economic situation would not allow for scrapping £2000 of merchandise and stated that the financial progress of Derby County over the past 12 months allowed them to publish the insert. A match report describes the previous home game against Bournemouth, where the Rams suffered their first home defeat of the season losing 3-2. The team hit the woodwork four times, but due to poor weather had only played twice in January before the game whereas Bournemouth had played six times. Despite an impressive home record, poor away form meant the Rams would only finish 7th in Division 3 that season.
The final postponed game of 1984/85 saw Derby’s away trip to Bristol City on 12 February called off, with the original programme reissued on 26 February (50p, 32 pages). The programme mentions City’s heaviest home league defeat on September 29 1923. They lost 8-0 to the Rams, ironically only a week after City had beaten Derby 3-2 at the Baseball Ground.
Into the 1985/86 season, and the home Boxing Day clash between Derby and Walsall was postponed with the programme reissued at the rearranged game on 12 March with a four page Ram supplement (24 pages, 60p). This season was to be the start of a successful period for Derby, winning back to back promotions from Division 3 to Division 1. A photograph inside the programme shows Honorary Vice President Jack Stamps with ‘a load of former Everton stars’ including Ted Sagar and Tommy Lawton in the Goodison Park Boardroom. He was a guest of Breedon Books who released Everton: The Complete Record: 1878-1985 a year after Derby County: The Complete Record: 1884-1984 12 months previously.
Derby’s home game against Gillingham on 5 February 1986 was postponed due to a blizzard 90 minutes before kick off. The rearranged game on 26 March was also postponed, this time because of illness in the Gillingham squad, so the game was not played until 7 April. The original 24 page programme was reissued (60p, 24 pages) with two Ram Bulletins published for each of the rearranged dates. In the second bulletin update, Derby County expressed their dissatisfaction of having to play four games in eight days. The list read Brentford at home on Saturday, Gillingham home on Monday, Bristol Rovers home on Wednesday and Lincoln away the following Saturday. The club requested to play the games after the end of the season on 12 May but the FA refused, probably fearing a repeat of the previous season where Coventry City were allowed to play four games after the season had ended. Coventry had to win all four games to avoid relegation and did so to send Norwich down instead.
The final postponement this season came away to Darlington on 15 April 1986. The 16 page programme (40p) included a single sheet insert for the rearranged game on 12 May. Cyril Knowles described Derby as the Third Division’s ‘Bank of England outfit.’ This was Derby’s last game of the season but they lost 2-1, yet still finished third to gain promotion back to Division 2. ‘Encounters’ recalls past meetings between Darlington and Derby, including their previous meeting in November 1967 in the League Cup quarter-finals at the Baseball Ground where Derby won 5-4, with 8 of the goals in the second half.
When Blackburn Rovers visited the Baseball Ground on New Year’s Day in the 1986/87 season, Derby were top of Division 2, one point ahead of Portsmouth at the halfway stage. The teams would finish the season in the same positions and achieve promotion to Division 1. The programme from this postponed game was 70p for 28 pages, with a four page insert included for the rearranged fixture on 18 March.
Derby’s FA Cup third round game against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on 10 January was postponed and played on 26 January with the original programme reissued (60p, 32 pages). Wednesday were 12th in Division 1 at the time, which was very different to today’s Premier League with other teams including Forest, Luton, Coventry, Wimbledon and Oxford. The programme is quite dull and contains little interesting content.
The first of the postponements from the 1987/88 season was the SIMOD Cup second round match at Swindon Town on 15 December. The SIMOD Cup was the sponsored name of the Full Members Cup from 1987 to 1989, created for teams in the top two divisions in response to the Heysel Stadium disaster when English clubs were banned from European competition. The original programme was reissued for the rearranged fixture on 23 December (60p, 32 pages) with the Rams losing 2-1. ‘The Moonraker’ is the title of the programme, Moonraker being a colloquial name for people from Wiltshire. The story behind the name goes back to the 18th century, when smuggling was rife in rural England with Wiltshire lying on the smugglers’ secret routes between the south coast and the centre of the country. While trying to retrieve contraband barrels of French brandy at night from a village pond, a group of men were caught by customs officers but explained the situation by pointing to the reflection of the moon and saying they were trying to rake in a round cheese. The revenue men, thinking they were simple yokels, laughed at them and went on their way.
Liverpool were unbeaten in Division 1 when Derby were due to play them at home on 2 January 1988. The programme from the postponed game (80p, 32 pages) tells us that the game was to be televised live via Thames TV as part of a Football League contract to Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Eire. I wonder what was shown instead? A four page wraparound was issued with the original programme for the rearranged game on 16 March. The game finished 1-1 with Liverpool finishing the season as champions, only losing twice in the league; Derby finished 15th.
The programme from the home game against Queens Park Rangers on 23 January 1988 saw the Rams amidst a run of 8 successive defeats in the League and Cup, their worse form under Arthur Cox (and since 1965). QPR were managed by Jim Smith, who went on to achieve success with the Rams a decade later. A four page wrap around extra was issued along with the original programme for the rearranged game.
There were no postponements involving Derby in 1988/89, a season which saw the Rams finish fifth in Division 1. There was only one postponed game in the 1989/90 season, away to Southampton on 3 February 1990. An article in the original programme (£1, 36 pages) about ‘doubles’ revealed that Southampton had scored twice on 14 occasions in all competitions that season, followed by Liverpool on 10 occasions and Derby 8. The original programme is quite scarce and a new programme was printed for the rearranged game on 10 March. Derby finished the season in 16th place, only 3 points ahead of the last relegation place.
This article was first printed in issue 8 of Derby County Memories magazine (March 2015). If you enjoyed reading it, copies of the magazine are available from eBay at https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/294379530277.